Tumhari Sulu is engagingly endearing

As a kid, if you have participated in the lemon and spoon race competition, what has been your biggest fear? Dropping the lemon or being left behind? Sulu, i.e. Sulochana, belongs to the ilk that solely focuses on balancing the lemon, irrespective of winning or losing the race. The lemon (reminiscent of the saying, when life gives you lemon) here is a metaphor for the responsibilities of an Indian housewife.

Once during a theatre event, the ensemble of actors was being introduced on stage. While almost every actor was given a one-line description of being an engineer with a passion for music and theatre, an actress was merely mentioned as ‘housewife’. Far from one-line descriptor, her entire identity was summed up in just one word, ‘housewife’.

This incident left an indelible impression on my mind, instantly recalling the tireless strives of a woman to ensure the entire household works smoothly, including cooking, laundry, cleaning, to the children’s education. If this ‘lemon’ ever happened to slip, she’s the only one to be blamed. In an interview, Vidya Balan stated that it irks her when women describe themselves as ‘I am just a housewife’. Tumhari Sulu is a 140-minute justification of her aversion.
The actress transforms herself into Sulu with a veteran’s glee, so much so that you’d end up calling her Sulu after watching this gem of a film. Any action by a good actor on camera is incomplete without reaction of an equally good actor. 
Director Suresh Triveni, an ad filmmaker making debut with this film, understands this fact to the core, which is evident in the meticulously chosen casting, especially Manav Kaul. This chameleon of an actor continues to surprise his audience with his every film, with the role’s length notwithstanding. Fortunately, we get to see more of him in Tumhari Sulu, as Ashok Dubey (Strange, am not even ‘Googling’ names while writing this and am amazed at my ability to recall his character’s name written in bold on his CV).
Ashok’s role isn’t a cakewalk. It requires immense measure of underplaying, yet convincing the audience that he is a potential threat towards the innocent dreams of Sulu. Revealing any scene here would be a crime because each nuanced performance and moment from this film’s screenplay deserves one to experience on a big screen rather than digital ink. Manav Kaul, as Ashok is easily one of the most memorable characters you’ll ever come across. Let me elaborate here, sans giving away anything.  
To begin with, whenever a female-oriented film is made, the male character is either dumb, ruthless or both. Ashok is far from such stereotype. He is a typical middleclass man shouldering responsibilities of his wife and a school-going kid, enduring the extremities of a horrible boss (‘Are you on a half-day? He asks while Ashok leaves after a hectic day’s job – sounds familiar, isn’t it?), and the insecurities of being husband of a successful wife without charting the ‘Abhimaan’ route. And Manav Kaul balances all these aspects of his character as efficiently as Sulu balances the lemon on the spoon. The chemistry of the lead pair is easily a never-seen-before attribute of the film. 
Among the ensemble of actors, Neha Dhupia is quite a revelation, especially for her last scene in the film that requires her to hold back her emotions and face the reality of a housewife’s fate, feigning a smile and an oft-repeated affirmation of ‘It’s cool’. Vijay Maurya, as the ‘aandolankaari writer’ is hilariously endearing, even with a silent stare with deadpan expression and turning of his moving chair. Right from the ‘12th fail’ mouthing father, ‘job chhod dein’ chanting twin sisters, to the ‘I am sorry papa’ repeating kid, each actor is worth a mention in Tumhari Sulu. 
Saurabh Goswami shoots with a distinct style wherein he establishes a place’s environ before going with the wide shots, a technique he uses while capturing the ambience of a radio station and the song montage is amazingly cut by Shivkumar Panicker. Music, apart from Ban ja tu meri rani, is plain average and Hawa Hawai remake comes across as quite redundant in a film with such engaging story and screenplay written by Suresh Triveni.
To sum it up, Tumhari Sulu is one of those rare films of our times which make us care for its characters. . In an age of brevity, here’s a slice-of-life film that takes its own time, allowing you to not only peek into the lives of a middleclass household, but also laugh at their impromptu jigs, hum their bedroom ditties, chuckle at their pipedreams, and hold back your tears during their loss. Now when was the last time you cared about a film’s character so much? Has a resignation been such painful before that you almost ended up uttering, ‘Don’t quit’ under your breath? Tumhari Sulu is that kind of film. Thanks director Suresh Triveni for balancing the lemon of your story so well. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Secret Superstar is beyond dreams-come-true tale 

