Rage Productions' poster for the play

From Judging… to Understanding

If you are called upon to decide on a matter of grave import, especially one in the public domain, how do you ensure you are judging well rather than being judgmental?

A scene from the 1957 Hollywood version of 12 Angry MenThis compelling thought lies at the heart of the all-time classic 12 Angry Men. Penned by Reginald Rose in 1954, the play has been adapted into several formats and languages across the world, and continues to do so 60 years on. I myself have seen a Hollywood movie (the legendary Sidney Lumet’s 1957 version, starring luminaries such as Henry Fonda and Lee Cobb), a Bollywood film (1986’s Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, featuring a who’s-who of theatre and cinema stalwarts – Pankaj Kapur, Annu Kapoor, KK Raina – and directed by another great, Basu Chatterjee), a school play (performed by Standard XII students), and most recently, a contemporised version (by as-if-presciently-named-for-this-play Rage Productions of Mumbai). ‘Contemporised’ because, conscious of the need to be inclusive, the play is now named 12 Angry Jurors and features an almost equal number of women (five) in the cast.

The story though remains the same. An 18-year boy (technically, some would say a man) is accused of murdering his abusive father. The court proceedings over, the 12-member jury (the 12 in the title) now moves to the inner room to decide – and if needed, deliberate – on the boy’s fate. However, there seems to be no need for deliberation, as 11 have decided ‘Guilty’. But wait, as one has decided ‘Not Guilty’, there seems to be need for some discussion. The 11 though are flummoxed: how can one person not believe the boy is guilty when all evidence, witnesses, and as damningly, an overwhelming majority of them are saying so? What starts off as a tiny spark ignited by Juror 8 (the one believing the boy is innocent) leads slowly but surely toward an incendiary climax, as not just thoughts and arguments but accusations and threats are exchanged (the anger in the title). So, do the jurors remain enraged till the end, or do they become placative and reach a unanimous decision one way or the other (the requirement of the court)? In case you haven’t seen the play or any of its avatars, will leave you to discover the denouement for yourself.

An angered Lee Cobb in the 1957 Hollywood version of 12 Angry MenWhat is worth deliberating on however are the themes the play / movie explores. The tendency to evaluate something or someone only through one’s own (coloured) lenses. Juror 10 is unrelenting: the boy is guilty and needs to hang simply because he’s from the slums and “those people” are always like that. Prejudices, it is clear, run deep. And it appears, so do bad experiences, especially if they are close to home. Juror 3 wages the toughest, and roughest, battle against Juror 8. The reason? Juror 3 has had a strained relationship with his son, and having failed to resolve matters with his own kid, wants the accused kid to suffer in a vicious, vicarious form of retribution. And one juror, No. 7, has the flimsiest, whimsiest reason for sticking to his stance: he has tickets for a game and so wants the discussion to wind up asap, especially as all but one of them hold the boy guilty.

Bias, negativity, slapdash judgment… All themes as relevant in today’s social media-fuelled times, when people are quick to ascribe fault and guilt to a situation or a person without bothering to get to the truth. Because that takes time, effort and intellect. All of which seem to be in short supply these days.

A poster for the 1957 Hollywood version of 12 Angry Men, showing a lone white silhouette on one balance and 11 black silhouettes on the otherIt’s not all despairing though. The play urges you to stand up for what you believe is right, even when the world stands against you. Juror 8 fights alone for the longest time. When asked if the boy could really be innocent when the evidence, witness statements, and presently, most jurors are disfavoured to him, his constant response is a simple “It’s possible.” He merely wants to explore the possibility that the boy is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Surely, that’s not too much to ask for, given that his life is at stake? The play also holds that it’s alright to waver, to not be sure. Juror 12 does what looks like a flip-flop in the eyes of the others: now she believes he’s guilty, now she believes he’s not. It’s ok, the play seems to say, to change your viewpoint as you receive more information. After all, it shows you are willing to be flexible, and more importantly, to think.

Not surprisingly, six decades on, 12 Angry Men (Jurors) remains a telling commentary on the way most people think and believe when it comes to others. And the way they truly ought to.

