The cover pic for this post, an image of a vintage-looking 'The End' title with some text I have overlaid

Irficionado | Movies | ‘The End’? Not So Soon…

Logo for Irficionado seriesI wrote this piece for thREAD, The Hindu’s online space for perspectives, opinion, comment and essays. Here’s the thREAD link: This piece on thREAD

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The three sea lions from 'Finding Dory'As Finding Dory ended, I was surprised to find two words appear on screen that I haven’t seen appear on screen – Hollywood, Bollywood, or any wood – in a long, long time. ‘The End’, that too in lowercase, if I remember correctly. People of course had started exiting before that, once they had got their, and Dory’s, happy ending. But if you see a lot of movies, especially animation ones, and especially Hollywoodian, you know that ‘the end’ – whether that text appears on screen or not – is never the end. For after the credits finish rolling, at the ‘real’ end, and just before the production / distribution company logo, there typically is a bit more of the movie, a fun mini after-movie, if you will – a tiny little sequence around some theme in the movie, or even a side theme or character. In Dory, it was around the sea lions and… But I ain’t telling you more, as you chose to leave the audi before that, didn’t you?

The earliest I remember this trend was from Jackie Chan’s blooper sequences, which was aped by Bollywood and Hollywood alike, until there was no more novelty in it. Also, they were more like behind-the-scenes. I remember cute side scenes and stories from the first two Kung Fu Panda movies. They were like rewards for watching the movie right till the finish. Like this one from Kung Fu Panda 2, which shows how baby Po landed up at Mr Ping’s house.

The superhero movies seem to have picked up on the trend, and taken it further. Marvel’s movies don’t just have rewarding after-scenes, but before-scenes, so to speak – snippets that give a peek into what the next movie could be about. Ant-Man, for instance, first did the Wasp costume reveal and then talked about Captain America: Civil War. (Given how ho-hum Civil War was, they should have continued dwelling on the beguiling Wasp.) Deadpool’s after-scene was in the same irreverent vein as its hero and the movie, Deadpool coming out from the door, not once but twice and popping out a third time, to fool around with prescient lingerers, much to their glee and giving them their full ticket’s worth.

But I have gained more than just fun by staying behind in the audi, being very often the last to leave, even after the cleaning staff have come and wondered why I’m still there; or if in rapt on-screen attention, wondered if I’m dead; or if I’ve shown signs of movement, then almost given me dirty looks to leave and allow them to wrap up their duties quickly.

Logo of the Hollywood movie catering company, The Cast SupperI have picked up much trivia and information by being a stay-backer. I have noted that most movies with an Arab / Middle East setting, again whether Bollywood or Hollywood, are shot in Morocco (Sex and the City 2 and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation). I have come to know that the end credits of most movies are done by a company called Scarlet Letters, just as the catering company for many movies is one by the name of… Cast Supper.

I have learnt of concepts like ‘production babies’ in animation movies. These are (quite uninspired a moniker, after all) babies born to people working on the movie while working on the movie. I haven’t noticed this for live-action movies, I guess, because animation movies take longer, being all done in a studio. The work, that is; not the baby-making. Or, you never know; maybe that’s why they take so long.

Poster of the recent Marathi blockbuster, SairatIn the recent Marathi blockbuster, Sairat, I learnt that the unfamiliar tongue the male protagonist’s father speaks in for a good two minutes (an apparent mix of a Marathi dialect and Hindi) is Pardhi (through a credit for the language coach), the language of the tribe of the same name living in parts of Maharashtra. (This last part of course was from the net. The movie couldn’t give so much detail, no?)

Watching the end titles of the much-in-recent news Udta Punjab, I happily discovered a song that hasn’t been on the promo loops, is more haunting a tune than Ikk Kudi, and is as message-loaded as the movie itself. Hass Nach Le will make you feel: dus baar sunn le (listen to it ten times over).

While on songs, though I don’t have a big ear for music, I have come to know who the second, more rich-textured but less-promoted singer of a particular melody is, as also the varied instruments used in a soundtrack.

Getting back to animation movies, you experience some familiarity (and take some pride, for whoever this is a thing) in the number of Indian names that crop up in the various animation studios that have worked on that movie, as a lot of animation work is outsourced to India, especially studios in Chennai. For big movies, you also marvel at the number of animation studios that worked worldwide to create that movie.

And in some movies, forget after-scenes, the real movie isn’t actually over when you think it is. This is typically the thriller / whodunit genre, and there was a movie sometime back whose name or story I just can’t recall that really gets over a full 15 minutes after the first time it seems to get over, thanks to a huge twist. Now, who’ll tell this to the couple I saw walking down and out after they felt the movie was over? When discussing the movie the next day with others who had watched it too, they must have wondered if they had caught a different film, and on realizing what they had done, must have kicked themselves on the backside. Or the other’s, depending on whose suggestion it was to “let’s leave before the crowd”.