Far from a teenager from conservative family-turns YouTuber-gets lucky-wins award, Secret Superstar addresses a key issue of our society that is often kept under wraps. In an age of instant gratification, wriggling out of a bad marriage isn’t a cakewalk for someone from our parents’ generation. Back then, they believed in repairing things rather than replacing them.

 So, when the film’s teenage protagonist asks her mother to get rid of her abusive husband, she retorts asking, “Na to nikaah ke waqt mujhse poocha gaya aur na ab talaaq ke waqt mujhse poocha jaa raha hai.”

 This line sums up the state of women in our country, no matter how ‘empowered’ we might believe them to be. Travel a mile away from the city or visit the mohallas and chances are you’d find multiple versions of a mother who accepts her fate of being in an abusive relationship and lets her daughter (if they survive the abortion due to want of a male child), too, lead a similar life. Fortunately, there are girls like Insia, who believe in writing their destiny, rather than submitting to their fate.  Secret Superstar is about such a girl.

 Zaira Wasim proves yet again that she isn’t a one-film-wonder and is here to not only stay but also earn a pride of place in the audience’s heart. The best part about her acting is that there’s no acting, but reacting to her circumstances – a feat difficult to achieve for every actor worth his/her salt. Even under a burqa, Zaira ably emotes with her eyes.

 The other actor who leaves an everlasting impact is Meher Vij, who plays the mother’s role to perfection. During the film’s first hour, she wears a scar near her eyes. The scar gradually disappears, but the pain could still be seen in her eyes all throughout the film. The way she rebels with her husband in her own small ways and nurtures her children is indeed worth a mention. Thanks to the brilliant writing of Advait Chandan.

 Writing, no matter how nuanced, can never create an everlasting impact without equally nuanced performance. One wonders how the mother-daughter duo got their acts so right and believable. Contrast their characters with the aggression of Raj Arjun as the menacing husband and father, and you already find yourself hopelessly rooting for Insia and her mother.

 Even the endearing character of Chintan, the gawky teenager smitten by Insia, played by Tirth Sharma (Quite a find) hails from a broken home, and there’s not a single trace of remorse or self-pity in his eyes. Kabir Sajid Shaikh, as the kid brother of Insia is cuteness personified, garnering many a ‘aww’ reaction from the female audience.

 The last, as the cliché goes, but not the least, Aamir Khan nails it as an over-the-top music composer (With attitude of Yo Yo Honey Singh and madness of Anu Malik). He is someone who has given in to the producers’ demands of churning out assembly line item numbers. It takes an honest audience like Insia to bring out the musician in him. Ironically, music is the Achilles heel in this music-based film, despite a name like Amit Trivedi.

 Aamir Khan depicts the discovery of the lost musician in him in a scene where he emotes with no dialogues but just tears of joy. Calling him veteran would make him seem old, especially an actor who is aging like wine. On the surface, Shakti Kumar is a cocky, flirty and foul-mouthed celebrity, but beneath is a lonely man abandoned by his family and even the film fraternity.

 Add to that the city where Secret Superstar is set in – Baroda. As a citizen of this BigLil City, one just can’t resist playing ‘guess the location’ – a distraction one wouldn’t really mind. Right from Akota, Sevasi (Written on the school bus), Sursagar, Bird Circle, to the railway station, as Insia would like to put – Vadodara looks so small, as compared to this whole new world that writer-director Advait Chandan creates on celluloid. 

