Man looking at a display screen of movies outside a multiplex

From Escapist Movies… To Escapist Movie-goers

Our movies are so escapist, we moan. And merrily keep going for them. Because after all… We want to be like that on-screen person, or we want to be with that on-screen person. We want that plush house we see them in, and / or we want that Eurail trip we see them on. With or without song and dance.

I like the movies, I like them as much escapist as realist (only sometimes as the same movie), and so don’t have a problem with this. As Zoya Akhtar carped to Karan Johar on his show recently, “They say my movies are about rich people! So tell me, India goes to the movies to… see poverty?!”

However, as someone who watches his movies almost exclusively at the theatres – even when I catch them on TV, they are DVDs of flicks I’ve first loved in the theatre – and has been doing so for the longest time, across various cities (Maharashtra-born and bred, largely Calcutta-educated, and currently roosting in Chennai), there’s another kind of movie escapism I’ve noticed, which has less to do with what’s happening on screen and more with what the venue has to offer. Allow me.

Young couple getting cozy at the moviesFirst up, the ecstatic but exasperated couples, married and unmarried alike. Not finding even half a place to snog in peace, with increasingly claustrophobic metros and eternally alert cultural guardians, the dim environs of the theatre provide the perfect sanctuary for these Jacks and Juliets. And the theatre operators seem to have kept this audience segment in mind too. A popular multiplex chain in Chennai has couple seats, which seem like two seats fused into one, much like the bodies it anticipates. In Bombay, most chains offer discounted fares for morning and early afternoon shows, aimed at hormonally high college kids getting off from college or bunking it, as well as BPO millennials, getting off work at… 9am. So, while the on-screen couple wages war to land up in each other’s arms, these ones appear to have already crossed that hurdle.

Composite of repeat images of French actor, Jean Dujardin, sleepingSeeking a different kind of comfort are folk who come for some shut-eye. These are usually individual men in their early 30s or thereabouts, most probably married, but perhaps with not much room or quiet at home for a good night’s DND sleep. This is typically in the afternoon, with many also coming to kill time before a meeting. Their movie of choice is unsurprisingly not a hit one – or one before it becomes… a sleeper hit – as that means less people around to disturb and more aircon to absorb. I’ve also found many not returning after the interval, and thus not knowing whether the couple ended up with each other, or more aptly in the case of our movies, how.

This next one – to paraphrase a line from ‘Sex and the City’ (the series; the movies of course I watched on screen and soon after got the DVDs) – for the cheap seats in the front. And this might be exclusive to Chennai. Where the people love their movies and their superstars, and where the government seems to want them to continue doing so. Ticket rates have been capped at a very pleasing Rs 120 for almost a decade. (Compare this with the heartburn-inducing 500-1000 or upwards it can get to on weekends and holidays in some multiplexes in Bombay.) Here, there are seats, right in the front, kissing the screen, for as low as 10 bucks. Wooden or at least a bit humbler than the better-upholstered ones just one row behind, tickets for these are available about 10 minutes or so before the show and typically at a counter on the sidelines. These are aimed at, the best way I can put it, the man (am yet to spot a woman on these seats) ‘even commoner than the common man’, but with no less zeal for silver-screen servings. With the long-standing demand to increase ticket prices, the rates for these seats should perhaps remain where they are. Even as these folk find ways to move up the auditorium-seating ladder.

The last one took me a while to figure out. The mature / middle-aged solitary man, coming in for almost every movie. Hmm, perhaps not too different from me; and I shall sportingly come to that shortly.

I would first speculate, ‘Movie reviewer’? No, the reviewer – and I’ve bumped into and spoken with a couple of them more than a couple of times – behaves differently. They are time-strapped, most probably rushing to another movie soon after this one or to write this one’s review, and are very focused: no eats, no phone checks, no nonsense; no doubt to take mental notes of every dialogue and note.

So, is that middle-ager lone ranger a connoisseur? No, this breed is quite different too. The aficionado is usually more relaxed than the reviewer, and is more often than not open to having a casual chat with a random stranger (me) about the ongoing movie, as well as movies in general, though never during the movie. We wouldn’t be cinema-lovers otherwise.

