Reading ‘Baat niklegi to phir’ is an inward journey strewn with melancholy

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I was never a Jagjit Singh fan. Even in the entire album of Mirza Ghalib, it was Gulzar saab who was my hero. Having read all the books by Sathya Saran, right from ’10 years with Guru Dutt – Abrar Alvi’s journey’, ‘Sun mere bandhu re – The musical world of SD Burman, I was intrigued by ‘Baat niklegi to phir’, but the very thought of reading a ghazal singer’s journey to fame, losing his son and then moving on with life didn’t stimulate the film buff in me.

Pyar ka pehla khat likhne mein waqt to lagta hai,
Naye parindon ko uddne mein waqt to lagta hai…

Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho was more of a reminder to revisit Mahesh Bhatt’s brilliant, ‘Arth’. ‘Yeh tera ghar yeh mera ghar’ never failed to reach out for that DVD of ‘Saath Saath’ and marvel at the simplicity of Faroque Shaikh and Deepti Naval. ‘Hoshwalon ko khabar kya’ was more of an Aamir Khan nostalgia when he was an effortless actor sans tag of perfectionist.

The only song that connected me to Jagjit Singh was ‘Koi yeh kaise bataaye’. Never before was an acoustic guitar used to such perfection in a ghazal. Like Jagjit Singh’s legendary talent, this book, too, remained unnoticed since its launch. Until an opportunity to interact with the author fuelled my curiosity and I finally ‘experienced’ this wonderful journey.

Woh pal ke jis mein mohabbat jawaan hoti hain,
Us ek pal ka tujhe intezaar hai ke naheen…

The best part about ‘Baat niklegi to phir’ is the blossoming of love between young Jagjit and the young married-with-kid Chitra. The ‘I will wait’ line defines the entire personality of the singer, who patiently waits for Chitra to be separated from her ex-husband Debu Dutta and supports her all throughout, even mentoring her as a ‘senior’ singer.

Hamaare hauslon ka ghar,
Hamaari himmaton ka ghar…

This endearing love story makes one wonder how simple people used to be back then. With passage of time, we seem to have lost that innocence and simplicity. We are living in times when a slightest provocation can spell doom for relationships, where we believe in ‘replacing’ things rather than ‘repairing’ them. The Jagjit-Chitra love story is about braving through troubled times, enduring each other’s idiosyncrasies, diverse cultural background, ways of dealing with loss, rather than giving up on each other.

Kabhi yun bhi to ho, dariyaa ka saahil ho,
Poore chaand ki raat ho…aur tum aao…

Their struggle is surely akin to any other talent seeking opportunity in Indian film industry, but the difference here is the genre of their art. They created their own platform for an ‘unusual’ genre of ghazals, which went on to become the signature ‘Jagjit Singh’ style. Lata Mangeshkar, in a way seems like a metaphor for Indian film industry here – a dream that remains elusive for a very long time and when it does come true, the maestro had entrenched his name in non-film sector as the ‘King of ghazals’.

Har waqt yehi hai gham,
Us waqt kahan thhe hum, kahan tum chale gaye…

Sathya Saran knows her readers very well. She knows they are anticipating the demise of Vivek aka Baboo, but she keeps building up the bond the father-son shared, to such extent that as reader, you end up relating with their story. Jagjit-Chitra’s loss is no longer their loss. By now, it becomes the reader’s loss. You no longer empathize with the couple, you start introspecting on your own life, asking yourself how many things we take for granted in our day-to-day lives. What if our world comes crashing down at the most unexpected moment? How well can we prepare ourselves to lose someone we love dearly? The answer, I guess, is – never.

Jaate jaate vo mujhe achchhi nishaani de gayaa,
Umr bhar dohraaoongaa aisi kahaani de gaya…

The bonding shared between Jagjit Singh and his musicians, sound recording artists, lyricists like Javed Akhtar and Gulzar saab have been well-documented and narrated in an engaging style. Sample this excerpt that describes the Jagjit-Gulzar collaboration for the classic television series, Mirza Ghalib, where Gulzar saab states:

The singing had to be straightforward. Ghalib was a poet, not a singer, so there was no place for complicated music taans. He would have recited the poetry, so I kept the music simple with a few varations. I never felt that this is Jagjit Singh composing for Mirza Ghalib, so I must display my musical virtuosity. No, it should be Ghalib. Jagjit Singh should become Ghalib and sing, only then will the poetry come forth. The result of this introspection on Jagjit’s part was that Gulzar went on record saying in high praise that, Mirza Ghalib is Jagjit beyond Jagjit.

