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.

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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…”

 

 

A poster of the movie Main aur Charles

Irficionado | Movie | Random Thoughts | Charles-Gnarls

Logo for Irficionado series

I think I end up doing a Random Thoughts when the movie is hyped but ends up being disappointing (as in this case) or I find it disappointing or no big deal (as in the case of, will I be trolled for saying this, Baahubali). And so, Random Thoughts ends up being Snarky Thoughts. Below’s my Random Thoughts for Main aur Charles. (And if interested, here’s it for Baahubali.)

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Man, how many women are there in the movie? Correction. Man, how many white women are there in the movie? It should have been called Mem aur Charles.

A bare-backed Mandana Karimi in a shot from Main aur CharlesNone of those women wear bras in the film. And if they do, they take them off before you can say ‘bra’. As in the case of Mandana Karimi. The same with panties. And the same with Mandana Karimi.

The movie needed subtitles. For Randeep Hooda / Charles’s French-accented Hindi / English / whatever. Je vous prie.

The movie uncannily ends up living up to its title. It’s about everyone else and Charles – their view / take on Charles. So, you pitifully get to see little of Charles’s famed cunning, at least not from his side. For that, I guess we’ll have to wait for a movie titled Main, Charles.

Prawaal Raman, the director of Main aur Charles, against the backdrop of his previous movie, 404Charles is finally sentenced to 11 years in jail, instead of the 2-3 he’s supposed to get initially (as the investigating officer manages to charge him for a murder conspiracy instead of the conning charges planned initially). Given the disappointing movies he’s been steadily making for the past several years (404: Error Not Found, Darna Zaroori Hai, Gayab, and this one), Prawaal Raman (the director) should get 11 years out of Bollywood.

So, the best thing about the movie ends up being the much-promoted remix song, Jab chaye tera jadoo (originally from Dev Anand’s Lootmaar). You could have saved money by just fixing it as your caller tune. Or watching it on YouTube. So, here goes…

Welcome Back poster

Meview: Very Welcome

The opening credits – still shots of the principal players to the accompaniment of the single word ‘Welcome’ – start rolling, and you know something’s on. But it hits you only with the killarious graveyard scene way into the second half. Welcome Back is a ’90s movie. And as madcap as they came.

This seems to be the era for celebrating the era in which Gen Y came to be. There have been some awesome tributes (Dum Lagaa Ke Haisha), some awful ones (Dheere Dheere aka Bore Me Slowly), and many more brewing. (Heads-up: Saajan completes 25 years next year, and the baap of all path-breaking movies, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, the year after that. Keep those hashtags ready.)

But back to Welcome Back. WB is all things nineties: sister from another mother (Shruti Haasan, to Nana Patekar); son from another father (John Abraham, to Paresh Rawal); conning jodidaars, only this time, the gender gets changed (Dimple Kapadia and newbie Ankita Srivastava); bhais/goons (Anil Kapoor – fusing roles like Loafer, Laadla, Ram Lakhan; Nana Patekar, and Abraham); right down to a visually challenged don (Naseeruddin Shah, picking up from Mohra, and pumping in the fun of Ishqiya) and a written-on-the-sets, tweet-wit story (Kapoor and Patekar discover they have another sister, Rawal uncovers his wife has another son, they decide to get them married, then not, then Naseer jumps in, with a son… Should I go on?).

But is it fun. Again, think nineties: David Dhawan directing all his favourites (Govinda, Sanjay Dutt, and to a lesser extent, well, Anil Kapoor)… in one movie. It’s that amped up. Clearly, everyone’s having fun here. It’s like they went on a three-month vacation to Dubai/Abu Dhabi, decided on the spur of the moment to do a movie there, came on the sets asking, “Toh aaj kya karna hai?” And the response was, “Aap ko kya karnaa hai?” And then, all went about their roles like pre-schoolers discovering crayon.

So, Paresh Rawal, seemingly happy to be back to comedy from netagiri, rolls his eyes, totters about exasperatedly (first half) and schemingly (second half), and even delivers an about-two-minute dialogue through a cut-out of Abraham’s head. (Told you.)

