Raazi is a meditative musing on patriotism beyond borders

Based on the novel, ‘Calling Sehmat’, ‘Raazi’, directed by Meghna Gulzar, is based on true incidents. The novel’s author Harinder Sikka is a retired army officer, who stumbled upon this story during the Kargil war while conversing with an Indian army officer. The officer confided in him about how his mother, a Kashmiri Muslim, had married a Pakistani Army officer to provide India with classified information during the 1971 war.

Harindar Sikka eventually managed to meet the officer’s mother in Malerkotla, Punjab, where she later revealed her entire story. So, all those ‘how can an army family not get suspicious’ kind of criticism doing the rounds for ‘Raazi’ must be put to rest here. After all, truth has always been stranger than fiction.

As a co-writer (along with Bhavani Iyer) and director, Meghna Gulzar creates an ensemble of characters that play with the audience’s minds, without letting them have a whiff about it. To begin with, Sehmat, played to perfection by Alia Bhatt, is inner conscience personified. The character of Iqbal Syed, ably played by Vicky Kaushal is a reflection of the same inner conscience.

The character of Sehmat’s father Hidayat Khan, essayed by Rajit Kapoor stands for patriotism, which is again juxtaposed by its reflection with the character of Brigadier Syed played by the brilliant Shishir Sharma. Sehmat’s trainer, Khalid Mir amazingly played by Jaydeep Ahlawat, embodies duty, which again finds its reflection in Mehboob Syed’s character played by Ashwath Bhatt. Interestingly, Sehmat’s nemesis, Abdul (Aarif Zakariya) is the only character who doesn’t have its mirror image. Abdul represents hatred and extremism, which is common on both sides.

It’s quite rare to see such interesting juxtaposition of characters’ reflections in a film, as if they were pawns of a chessboard, where one set is black, while the other is white. Having placed her characters around this chess-like narrative, Meghna Gulzar compels her audience to oscillate between these characters. This, dear folks, is her masterstroke as a director.

Alia Bhatt is an ace actor who never fails to surprise her audience and one is always tempted to describe her performance as ‘career best’, only to realize later that she has outdone herself in the next film. However, despite her mindbogglingly realistic performance, ‘Raazi’ will always be reckoned as a Director’s Film in the history of Indian cinema, owing to the deft direction of Meghna Gulzar.

‘Raazi’ has the warmth of the seventies films, invoking memories of those ‘chaai moments’ in Hrishikesh Mukherjee films and at the same time has the razor-sharp treatment of a spy thriller, mind you, minus those slickly edited Russian Angle shots. Cinematographer Jay I. Patel and editor Nitin Baid, take a bow!

A digression here: Asutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Swades’ had a scene where Shahrukh Khan’s character Mohan Bhargav states, “Hum mahaan desh nahin hain, lekin hum mein mahaan banne ki kshamta hai.” After Swades, it’s ‘Raazi’ that resonates with the depths of ‘Swades’, evoking the emotions of patriotism in you without resorting to Pakistan bashing or pulling off a handpump with a roar of jingoism.

At the risk of sounding ‘anti-national’, I’d confess that I have never liked the song, ‘Saare jahaan se acha Hindustan hamaara’. Hold on your horses, the ‘Taraana-E-Hind, though beautifully penned by poet Iqbal, not only contradicts o’s ancient philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The world is one family), but also confines one’s love for the motherland to its borders.

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Clean bowled by ‘102 Not Out’

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Sanjeev Kumar, in an interview once mentioned that while Sholay’s climax scene was being shot, he requested director Ramesh Sippy to add a scene where he would hug his daughter-in-law, Radha, played by Jaya Bhaduri simply because he felt so sorry for her character. Though well-intended, the suggestion made no sense, especially when Thakur’s arms were chopped off and an embrace scene might hence look awkward.

In 102 Not Out, Rishi Kapoor’s character, Babulal Vakharia is one such character whom you want to hug till your tear glands wear out. Just like Sanjeev Kumar’s suggestion, this thought makes no sense, especially when you know it’s a white screen out there and what transpires on it is nothing but a filmed and edited reflection, even the character Babulal isn’t for real but a veteran actor who is completely different from what he portrays so excellently on screen. Nevertheless, there’s this urge of meeting up Babulal and gift him a cake from City Bakery on a Victoria Tonga ride. Seriously, when was the last time you ever felt so strongly for a character?