The chapter goes on to narrate the bonding the duo shared:

The two creative men shared a deep understanding of each other’s work and genius. According to the poet, ‘Jagjit was younger, but he would scold me. He’d say, “Give me a sher that will touch my heart,” and I would respond with, “I try hard, but it does not reach your heart. Nishaana chook jaata hai.” The link between them remained strong.

Woh umr kar raha tha meri,
Mein saal apne badhaa raha tha…

The demise of Jagjit Singh precedes with one more death that comes as a rude shock for the reader, which I’d better leave for you to discover. The transformation of Jagjit after his son passes away in a way prepares ground for his own immortality. The generous nature of Jagjit, right from his struggling days makes him remain alive in the memories of people close to him and few strangers who barely knew him.

The biography chronicles not only the strengths of the singer, but also his weaknesses with utmost honesty, thanks to Chitra Singh, who doesn’t mince her words even while sharing their story. It’s the noble deeds and an illustrious career that spans decades of singing, composing and reinventing ghazals that keep Jagjit Singh alive – converting ‘non-Jagjit’ fans like me into devout Jagjit worshipper. Thanks Sathya Saran for writing and recommending this wonderful journey.

Having said that, I must admit that reading this biography wasn’t easy as it leaves you with a melancholy that lingers over the mind for days after reading it. Well, I could go on sharing nuggets from it but I’d better stop here because…

Baat niklegi to phir door talak jaaeygi,
Log be-wajah udaasi ka sabab poochenge…

 

 

Sultan is all set to reign supreme this Eid

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In India, the crescent moon of Eid is synonymous with deedar of Salman Khan. Right from Wanted to Sultan, the superstar collects his Eidi at the box office with veteran’s ease. The ‘dil mein aata hoon, samajh mein nahi’ ‘Bhai’ has doggedly transformed his image with Bajrangi Bhaijaan, doing well-written roles rather than sleepwalking through films like Ready and Jai Ho!

Underdog films have this tendency of being predictable. Right from the first frame, you are familiar with the template – A guy/girl from poor family finds his/her calling, approaches a coach, the coach acts pricey but eventually gives in, a montage with ‘motivational song’ to document his/her training sessions, the first loss, the first victory, the downfall and the final fight.

Pick up any sports film, and chances are that you’ll find them adhering to this template. Now the catch here is: How to make this template interesting. Kudos to director Ali Abbas Zafar, who gets it right, by blending melodrama with action to perfection. He achieves what ‘Brothers’, which was a sports film with oodles of yawn-inducing melodrama. Same formula, different approaches. And this is precisely what differentiates one filmmaker from the other.

Salman Khan gives his all to this film, where his hard work and acting skills shine through every frame of Sultan. In hindsight one feels that if Salman Khan is the biggest strength of Sultan, he’s also the film’s biggest weakness. The superstar status of this actor has earned him a reputation of sleepwalking in films with style and swagger. So when he attempts a character-driven film, the ‘star’ stigma attached to him surfaces and the audience cheers aloud the moment they watch their version of ‘Bhai’.

The character of Sultan Khan, the pehelwaan of a Haryana village can never make his presence felt unless he twirls his moustache after ‘dhobi-pachaad’ing his opponents. The bravado triumphs over the character’s emotional moments. Perhaps Ali Abbas Zafar is aware about this fact, which is probably why he conveniently ignores other character artists Sultan might bond with and focuses only on the hero, heroine (Anushka Sharma), hero-ka-friend(Anant Sharma), coaches (Kumud Mishra and Randeep Hooda), event organizer (Amit Sadh), and not Sultan’s family members, except for his grandmother.

Anushka Sharma’s character is badly written and the actor ends up being just another Salman Khan Film Heroine. What begins as a wrestler’s character with feminist shade suddenly morphs into a docile woman sacrificing her dreams. Her look and frame doesn’t suit her character Aarfa, she’s too urban for a role of such kind. Tune into DD sports to watch women’s wrestling match to know what I mean. Here’s where our obsession with stars comes to the fore. But what the heck, it’s a Salman Khan Film so all’s forgiven.

