Bombay Talkies: Thank you for the movies!

After watching Bombay Talkies, the Abba anthem, ‘Thank you for the music’ resonates with your thoughts. Forget the 100 years tribute, the four directors, or the fact that you aren’t actually a Hindi movie buff and firmly believe that it’s the Hollywood who knows the craft of filmmaking. This is a film that will change the way you perceive Hindi films.

It is perhaps for the first time that directors are promoting a film, not actors. Well, the concept of short films by different directors isn’t new to Hindi films (Darna Mana/Zaroori hain, Dus Kahaniyan, Yun Hota To Kya Hota, David), but what’s unique about Bombay Talkies is its ability to portray cinema as an integral part of our lives, without going overboard. Here’s how:

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Film 1: Ajeeb Dastaan by Karan Johar

The saccharine is discarded. The glycerin is dumped. The roses are buried. The Ferraris are locked in garages. The smooch and mooch become one. Lo and behold the ‘new and improved’ Karan Johar ‘as seen on TV’, who chooses to begin his film with actor Saqeeb Salim (in a brilliant performance) thrashing his father instead of mouthing dialogue like ‘Babuji mujhe aashirwaad dijiye’ as one would expect from a Kjo film. ‘Ajeeb Dastaan’ might change your notion about homosexuality (it slaps you hard every time you try judging Avinash, the character Saqeeb plays).

Needless to say, the vintage gems ‘Ajeeb dastaan hain yeh’ and ‘Lag jaa gale’ will never be the same for you. Randeep Hooda yet again proves that he is here to stay. Rani Mukerjee leaves you yearning for more. She is spot-on as Gayatri, sub-editor of Mid-Day and a woman clad in low-cut blouse with ‘gale mein mangalsutra aur aankhon mein kamasutra’, as Avinash, the intern (and gay) journo would like to put it. Well, anything more would surely be a spoiler so I’d better stop here. Hope Karan Johar bids adieu to those saccharines, glycerins, roses, and Ferraris, for he no longer needs them to narrate his stories.

Film 2: Star by Dibakar Bannerjee

A masterpiece will always remain timeless and a genius will always remain immortal. Satyajit Ray’s short story, ‘Patol Babu, Film Star’ reaffirms this fact and one couldn’t resist doffing hat at the auteur called Ray, who still inspires ace filmmakers like Dibakar Bannerjee to make a film based on his work. Dibakar’s ‘Star’ is easily the best film of this concoction and towers over so effortlessly that you wonder whether you were in a theatre or just strolled across a chawl and chanced upon Purandhar, the character played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. While the original short story delved into the world of a middle-aged bald Patol Babu, the adaptation adds a new layer to Purandhar by adding a new character of his daughter and Anjali, the Emu (yes you read it right).

Purandhar aspires to be a hero in the eyes of his daughter and narrates her stories of Hritik Roshan films, which no longer intrigues her.  A chance encounter with the fillum-walaas changes his life. He discovers the closeted actor in him who is egged on by his mentor (Sadashiv Amrapurkar who cleanses all his sins of acting in B-grade films with this role of a lifetime after ‘Maharani’ in Sadak). The film leaves a lump in your throat and you secretly hope that you aren’t caught red-eyed while the auditorium lights mercilessly snatch away the dark blanket engulfing your senses. Wish Satyajit Ray were alive to watch this film, he would have surely been proud of Dibakar Bannerjee (just the way we are).

Film 3: Sheila ki jawani by Zoya Akhtar

Zoya Akhtar’s ‘Sheila ki jawaani’ is India’s answer to ‘Billy Elliot’, the British film written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Daldry. The ballet is replaced by ‘Sheila ki jawani’, the coal miner father by working class man (Ranveer Shorey in an excellent performance), the elder brother by elder sis, and the ballet teacher by the angel, Katrina Kaif. The only grouse is that the original film isn’t credited or subtly acknowledged anywhere.

Nevertheless, Zoya comes up with an awe-inspiring screenplay and simple yet profound dialogues, thanks to Javed Akhtar. Especially, the line, ‘caves itne puraane hai ke agle saal tak gir jaayenge’. Zoya perfects the art of capturing nuances of scenes where the siblings confide in their ‘secret dreams’. Unlike what few people in the auditorium interpreted the film, the core essence of Zoya’s ‘Sheila ki jawani’ isn’t about cross-dressing but ‘believing in your dreams’ (Reminiscent of Rhonda Byrne’s ‘The secret’).

The film takes you back to those good ol’ days of childhood when every dream was possible and every star was just at an arm’s length away. The line, ‘I want to be a passenger’ stays with you even after you’ve left the auditorium (and mentally ‘rated’ each film and tweeted them). The line gently teases your grey cells, often asking, ‘What do you want to be?’ I found myself quipping, ‘I want to be an audience’ to such films.

Film 4: Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

An ode to cinema is incomplete without evoking the god, Amitabh Bachchan. The ‘Ganga-kinaare wala’ actor is indeed a phenomenon and undoubtedly the best thing to happen in Hindi film industry. A digression: As a child I was forbidden to watch Amitabh Bachchan films. Reason? It was a Mathematics lecture (Std. IV), the teacher was writing some obscure figures on the blackboard. I suddenly stood up and started mouthing a dialogue from the movie, ‘Kaalia’, which I had watched the previous night. Needless to say, the teacher wasn’t amused. She yelled, ‘Get out of the class!’ and summoned my parents and wrote a remark in my school diary in ‘red ink’: MEET ME TOMORROW URGENTLY AND STOP SHOWING AMITABH BACHCHAN FILMS TO YOUR SON. The actor has been an integral part of my life and even found mention in my first book, ‘Baker’s Dozen’ as a short story called, ‘Big B & me’ and I could hence relate to the character Vijay in this film, ‘Murabba’.

So now back to the film, ‘Murabba’ by Anurag Kashyap is about a guy who comes all the way to Mumbai from Allahabad just to offer Amitabh Bachchan a piece of murabba which might help his father live longer. The trials and travails of this simpleton, the true-to-life dialogues, and the awe-inspiring performance by Vineet Kumar Singh as Vijay are stuff legends are made of. The only problem with this film is the bedrock on which ‘Murabba’ is based seems tad weak. The desperation depicted by Vijay is missing in his father’s eyes. It comes across as a scene where the father casually asks his son to go for an adventure, rather than address an urgent need to have the murabba tasted by Amitabh Bachchan. ‘Murabba’, despite the nuanced acting and clever writing, comes across as the weakest film among the four. Blame it on Dibakar Bannerjee, who has set the bar so high that it becomes almost impossible for other directors to measure up.

To sum it up, Indian cinema couldn’t have better tribute on completing 100 years than ‘Bombay Talkies’. It’s a film you would wish to watch multiple times at your nearest multiplex and discover more layers in each film. One wishes more producers, apart from Ashi Dua and Viacom 18 Motion Pictures could have come up with such mélange of cinema with other filmmakers like Imtiaz Ali, Ram Gopal Varma, Vikramaditya Motwane, Neeraj Pandey, and Sudheer Mishra. Wish we could see a future where we get to watch a ‘half an hour film’ at ‘half the price’ and ‘half the budget’ (which means no hundred crore clubs and pressure to ‘market the film’ and make hay while the weekend sun shines). Till then, go and indulge yourself in four stories, one movie, apna Bombay Talkies.

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