Speaking of which, and coming to a key point, I just can’t get what the big hurry is for people who walk out as soon as the core movie ends. Is it just one of the many things to do on their weekend / enjoyment list? Are they taking part in some Amazing Movie Race? Needing to reach home before their vehicle turns back into a pumpkin? Or did they come not for the movie, but for, erm, some in-the-dark “to-do”?

But there are also practical reasons why I don’t get up and going, which my friends who are impatiently waiting outside never seem to understand. (Maybe that’s why I end up going for most movies alone. Which also goes with watching so many movies.) I mean, what do you get when everyone leaves at the same time? A bottleneck at the exit. Which gets worse when it’s a 3D movie with you needing to re-deposit the glasses: the queue pretty much goes back up to the passage as the attendants check and count the glasses before letting you leave.

Poster of one of the best Bollywood movies of 2015, MasaanI also don’t get up and go because, to me, the movie-watching process is akin to an exercise session. I come early as warm-up, the movie is the main workout, and the stay-behind is the cool-down. If it’s a good movie, or a delicious slow-burn such as Masaan or Sairat (especially its intensely crafted first half and its chilling end), staying till the last credit allows me to be with the movie a bit longer, savour it a bit more, let it linger in my system. And while others would rush out of a lousy movie, even halfway in some case (Humshakals and Bullett Raja, in recent times, both incidentally starring Saif Ali What-Was-He-Thinking), I stay back in these cases too – to ensure I leave the movie behind in the theatre itself!

Seriously, and this could be the movie-lover in me talking, I wish folk could treat the ending the way they treat the beginning. They put in copious effort to ensure they don’t miss the start (rushing their dads, making frantic calls to their partners, giving ultimatums to friends: “If you come late, I’ll enter without you”). Those who are tardy despite these efforts ask those inevitable questions to those around, “How much did we miss?” and “What happened so far?” Yes, you should enter early for the movie too, if nothing else than for etiquette (not disturbing others with your silhouettes, sounds, and shoe jabs as you sheepishly enter), and for Pixar’s movies, for the cho-chweet short before the flick, which many times is better than the main, like Piper was before Dory. (What, you missed that too? See, now you have to go find Dory again.) However, to not make you feel too sore, here’s a snip.

But a British multiplex (don’t recall which one, as it was from a sea of social-media posts) has perhaps the best reason – from a cinephile’s perspective – for staying back till the end, and why they don’t open the doors until all the credits have finished rolling. They want you to respect the effort of everyone involved in the movie, and not just the top stars. Clearly, no Brexit in this case.

To me, there can be only one time when it’s okay to be in a hurry at the end. If you’re catching another right after. In which case, how about seeing if it’s playing in the same audi? That way, you get the ending of this one, and don’t miss the beginning of that one. Which should be great for you. And for the rest of the audience. Though not for the cleaning staff. Who’ll have to wait for you to leave… twice over.

Cover pic for this post with the calling card of the play and my comment

Irficionado | Play | ‘Amrapali’

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The Theatre Nisha logoIt seems Theatre Nisha read my review of their last staged play, Gallantly Fought the Queen, based on the life of Rani Lakshmibai. For they seem to have incorporated the suggestions I made there into one of their latest staged plays, Amrapali. Well, technically, Amrapali has been on for some time. But it was finally satisfying to watch a rather rich production (content-wise) from Theatre Nisha, after two somewhat let-down productions (Gallantly and, before that, Flowers).

Amrapali, also in contrast to the previous two plays I had watched, was staged free. (And no, that isn’t the reason I liked it. In fact, because it was good, I felt they should have charged a nominal fee out of respect for the effort put in.) Also, watching the third straight monologue play from Theatre Nisha, I was able to possibly get the group’s strategy. I think they come out with these monologues as experiments, and the ones that click (Flowers and this one seem to have done well so far), they keep adding to, embellishing and enriching. The first shows seem less slick (I think Gallantly was in the initial stages of, well, being staged, but Flowers and Amrapali have had good runs by the time I caught them), and therefore a bit disappointing, but if the group feels they’re onto something, they don’t let go and keep chipping away until they get at least half a gem.