Umesh Shukla’s 102 Not Out is a triumph of writer Saumya Joshi and actors Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Jimit Trivedi as Babulal Vakharia, Dattatraya Vakharia and Dhiru. The film is based on one of the most successful Gujarati plays by Saumya Joshi that has been staged over 102 times, where actor Jayesh More played the father and Prem Gadhvi essayed the son’s role, while Hemin Trivedi played the ever-curious Dhiru.

Having watched the play twice, I was quite skeptic about watching its film adaptation. ‘How on earth could a play with three characters inside a mansion can ever be made into a feature film?’ I’d wonder, when the first look was out. Furthermore, being an ardent Amitabh Bachchan fan, I wasn’t much keen on watching him in that quirky avatar and nasal twang that reminds of Paa (Didn’t like Paa – What’s a Bachchan film with no Bachchan face and no Bachchan voice? Methinks, the other Bachchan, i.e. Abhishek was brilliant in it).

Director Umesh Shukla exorcises your demons of skepticism and senses used to the slickly edited music video kind of films, with his execution reminiscent of those ‘Inse miliye…’ kind of voiceovers in Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. Right from Vijay Raaz’s narration in the opening sequence, dialogue-baazi, drama, to the voiceover spoon-feeding the audience on the inner turmoil of the characters, 102 Not Out is unapologetically old school, yet cool to the core.

There’s a reason why despite Amitabh Bachchan’s brilliant performance, 102 Not Out leaves you feel strongly for Rishi Kapoor’s character. While the Father’s role shone all through the play, the film brings the Son’s role to the fore, not in writing, as it more or less remains the same as in the play, but through performance of Amitabh Bachchan, apart from of course, Rishi Kapoor.

Amitabh Bachchan approaches his role with the wit of Auro in Paa, depth of Harish Mishra in The Last Lear, nonchalance of Bhaskor in Piku. The telescope scenes remind you of his Mili days too. This actor’s face has such chameleonic range that he could express grief, contempt and love in a single scene, making it seem completely effortless. The scene in question here is towards the climax and any further detail would be criminal to type.

Now coming back to Rishi Kapoor’s role of Babulal, it’s the love demonstrated by his father’s character (Mere bete ko tere bete se jeetne nahin doonga’ he growls under his breath, yet with equal fervour as his ‘Mein aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin uthaata’ days).

Unlike any other film, the transition of Babulal’s character isn’t abrupt, yet sudden – Just like the flower he attempts to nurture in the film and it’s his father who makes the bloom possible.

Similarly, the Son’s character ‘blooms’ only because of the Father. Dattatraya’s immense love for Babulal is so beautifully portrayed on screen that it prepares the ground for Rishi Kapoor to perform. And boy, what performance this gem of an actor delivers! The transition of Babulal from stooped shouldered and grumpy faced old man to a confident and cheerful veteran is stuff legends are made of. It wouldn’t be wrong to proclaim that his role is a textbook on character transformation for every actor, writer and director worth their salt.

A jugalbandi, no matter how engaging, always needs a breather of another instrument or vocal to create a perfect harmony. Jimit Trivedi, as Dhiru, offers such breather in 102 Not Out of a third perspective, albeit switching sides all the time. Jimit Trivedi, who is already the poster boy of Gujarati films, especially as a comic actor, plays Dhiru to perfection. In hindsight, Dhiru is an extension of the narrator, who articulates what the audience might be wondering about – again, an old school approach of execution, which still wins hands down, especially because it allows you as an audience to have a ring-side view of what pans out between the father-son duo.

Those who often rue that we don’t have filmmakers with guts to make old-aged character -based films like ‘Something’s Gotta Give’, ‘Meet the parents’, ‘Father of the Bride’, ‘Bridges of Madison County’, ‘Amour’, ‘Iris’ or ‘The Intern’, Umesh Shukla’s 102 Not Out puts an end to your woes. Here’s a film that takes the ‘legacy’ of Cheeni Kum and Do Dooni Chaar forward, with coincidentally, the same ace actors.

Coming back to Sholay, Sanjeev Kumar’s suggestion of hugging and expressing sympathy for his daughter-in-law wasn’t executed in the film, yet he made that embrace felt through the empathetic look in eyes. I could ‘see’ similar empathy in the voice of people walking out of the auditorium after watching 102 Not Out.