Middle-aged man looking bored during a movieMr Party-of-One (again, these are mainly he’s), from what I’ve observed, is similar to the sleep-seeker, but with more weighing him down than just lack of space. He is perhaps seeking to disengage, if only for a while, from an undesirable situation or station in life: a fractured marriage, a joyless job, an empty nest, benumbing loneliness, or some other vex that three hours in a dark cocoon can provide some solace from. He takes his seat, watches the proceedings on screen devoid of emotion, doesn’t get anything to munch on, and leaves, with the same stoicism with which he came in. Or am I reading too much into it? Well, if there’s a better explanation, the comments section awaits.

Me now. I am an escapist movie-goer too, and not just to be transported mentally to the Swiss Alps or to Super Achievement. I have both exciting and not-so-invigorating drivers that have me heading to the multiplexes.

Exciting first. I love the variety of eats at Indian theatres. Besides the ever-popular cola-popcorn pair-up, there’s a mini-Swiggy at the concessions: samosa, chaat, iced tea, ice cream, cold coffee, pizza, burger, nachos… What theatre operators can’t get by ticket rates, they are clearly aiming to get by the palates.

Not-so-exciting now. I end up ordering and enjoying those treats mostly on my own. Over time, with more and more of my friends having crossed over to marital “bliss”, and not nursing similar “aspirations” myself, I have found myself booking fewer and fewer seats at the movies, until it has almost always come down to just one. That was in Bombay. In Chennai, where one hears as much Hindi as one witnesses raindrops, I head to the movies to get some of that tongue into my ears. (I see how that sounded.) And so, I’ve gone for the insipid ‘Irada’ and the frivolous ‘A Flying Jatt’ with the sole irada (intention) of having some Hindi flying into my ears. But these films have been so listless that I’ve promptly been lulled into la-la-land, ending up exactly like one of those dozing types I identified earlier.

Warped same-language subtitles of The Star Wars beginning text scrollHowever, like all these things go, the movies and the theatres don’t seem to be doing their escapism-providing job very well these days. Or maybe, there are just so many distractions now. Screen captures at the hero’s intro; annoying luminescence from FB / WA updates during a lull on screen, and from Temple Run playthroughs during a song; those canoodling couples not stopping at canoodling; that snoozer in the depths of slumber and the heights of snoring; businessmen conducting their business in loud monologues and telling you to shut up and mind your own business when you request them to do so; corporate have-nots having to provide updates to belligerent bosses at any required time of day, thanks to the diabolical and no-doubt HR-invented concept of “work-life merge”; invocations of patriotism just before the movie begins; fervent vigilantes doing a beacon-like eye-sweep for paraplegics who aren’t standing in honour… And if all that isn’t excruciating enough for folk like me who really like their cinema, then my pet peeve: same-language subtitling. Because people don’t have the patience to decipher a foreign accent, because 100-crore-seeking moviemakers don’t want to lose these audiences, and because when you visit the Big Apple, New Yorkers will be walking around with speech-to-text display boards around their necks.

Sigh. Maybe it’s time to escape from the movies. And maybe those video-streaming sites have come to India at the right time.

I wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. Here’s the edited version on their site: This piece on thREAD

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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 a faded pic of Shere Khan growling and the words 'Villain?' and 'Victim?' written on the two sides

Irfanimals: Tiger, Tiger, Burning (B)Right?

Irfanimals Logo

My latest piece for thREAD, The Hindu’s online segment, this time around The Jungle Book and around my two big interests of movies and animal welfare. Go on, rrread!

This piece on thREAD

If you’ve seen the new Jungle Book, you’ve done one, some or all of the following things.

You’ve watched it at least twice, and at least once in IMAX. I have too, and it’s without doubt, an IMAX movie.

You’ve agreed with its U/A certification. It is scary in parts: Kaa’s sssequence, Louie the gigantopithecus’ introduction through his gigantopithecal arm, Shere Khan lunging toward Mowgli on the plains…

You’ve gone back and watched the 1967 cell-animation version and revelled again in its simple joys and buffoonery: Colonel Hathi and his bumbling troops, Baloo with his bouncing belly, the monkeys and that era’s version of Temple Run…

You’ve listened to your kids hum the ditty, ‘Jungle-jungle pataa chalaa hai, Chaddi pehenke phool khila hai’, and then gone and hummed ‘Look for the bare necessities’ yourself.