Promo pic of play 'One on One Part Two' featuring some characters/actors

Irficionado | Play Review | ‘One on One Part 2’

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Theatre writer and director, Rahul DaCunhaBefore this, Rahul DaCunha has directed three other monologues-based plays: ‘Going Solo’, ‘Going Solo 2 – Living on the Edge’, and ‘One on One’. (‘The Wisest Fool on Earth’ was a monologue featuring a single actor, not an ensemble.) And they’ve all been tremendous. (I haven’t seen ‘Going Solo’, but have the other two, and they’ve been brilliant in all the departments: writing, acting, directing, social comment.) So, when you see a dialogue piece in the ironically named ‘One on One Part 2’ (OOOT), the irony hits home further, and you feel a tremendous sense of dismay: What’s it doing here? Unfortunately, that isn’t the only thing dismaying about OOOT.

Rajit Kapur, Shernaz Patel and Rahul DaCunha of Rage ProductionsStraight up, the material is very pedestrian. Apart from two or three pieces (one of which was adapted), you get the feeling you’ve seen these life-slices before: the harassed homemaker, the unsure bride-to-be (blame this squarely on Imtiaz Ali, who’s made an industry out of inner-conflicted lovers), a Gujju NRI hankering after money, family and friends fighting to get the body of a beloved one (‘Saaraansh’ Two)… It feels like Rage Productions (Rahul’s theatre group along with Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel) was at a loss for inspiration, or worse, they did the second part of ‘One on One’ to milk the success of the original. Rage could have pushed either the stories further (to get more out of them) or itself further (to get better stories).

Neil Bhoopalam as a DJ in a promo shot from the play, 'One on One Part Two'Nevertheless, two pieces (actually three, if you include the one adapted) seem fresh and scintillate. Two pieces representing opposite sides of the India story. A harrowed newbie TC in the boondocks of Bihar going after WT (without ticket) travelers and having to pay the price for his naivete, played to perfection by Ashok Mishra of ‘The Week That Wasn’t’ on IBNLive. DJ Elvis, who rather than modeling himself on the King has done so on his perception of DJs, or to put it better, a Mac boy from Mangalore who’s trying to be a Mac dude from Bandra (the piece doesn’t say this, but that’s the impression you get). Third up is something that’s even more involved (and that’s why you know it’s adapted): a Parsi middle-aged man, with weak eyesight and all, sitting for a pilot’s interview, but from time to time, segueing into thoughts of insecurity. It takes you a while to realise, or just wonder, if the interview too isn’t happening only in his head.

Anu Menon as a harried homemaker in a promo shot from the play, 'One on One Part 2'The second downer is the acting ensemble. Having lukewarm material is liveable if you have talent that can elevate the material or that pushes itself. Unfortunately, the best actors get the best pieces (the delightful Sohrab Ardeshir plays the Parsi guy and Neil Bhoopalam raises his mettle several notches to play the DJ). Anu Menon and Vrajesh Hirjee do their best as the homemaker and Gujju guy, but you’ve seen them play these kind of roles before. So too with Rajit Kapur in both the dead man’s soliloquy and in the soldiers’ tale. The soldiers’ story is the aforementioned oddman dialogue in this series, and co-stars Hussein Dalal, who won hearts as the stuttering stand-up comedian in the Nescafe award-winning TVC, but who seems to be trying to do too much here. Finally, Shikha Talsania as the bride-to-be. Shikha, Ranbir Kapoor’s spunky friend in ‘Wake Up Sid’, has still some way to go when it comes to older roles, it would seem. To make matters worse, the mic was off-centre in her act.

OOOT, along with better material (like the brilliant lamppost act from the first series), needed some of the earlier stars that have featured in Rage’s monologues: Anand Tiwari (of the same lamppost piece) and theatre powerhouses Anahita Oberoi and Zafar Karachiwala. (Zafar’s name was mentioned for one of the acts, but guess he couldn’t make it, and Anahita seems to have gone into thespian hibernation.)

Promo pic of Rage Productions' earlier play, 'The Siddhus of Upper Juhu'With two tepid plays on the trot (‘The Siddhus of Upper Juhu’, starring Rajit and Shernaz, before this one), you begin wondering… Has Rahul DaCunha and/or Rage lost its muse? At a time when people have other equally witty, if not more, forms of live entertainment (stand-up and open mic), it will be interesting to see if, or how, Rage gets back its mojo. Or, and this is the Bombay boy in me speaking, because Rage’s plays are so much about and around the city in which they are born, maybe they are best enjoyed there.

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.

A poster of the movie Main aur Charles

Irficionado | Movie | Random Thoughts | Charles-Gnarls

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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.)