Among other actors, Amit Sadh makes his presence felt through his endearing character. If you notice closely, Amit has a well-written character. His way of interacting with Sultan keeps evolving as the film progresses and by the end, he makes himself believable as his chote-bhai-jaisa. Randeep Hooda is first-rate, as usual and seems to enjoy every bit of this extended cameo role of a trainer. Anant Sharma, as Sultan’s friend makes an interesting debut with an impeccable Haryanvi accent.

Speaking about Harianvi accent, one wishes our filmmakers do away with such ‘realistic indulgence’ in a commercial film like Sultan, by peppering every line with Haryanvi accent. The lead actors, Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma do get the accent right, but after a point of time you start wishing they’d speak ‘normally’.

Sultan, though projects itself as a wrestling film, isn’t about fighting opponents, but one’s inner demons. A protagonist as flawed as any other commoner who tastes unexpected (and convenient, at least on screen) success. Thankfully, here we’re spared of the saccharine strewn ‘Prem’ and swagger-personified ‘Chulbul Pandey’.

Sultan is replete with scenes of the hero facing sarcasm on growing age, huffing and puffing during training sessions, sporting a paunch and struggling to get inside a shirt from the glory years, being slapped by the heroine just for addressing her as his girlfriend and so forth. It is these ‘digressions’ from a regular Salman Khan film that make Sultan endearing and worth watching.

To sum it up, Sultan deserves to be watched only on big screen. After all, it takes a Salman Khan film to blur the lines between multiplex and single screen theatre. The auditorium was abuzz with the audience cheering ‘Sultan’ and ‘Salman’ all through the wrestling scenes (which are too many). Time to offer Salman Khan his Eidi of movie tickets.

 

 

 

Raman Raghav 2.0 is all sizzle and no steak

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What goes into the mind of a criminal when he is about to commit a crime? What does he tell his family while having breakfast before going for the kill? Ram Gopal Varma pondered over such questions and came up with the brilliant Satya. The film’s writer, Anurag Kashyap attempts to explore similar insight with Raman Raghav 2.0. The only plaint here is there’s no story in farthest sight.

It seems Nawazuddin Siddiqui has become the Salman Khan of realistic cinema (They used to be called ‘art cinema’, not anymore. Perhaps the ‘art’ got lost in transition somewhere). Like any Salman Khan film, no matter what the story (or lack of it) is, you know it for sure that Bhai will make up for it with his star power.

Ditto with Nawaz. The moment he appears on screen, you stop caring about the story, plot development and so forth. All that seems to matter is how he interprets his character, what mannerisms he employs, how he changes his tone of voice and adds accent akin to a man living in abject poverty. The montage depicting his penury leaves a lump in the throat.

The chapter of ‘Sister’, where his character visits his sister’s place is the best part of Raman Raghav 2.0. The entire sequence sends shivers down your spine. You know what his character is capable of doing and could already see what’s coming, but the ‘how’ and ‘when’ moments generously sprinkled in the film’s screenplay. Amruta Subhash, that terrific actor from Avinash Arun’s Marathi film ‘Killa’, plays Nawaz’s sister to perfection. Sadly, the fun ends here.

By now you’re acquainted with this character who is inspired by the original Raman Raghav (Tribute to the Jabra fan?) and are introduced to his better half or rather worse half, the cop played by Vicky Kaushal. Sobhita Dhulipala makes a promising debut as Raghav’s live-in girlfriend, who is royally abused all through the film.

Just like you felt for Nawazuddin, you couldn’t resist admiring the Vicky Kaushal’s talent of slipping into a completely different character from the one he ably played in Neeraj Ghaywan’s ‘Masaan’. By the time you come to ‘know’ this character, the film ends. And so does your faith in director Anurag Kashyap.

One fails to understand how Raman and Raghav manage to get away with murder so effortlessly. Further, no victim raises an alarm or neighbour comes to rescue or even call the cops while the crimes are being committed. Vicky Kaushal coolly smokes his ciggies wearing sunglasses in front of the commissioner of police, who exists only to hear stories.

A handful of cops are deployed to nab a serial killer. There’s no concept of putting up posters of the ‘killer with a long scar across his face’ and there are no sketch artists, no awareness created on social media or television in Anurag Kashyap’s world. These are so basic that they even exist in those crime-based television series dished out every day.