If an animation lover, you’ve been enthralled by its technical genius. To the best of my knowledge, almost everything in the movie – apart from some water and mud, and of course, Neel Sethi and his chaddi – has been created on the computer.

The iconic image of the tiger in the water in 'Life of Pi'Likewise, you’ve compared it with the other big animal animation movie in recent times, Life of Pi, and fought with other cinephiles over which is better. Theme-wise though, apples and oranges. Life of Pi was more philosophical-spiritual; Jungle Book is more socio-anthropomorphic and even moralistic (and more of this very shortly).

If a really huge movie lover, apart from the 50-year-old animation version, you’ve also gone and watched the popular live-action versions available online, the 1994 one starring Jason Scott Lee as an adult Mowgli and the first one from 1942, featuring Sabu, again as a boy lost and grown into an adult in the wild. These two were closer to Kipling’s books (there are two) in some ways (the focus is more on the hunt for some long-lost treasure than on Mowgli vs Shere Khan, plus there is a snake protecting the treasure chamber), but also dissimilar in certain others (Mowgli kills Khan early on in the first version, but in the 1990s’ version, they have a stare-down at the end, but after acknowledging respect for each other, head their separate ways).

If you’ve seen all these movies, you would have marvelled at how Disney seems to have watched all these versions themselves before coming up with the new avatar. The new Jungle Book has a terrific screenplay (they’ve taken a single, solid premise – Tiger vs Man, or Man-cub – and stuck to it from beginning to end, from growl to howl), is high on octane (Shere Khan in frightening pursuit of Mowgli, the bounding of the buffaloes, B&B – Baloo and Bagheera – fighting the monkeys), has a mesmerising mood and feel (delving, dark, dire); is, in short, lip-smacking story-telling and ultimately, smashing movie-making.

If your pursuits are more literary, you’ve bought the book(s), compared it/them with the movie(s) and – surprise, surprise – proclaimed #TheBookIsBetter. To the best of my knowledge again, the movies are based not on all, but a composite, of the stories in the books.

And if an animal lover, or more precisely, one who campaigns for animal welfare, such as myself, you’ve asked yourself one, some or all of the following questions: Was Shere Khan really that wrong in whatever he said and did? Did he really have to die? Was he the villain… or the victim?

Now, before you remonstrate that this is only a movie, and doesn’t need so much of cogitation, let’s consider its target audience. Kids. An audience that picks up much of its information and attitudes from mainstream media these days, especially attitudes to others, and those ‘others’ could well be another species. Actually, with parents having to accompany minors for this movie, it may even temper grown-ups’ outlook toward “lesser species”, especially to already-endangered striped big cats. The ongoing debate over Ustad is a case in point.

Ustad on the cover of India Today magazineTo fill you in, Ustad, or T24, is an adult male tiger from Ranthambore National Park who has been classified a maneater after he was spotted near the body of a guard in deep jungle and has subsequently been snared and relocated to a more constricted space in Sajjangarh Biological Park, about 500 kilometres from Ranthambore. The issue has gotten even wildlife experts divided (“he killed the man” vs “he was just found sniffing the body”), but animal activists have been campaigning for Ustad’s innocence and therefore release. Why, it seems like a ‘Talwar case for tigers’, not just for the seeming injustice but also because the officials were quick to incarcerate him based on circumstantial evidence and after mounting pressure on them to swiftly nab the perpetrator.

Coming back to Shere Khan, who is regarded by one and all viewers as the villain of this piece. How about we give at least the on-screen tiger a fair trial?

Bad Tiger…

Close-up of Shere Khan, with his bad left eyeCharge one: “Killing for pleasure, hunting for sport.” Actually, there is just one being who hurls these accusations at Khan – Raksha, Mowgli’s wolf-mom. (Though this could well be because the others are too scared of him.) Now, could these be mere inter-species aggressions? After all, we don’t see Khan actually indulging in these, though of course, if the movie began showing all this, it would be a very tedious movie. So, let’s just accept he does it; he doesn’t deny it himself. Could it be because he’s an injured tiger? He lost his left eye when he was torched by – the plot thickens – Mowgli’s father, when the latter took refuge in a cave while passing through the jungle with Mowgli was a child. Injured, weakened big cats are known to go for soft targets. Or maybe Khan does it to vent his frustration over becoming less of a tiger, due to no fault of his. And even if he terrorises for “pleasure and sport”, does that make him bad… or flawed?