After all, speaking with lump in the throat is never easy, nor is driving home with moist eyes. If words could embrace a character, here’s one for Babulal. The film will be remembered even after a century – 102 Years to go, yo!

Here’s my tribute to the two legends of Indian Cinema:

October marks the bloom of a new genre in Indian cinema

Remember “Rosebud” – The last word of a character in Citizen Kane that became the core for the entire film? “Where’s Dan?” is a line that becomes a leitmotif in Shoojit Sircar’s brilliant creation, October but the difference herein lies in the fact that the line surfaces more in Dan’s expressions rather than being oft-repeated.

If you cared to notice, I wrote Dan’s expression, not Varun Dhawan’s expressions. That’s what this film does to you and that’s exactly what a remarkable performance is all about – it makes you forget the actor and focus on the character.There’s a reason why you connect with Dan the most. Dan is a symbolism for our innocence. The innocence that we kill while on our way to growing up and becoming ‘practical’.

In a ‘practical’ sense, it would have been silly to ruin one’s life and career for a girl who barely knows you and you aren’t even sure if she loves you or not.It wouldn’t make sense to hang on to hope, especially in a case where even the doctors seem to have given up. Yet you have a protagonist, Dan, who juggles between hospital fraternity and hospitality industry, for his colleague, Shiuli (Ably essayed by Banita Sandhu) infusing hope in the life of Shiuli’s mother, Prof. Vidya Iyer played to perfection by Gitanjali Rao.

The background score by Shantanu Moitra, the cinematography by Avik Mukhopadhayay, editing by Chandrashekhar Prajapati, direction by Shoojit Sircar, and above all, writing by Juhi Chaturvedi makes ‘October’ a compelling watch that stays with you even after the curtain ‘Fall’.To sum it up, ‘October’ isn’t a film, but a visual metaphor of contrasts – Contrasts of hope and giving up, head and heart, love and probability of love, assurance and uncertainty, career and conscience, life and death, acting and reacting and commercial and art cinema.

Like Rumi quoted, “Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” October lies in that ‘there’ space. And trust me, that’s a space our films ought to be. It’s high time the ‘Fall’ of silly cinema ends, giving way to Shiuli blooms of October films. This film, dear folks, is a genre that makes you think how fragile our life is and how strong hope can be, despite losing it all, how one can conquer it all. Shoojit Sircar, Juhi Chaturvedi and Dan, take a bow.

Meeting the ‘Czar of writing’

‘Dedicated to Gulzar saab – Thanks for introducing Mirza Ghalib to our generation’ reads the first page of my book, Ghalib Unplugged. While dedicating the book to someone whom I often refer to as the ‘Gulzar – the czar of writing’, little did I know that the book will reach the highest heaven I could ever hope for, which mind you, isn’t the ‘bestseller rack’ of any bookshop.

An evening brimming with excitement of meeting up my idol and guru I, along with my wife, had gone to an event, ‘Rubaru with Gulzar’ presented by Salim Arif at Karnavati Club, Ahmedabad on 14th April. I was carrying two copies of my book, ‘Ghalib Unplugged’ with a hope to present it to Gulzar saab. The hopes soon vanished as the hall was packed with over 300 people, almost everyone nursing similar ‘hope’ of meeting up the God of writing, with a book or two tucked under their arms. I had almost given up the ‘hope’ I had been kindling all day long.

The veteran arrived, clad in his signature starch white kurta-pyjamas, jootis, the oft-mentioned ‘aenak’ and a baritone that breathes life into his impeccably chosen phonate of words, punctuated with the wit of a wiz. The presence of Gulzar saab created an indescribable aura among the audience. We were seated quite far from the dais and wished we had arrived an hour earlier so as to be able to see the man who wrote and directed Mirza Ghalib. “Will I be able to bridge this sea of crowds?” I asked myself, while watching him being felicitated by the organisers (Kavya Mudra, take a bow for organizing such a wonderful event that celebrated Gujarati poet, Mareez).

I and my wife, Shalini anticipated a Q&A session and hoped that I just might be able to pose my question and present my book dedicated to him. But the chances of getting such an opportunity were slim, owing to the thick enthusiastic crowd. Finally, Gulzar saab spoke. And guess what, the first thing he said was – I want to meet the young poets in this auditorium and would invite them here on stage and ask questions on the craft of writing or literature.