So what’s the film’s story, did you ask? There isn’t one, folks. Pardon the language, but to be precise, here’s how a guy explained the film’s story to his friend on phone: Bey koi story nahi hai yaar, bas ek c****** doosre c****** ko dhoond leta hai, aur end mein hum c****** ban jaate hain.

For a change, it was the audience who were abusing in an Anurag Kashyap film instead of his characters. Sigh.

 

Udta Punjab is real, raw and rustic experience

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There are films and there are experiences. While one is about story, camerawork, editing, screenplay, the other is about smiles, gasps, sighs, awe, tears, and hope. Directed by Abhishek Chaubey, Udta Punjab, right from its first frame to the end credits, is all about experience, which lingers on your mind days after you’ve watched it. Correction: Experienced it.

The first ten minutes gently suck you inside its quagmire of five rivers i.e. the five key characters: Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor in his career-best performance), Unnamed Bihari Girl (A brilliant actress who resembles Alia Bhatt. Wait a minute, was it her?), One-star cop (Diljit Dosanjh makes an interesting debut), Doctor (Kareena Kapoor in a brief yet memorable role), and Amit Trivedi’s music, which is undoubtedly one of the key characters of Udta Punjab.

Drugs in our films haven’t graduated from a white powder packet hidden in luggage, apparel or body. One song montage and we’re done with the entire rehabilitation process in the films we’ve grown up watching. Wish it was as easy in real life. What does it to the drug addict (by choice), drug peddler (by accident), corrupt cop (by convenience), and activist doc (by conscience)? Udta Punjab ponders over these questions through its key characters, whose lives collide at a common point, which is by far, the best ‘climax’ we’ve ever seen in our films.

Alia Bhatt owns the screen in every frame she appears in, especially the ‘Kab aayega acha bakhat?’ (Ache din?) scene and her first meeting with Tommy Singh (Can we avoid the name, Shahid Kapoor here). The transition scene of Tommy Singh is stuff classics are made of. Diljit Dosanjh, with those earnest eyes, makes his character the most endearing one. While Tommy Singh, the Unnamed Bihari Girl and the Doctor Activist need words to express their fear, frustration or anger, Diljit Dosanjh does it effortlessly with a single glance and eloquent silences.

Like mentioned earlier, Amit Trivedi’s music is one of the key characters of this gem of a film. ‘Chitta ve’, though kicks off like a rock song performance, chronicles the ‘drug journey’ with the ease of a documentary film. ‘Da da dase’ resonates with the vulnerability of the Unnamed Bihari Girl and smartly makes you root for her.

The song ‘Ik Kudi’ is sure to leave an everlasting impact on you as audience. Perhaps the screenplay writers Sudip Sharma and Abhishek Chaubey knew the power of this song and its lyrics, beautifully penned by Shiv Kumar Batalvi, a celebrated Punjabi romantic poet (1936 – 1973). ‘Ik Kudi’ is built up over the film’s second half, where you keep anticipating it. And when the song finally shows up, it catches you unawares.

Well, before the sum up, I still can’t figure out why this film was stopped from being released. On the contrary, Udta Punjab, in all its ‘gory glory’ must be screened at high schools and colleges (Don’t worry about those gaalis – students today have richer vocab than the ones used in this film) to know the current state of the state in question.

In hindsight, one feels that the filmmakers could have done away with those expletives. The film would have been as real, raw and rustic experience anyway. Thanks Anurag Kashyap for battling it out for not only the filmmakers, but also the audience. Udta Punjab has its message loud and clear: Papa don’t preach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veerappan marks RGV’s reboot

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Is he back? Has he finally found his mojo? Veerappan, it seems, is more about Ram Gopal Varma rather than the dreaded mustachioed dacoit of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu jungles. Never before was a director so talked about more than his movie or subject. Few dialogues from his films can sum up the film better:

“Mein jagah se nahin dimag se kaam karta hoon”

To begin with, RGV had never left filmmaking and was quite active in Telugu film industry, and of course on Twitter. In fact, you ‘Mohen Jo Daro’ can mark the comeback of Asutosh Gowarikar, who made his last outing with ‘Khele Hum Jee Jaan Se’ in 2010 (Yup, such film does exist, starring Abhishek Bachchan and Deepika Padukone), while RGV made his last Hindi film in 2013 – The Attacks of 26/11. So this ‘comeback’ and ‘getting the mojo’ back actually makes no sense. RGV isn’t a Karisma Kapoor.