A calling card for Theatre Nisha's play, Amrapali

Anyway, enough theorizing and back to Amrapali. So, Amrapali seems to have woven in the suggestion I made of the one actor playing all the different characters. Janani Narasimhan, who played the courtesan, did so, and with aplomb, modulating her voice very effectively and perceptibly for the multiple characters, right down to the body language. Janani also moved around the four-sided venue, calibrating her movements, so that no one part of the audience felt tuned out. (Though I did catch one guy on the opposite side nodding off for the first part of the play, but that could be because he was done with his weekend. The venue, Spaces, is right next to the immensely popular and populated Besant Nagar Beach, or more fondly, Bessie, which has tons of eateries, hang-outs, activities, or in short, distractions.)

Actor Janani Narasimhan in and as AmrapaliJanani was also a very stoic performer, acting her solo part through the heat and sweat. I saw first sweat-beads form and then turn into rivulets and stream down her face, but she battled through them. (I’m guessing also the make-up was smudge-proof.) Compare this with most folk in the audience making fans out of anything they could get their hands on: the play flyer, newspapers, face towels, their hands; plus, the prescient had got actual hand-fans.

On the flip side, Janani did get some of her pronunciations wrong, and I also thought she was a bit of a miscast, as Amrapali – according to the writer of the play itself, V Balakrishnan, the director and force behind Nisha – was supposed to be a woman of extraordinary beauty. Which is why she was designated the courtesan in the republic of Vaishali. Nevertheless, matching the looks to the role is more of a movie necessity; in theatre, talent reigns supreme. So, nothing really to take away from Janani.

V Balakrishnan, founder and director of Theatre NishaBut even better than Janani’s performance, and which is why I loved the play so much, was the writing. Bala has invested a lot into the script; it’s easy to see that he wrote it with love and care and kept perfecting with each staging. I especially loved the piece on how an apsara’s breasts are useless, “mere ornaments, for decoration”, as they are not able to produce milk, and therefore any kid they beget, they can’t nurture. Amrapali, in fact, is one such child.

The skillful writing also shows in the symmetry of the play, though this could very well be the same in most accounts of the courtesan’s life: Amrapali, toward the end of her life, on relinquishing her erstwhile duties and taking to the teaching and principles of the Buddha, takes up habitat just where her earthly father had found her – under the mango tree. (That’s why she’s given her name, the sprouts of a mango tree.) The symmetry is sealed with Janani / Amrapali reciting the same Sanskrit lines at the end of the play as at the beginning; only, at the end, it’s with their meaning.

Kudos to Janani, Bala and everyone at Theatre Nisha for this fine endeavour. Would have loved it even more if the heat wasn’t such a sapper and as someone for the previous play had suggested, “there had been an AC at the (open) venue”. But then, as a member of Nisha had responded, “Spaces wouldn’t be the same that way”.

Chandramandapa at Spaces, where the play was staged

Chandramandapa at Spaces, where the play was staged

You can find out more about Theatre Nisha on their website: Theatre Nisha

Cover pic for this piece with the title of this piece and the cover of 'Sleeping on Jupiter'

Irficionado | Books | ‘Sleeping (Well) on Jupiter’

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Author Anuradha RoyI discover Anuradha Roy through a Hindu interview and like her attitude: frank and no-nonsense. I read up more about her and begin liking her voice. I come to know she’s nominated for The Hindu Prize 2015 and wonder if she’ll disappoint a favourite writer nominated alongside, Siddharth Chowdhury, but she doesn’t – neither of them wins, in fact – but am okay; I guess because I haven’t still read her. Then, she wins the DSC Prize (given for South Asian literature) – $50,000, or Rs 32,50,000, the cost of a 1 BHK on the outskirts of Chennai and the nethers of Bombay / Mumbai – and I resolve to finally read her. So, I buy Sleeping on Jupiter, for which she won, just before a 16-day workation to Bombay and Bangkok. And what do I do? I start reading on the way to Bombay, finish two chapters… and then nada through the entire trip and 10 days after that, after returning to Chennai, as I’m busy settling back and then fall sick.

So, although I finally finished it a couple of days ago, because of this long gap, because I lost the flow during that time, this will – criminally – not be a review, but rather just a few points on it.

Right off the blocks, Anuradha writes keenly. The second chapter alone – The First Day – can be a delightful short story in itself. After that, I found her stellar writing continuing, but wasn’t struck by it, but this could be because I was either used to her style by then or due to that damn chasm in reading.

The story itself is not a novel structure – it’s the one with multiple stories (of multiple people) converging at some point, in this invented town of Jarmuli, which sounds like a mongrel of Digha in West Bengal (due to the beach), Konark in Odisha (the famous big temple) and Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh (the erotic sculptures).