Needless to say, I ‘bridged that sea of crowds’ in a nick of time, wading through the rows and grabbing that elusive mic, only to find myself tongue-tied. Having read almost all his books and watched multiple interviews on YouTube, I barely had any question to ask but since ‘sawaal ke bahaane’ was my only boat, I had to ask him something. Thankfully, I had a question on my mind, which would eventually link me to the book and Gulzar saab just might not be able to decline my request – Perks of being a Copywriter, I must admit.

After confessing that I have learned almost everything about poetry and writing from him and consider him as my idol and guru, I finally posed the question with bated breath, “What if Mirza Ghalib were alive in our times?”

The question piqued his interest, as well as Saleem Arif sir and Gulzar saab responded, “Perhaps he would have been visiting the producers’ offices for a break”. That’s when I presented him my book, saying, “Sir, I have written a book based on this question and would like to present it to you – It’s dedicated to you – Isme likha hai aapka naam!” It was indeed kind enough of him to accept this humble gift in front of the audience with a smile. That meant everything for me as a poet and writer. Now anything beyond this incident would be a bonus.

The book has finally reached its destination, and like I said, it isn’t the ‘Bestseller rack’. It was never meant to be that anyway. Am still reeling under this experience and the reason am sharing this incident is to make you believe that – Miracles do happen.

Here’s where you can pick your copy of ‘The book dedicated to Gulzar saab’: Ghalib Unplugged – A prose-poetic chronicle https://www.amazon.in/dp/9352017099/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_ptm1AbB7HY6NY

Pari is a fiery tale drenched with blood

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As ironical as it may sound, you know a horror film has achieved its purpose when the audience breaks into fits of laughter or giggles as a desperate attempt to camouflage their fear or shock. The laughter or giggles of such sort are the best compliments debutant director Prosit Roy can ever hope to earn with his film, Pari – Not a fairytale.

A genre done to death, resurrection and exorcisement, horror films either tread the Ramsay route or Ram Gopal Varma way. Either ways, the story has never really mattered much. A person is wronged by someone and the tormented soul torments others until a Tantrik or Priest pops up to everyone’s rescue, including the audience.

Even the experimental ‘Ek Thi Daayan’ and ‘Ragini MMS’ resorted to similar clichés of Tantrik Babas rising to the occasion. Pari, in that sense, is indeed a commendable film that breaks such stereotypes and humanizes the ‘ghost’ and presents a new ‘variety’ of ghosts, Ifrit, for instance.

Ifrits find mention Arabic literature and also in Qur’an, Sura An-Naml, wherein King Solomon seeks its help to get the queen of Sheba and the Ifrit obliges him instantly, within the split of a second. Ifrits are a type of Djinns, who cannot be seen, only heard and generally take form of recently deceased person.

Thankfully, director Projit Roy doesn’t venture the Ifrit tutorial territory or the mandatory ‘Ghost Background Story’. He instead focuses on his lead characters, Rukhsaana, ably played by Anushka Sharma, who has also co-produced Pari and Arnab played to perfection by Parambrata Chatterjee.

Anushka Sharma owns the screen in almost every frame and makes her character believable and strangely, relatable too. This is quite a feat, especially because a character with such complexity can seldom evoke empathy and even sympathy from the audience. I mean, when was the last time you rooted for a ‘ghost’ or ‘witch’ in such kind of films?

Parambrata Chatterjee reprises his ‘sweet guy’ character that he essayed in Kahani. So this role, despite being up his alley, has many layers to it, which is completely justified by the actor. The expressions of fear, apprehension, love, and resolve that Parambrata portrays within the 2 odd hours of the film is indeed worth a mention, and applause.

Piyali (Ritabhari Chakraborty), the prospective bride of Arnab is a redundant character of this film and even the actress seems to be desperately trying to find her footing in a film already crowded with humans, witches, sorcerers, ifrits and ghouls.

The ‘Tantrik’ finds a new avatar here as a ‘revolutionist’ professor from Bangladesh, where Rajat Kapoor makes his presence felt and leaves an everlasting impact. Interestingly, his is the only character in Pari which will leave the audience petrified and baffled, in the same breath. For instance, in the first half, you detest him for what he does and in the second half, you want to like him for what he does but are still not able to do so. It’s a tricky character to portray with conviction, and Rajat Kapoor wins hands down.