“Mauka sabhi ko milta hai”

A gripping narrative written by R.D. Tailang and engaging cinematography Aniket Khandagale ensures that Veerappan keeps you hooked to the screen right through its 125-minute duration. It won’t be wrong to say that Veerappan is a sequel of Ram Gopal Varma’s much kosher version of the jungle dacoit played by Sushant Singh in Jungle (2000) starring Fardeen Khan and Urmila Matondkar. This film gives the director a chance to add the much-needed reality to Veerappan and completely focus on the killing of Veerappan. The scenes like ‘alleged’ killing of Veerappan’s infant daughter and the waterfall chase sequence leave a deep impact on the viewers, which was clearly evident by those ‘tssk!’ expressions among the audience.

“Jiske paas power hai … uska wrong bhi right ho jaata hai”

Sandeep Bhardwaj as Veerappan is a classic example of perfect casting, where the actor soaks in his character to such levels that you’d believe he was born to play Veerappan. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, Sandeep Bhardwaj’s Veerappan recreates the terror of Amjad Khan in Sholay (Dare you evoke those Aag memories!).

The other actor who makes a mark is Usha Jhadav as Veerappan’s wife. She approaches her role with such restrained histrionics that reminds one of Seema Biswas. Such powerful are the performances of these two actors that you’re willing to overlook the weaker links of the ensemble.

“Hamare dhande mein ek galati ko maaf karna … usse bhi badi galati hai”

The only ‘galati’ that RGV makes here is casting his producer, Sachin Joshi and Lisa Ray. One couldn’t help imagining Abhimanyu Singh of Gulaal to play role of such eminence, which is completely wasted by Sachin Joshi. For instance, the interrogation scene after the interval and his interactions with his senior officer Nissar Khan (Makes his presences felt despite the brief role).

Lisa Ray seems to be acting in a horror flick, wearing a ‘What am I doing here?’ kind of expression. One of the pivotal roles of the film, which should have added an emotional layer in the film, ends up becoming unintentional comic relief. Badi galati, indeed.

“Har insaan ke andar ek rakshash hota hai … bas kuch log usse bahar nikaalne se darte nahi”

In a recent interview, Ram Gopal Varma stated that criminal minds fascinate him, citing an example that how a person breaking the traffic signal appeals more to him than those adhering to the traffic laws. This fascination for criminal mind comes to the fore with Veerappan. The film acquaints you to the mind of Veerappan, who was as ambitious as any other executive or corporate giant. Evil exists in everyone, even in the protagonist played by Sachin Joshi, who doesn’t bat an eyelid before breaking the law, just to kill the ‘Rakshas’ of the forest.

“Tumhara good bhi achcha … bad bhi achcha”

There are two extremes of every Ram Gopal Varma film, they’re either good or bad. You can either expect a Shiva, Satya, Rangeela, Bhoot, Daud, Company, Sarkar, Naach, Jungle, Mast, Phoonk, Nishabd, Darna Zaroori Hai, Rakta Charitra from him or Agyaat, Darling, Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, Phoonk 2, Bhoot Returns, Satya-2, or Department.

Mumbai ka king kaun…?

There’s no in-between zone for this maverick filmmaker. Veerappan, in all its wild glory, surely belongs to the ‘good’ section. We know RGV jagah se nahi dimaag se kaam karta hai, but Veerappan is undoubtedly a befitting reboot for him in Hindi films. Welcome back, sir.

‘Shashi Kapoor – The householder, the star’ introduces to us the real Shashi Kapoor

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“Hum toh samjhe the ki Sanjeev Kumar ke ghar mein hum akele bachchan paida hui paye hain, par aaj pata chala hum toh Shashi Kapoor hain, Bachchan toh koi aur hai,” states the character of Faizal played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur-2. Though one of the most brilliant moments of the film, this scene hints at India’s clichéd perception of the ace actor Shashi Kapoor – as a second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan. And author Aseem Chhabra’s book, ‘Shashi Kapoor – The householder, the star’ compels its reader to see the actor in a completely different light, as householder, as well as star.