I won’t get into the details of the stories, though here’s a sliver: three old women making a trip to the temple town without their families for some time with their best friends, a documentary filmmaker who was adopted as a child coming to trace her bitter past under the pretext of researching for a film on the temple, the cameraman assisting her going through a divorce, a temple guide in love with a server (a guy) at the beach tea-stall… Through them emerge dark and heavy themes of unholy godmen, the frustration of gay love, the spirit-sucking degradation of the faculties in old age, and the despair of failed marriages.

Roy builds up the stories astutely, making them mingle well and at the right time. Does she resolve them, at least some of them? Well, she gives all of them an ending, but not surprisingly, there is melancholy laced in each, and one ends particularly macabre, in fact, you get this right at the end.

Now, due to the reading break, that’s all I will, or can, say about the book. Nevertheless, I do have two comments more. Though this could be the advertising / branding (brand-naming) part of me talking more than the writing part.

Cover of Anuradha Roy's DSC-Prize-winning book, 'Sleeping on Jupiter'For a long time, you wonder about the title of the book. Having almost reached the end and finding no signs of it, you wonder if you’ve missed it, or if you haven’t, then whether Roy won’t reveal it to you. But she fortunately does. And I kinda like it. (I had my own take, just in case, which I’ll share right after.)

So, ‘sleeping on Jupiter’, with its many moons, and their quiet, peaceful, soothing lights – the light of our moon at night times Jupiter’s – promises to be calming for the tortured human soul from earth. There, under that blissful light, you’re free from the tyrannies of vicious godmen, agonizing old age, depressing divorces and scary pasts. Forget Mars, we should target Jupiter.

My take, which I later realised could be considered similar, comes from the Hindi word and Hindu mythology for the planet. Jupiter in Hindi is called ‘brihaspati’ or ‘guru’ (if you consider the day, Thursday, or ‘guruvar’) and is considered a lucky planet (compared with Saturn, called ‘shani’ and regarded as the inauspicious one); and ‘guru’ in Hindi also means a ‘spiritual teacher’. Just what you need to go through the hardships of life. I will help plan that mission to Jupiter.

Finishing the book, I went through the end praise for her previous two books, An Atlas of Impossible Longing and The Folded Earth. So, her titles all seem to employ geography and then twist it? Well, doesn’t life?

So, even though I’m not sure if this was worthy of a $50K award – but again, blame the chasm – but for the titles and her apparent “exploration of the human condition” (just had to use this oft-used phrase by reviewers), going by Sleeping on Jupiter, my appetite is whetted. To the size of Jupiter.

Author Anuradha Roy receiving the DSC Prize 2015 for her book, 'Sleeping on Jupiter'

Anuradha Roy receiving the DSC Prize 2015 for ‘Sleeping on Jupiter’

Cover pic for this post with a composite image of the brothers from 'Kapoor and Sons' and the post title

Irficionado | Writing and Creativity (Since 1921… and Way Earlier)

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Wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. It got published today, the perfect day, Friday, as it’s about movies, and the arts in general. Here’s the link: This Piece on thREAD. And below’s the original piece.

 ∞

There are about three conversations happening around the super-loved, superhit Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921) right now.

First, it’s a delectable easy-charm, slice-of-life movie that takes the protagonists and the viewers not from A through Z, but to, let’s say, a T. Also, it’s a liner and not a submarine – it cruises along without diving deep. I agree with most of that, but wish it could have gone just a bit deeper; it would have been a “truer” film, like the director, Shakun Batra’s debut Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, which does the opposite of Kapoor and Sons – it goes from A to T and then back to A: the protagonists don’t end up being together at the end, nor seem very likely to.

Next, how insanely good-looking Fawad Khan is, especially shorn of the stubble from his Bollywood debut, Khoobsurat – and people thought that was hot. Fawad has got most girls, and some guys, weak in their knees and other body parts. And there’s talk that just for this delightful import from across the border, we might finally let their cricket team win a World Cup match.

Fawad Khan in a scene from 'Kapoor and Sons'Finally, people are going to town about how sensitively the film-makers have dealt with Fawad’s character, Rahul, being gay. (Did we hear those girls weeping and those guys whooping? Chill, that’s just his character – although he is married in real life.) The LGBT community especially seems ecstatic that the makers have said ‘gay’ without saying ‘gay’ – there’s no mention of the word, not even an indication (even the fuchsia feather boa in the family belongs to his dad) and Rahul isn’t portrayed as disco/Cher-loving or shirt-chasing. I think the makers could have gone better here too – while no one uses the G word, Rahul’s mom treats him, at least as soon as she comes to know of his “truth”, with the same disgust most queer people find themselves at the receiving end of. But portrayals of LGBT characters in our movies rarely go beyond those effete, pink-loving stereotypes, so this is at least two-steps-forward, one-step-back.

But I’d like to bring a fourth, and perhaps more discussion-worthy, conversation to the Burma-teak table. Before that, the context-setting.

