Sanju: Kaho na PR hai!

There’s a popular scene in Sholay, which is based on an actual incident in the lives of Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, back in their ‘Salim-Javed’ days, where Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) visits Basanti (Hema Malini)’s Mausi (Leela Mishra) with a marriage proposal of his best friend, Veeru (Dharmendra). Jai lists down all the vices of his friend Veeru but sugarcoats each vice with something positive, leading to a worse vice in the next line.

This scene sums up Rajkumar Hirani’s latest offering, Sanju. Just like Jai, the director insists upon Sanjay Dutt being a man with heart of gold and blames the world for everything ‘wrong’ about his ‘Baba’. If the entire 2 odd hours weren’t enough, he goes to feature Sanjay Dutt along with Ranbir Kapoor, crooning ‘Baba bolta hai ab bas ho gaya’.

Not a benchmark to compare here, but Mani Rathnam’s ‘Guru; (Never claimed to be an official biography of a certain industrialist anyway) had a character of Madhavan, who reflected the dark side of Gurukant Desai. Here we have Baba’s friend, Kamli, who comes across more of ‘Circuit’, rather than someone who makes Baba realise that he’s on a wrong track.

Sanju, right from its opening scene to the credits, is easily the best PR-friendly biopic we’ve ever seen. Baba got into drugs. Blame a drug peddler. Baba gets into AK 56 trouble. Blame the underworld. On a lighter vein, even if Baba sleeps with his friend’s girlfriend, just like the writer and director, Baba blames it on the girl instead. The world can go astray, but Baba can’t go wrong saala.

A biopic, by its inherent nature, is supposed to document its subject’s good, bad, ugly side. Well, expecting a ‘Wolf of Wallstreet’ in India would be too much to ask, but the worst part is you don’t even get an ‘MS Dhoni’ here. The much-touted ‘308 nahin safety ke liye 350’ women in Sanjay Dutt’s life are royally ignored.

We aren’t looking for a song with montage of 308 women, but would expect the story of his wife, Rhea Pillai or Richa Sharma and her daughter Trishala. If not the women in his life, why was the character of Priya Dutt given just one word, ‘Bhaiya’ in the name of dialogue? Welcome to Rajkumar Hirani’s world, where women exist just to make the hero look like a hero or give way to apparently ‘harmless’ sexual innuendos, be it the ‘Sttann’ or ‘Balaatkaar’ scene in 3 Idiots, or ‘Lagaane ke liye chahiye’ in Sanju.

So, we have Anushka Sharma here, world’s ‘top biographer’, who is literally chased by the star, Sanjay Dutt to get his biography written. Really? In the wake of arrests and allegations, would Sanjay Dutt need a biography to tell his side of story? Would the court, janta and media wallas change their perception if they were to read his biography?

Guess what the ‘top biographer’ does as part of her research? Spend time with the star, read up everything ever written about him, meet up women who were in relationship with him, people who have known him since childhood, relatives, friends, producers and directors? Wrong. This stylishly dressed and clownishly haired lady chooses to fly from one country to another just after talking to two people in the star’s life. Seems like writer Abhijat Joshi and Rajkumar Hirani did the same kind of research while writing Sanju.

Among the actors, Ranbir Kapoor literally transforms into Sanjay Dutt. This is indeed a tough feat to pull off for every actor worth his salt, where the actor completely disappears into his character. In few scenes, especially towards the film’s end, you’d be tempted to look closely if it was the real Dutt. Finally, Ranbir got his due as an actor.

If Ranbir is one extreme of perfect casting, Paresh Rawal is the other extreme of miscast. The veteran struggles to pass off as Sunil Dutt. The benign look of Sunil Dutt isn’t something that can be achieved through wigs, makeup or rehearsed mannerisms. Heck, even the ‘Ustaads’ i.e. lyricists of yesteryears, too, couldn’t make Paresh Rawal believable.

After Ranbir Kapoor, if any actor shines out, it’s Vicky Kaushal as the endearing Kamlesh aka Kamli. It’s a character who will remain etched in your memory long after you leave the auditorium. After Masaan, Raman Raghav 2.0, Raazi and the recent Karan Johar short from Lust Stories, Vicky Kaushal never fails to surprise you. Alas, it’s the film that disappoints here.

Coming back to the Sholay scene of Jai and Mausi, by the end of the scene, Mausi concludes, “Ek baat ki daad doongi beta. Bhale sau buraayiyaan hai tumhare dost mein, phir bhi tumhare munh se us ke liye taareefein hi nikalti hai.” That’s exactly how the ‘mausi’ of audience would feel for Rajkumar Hirani, reminiscent of a poignant scene from Sanju, where the Yerwada Jail Radio plays, ‘Tere jaisa yaar kahaan, kahaan aisa yaarana’. So, what’s next after this PR film that screams, ‘My name is Sanjay Dutt and I am not a terrorist’? Is it ‘Bhai and blackbucks? perhaps titled as ‘Sallu’? Go figure.

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Poetry Tales: A celebration of poetry in Vadodara

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“Mushaayraas aren’t my cup of tea! They are a ‘mehfil’ full of purists and ‘sukhanwars’, reciting verses understood by people from their own ilk,” I used to aver, whenever approached or suggested to participate in Mushaayras. Well, not anymore. With ‘Poetry Tales’, the definition of Mushaayra is changing and how!