TV grab of a report on the Uttarakhand forest fireThen, Khan kills Akela, the alpha of the wolf pack. Apart from being a stratagem to get Mowgli out of his presumed hiding-hole, Khan does this “to send a message to everyone that a man-cub is not welcome in the jungle, for a man-cub becomes man, and man is FORBIDDEN.” (You go, Idris Elba.) For Khan only knows too well the destruction man can cause to a jungle, especially with the power of his ‘red flower’ (fire). Come to think of it, don’t we too? Consider what’s been scorching the news recently: the Uttarakhand forest fire. Regarded in part to be caused by the wanton ways of the wood trade, this comes so close on the heels of The Jungle Book’s release, it’s almost a foreboding. Coming back to the charge, could it only be par for the course? If you know enough about wild animals, you’ll know big cats kill lesser predators to protect their turf, be that a physical one or a mind-game one, as in this case. What’s that jungle law again? Survival of the…

Good Tiger…

Shere Khan and good? Let’s see, doesn’t he respect the truce of the Peace Rock? (No predator can kill a prey animal at the watering hole when the Rock is revealed at the time of drought.) But once the Rock is submerged again after the rains, he returns to his mission: getting the man-cub eliminated from the jungle. (Which is why Bagheera has to force Mowgli to go to the man-village. With all the plot churns and turns, this is a veritable jungle-resident’s GoT.) Also, to begin with, Shere Khan perhaps just wants Mowgli out of his fur and forest, but as the wolf pack increasingly stands up against him, his ego is stoked and he begins baying for the man-cub’s blood. Unreasonable? Human pride has done far worse.

Wise Tiger?

In the final tussle, when Mowgli rushes back into the forest with a flaming torch, Khan is the first to point that Mowgli is the one who has actually brought destruction to the jungle, just as his ancestors before him: turning back, you see the embers that Mowgli carelessly spilled on his run have turned into ravaging fires that are eating up the wood and causing the animals to flee their terrain. Khan may very well have had great foresight in The Jungle Book. But just as it happens in real life, far-sighted people, or in this case, animals, are often witch-hunted.

Good Man-cub (?)

Mowgli in the climax from 'The Jungle Book', with the forest fire raging behind himAnd finally, Mowgli. Is he all good, in his cute chaddi? Crushed on knowing Akela is dead, Mowgli’s anguish turns to fury when he learns who the murderer is. Incensed, he runs to the man-village to get the fuming flame. Mowgli wanting to avenge his father-figure’s death… How different is that from Khan wanting to get back at a man-cub for a man making him a minnow tiger? (He doesn’t know Mowgli is the same man’s cub; else, hell would have hath no fury like a feline knowing the truth.) And if things haven’t turned grey enough, let’s look at how Mowgli kills Khan, or rather, causes Khan to be killed. By using his “tricks”, something Bagheera has been ceaselessly reproaching him over. The panther keeps exhorting Mowgli to be more natural, more animal than man. Mowgli, well, the man that he is, doesn’t listen. Sure, one time, he saves a life this way (the baby elephant’s), but the other time, he takes a life. And when that life is that of a fear-inducing, human-threatening big cat, no one has cause for complaint, right?

I think Disney, the maker of saccharine-loaded movies with even sweeter moralising, lost out a bit here, by killing the tiger. Odd, since in the two versions before this, tiger and man go their own paths. So, did Disney sacrifice great messaging for great story-telling? If they had let Khan live, there could have even been opportunity for a sequel, and perhaps further story-telling. It would have been fascinating to see Mowgli grown-up and pitting his strength and wits, and not tricks, in battle against an older Khan or his progeny. It would have also been interesting to know if a grown-up Mowgli continued to do good for the jungle, with or without his misguided man ways, or if he let the power of his tricks go to his head and caused eventual devastation to the jungle. Without Khan being around as a voice of reason, or fierce caution, we just wouldn’t know.

Or, keeping Ustad, Uttarakhand and the unabated poaching of this mighty, majestic mammal in mind, maybe Disney was merely reflecting reality. Grr.