Rahul and his younger bro, Arjun, are both writers. However, Rahul is the successful one and Arjun the struggler. Rahul’s second book has been a huge success – although his first tanked – and he’s presently working on the third. In fact, he seems to be doing well enough to come to his home-town, Coonoor, to scout for a bungalow to turn into an artists’ retreat. Arjun, in contrast, is struggling with more than just his writing. He’s recently given up, after a short stint, his gig of blogging about Bollywood and is presently making ends meet as a part-time bartender. In his spare time, he is working on a book, his second one, after having given up the first because it “somehow” proved to be very similar to Rahul’s second/successful book. (Did Rahul sneak a peek and get “inspired”? For that, you’ll have to watch the movie.)

Sidharth Malhotra and Fawad Khan in a scene from 'Kapoor and Sons'

Setting aside their differences for a while, in the second half, the brothers begin talking about Arjun’s manuscript. Arjun shares that the publisher has asked him to change the ending as it’s a not happy one, but he is, um, not happy with doing that. Why? Because he believes “books, or literature, should reflect real life – and real life is never happy.”

However, toward the end, as the movie moves toward its T point, we see Arjun reneging: he makes the book end positively. At the publishers’, when asked how he finally relented, warmly recalling Rahul’s reflections to him (more about this later), he offers, “Based on someone’s suggestion…”

As a writer and creative individual (or so the hope), this seemed a more primal point for discussion than how deep a movie should go, how lovely a lad looks, or how a gay guy can love other colours in the rainbow flag.

A quote about happy endingsThe great books, even the good ones – and by this I mean literature and not “racy, pacy reads” – have almost always ended sad. From Homer to Shakespeare to Hardy to living authors, it’s like a defining trait of literature that it shouldn’t end joyous. And I believe this is for the good: people read these books, not so much to escape their pain, but to empathize with others in a parallel universe somewhere dealing with the same kinds of pathos. As we see our troubles equalled, or even surpassed, in literary characters, we are assuaged – kind of like a therapy session right at home, or wherever you choose to read. And while these characters are fictional, lit-lovers know that somewhere these are either alter egos of the writers or amalgamated versions of people the writer has met or observed.

While I haven’t read Iliad and very little of Shakespeare and Hardy, let me talk of the ones I have, right from my favourite authors and books to more recent literature.

Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, while mesmerizing to read right from the first Buendian (the family in the story) to the last, eventually ends up in loss for the family. As the second-last Buendian loses himself more and more in academia, the last Buendian, the baby, loses his little life, Second-Last failing to pay attention to Last’s precarious situation. A century on, the family is back to solitude.

Cover of V S Naipaul's sublime 'A House for Mr Biswas'In Naipaul’s tender, tearful A House for Mr Biswas, there is almost no relief for Mr B through the expansive tome. As he sees his third and final house slowly disintegrating, his life too seeps away, at the ripe old age of… 46.

Even in Marquez’s ultimately-happy Love in the Time of Cholera, the lovers meet only after “51 years, 9 months and 4 days.” Many would say, where’s the joy in that?

Cover of Cyrus Mistry's 'Chronicle of A Corpse Bearer'Or take the recent DSC winners (an award given for South Asian writing, which seems to be going India’s way over the last few years, just like the Ms Worlds/Ms Universes were once upon a time). Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of A Corpse Bearer deals with the many tragedies in the life of the titular khandhia, from his excommunication from his caste on marrying a woman “below” him to the death of his wife at a very young age. Even the most recent winner that I’m in the middle of now, Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter, deals with many dark and heavy themes: the not-so-holy doings of some (all?) godmen, the frustration inherent in most gay romances (the flavour of the season?), and the spirit-leeching deterioration of the faculties in old age. I’m yet to know how it ends, but it surely doesn’t augur well.

So, if literature ends up being tragic yet triumphant, and he isn’t writing a book with a number in its title or a Hindu mythological figure as its hero, why does Arjun end up modifiying its ending?

The answer perhaps lies where it started – in our movies. Many Bollywood directors (no doubt, there are examples in other Indian cinemas too, but I am a Big Bolly Buff) make a great first movie – a movie from their heart and soul – but which doesn’t do ting at the tills as it’s too “real”, and so change tack and make a more “commercially viable” movie henceforth, which not surprisingly works.

Ayan Mukerji made the wondrous Wake Up Sid, which despite all its acclaim at best only woke up, rather than shook up, the box office. So, he moved to more commercial elements, such as a more saleable leading lady and foreign locales, and delivered the blockbuster Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

Poster of Zoya Akhtar's debut movie 'Luck by Chance'Zoya Akhtar first gave us, or me (as it’s my favourite film of all time), the rich, deep, involving Luck By Chance, which had layers upon layers of psychology, nuance, complexity, and then some. But apart from folk like me who watched it 15 times, it had little luck. So, she swerved to the big, vapid Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and then the bigger and only less vacuous Dil Dhadakne Do.