Naseeruddin Shah rolls his eyes too – although he can’t see – and rolls his guns and dialogues even more… And keeps them coming thick and fast. As his character exclaims, “Mazaak thaa, mazaak!” And then finally regains his sight, after hitting his head on a bumper. (Believe me now?)

Naseeruddin Shan in a scene from Welcome Back

Dimple Kapadia and Ankita Srivastava wear flowing and itsy-bitsy outfits respectively and switch their accents from posh (when faking a Maharani and a Rajkumari) to street (when being their true characters) to Hyderabadi (when being their real true characters).

John Abraham and Shruti Haasan, perhaps the weakest actors here (but then, they are pitched against stalwarts), sense their limitations or those of their roles and play along, happy to flare (he), simper (she), and gallivant (they).

But the movie belongs to the bhai/muh-bola-bhai jodi of Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar. They get meaty parts, and pounce on it like… bhais. Kapoor lets his eyes and facial expressions do half the acting (keep your eyes and ears on all alert for the same graveyard scene) and his clothes (like Govinda’s in the nineties, but glammed up) and glasses the other half. Nana Patekar is the perfect bromantic partner to him. Check him trying hard to keep his control in most of the movie and then losing it big-time in the graveyard scene and at the end.

Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar in their promo poster for Welcome Back

Plus, the seasoned duo are sporting enough to take a barrage of ageist jokes thrown at them. (Here’s mine: Knock, knock. > Who’s there? > Our knees.) But seriously, how old do they look – 45 and 47? Seriously too, the next Welcome – oh yes, it’s looking very strong after this, and one hopes sooner (Welcome Again?) – should concentrate even more on these two. After all, don’t we, and they, want to know: Will they ever get a girl? Or maybe not.

And if you want any more nineties’ masala, in the end, you have everyone in the middle of the desert trying to escape exploding devices, galloping camels, and a billowing sandstorm. (Clearly, the director, Anees Bazmee’s turn to play with crayons.)

Naseeruddin Shah near a chopper in a climax scene from Welcome Back

The last time I had so much fun at the movies – and heard others having too: laughing, clapping, thumping their thighs, whistling at snippets of the first part (Feroze Khan’s RDX character got the loudest) – was Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, surprise, another David Dhawan romp-in-the-amusement park.

Welcome back, Welcome Back.

Side-note:

Raja Sen’s review of the movie on Rediff stated something like, “in Shruti Haasan’s case, the acting genes (Kamal Haasan and Sarika) have cruelly missed her”. I’ve seen her in a couple of movies now (the earlier being D-Day, which gave her a better platform for performance than here), and I think he misses the point. I read his review before I watched the movie and kept a close look-out for this. And now having watched enough Kollywood (Tamil) movies too, I think I got it.

Shruti Haasan in a scene from Welcome Back

Shruti has worked more in South Indian movies (and Sen doesn’t seem to have watched too many of these), that too Tollywood (Telugu) movies, and her acting sensibilities have got moulded that way. So, she hams it up and gestures a lot more than necessary for Bollywood, but all of which is par in Tollywood, where everything needs to be supersized (these are the folk who gave us Baahubali, after all).

Shruti Haasan in several promo shots from the Telugu movie, Race Gurram

Several other non-South-Indian actresses who have made the South their base after trying their luck initially in Bollywood have gone this way too. They get entrenched and established here, then based on their success here, get a Bollywood offer or two, but don’t cut the grade. Think Shriya Saran, Asin, Kajal Agarwal, and Tamannah (the last one in all her outings). In Drishyam (the Hindi version), my parents asked me of Shriya, “She’s that Sivaji girl, right? Where’s she from? Oh, Punjab. But she’s looking completely South Indian now.” There you go.

So, I think Shruti’s just fine. And I’m not even a fan.