The book, ‘Shashi Kapoor – The householder, the star’ chronicles the journey of Shashi Kapoor. At first glance, you might anticipate a dichotomy between the ‘householder’ and the ‘star’, which thankfully isn’t the case here.

As a reader, you’re richly rewarded by discovering a Shashi Kapoor, who’s a blend of both ‘householder’ and ‘star’. In hindsight, one feels the book should have been titled as ‘Shashi Kapoor – The star, the producer. There’s a reason why.

Shashi Kapoor, the star was in fact, Shashi Kapoor the householder. He took up many Hindi potboilers (Brilliantly described in the chapter, ‘The Taxi’) purely to support his family, which eventually made him a ‘star’. An excerpt from the book, which explains this aspect of his life:

Sanjna, on catching her father in these films, says, ‘I remember asking my mother, “How could he work in such crap?” Really, I am not a great feminist, but there is a whole period of Hindi cinema which upsets me so much — not only the violence, but also the way women are treated.’ Then, Jennifer Kendal Kapoor explained to Sanjna that her father would have continued being a stage actor if it were financially viable. ‘But he had a family and the family expanded. With that, the lifestyle changed and got cushier. If you decide to go to London every summer, and maintain a house in Goa, you have to earn a certain amount of money. You are sucked into this cycle and you can’t get out.’

But the ‘producer’ Shashi Kapoor was a completely different man. He was an artist who valued his inner voice and instinct of giving parallel cinema the platform it deserves. Junoon (1978), Kalyug (1980), 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981), and Vijeta (1982) are the classic examples of this luminary’s vision. Further, the kind of support that he extended to a newbie like Ramesh Sharma for his film, New Delhi Times and his first meeting at a plush hotel is one of the indelible memories that the book leaves you with.

An actor who was never insecure, Shashi Kapoor not only promoted filmmakers of parallel cinema, but also actors like Amitabh Bachchan, who wrote in his blog:

Shashiji had always been a great support. I would visit him on set when I was looking for a job, he already being an established star by then, and he would introduce me to all his directors. He never worked on Sundays and would spend the day with his two sons and daughter by the swimming pool, at the newly opened Sun n Sand Hotel in Juhu, then the only Hotel in the region. We, knowing of this activity of his would land up via the beach near the Hotel to see him, going in by the main entrance was impossible for us, and waited anxiously for him to notice us so we could spend some time with him.”

Ismail Merchant, the producer called us one fine day and said there some small parts which we could do and that he would pay us Rs 500 for it. I needed the money so desperately to feed myself, I readily agreed. When Shashiji saw what we had been asked to do, he walked up to me in the crowd of mourners where I was standing as a junior artist, or the ‘extra’ and asked me to move. ‘Don’t do these bit parts’ he advised, ‘you are made for better things’ and then spoke to the director to delete those portions of mine from the film.”

The book, as one could already predict, ends on a grim note, almost sounding like eulogy. The author surely couldn’t have thought of doing it any other way, owing to the fact that Shashi Kapoor of today has indeed become a shadow of Shashi Kapoor of yore. The last chapter, ‘Things fall apart’ is sure to leave a lump in your throat, making you feel as if you’ve time-travelled with a householder, a star called Shashi Kapoor.

Thank you Aseem Chhabra sir for this wonderful book. A visit to Prithvi Theatre will no longer remain the same, nor will be Shashi Kapoor be perceived as the second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan, which can be summed up with yet another poignant excerpt, where Amitabh Bachchan states:

“If Shashi had to play that role (in Deewaar) and be sincere to it, he had to underplay it… However, if he had tried to stand out as a performer and give the kind of performance that gives you stardom, he would not have done justice to the role…. He did it right.”

…Later, at the premiere of Deewaar, Amitabh sat next to Shashi. Amitabh recalls: “We never said a word. But (at) the ‘Mere pass maa hai’ moment, I felt a gentle hand on mine. It was Shashiji’s. He never spoke, but the way he held my hand said everything.”

“It was reassurance, it was affection, it was acknowledgement, it was complimentary, it was appreciation, it was everything that a struggling actor that had once played an extra in a film that starred this gentleman sitting next to him (in James Ivory’s Bombay Talkie) had never ever dreamt would happen.”