Director Shakun Batra leaning over a cut-out of his debut movie 'Ek Main aur Ekk Tu'Finally, and ironically, Shakun Batra himself. He debuted with, as I already wrote, the ruminative Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, where the hero-heroine remain ek main aur ekk tu, but never ek hum (one you, one me, but never one us): the heroine, Kareena Kapoor, feels they are nice individuals in their own place but can’t be together, at least she doesn’t see it that way. Not surprisingly, the movie was seen by ek-do (one-two) folk. And so, in Kapoor and Sons, Shakun had Arjun and Tia (Alia Bhatt) hooking up by the end. And perhaps, to be doubly sure, he made Rahul prefer men. (Oh, was that the real reason for the character being gay?)

Cover of the book 'Creativity, Inc.To be fair, these directors might be attempting a golden middle. In a mini-interview to a different part of The Hindu, about which book he’s reading presently (Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace), Shakun had this to say: “The book talks about finding the balance between telling the stories you have to tell and fighting the battle you have to fight… It gives a lot of perspective and also makes me feel that it is possible to not sell your soul and make a film that connects with people.”

Your first creative endeavour goes under. You don’t want the next to suffer the same fate. Any wonder then that in making its ending a happy one, Arjun makes a practical decision. He wants to be successful – and if this is the only thing stopping him – why not, in a manner of speaking, lower your ideals?

Now, to all the writers/creative souls out there: what would you do? Write (pen/direct) a real but less saleable story? Or a happy and more successful one? That is, write for the self – or to sell? Or is there a golden middle?

As you begin writhing over that, let me finally share the suggestion Rahul gives Arjun, which leads to the modified ending, “Because people find real life tough, they look for happiness in stories…”

Now what would you do?

Agonizing, huh? Well, such is life. And I guess, literature.

Composite image featuring the poster and actor of Theatre Nisha's one-person play, 'Gallantly Fought the Queen'

Irficionado | Play Review | ‘Gallantly Fought the Queen’

Logo for Irficionado seriesThis was the second Theatre Nisha play I attended this year, and as it turned out, both had the same format. Both were around an hour long, both were monologues, both had two artistes accompanying, one a singer, the other an instrumentalist. To continue the similarity, both were conducted in small spaces (the first one in a yoga studio, yes, and this one in the Alliance Francaise auditorium) and both had similarly priced tickets. Just that the first one, ‘Flowers’, about a married Hindu priest from ancient times succumbing to the charms of a newly-arrived courtesan, proved to be better than this one.

Poster of Theatre Nisha's 'Gallantly Fought the Queen'This one, ‘Gallantly Fought the Queen’, was about a historical person again, but this time a real one, Rani of Jhansi, Laxmibai. It was based on Hindi poet, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s eulogy to the queen, ‘Khoob Ladi Mardaani’. The play’s title was a very astute translation of the poem’s title. Unfortunately, the goodness ends there. Ok, credit too to Meera Sitaraman, who played the queen. She put in a lot of zeal and effort, effortlessly switching from the Hindi stanzas of the poem to the English narration. Yes, the monologue was basically a narration of the events in the rani’s life from when the British begin laying siege to Jhansi to her eventual death. Interspersed with that, as just mentioned, was the recitation of parts of the poem, I’m guessing, in the order they are written.

Poster of Theatre Nisha's one-person play, 'Flowers'Watching this unfold, I felt either of two things. That this was an experimental play, like a test run before a bigger, more lavish mounting (and by god, would this subject look grand on a grander scale – the rani in her majestic attire, thundering her lines, tearing through the enemy; any wonder then Bollywood has been toying with making a movie on her for the longest time, and I’m already picturing Alia Bhatt or Kareena Kapoor). Alternatively, this was repeating the formula from the earlier ‘Flowers’. When something has worked, why tinker? (Though ‘Flowers’ itself was modest at best. Also, ‘Flowers’ had a more riveting tale.) In both cases, the reason seemed the desire to keep the budget low, or rather, work within the low budget. For ‘Flowers’, the only thing on stage was a big lingam; here, it was six black boxes (the same lingam dismantled?) stacked like a pyramid, perhaps to resemble stones or a fortress.