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…

Composite image of the book cover and the inside pic of Arbit 26

Irficionado | (e)Book Review | ‘Arbit 26’

I am a recent Kindler. Became one just two days ago when I asked one of my friends/ex-colleagues about the book I had heard he had written. He told me he had self-published it (although he would still be eager to find an offline publisher) and that it was available on Kindle. I searched it out, and after getting to understand the mechanics of Kindle, downloaded it. No, I don’t have a device; got it on my PC. (I’m still a good ole paper-book reader.)

But this post is about a book by another friend/ex-colleague, which I too I got to know about recently. (Friends/Acquaintances writing books. Now, when am I going to get around to it?) As it’s a book of verse/poetry, and shorter than the first friend’s tome (that is an adventure thriller), decided to start my e-book journey with this. Having finished it, here’s the review, or rather, my thoughts on it…

Arbit 26, almost as the name suggests, is a collection of 26 poems/pieces of verse by Debarshi Kanjilal. Debarshi, or Deboo, as I call him, is from Calcutta/Kolkata and works (at least, last I knew) in Accenture Content Development Centre (CDC) as a senior instructional designer. (Very simply, that involves writing and being creative.)

Debarshi Kanjilal during a Durga Puja

And why “almost as the name suggests”? Well, they are 26 alright, but they don’t seem that arbit to me. For one, he’s organised them into four sections, each roughly around a theme, such as love/heartbreak, observations, and songs. (Yes, Deboo seems to have lyricist aspirations.) Also, there’s good organisation of thought in them. (But then, that’s what instructional design, ID, teaches you.)

Most of the poems flow very well, and they don’t seem stiff or forced. For instance, he doesn’t use inversions to bring up a rhyme. The language and concepts are mostly simple too, except perhaps for one or two toward the end (All About You), and I found myself glossing over these. Some others are copy-book school-poetry-book (Deboo does mention that he wrote these between 10 and 21; he’s 28 now). But a couple really strike a chord: Via Antarctica (about found-and-lost adolescent/young adult love) and Time Ticks On (a lament on today’s, well, times). And I just love this couplet from You Don’t Love Me Anymore: ‘And the struggles we went through / And how I lost me and you lost you’.

There were a couple of typos here and there, but given this is his first attempt at self-publishing (I believe), that’s okay, I guess. Also, given our shared love for Calcutta and dogs, I would have expected to see some or more poems on the two (there is one on Calcutta by the same name, about harsh sights and sounds in the city), but maybe next time.

Debarshi Kanjilal giving a street dog a helping pat at the beach

All in all, a rather satisfying read. If you give me simple poetry with simple ideas (read, Vikram Seth), I’m game.

Finally, a note about the cover (how can visual-lover me not comment on stuff like this?). Nice, simple, clean, mellow, soft; very “Icelandic”. The lone visual inside, repeated, that of a stream, is in the same vein, and works too: I guess it indicates clarity and flow of thoughts.

Nice start, Deboo. And good job too.

 And here’s about Irficionado > Irficionado: Here’s Presenting…

Movie poster of Pawn Sacrifice

Irficionado | Movie Review | Pawn Sacrifice

Logo for Irficionado series‘Pan-Sacrifice’

Years of playing Spider-Man seems to have done something to Tobey Maguire that we may have overlooked all along, or not thought about. Either he was quietly developing his acting skills beneath Spidey’s mask or that he is very eager to prove that he knows more than just to swing from buildings and kiss upside down.

Tobey Maguire holding up his Spidey costume in one of his Spider-Man movies

Tobey then takes to Pawn Sacrifice with a vengeance. As the madcap, mercurial, maverick mid-70s US chess GM, Bobby Fischer, he fills up a good deal of the movie. (The movie is about him, after all.) But not content with getting a meaty role, he goes about actually trying to fill up the screen. There are sequences and sequences that feature only him and his slow but steady descent with paranoia. And when that isn’t enough, you get scenes and scenes of his eyes moving from one side of the socket and screen to the either, as a display of his increasing suspiciousness.

Tobey Maguire with suspicion large on his face in Pawn Sacrifice

But forgive these, and you spot enough instances of Tobey possibly receiving a nod for a nomination. He gets into the character like the GM into his game (or does he ever leave it?), ostensibly living it as much as Bobby lived chess. He allows you to get very close to the character too. He conveys his growing loneliness, detachment, and annoyance with the world very well – to the point of you beginning to lose your patience with him, much like many of the folk around him, who possibly tolerated the genius only for his genius on the square board.