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)

Logo for Irficionado series

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 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.

Irficionado | Movie Review | “Spectacle”

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Guy meets guy. In a foreign land. They get acquainted on discovering they’re from the same land, India. Both are attractive, and in their minds probably reckon they find the other attractive too, but it’s perhaps not come to the surface just yet. When the first proper ‘Hi’ happens – when Guy 2 goes up to Guy 1 (to be henceforth referred to as G1 and G2 correspondingly) to thank him for lending him his phone since his got stolen – G1 stops both of them short. He says if they follow the typical next steps, it will be the same old story: get to know each other, chat, get physical, and maybe even fall for each other… Here, in this videsi land, where no one knows them, they have the chance to be whoever they want to be. That way, they can also avoid the trappings of love and relationships. How about they just hang – hang out without getting hung up on each other? A six-night stand, if you will, of the platonic kind.

Jim Carrey in a scene from 'I Love You Phillip Morris'

Jim Carrey in a scene from ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’

G2 is amused, but decides to play along. So, they dance at the local festival, move into the same hotel, romp through the countryside… But never cross the physical line. And then it’s time for G2 to leave. The ditch is, G2 realises only then, that he’s fallen for G1. He decides to honour the pact, but still rushes back from the car to the room, to confirm with a dazed G1 whether this is indeed it and that they really won’t meet again, and sensing his dazed answer, kisses him (the mouth variety), and leaves.

Actually, not. G2 is just not able to get G1 out of his system… even after a few years. A work meeting brings him to Delhi, where he stumbles upon the book café whose name was printed on the book G1 was reading back in foreign land. He decides to take a chance and spend evenings there. And is rewarded. G2 spots G1 in a work meeting, approaches him, G1 is dazed again, and then what they had planned to avoid back in that foreign land does happen. Dating, making out, liking each other, and eventually a proposal. However, something, or someone, is missing: the guy, the real guy, that G1 was in that foreign land. G1, says G2, is pretending to be someone else. And so G2 calls it splits.

That may sound like the script of a big Bollywood movie for at least five years from now, or a parallel cinema movie at least three years from now, but that’s actually the story of what has proved to be my best movie of the year. Tamasha. G1 being Ranbir Kapoor, G2 being Deepika Padukone, and the foreign land being Corsica, France. No, I’m not insinuating anything on the part of the script/screenplay-writer (the director, Imtiaz Ali, himself), but to me, Tamasha’s storyline could well have been a gay one. A gay guy living it up, his true self, in a space where no one knows him, and then returning home and pretending to be straight again (and thus feeling straight-jacketed again).

Poster of movie 'Tamasha'

At its core, Tamasha is about coming out of the closet, whether that closet be a gay one or that constructed by society. So, unlike what most people have said about the movie (that it’s about following your passion; it is about that too, but that’s more the plot than the message), it’s about, simply, having the guts to be yourself.

But Imtiaz doesn’t leave it at that. Imtiaz is the bastion, if not the pioneer, of the “urban-inner-conflict-love-story” Bollywood movie, and keeps pushing even that envelope in each subsequent movie, even if it’s just changing the colours of the envelope. While most Bollywood movies would resolve that conflict in the last five minutes of the movie and have the hero-heroine embrace in the last two of those five, Imtiaz spends the entire second half delving into it. (Yes, what I outlined above was just the first half.)

Imtiaz believes the conflict of choosing to live your true life versus fitting into some template society has prepared is rocky enough (at least for the individual) and needs slow, deliberate, conscious unraveling. And there are enough clashes, agonies and tears between the protagonists in the course of this. Each time they meet after the refusal, Ranbir is beginning to get a bit closer to Ranbir Kapoor readying for another day in the rat race in a scene from 'Tamasha'his core. But just like the last mile on Everest can be the most excruciating, he’s finding it extremely agonising, especially with no friends, family or Deepika to hold his hand through the process. (Kind of like the coming-out process, to go back to that gay analogy.) Plus, his anguish is also aimed at Deepika for having been the catalyst in this painful scraping-out (the closeted gay guy hates the out guy for triggering the coming out). Ranbir almost barks at Deepika quite a few times through the few occasions they meet after the split (the closeted guy thinks the out guy is oh-so-self-righteous and hates the latter for making him consider getting out of his comfort zone). So, does Ranbir finally “come out”? As they say, for that, you’ll have to watch the movie. (And now that it’s exited the theatres, wait for the DVD or for it to come on TV.)