Pari, though begins on a nervous note, gains confidence once it finds its voice in the wilderness of West Bengal, followed by umpteen scenes gory enough to irk you, irrespective of the fact that you’ve watched the entire ‘Saw’ series with wide-eyed enthusiasm. It’s not just the sight of blood and gore, but the indulgence in them that irks you to the core.

After a point of time, such scenes lose their gory charm and so does that awkward love triangle that make you wish you had a fast-forward option available in the multiplex (Ah I wish!). In spite of all this, one would still not write Pari off because of the intricately woven story by Abhishek Bannerjee and Prosit Roy, compelling camerawork by Jishnu Bhattacharjee and slick editing by Manas Mittal that rids you of the constant ‘mobile peeking’ habit while watching a film on big screen. Not to forget the background score by Ketan Sodha who practices restraint and spares your eardrums from loud notes during ‘jump scare’ scenes.

Pari, to sum it up, is a fiery tale that will always be remembered as a precursor to some ‘hatke horror films’ hopefully on the anvil. Fingers (minus the blood-stained nails) crossed.

 

Indian Dream Weavers of the Web

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With the advent of OTT i.e. Over The Top, wherein you watch content through subscription, there is a sudden gush of Indian Web Series all over the virtual world. The fight is tough as the benchmarks are escalating day-by-day, thanks to the GoTs and Narcos of this world. If standup comedians, TVF and AIB are creating sketches, the film directors are busy exploring this newfound terrain free from the shackles of censors and certificates.

In such scenario, there are writer-directors like Mayank Sharma, who boost the online content quotient with a web series like ‘Breathe’ on Amazon Prime starring R. Madhavan and Amit Sadh. ‘Breathe’ is indeed a breather after a long gap since the equally brilliant and relevant-for-our-times Indian web series like ‘Permanent Roommates’ and ‘Bang Baja Baaraat’, ‘Tripling’, and the recent ‘Inside Edge’, ‘Bose’ and ‘The Test Case’.

While faintly reminiscent of ‘Breaking Bad’, the web series ‘Breathe’ is a fresh tale of loss and inner turmoil, narrated with the fervor of a thriller and spirit of a drama. Right from the writing, cinematography, editing to direction, this is something you just can’t afford to miss, apart from the upcoming ‘Sacred Games’ starring Saif Ali Khan and ‘The Ministry’ starring Irrfan Khan.

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Furthermore, if Vikram Bhatt and Ekta Kapoor have perceived this platform as an extension to their brand of content with ‘Tantra’ and ‘Dev DD’, Ram Gopal Varma seems to have gone full monty, in metaphorical sense for him and literal sense for his muses, thanks to the lack of intervention from the censors or the fresh crop of senas.

Speaking of ‘senas’, one strongly recommends this word to be included in the Oxford Dictionary and its time MS Word doesn’t underline it red, as it’s already a blood-strewn word. It’s quite an irony that on one hand Padmavati gets its ‘i’ butchered by the censors and sena, and on the same day, Ram Gopal Varma releases his short film, ‘God, Sex and Truth’ starring a naked porn star with an effortless ease.

The writing is loud and clear on the wall – Internet is the only place where democracy exists in its true sense. Wait, there, too, you run the risk of being lynched by some Senas who might be ‘offended’ by your social media post. Well, at least the filmmakers do have the freedom to make the kind of films they want, at least till now.

One wouldn’t be surprised if Sanjay Leela Bhansali announces his next historical saga to be released online, minus any cuts and full title, mind you. Perhaps he may go ahead and re-release ‘Padmavat’ with the extra ‘i’ and those 70 cuts, and who knows he just might include a bonus feature of that rumoured ‘dream sequence song’ featuring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.

What’s more, the digital platform won’t make a certain wannabe-feminist actress feel like a female genital and compel her to write open letters anymore. After all, it’s a democratic platform and one could make regressive, progressive, depressive, aggressive, inclusive, abusive, or any darn ‘sive’ kind of film as one may please.

Come to think of it, the ‘Big Bollywood Struggle’ would become a thing of the past. Filmmakers like Rajat Kapoor, who is currently crowd-funding to realize his most ambitious film, ‘RK/R Kay’, can utilize the garnered monies to spruce up the production values and content of his film rather than promotion, which constitutes huge chunk of a film’s overall budget.