 

Sairat throws caution to the Bollywood winds

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A hero should have six-pack abs. A heroine must be slim and fair. A villain must be dark skinned. A hero must always rescue the heroine. A love story must have romantic scenes. The cinematography must make every frame look beautiful. Nobody writes love letters in the age of Facebook. A storyline of Romeo & Juliet or Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak has become outdated. A film must be short enough to cater the shrinking attention span of today’s generation. Only star kids can make a blockbuster debut.

Now that we’re done with striking out all those ‘new-age’ filmmaking mantras that we have imbibed from our current crop of Hindi films, here’s a Marathi film (With subtitles), Sairat, which aptly means ‘wild’, which breaks every rule with unabashed glee.

In Sairat, the hero is rather skinny. The heroine isn’t slim and ‘conventionally good looking’. The villain is fair-skinned but in a way, he isn’t the actual villain here. The heroine rescues the hero every time he gets beaten up. There are no romantic scenes except few songs which take the story forward. The cinematography seems as real as your handy-cam footage.

The hero writes love letters to the heroine after looking for her on FB. The film pays tribute to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (In fact, it outsmarts the classic). The film is 2 hours 54 minute i.e. close to 3 hours. The lead actors are debutants, not even professional actors. The lead actor, Akash Thosar is a college student and a wrestler, while the female actor, Rinku Rajguru is a 10th class student. Both actors are now National Award winners for this film.

Directed by Nagraj Manjule, Sairat is indeed a masterpiece of our times. The reason isn’t because of its break-the-stereotypes approach even in a typical done-to-death love story, but because of its sheer brilliance in the way it is narrated. There’s a technique at play here.

The director introduces his lead characters, Prashant Kale, aka Parshya (Ably played by debutant Akash Thosar) and Archana Patil, aka Archie (Played to perfection by Rinku Rajguru) and his friends Pradeep Bansode, aka Langdya/Balya (Tanaji Galgunde who guarantees multiple LOL moments in this otherwise serious film), Salim Shaikh, aka Salya (Arbaz Shaikh as the silent caring friend who’s always there for Parshya) and their entire lil’ world in Karmala Taluka, Solapur, Maharashtra (Which also happens to be the director’s birthplace).

As audience, we find ourselves completely absorbed into this quaint village and invested in the lead characters, which precisely is the reason we root them till the film’s last frame. We marvel at the rural cricket match, smile at Parshya’s cute ploys of expressing his love to Archie, laugh at the disability of Langdya in one scene and feel sorry for him in the next, dance with them during their festivities.

A detour here: I spotted a group of teenage girls dancing in the auditorium while the rest of the audience were dancing in their seats. When was the last time you saw this happening in a plush multiplex? Music director duo Ajay-Atul take a bow.

Sairat is India’s first film to have a soundtrack of western classical pieces recorded at Sony Scoring Stage in Hollywood, California, with an orchestra of 66 musicians – including a 45-piece string section, 6-piece woodwind section, 13-piece brass section, 6-piece horn section, and 1 harp. Applause.

Director Nagraj Manjule makes his audience stay invested in his characters so much that one forgets about the burning issues like class discrimination, rich-poor divide, moral policing, and honour killing, which do surface in the film at different points of time. The best part about Sairat is, these issues surface at the moment you least expect them to. A fleeting glance at cops hounding couples by the roadside hints at an uglier truth that lies ahead.

Sairat, at the risk of sounding blasphemous, is a revolution. It is a clarion call to our filmmakers for rising above their ‘camps’ and star trappings. NH 10 chose to show its heroine Anushka Sharma wielding a rod and smoking a ciggie in Bachchan style.

Real-life fight against class divide isn’t such cakewalk, so it’s high time you wake up and smell the coffee, folks. There’s a whole new world of talents out there to explore beyond those Khans, Kapoors, Aliaas, Deepikas and Priyankas.

To sum it up, Sairat is easily one of the best films you’re going to watch this year or perhaps this decade. It mirrors our society and its ugly truth that hatred is equally as powerful as love. Despite being popular for its music, it’s the deafening silence at the end of Sairat which will leave you numb even hours after watching it.

Director Nagraj Manjule, your film’s blood-stained footprints have left their imprints on our hearts. Love stories will no longer remain the same.

PS: A request to the multiplex owners: Please specify if a regional film is with subtitles or without in your ads/emailers/bookmyshow banners so that non-Marathi speaking audience like me can book  tickets without worrying about not understanding the language.