But that’s the limit to which Tobey, or maybe, the screenplay goes. It shows you his journey, and allows you at most to be a bystander, but doesn’t allow you to get into it and be a passenger with him. Unlike a similar movie earlier this year, also about a beleaguered genius and in similar territory of war, The Imitation Game, about the WW1 Germany-codebreaker and computer inventor, Alan Turing. In that ‘game’, you cheered for him (while he’s inventing the machine, and taking his time doing so, in the eyes of others) as well as felt his pain about his gayness, both as a boy and as an adult. There, you feel the film. Here, you merely view it.

Pawn Sacrifice though doesn’t suffer only on these counts. In trying to make its protagonist the hero, or king, of the piece, it reduces the supporting cast – all of them – to mere pawns. Be it his team of Priest and Paul (the one starts strong but slowly lets his light and presence fade in the shadow of the genius; the other begins commandingly – “I have been the agent to the Rolling Stones” – but next scene on, becomes softer than a marshmallow); the few odd women in his life (Mom leaves early on and resurfaces only as a faded figure toward the end; Sister makes weepy appearances, and ok, one cheering one; Hooker’s make-up and clothes have more to do than she); and the most incorrigible, his adversary, Boris Spassky. Boris is reduced to a wussy caricature, and if ever Liev Schreiber, who plays him, wanted a role to come out of his perennial fringe-line presence in Hollywood, he chose the wrong one. He is shown as a man of few words, and those words are all Russian, and someone who fails to even offer resistance, cinematically, to the emerging genius of Fischer.

And then, when the end credits roll, you understand why. Why all the pieces are stacked in Tobey’s favour. He’s produced the movie, damnit. Check and mate, viewer.

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.


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

Ad for Ila, play by Patchworks Ensemble

Meview: Ila

As I mentioned in the previous post, as a part of The Hindu Theatre Fest (HTF) 2015 here in Chennai, the day before, I went for what has proved to be my best play of all time. Ila, by Patchworks Ensemble. HTF also has a Citizen Review, whereby readers of the paper and viewers of the play can send in their take on the play in 50-150 words. The best entry wins a dinner for two at The Park, a leading hotel here. Well, below’s my entry. And as it turns out, I won. Yippee. With very few edits. Double yippee.

At the end, find the link to the digital version of the paper’s section where mine and some other reviews appeared. Have also, but of course, posted a couple of pix. And oh, what’s a ‘meview’? Find out here.

Male. Female. Tick a box.

But what if there were more than two boxes? More male; More female; In between… What then of this person, and… stereotypes? Such as ‘Men slap their thighs, women cross theirs’.

Ila dares to examine this gender- and mind-bending question. Through an apt metaphor: the ladies’ compartment of a Mumbai local train, which turns ‘general’ by night – like its protagonist. (Ila draws from the myth of a king who, under a spell, goes between manhood and womanhood with the moon’s waxing and waning.)

It continues pushing the blue/pink envelope: several actors take turns playing the wo/man and, in literally a flicker, swings between Ila’s tragic/magic tale and that of a pregnant train regular. The music yin-yangs too: now actor-like – posing a conundrum, now audience-like – pondering that conundrum. By the end, everyone’s mind is prised open, at least a bit. Ila ticks all the right boxes.

Find mine and other entries here: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/ila-challenges-gender-notions/article7561429.ece

My winning Citizen Review in the offline version of the paper My winning Citizen Review in the online version of the paper

Promo pic of The Siddhus of Upper Juhu

Meview: The Siddhus of Upper Juhu

I seem to have entered a poetic, verse, or at least a rhyme phase at present. Here’s my meview of the play, The Siddhus of Upper Juhu (which I watched as a part of The Hindu Theatre Fest 2015, over the weekend), in poetic form.

Life in a metro can get to you,

Is the theme of The Siddhus of Upper Juhu.

So, the Siddhus move into this “Bombay” highrise,

But find in vain, and pain, that it doesn’t suffice…

To keep away the din of the partying “airhostesses”; the neighbour, his kids, his wife;

The barking dog; the construction drill; and other dins of urban life.

To make things worse, Mr Bubbles Siddhu gets the sack,

And slowly begins turning into a cuckooish Jack.

To compensate, his wife, Behroze, takes up a job – and thus joins the grind…

But, as Bubbles seems to get better, she ends up losing her mind!

Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel play the afflicted couple to perfection,

And Rahul DaCunha is as astute as ever in his direction.

Do watch this play wherever you get the opportunity –

It’s a humorous lament on the cost of living in a city.

To read a non-poetic review of the play, go here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/theatre/Theatre-review-The-Siddhus-Of-Upper-Juhu/articleshow/46622780.cms