It began with a call from Khushi Gangadia, a poet, entrepreneur and founder of Poetry Tales to be part of this wonderful initiative that would offer a platform to the budding poets of Vadodara. Chandrakant Golani, a celebrated Fashion Designer of the city and a close friend, had referred my name to Khushi. So, I had this privilege of sharing the stage with Vadodara’s one of the finest poets, Aariz Shaikh saab, as the ‘Headliners’ of the event.

The first event of Poetry Tales on 15th June’18 put rest to all our doubts. We did have a good number of audience, apart from the 16 poets from Vadodara. In fact, many of them were standing all through the recitations. Having said that, what actually mattered more than the number of audience was quality of the audience. Add to that a host like RJ Shubham ensured that there was enough dose of humour to get the event going. The team members like Kriti, Nimish, Nilam Mir made this event all the more smooth-sailing experience.

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Every passionate ‘Fankaar’ worth his ink can never be complete without equally enthusiastic ‘Sunkaar’. And boy, what a group of ‘Sunkaars’ we had! There wasn’t a single nuance of poetry that went beyond the audience’s comprehension. To give the ‘devils’ their due, such response was also because of the recitation skills and styles of this bunch of extremely talented and articulate poets of the city.

Being the ‘opening batsman’ (bad analogy for an avowed non-cricket fan like me) of this event, I wondered what benchmarks my poem might lay for these youngsters holding cups of Soul Brew coffee. The coffee assured that it might keep their yawns at bay while I recite poems from my book, ‘Ghalib Unplugged’. Surprisingly, the poems were not only well received, but established an instant connect. That’s the beauty of poetry. It connects and builds an everlasting bond, a raabta.

The young poets left us surprised. Each had his/her own style of reciting. If Shyam had his way of narrating ‘Baap’ in the typical ‘Hindi bhaashi’ style, Yesha reflected on the Indian political scenario with a fiery poem, ‘Kursi ka ye kissa nirala, sabne apna hissa nikaala, chaar paayi ko sabne paata, kar tera aadha, mera aadha…”

Hunaid mused on his singlehood with a poem generously sprinkled with humour who frankly speaking, left the purist in me wondering if this could actually be deemed as a poem and Hunaid can ever be called a poet.

Nevertheless, he had a style that makes him likeable and perhaps that’s what makes him unique. Varun had an impeccable vocabulary in his poems, which were written to an unmistakably consistent meter. Nirmal has a ‘cool’ style of approaching English poetry, which were evocatively written and eloquently recited. Shiv Shankar, a Govt. employee recited his beautifully penned poems and won over everyone’s heart.

Komal narrated her Gujarati poem, ‘Kayink karvu che ne karvu pade che, enaa maa farq padi jaye chhe’, which took the philosophical route, while other poets like Amita, Jigar, Nidhi, Jahnavee, Shweta and Saumya wowed the audience with their recitals.

The ‘surprise element’, however turned out to be Gopesh, a student of archaeology. The best thing about this guy is that he is completely immersed in his own world of poetry while reciting, oblivious of people around him.

Khushi Gangadia recited her poem, Aazad Nazm, which has an interesting premise where a poet is talking to its nazm: “Aasmaan ke pehlu mein uddti rehti hai tu, bebaank parindon si aazaad…” This poem resonates with every poet’s feeling and its words had a flow of a river and depth of an ocean.

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Last, but as the clichéd goes, not the least, Aarif Shaikh saab left each and every person in the audience awe-struck. This humble poet and gem of a person graciously agreed to be part of Poetry Tales on an Eid evening and even decided to break the Ramadan fast after the event. Well, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Sample poem by Aarif Shaikh saab:

Log tehzeeb ki jo had se guzar jaate hain
Woh zamaane ki nigaahon se utar jaate hain
Bujh gayi aag fasaadon ki magar yeh bachhe
Koi jugnoo bhi chamakta hai to darr jaate hain.

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To sum it up, Poetry Tales is the beginning of a wonderful journey that celebrates poetry. What began as a conversation on poetry and common connections with Khushi ended up as a collaboration to take Poetry Tales to the next level, perhaps in other cities like Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Lucknow and Delhi. Fingers crossed. Thanks Chandrakant Golani, DJ Rizzvee, Ruturaj Mistry, Hitesh Mistry, Manas Sharma for being there during the event.

Yun hota to kya hota’ is a poem from my book, ‘Ghalib Unplugged’ that sums up Poetry Tales, where we celebrate poetry in English, Hindi and Gujarati:

Smiles ki jo agar bhaasha hoti, to nazron ki language kya hoti?
Baadalon ki jo aaj boli hoti, to leheron ka lehjaa kya hota?
Nazm ki jo aaj paribhaasha hoti, to poetry ka definition kya hota?
Shaayaron ki jo aaj mehfil hoti, to Ghalib ka andaaz-e-bayaan kya hota?
Woh har ek baat pe kehna, ke yun hota, to kya hota
Ke yun hota, to kya hota…

Here’s a teaser of an upcoming docu-film on the poets of Vadodara:

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.

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.