Bollywood director Imtiaz AliImtiaz’s stellar writing comes through in other departments of the movie as well. He brings in a side story of an auto-driver who Ranbir hires one night and hears him humming a song. That leads him to discover that the driver used to sing in his youthhood days but then “marriage and living took over”. This leads to the funky ‘Wat wat wat’ sing; you don’t understand the significance of this song in the promos, but in the storyline, its place and meaning dazzle.

Imtiaz’s penchant for symbolisms too bubbles over in Tamasha. Ranbir is reading, he-he, Catch 22 in Corsica. The name of the book café from which Ranbir has borrowed the book (which is written on the first inside page too) is Social. Ah, someone forced to be social, and thus being in a catch-22 situation, you go in raptures. And the best is the movie title itself. Tamasha, or Spectacle, while referring to Ranbir’s real passion for the dramatic and the theatre, also refers to how we, on following society’s path, end up becoming spectacles in our own eyes, but then again, if we follow our heart and its path, there’s the fear that we could end up becoming spectacles in society’s eyes (and society has many of them). Triumvirate symbolism.

In between, Imtiaz also pays homage to his favourites, his favourite cinematic cities. Calcutta makes a comeback (after ‘Love Aaj Kal’) and good ole Delhi (his debut ‘Socha Na Tha’, ‘LAK’, and ‘Rockstar’) and Simla (‘SNT’) are there too.

Child actor Yash Sehgal along with Ranbir Kapoor on the sets of 'Tamasha' in SimlaImtiaz also repeats the casting of the year by choosing Yash Sehgal as the kid version of Ranbir. Yash, who looks exactly like Ranbir would have looked in his childhood, also played the junior Ranbir in ‘Bombay Velvet’.

But Imtiaz’s best writing in the movie is for Deepika’s character. If he spent nights fleshing out Ranbir’s character, his hair must have curled some more prising out Deepika’s. In fact, some reviewers (women, especially) had a standard comment against the movie: why couldn’t the movie be about a woman following her passion and being her true self? One, Imtiaz doesn’t have to make social-cause movies. Two, his intention with Deepika is very clear: she is a catalyst, and that can be a central/critical character too. Deepika is not just the seed, but also the soil, the water, and the sun in Ranbir’s uncocooning. She is the one who turns down his proposal… in front of all his office friends. She is the one who tells him why she did so. She is the one who insists on meeting with him after some tears have flown under the eyes. She is the one who tells him why she wanted to meet him so. And the words she uses are perfectly conceived and crafted. Not ‘I’m sorry I broke your heart.’ But ‘I’m sorry that what I said touched some complex within you, which you didn’t want emerging and you’re not being able to deal with it, and that I ended up doing that for you.’ (Phew. This is great writing.)

Deepika Padukone in a sad scene from 'Tamasha'

However, Deepika’s character goes through some unpeeling and unraveling too, but for the viewers. You understand why her acting seemed so plain in front of Ranbir’s exuberant matargashti (tomfoolery) in Corsica: Ranbir is the hidden actor who was letting his suppressed self and acting come out in France; Deepika, although while playing along with Ranbir’s game, was pretty much her usual self in France, but you get this only in the second half. Deepika’s is a standard, humdrum life (she seems to head a tea company; how exciting). She falls in love with Ranbir because he’s so much fun (compared with her afternoons of tea-tasting), but also because she sees him for who he really is, which no one else has so far. Now, how is this not a strong woman character?

Deepika plays to the character, capably. Ranbir is brilliant in his fooling-around self, the anguished self, the cool self, or any self. (He is becoming rock-solid with each movie. Now, if only the fate of his movies could that solid.) But the star of the movie, luminously, is Imtiaz. Take it away, Imtiaz. Tamasha is, clearly, quite a spectacle.

And finally, to answer the 100-crore question: Why is Deepika’s heartbreak song, ‘Heer toh badi sad hai’, sung by folk singers in rural Punjab, while she is based out of Calcutta? (In fact, as the song begins and plays out, you clearly see her landing and moving around in the eastern city.) [Here’s the promo version of the song (with Ranbir singing to the camera), but the non-Ranbir parts will tell you the song story…]

Simple, people. Since the song is happening in her head, she imagines the guy she just fell head over heels for, but doesn’t know where he lives, must be from pure, proper Punjab. Why else would he be so full of life?