Amitabh Bachchan once quoted in an interview that these days, he finds film promotion more tiring than shooting for films. Agreed, the Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hot Star, Eros, Alt Balaji and other digital platforms do charge for showcasing a film or web series, but the stakes surely aren’t as high as a big budget film.

Let’s not forget the fact that there have been multiple films which got made but were never released, owing to censors, Senas or lack of funds. Digital films would empower every filmmaker worth his/her salt to be able to make films they believe in, without worrying the uncertainty of its theatre release. This would ease the box office performance pressure off their shoulders and enable them to focus on content and production values.

After all, content is the king, at least in the digital space, unlike those films from the 100-crore ilk which are more about packaging than packing a punch. These films are a ‘chaar din ki chaandni’, from Friday to Monday, where they hammer the songs and trailers on your head and pique your curiosity so much that you end up spending a bomb on the exorbitant tickets and doubly exorbitant popcorns and colas. We would see more fresh talent cropping from varies cities, not just those hunks with six-abs or anorexic babes.

Local talent will get the much-needed boost and each state of our diverse nation will surely have a fresh story to tell about their land and culture. Look at the kind of cinema made in Marathi, Bengali, Assamese and Malayalam, which despite being brilliant films barely find takers in the multiplexes.

Digital platforms can offer umpteen opportunities of online film premieres, where the film’s crew would interact one-on-one with their audience and seek their feedback right there after its first day, rendering those ‘intellectual’ ‘Fellini worshipping’, ‘screenplay revealing’ or ‘KRKish’ movie critics redundant.

At the risk of sounding too optimistic, I would assert that digital platform would transcend our smart-phones, i-Pads, laptops and smart televisions and go on to become ‘Digiplex’, a multiplex that would stream films and web series, the censors and senas notwithstanding.

Even theatre is embracing the digital revolution through CinePlays, albeit with little success, as such content neither remains a play nor cinema, robbing the medium of its ‘live’ feeling as a medium. There’s a difference between listening to Indian Ocean band live at a concert and watching them perform on television or phone. Hope you get the drift.

Nonetheless, if you are willing to sacrifice the ‘live’ experience and are curious to watch those award-winning plays without travelling all the way to Mumbai’s Prithvi and NCP or Delhi’s Shri Ram Centre, CinePlays should work just fine for you.

While talking about experience, watching plays or cinema in a theatre is a unique experience, which is slowly but surely dwindling, blame it on easy accessibility to entertainment. The maxim of ‘Go Solo’ promoted by Hot Star has become a reality today. We are becoming all the more ‘anti-socializing’ offline and hyperactive on social media.

Even our idea of a perfect date is to order something on Zomato or Swiggy at home and enjoy amid cozy company of close friends or loved ones. Just like smart-phones and LCD TVs becoming cheaper, wireless home theatre systems, too, would become easily affordable. Who knows the next Digiplex would be located right inside your home, spelling a doom to those insanely priced movie tickets, popcorns, colas, censors and Senas? Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. Fingers crossed.

 

Mukkabaaz perfects the Paintra of narrating a blood-blended love story

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Who in his sanest mind would have ever imagined that out of all those Barjatyas, Chopras and Johar, Hindi cinema’s one of the finest love stories would be narrated by Anurag Kashyap, someone known for dark themed films? Mukkabaaz is far from the underdog-fights-the-system-finally-emerges-winner kind of cliché we have been watching in the name of sports film genre. Here, boxing is a metaphor for the key character, Shravan’s struggles in life, right from his home, heart and boxing ring.

“Apne talent ka praman patra lekar society mein jhanda gaadhne nikle ho?”

Vineet Kumar Singh is sure to leave an indelible mark on your mind, making you question everything about our films, right from those stars, perfectionists to method actors. To be precise, how far would you go to make your dream come true? Vineet Kumar Singh, though distantly related to Anurag Kashyap, never had it easy. Years ago, he approached Anurag Kashyap with his script, only to be told that he will have to become a real boxer if he wants this film to see the light of day.

“Zyaada important hai tum kisko jaante ho, kisko pehchante ho,
kaun tumko jaanta hai, kaun tumko manta hai.”

At 36, when other boxers generally retire, Vineet Kumar Singh went on to pursue his career in boxing. He sold his belongings, gave up his filmy ‘struggle’ and moved to Punjab to live an anonymous life of a guy who keeps training and boxing like a man possessed. After watching Mukkabaaz, you’d scoff at those ‘training montage songs’ of Sultans and Dangals of this world.