Movie poster of Manjhi the Mountain Man

Meview: Manjhi the Mountain Man

Manjhi the Mountain Man is a pile-high of a disappointing movie. Though perhaps not so if you know the director, Ketan Mehta’s track record. He’s done many biopics/character-pics (more so in recent times: Rang Rasiya, on painter Raja Ravi Verma; Mangal Pandey, on one of India’s first freedom fighters; Maya Memsaab, based on Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; and earlier, Sardar, on India’s Iron Man, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel) and several movies on social issues (Mirch Masala, on women’s subjugation in his home state, Gujarat; Bhavni Bhavai, on the caste system, and Holi, on college ragging, as Aamir Khan’s factually first movie as an adult actor).

Manjhi director, Ketan Mehta, with the movie poster in the background

So, let’s see: he takes interesting (actually, very interesting) subjects, and then gives us… rubble. His movies start with very promising premises and then slowly have you breaking for a ciggie (upto the ’90s) or for Temple Run (now). In between, he didn’t direct for a long time.

Here, he takes the real-life account of Dashrath Manjhi from Gehlore village in Bihar from the early ’60s, who took upon the task of pounding a road through a mountain all by himself, after his wife (Phaguniya) lost her life trying to cross the mountain. How long was he at it? 22 years. Absolutely incredible.

The real Dashrath Manjhi on the mountain

But Ketan Mehta gives us such a dull screenplay that after some time the only thing you’re noticing on screen are the subtitles. And the problem isn’t that of only one person occupying the screen for 85% of the time. There have been other movies in this mould – Cast Away, 127 Hours, and more recently, Life of Pi – but the screenplay there has been solid enough for the duration or there have been other credible interludes. Here, the non-Manjhi screentime goes for forced fictionalised accounts (the Manjhi-Phaguniya meet-cute is way over-the-top, over-the-mountain-top). Plus, it tries to do too much: include accounts of the changes Indian went through over Manjhi’s mountain-breaking years (abolishment of casteism/untouchability, Naxalism, Indira Gandhi, Emergency). Or maybe that’s the problem: Mehta tries to do much with the non-Manjhi time and too little in the Mountain-Man time. The Manjhi space has the titular character either having monologues with the mountain or having visions (like in most of these movies) of dear-departed Phaguniya, for whom he’s building this rock-fested Taj Mahal.

The let-down though doesn’t stop at the screenplay. The supporting actors, big on paper (pack-a-punch director and part-time actor, Tigmanshu Dhulia; eternally solid character actor, Pankaj Tripathi; rapidly rising Radhika Apte), look disinterested on celluloid. (Perhaps because they knew even the mountain had more screen time than them?) So, Dhulia doesn’t look the necessary frightful when he’s about to be… hanged. (Guess he was relieved at the end of his misery.) Tripathi plays the rustic lout yet again. (Tripathiji, we would like more of what we saw in Masaan and less of this, if possible.) And Radhika Apte tries very hard for sometime (when she playfully reveals she’s pregnant and not-so-playfully beats up Manjhi with the broom), but loses interest soon and sticks to making her big eyes appear even bigger and revealing skin (from all possible angles).

Radhika Apte in two scenes from Manjhi the Mountain Man

That leaves Nawazuddin Siddiqui to rescue a movie that he’s anyway supposed to bear the weight of. But Siddiqui seems to have chosen this movie of all to not act, overact, or worse, act himself… yet again. It’s like he was huffed by two movies on the trot with Salman Khan (Kick and Bajrangi Bhaijaan) becoming monster hits without he getting due credit. So, he went: ‘Since this movie is all about me, let me show everyone what I am about.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in two scenes from Manjhi the Mountain Man

Siddiquisaab, we already know what you are capable of (Gangs of Wasseypur). We wanted to see how you would play someone who is anguished, desolate, and determined. Instead, we get someone who comes across as cocky, overzealous, or shoot, full of himself.

Really, if Manjhi took 22 years to tame that mountain, couldn’t Mehta have taken at least one-tenth that time to give us a better flick?

And what is ‘meview’? Find out here on my blog – Irfictionary: Meview