Meera Sitaraman in the titular role of Theatre Nisha's 'Gallantly Fought the Queen'

Meera Sitaraman in and as Rani Laxmibai in the play

If budget was really the issue, I have a suggestion (like I always do when I feel something has a decent premise, but seems to lack something in the final execution). This may also solve the problem of finding it boring to watch one person, that too just narrate a timeline of events. (I found many others, along with myself, trying hard to suppress many a yawn, during the 60-odd-minute runtime.) Perhaps the actor could have switched roles from time to time, with a modification of attire during each switch if possible. So, she could have been Tantia Tope when chastising his ineffectuality, about Lord Dalhousie when sneering at his haughtiness, or even her subjects when empathizing with their collective fears and mobilized courage. Like one actor playing multiple roles, as has been seen in some films too (Bollywood’s most famous example being Sanjeev Kumar’s ‘Nayi Din, Nayi Raat’). Would have definitely made for more interesting viewing, would have pushed the eager actor more, and most importantly, if they decided to do away with the accompanying artistes, would have made the most of the budget. In short, Creatively Should Have Thought the Team. Lacking which, the only thing gallant here proved to be the decision to produce a play within a seemingly small budget.

 

Composite image of stills from 'Mother India' and 'Wake Up Sid' with the Mother India image having a sepia feel

Irficionado | Movies | Parents: Missing in (Lights, Camera,) Action

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Had sent this piece to thREAD, The Hindu’s online segment. The article came out today! With some edits, text and visual. The link is below and the original piece below that.

This piece on thREAD

I had been waiting for the DVD of Tamasha to come out for two reasons. One, to enjoy my favourite movie of last year all over again. Two, to check whether Deepika Padukone’s character, Tara, had parents in the movie. For we just see a glimpse of her kin in one song, Heer toh badi sad hai, and then too, it’s not clear if they are her parents and family or rather guardians and their family.

I watched the song a few times to verify, and the most I could discern was that there is a senior male figure in her life, but going by the displayed behaviour between them, he seems to be a caring uncle at best. In contrast, Dev’s (Ranbir Kapoor’s character) parents are well established, as a key part of the movie involves them.

And then I started thinking of other romantic movies (aren’t all our movies around that warm, fuzzy feeling?) in the recent past with a young urban setting or story, to check a developing theory.

In Wake Up Sid, my favourite movie of a few years ago, Ayesha’s (Konkona Sen’s character) parents find mention only in a wall photo of her Mumbai rental and in a late-night call to her mom back in Kolkata. This movie too pivots partly on Ranbir Kapoor’s (Sid) parents, but the core (love) story takes off when Sid moves into Ayesha’s apartment.

Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen-Sharma in the latter's room in 'Luck By Chance'In Luck By Chance, my favourite movie of all time, the parents of both the principal characters (Vikram, played by Farhan Akhtar, and Sona, again Konkona) live in cities away from the city in which the characters have come to pursue their Bollywood dreams.

Nithya Menen and Dulquer Salmaan in a scene from 'O Kadhal Kanmani'The roster continues… Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani: screen time of three minutes max for Deepika’s mom and none for Kalki Koechlin and Aditya Roy Kapur’s parents; I Hate Luv Storys: Sonam Kapoor’s parents appear for around six minutes overall and Imran Khan’s mom appears for five minutes in the second half; and looking at Kollywood – and from the limited Tamil movies I watch and understand – in last year’s O Kadhal Kanmani (OKK): no parents again for the girl, Tara (Nithya Menen), and an elder brother and his family at the most for Adi (Dulquer Salmaan).

My theory, or rather, query was ripe: Where are the parents in today’s movies? Or better put, why are they missing? Contrast this with the time when movies were all about Mother India and her mamta and which bhai ke paas maa hai.

Poster of 'Deewar' (1975) with the mother, Nirupa Roy, holding centre-stage

The reasons, it would seem, are both reel and real.

Reel first. The dynamics of both movie-making and watching in India have changed. Movies are no longer three-hour-plus backside-burners but of a more palatable two or two-and-a-half-hour duration, leaving little room for elaborate back or side family stories. Going to the movies now is also less of a family affair and more a hangout with friends or a significant other, and since these happen more in multiplexes, these folks don’t want to see movies with the “baggage” of, well, folks – the people they have left outside those multiplexes. Also, a majority of Bollywood and many Kollywood movies are now being shot abroad – to cater to aspiring Indians and gloss-habituated NRIs – and the economics and mechanics of doing this doesn’t leave any room in the script and in the plane for the mummies and daddies.

But the real reasons appear to be the real ones.