I told you, this movie is great writing.

Bajirao Mastani poster

Irficionado | Movie Review / Rant | ‘Bajirao Mastani’

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I’m tired of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movies.

I’m tired of top shots (I felt I was watching the Hindi version of ‘The Walk’), long shots (like at a tennis match), and drop shots (I don’t think there’s anything cinematically like this, but this phrase came up from those tennis court-like long shots).

I’m tired of sets that look like out of an art director’s dream – a wet dream.

I’m tired of heroines’ outfits looking like they weigh more than the heroine.

Tired of bling and attire having more sound effects than action sequences.

Tired of every film of his looking like it wants to best ‘Mughal-e-Azam’. (It’s like Ramu trying to make another ‘Aag’, gola, or whatever to amp ‘Sholay’.)

Tired of the stern-looking, usually widowed matriarch who is usually a middle-aged non-mainstream actress we haven’t seen in a while (Supriya Pathak in ‘Ram Leela’ and Tanvi Azmi here).

Tired of tragic endings that would do Guru Dutt proud. (Am guessing Bhansali himself has dreams – the same type above – over the tragedy guru.)

Tired of the hero overreaching (SRK in ‘Devdas’, Hrithik in ‘Guzaarish’, and Ranveer here).

Of heroine dance showdowns (Mads-Ash in ‘Devdas’, Chops-Deeps here, and Lolo-Mads in ‘DTPH’; I know, I know about the last, but maybe Bhansali was an AD on that movie?).

Of movies that aim to be visual and aural porn but leave a hole in the soul. (Since ‘Black’, all of Bhansali’s movie seem soulless.)

Seriously, Punekars and Marathi manoos elsewhere needn’t have lost their cool over ‘Pinga’, Mastani’s characterization (she apparently had a limp in real life and here she’s running through Mastani Mahal, with her kid, evading attackers, with swords), and other infractions in the movie: Bhansali’s botched it all up. Or hell, maybe they should get more irate?

Now, about the main actors…

Deepika Padukone smiling her trademark downward smile at an eventI’m tired of Deepika’s two expressions that she considers acting: the downward smile and the single-tone dialogue delivery (she sells soap and banking services with the same fervour). I don’t mind that Mastani looks more uncomfortable dancing to ‘Pinga’ than a giraffe stooping for a drink in Africa (she’s not a dancer, after all). But a Muslim warrior princess (yes, she’s half-Muslim but does read the namaaz and dresses like Meena Kumari in ‘Pakeezah’) not knowing her ‘ishq’ (she says ‘ishk’) and ‘khhata’ (khata)? Break her other leg too.

Priyanka Chopra with Pitbull in a shot from her music video 'Exotic'Since ‘Mary Kom’, Piggy Chops is using all her movies as showcases to impress Hollywoodites. (That’s why she’s acting in only author-backed or women-centric roles. But then, 30+ female actors in Bollywood do/end up doing that.) She gives a very hardworking performance here. But Madhuri as Chandramukhi in ‘Devdas’ was way better as the hurt woman.

Ranveer Singh in various looks from the movieRanveer Singh tries even harder – with his accent, his body, his eyes, his acting – but you feel he’s trying too hard and thence playing out of his league. You feel an older, more seasoned actor would have excelled in the role and taken the movie a few notches above the ground. (I’m thinking Hrithik – better body, better screen presence, and has played a chieftain earlier: Akbar.)

Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali at an eventWhich finally brings me to Bhansali himself. Who needs to learn that gorgeous outfits, lavish sets, and elaborate drama/action sequences do not a movie make. But I already ranted about those. The only saving grace then seems to be the music – ‘Albela Sajan’ is still ear-spinning. The third movie on the trot SLB has done the music for, and this one, the controversy notwithstanding, is ear-pleasant. But the rest of the movie, ah. Maybe music direction as the first career, Mr Bhansali?

To paraphrase what he intended as a killer catchline, “Bhansali ne iss movie ke saath ayaashi ki hai, mohabbat nahi…”