The film’s boxing training not only makes Vineet look convincing in a boxer’s role, but depicts the ‘hunger’ that he as a person has to make his dream come true. This hunger couldn’t have been depicted on his face without dedication of such mammoth level. No actor worth his salt could ever do that unless it comes from within. The five-year training is no marketing gimmick, but an earnest and organic way of infusing life in one’s performance.

“Aur bade ghar ki kanya paane wala funda to hai yeh.”

Debutant Zoya Hussain is no ‘hero’s morale booster’ here. The strength of this character lies in her eloquent eyes and muted lips. It is indeed no wonder she’s called Sunaina here. Not someone to cow down before her speech disability, Sunaina is fiery young woman with oodles of charisma and chutzpah. The husband-wife tiff, especially where she asks Shravan to learn sign language and her ‘conversation’ with mother are stuff legends are made of.

The other actor to watch out for is Jimmy Shergill. His character of Bhagwaan Mishra isn’t your Amrish Puri type of villain. There’s a line in the film that defines his character: Khud to kuch karte nahin, aur agar dimaag ghoom gaya to kisi aur ko bhi kuch karne nahi dete. This stubbornness i.e. ‘zidd’ of this character is the film’s villain, not just the person. The film’s last scene subtly hints at this fact, if you care enough to notice.

Ravi Kishan, as a ‘Harijan boxing coach’ lends support and the much-needed balance to the film’s narrative, as well as protagonist. This underutilized gem of  an actor makes his presence felt, despite a brief appearance and makes you wish to see more of him. Kudos to Mukesh Chhabra’s excellent casting, right from the lead actors to the supporting ones, especially the actor who played Shravan’s father.

“Isko kehte hain Paintra.”

The team of choreographers i.e. Rajeev Ravi, Shanker Raman, Jay Patel and Jayesh Nair capture the romance with as equal passion as they do in sparring and training sequences, making them seem so seamless you won’t believe the story is being narrated through four pair of eyes. Aarti Bajaj and Ankit Bidyadhar cut the film with such adroit precision that not a single scene seems to drag or indulge. Case in point, the cow vigilant scenes and the scene where Bhagwaan Mishra asks Shravan to gulp his urine to secure his entry into boxing at district level.

The soul of Mukkabaaz, however, lies in its music. The song, ‘Bahut dukkha mann’ rendered by her and Dev Arijit will linger on your mind for hours together after leaving the auditorium, compelling you to look up for the Mukkabaaz album online. The other songs like ‘Chipkali’ (A beautiful montage that encapsulates passion locking horns with profession), ‘Mushkil hai apna mel priye’, ‘Haathapai’ and the popular ‘Paintra’ by Nucleya and Divine are intricately woven into the film’s narrative. Music director Rachita Arora take a bow.

“Chance humko bhi mila tha lekin netikta ke chh** mein mistake ho gaya.”

Rising light-years above his debacle of the forgettable ‘Bombay Velvet’, Anurag Kashyap is back in his form here. Mukkabaaz is where Anurag Kashyap in his rawest glory, maneuvers through the familiar lanes of Dev D and Gangs of Wasseypur, assimilating with producer Anand L. Rai’s school of cinema in Raanjhana. What you get is a romance as rustic as Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi masterpiece, ‘Sairat’, and boxing as real as Sudha K. Prasad’s ‘Saala Khadoos’ with broad strokes of blood-blended hues of love.

While summing up, one is suddenly tempted to read between the lines of the protagonist being christened as Shravan and antagonist being called Bhagwaan. Anurag Kashyap once quoted that he is an atheist and believes only in one god i.e. cinema. Is Mukkabaaz an atheist director’s way of portraying the conflict of a sincere devotee Shravan (named after the pious character in Ramayana who was sincerely devoted to his parents) with the almighty (who nurtures the devotee as well as spells doom for him). Perhaps, yes. After all, ‘No Smoking’, too, was about human and the almighty and smoking was a mere metaphor, just like boxing in Mukkabaaz.

In a nutshell, Mukkabaaz perfects the ‘Paintra’ of narrating a blood-blended love story on the silver screen and surely deserves your time and money.

“Experience share kar rahe hain, lena hai to lijiye, warna sarakiye…”

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