Graphic of a Do Not Disturb door sign with text talking about the need to have spaceThe growing urban clamour among Indians first since liberalization and then globalization has seen people steadily moving from smaller cities, towns and villages to the metros and super-metros for better opportunities and hopefully a better life. And sometimes, like in Wake Up Sid, individuals move within the same city (out of their parents’ nest into their own), for space and privacy. In both cases, parents can become estranged (as Sona’s parents in Luck By Chance, who don’t like her decision to go to big, bad Bollywood, and Sid’s parents when he moves out after a war of words with his dad). Where’s the space for your progenitors when you’re busy pursuing your dreams and aspirations and fierce about your individuality and privacy? But also, as millennials would ask, where’s their need? After all, aren’t they just a WhatsApp message or Skype call away?

A bigger factor than the urban dream, though, seems to be inner conflict. Today’s tussles are no longer Parents vs You, Family vs Lover, Society vs Status: “You’ve got to take up your dad’s business.” “What will relatives and society say?” “You can’t marry him, he’s outside our class/caste/fill-in-the-blank.” Today’s parents know these hoary dialogues won’t budge with today’s youth, and today’s youth have scant headspace for the same. Not having a big outside demon to fight, the individual’s struggles now have all gone internal. Now vs Sometime in the Future, Commitment vs Independence, My Ideology/Dreams/Fill-in-the-blank vs Yours: “Now’s not the time – not because we’ve been seeing each other for just six months, but because I’m due for director at the firm.” “We’re somehow not compatible – I think I’m looking for something else.” “What about my dreams?” Ambitions and aspirations have become the new antagonizing amma and appa. And even where this is love, there is still conflict, because now we look at turns and shades of love. “I love you, but I’m not in love with you (or vice versa).” “I like you… as a friend; you are great to hang out with, but beyond that, I’m not so sure.” “I love you, but… (and any variety of reasons here).”

Imtiaz Ali wearing a T-shirt of 'Jab We Met'

Imtiaz Ali, Tamasha’s director, is perhaps the flagbearer of the urban-setting, inner-turmoil romantic movie. His career graph reflects this evolving graph of Bollywood – and the case of the MIA parents. In his first film, Socha Na Tha (2005), the boy rejects the girl in an arranged-marriage rendezvous, leading to parents and family on both sides turning into epic warlords. Cut to the movies after that – Jab We Met (2007), Love Aaj Kal (2009) and now Tamasha – and you see how protagonists are inflicting enough torture upon themselves (with all their goals and wants) to not need the earlier lava of parents. In Tamasha, Ved subjects himself and Tara to enough heartache and heartbreak by not being able to be true to himself and his passion. In Love Aaj Kal, both Saif Ali Khan and Deepika’s characters give each other enough anguish and agony by not being sure of each other and wanting to pursue their individual dreams – in different continents and with different partners; not surprisingly, the movie doesn’t even bother featuring each other’s parents. In 2012’s Cocktail (only produced by Imtiaz), featuring Saif and Deepika again, Imtiaz makes up somewhat by bestowing parents on Saif, but still nothing for Deepika. (Hmm, no folks for Deeps in most of her movies. Is that why… she had gone into depression?)

Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham pretending to be a gay couple in 'Dostana' (2008)And then, there’s the last type of movie, or movie setting. Where the story is deemed too radical for audiences so that the milieu is changed to far away from where the protagonists hail. Dostana in Bollywood and OKK in Kollywood. Indian audiences would not accept a gay couple in even big, bad Mumbai where apparently anything goes (so what if the guys were only pretending to be lovers for the sake of an apartment?), and so Karan Johar decided to set it in Miami, far far away from both guys’ parents. In OKK, Mani Ratnam felt Tamil audiences would incant “Aiyyo, Kadavulai” on seeing a couple living in sin in even rapidly-become-cosmopolitan Chennai and so decided to set it in, no surprise, Mumbai, again far away from each other’s parents. And maybe for good reason. For we remember all the invocations (to God and godmen) Abhishek Bachchan’s mom, Kirron Kher, makes when she comes visiting, and the frayed looks Dulquer’s sister-in-law gives him when she discovers women’s stuff in his room.

But before you begin relishing (or bemoaning) the absence of parents in present-day films, remember what they say about the movies? Cinema reflects reality. If you look around, you’ll notice a new trend, especially with bugle sounds of Make In India, the growing number of start-ups in the country, and thus, a reverse brain drain: people coming back to India (after going abroad for studies and a few years of work ex), getting back to their hometowns and setting up companies there (Rashmi Bansal’s recent book on entrepreneurs, Take Me Home, showcases several such stories), and consequently… coming back to stay with or near their parents. Will these then begin getting reflected in tomorrow’s movies? Will movie Ma’s and Pa’s then make a grand comeback? Will Imtiaz Ali then make a Love Kal Aaj aur Kal? And will Son-mani’s parents be OK with he living in with his Kanmani? We shall wait and watch.