In hindsight, Secret Superstar is a tale of broken people mending their crumbling worlds.

 

 

 

A shout-out for Hulla

An issue that often raises an alarm, but is stifled by either nonchalant silence or livid religious fervour, the right to sleep peacefully is yet to find its voice in our nation. Hulla, a film directed by Jaideep Varma addresses this issue with a tinge of humour and oodles of sarcasm.

Sushant Singh plays Raj Puri, a stockbroker, who yearns for some good sleep and some cosy moments with his wife Abha (Kartika Rane). The proverbial ‘villain’ here is Janardan, the secretary of the apartment, ably played by Rajat Kapoor and a ’69-year old Navy retired’ watchman who blows whistles all night, at the behest of the secretary to ‘prevent crimes’ in the locality.

A film with such simplistic plot creates a complex situation, where the paths of the protagonist and antagonist cross, ensuing a good dose of laughter and chuckles that often morph into some introspection. It’s the kind of film where you helplessly zone out of what transpires on screen, and begin to contemplate on daily combats of your life and even the world around us.

The whistle-blower protagonist raising an alarm against the whistle-blowing watchman is deemed as a threat to the co-dwellers. This is precisely true for a society like ours, where a Sonu Nigam or Suchitra Krishnamoorthi are trolled for complaining the loudspeakers in mosques, rendering them sleep-deprived. This couldn’t have been more relevant than our times.

The screenplay introduces varied kinds of noise, ranging from a neighbour choosing to move his furniture in the middle of the night, a Goan celebrating his music system with a blaring din loud enough to make Raj’s table tremble in fright, a group of fellow apartment owners playing hockey on the terrace and so on.

Among the actors, Sushant Singh is spot-on as a sleep-deprived stockbroker and Rajat Kapoor is impressive as Janardan. Be it a sealing-a-deal scene in a shabby bar restaurant or the one-upmanship scenes with Sushant, the actor gets into the skin of his character, despite the bad wig. The debate scenes between Rajat Kapoor and Sushant Singh are hilarious and sarcastic in the same breath.

The common thread that binds all these types of noises is our society’s absolute disregard for others’ peace of mind. Be it restaurant, public transport, mall, multiplex, office or home, in all probabilities we are sure to find one such specimen, who would ruin our dining, movie watching experience, shopping, work or sleep.

Like every other film with immense potential, Hulla, too, has its share of flaws. For instance, by the time you’re halfway into the film, the screenplay begins to feel tad monotonous. In hindsight, the monotony, too, had to be well-established, and one can be sure that the director must have been quite aware of it. For instance, the first twenty minutes of Satyajit Ray’s ‘Charulata’ will make one wonder why the film is so slow, but Ray had to establish the loneliness of his female lead character. Hence, that’s a trade-off here that audience might seldom appreciate. The hand-held shots lend the film a docu-film’s charm, which make the scenes all the more believable.

In spite of casting Vrajesh Hirjee, the director practices restraint and chooses to treat him as Raj’s sounding board, rather than a hero-ka-friend-for-comic-relief.  The comic scenes are entrusted upon the other characters of Hulla. Nevertheless, the dream sequence towards the film’s end, too comes across as redundant and a bit far-fetched, which is surely a deliberate attempt that costs the film’s screenplay.

The best part about Hulla is that its characters have a job and the fact that they spend most of their times working is well-established, right from Raj, Dev, Abha, Janardan, to the benign watchman. This is quite a departure from most films, where the occupation of characters is merely hinted at, rather than emphasized upon. The music by Indian Ocean extend as a sutradhaar who observes the vagaries of urban life from a distance, yet blending with the cacophony. It’s a rare feat that perhaps only Indian Ocean can pull off convincingly, just like they did in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Black Friday’, where the music essayed the role of a narrator.

Director Jaideep Varma, the maker of National Award-winning documentary film, ‘Leaving Home’ (You can spot the film’s poster in a multiplex scene in Hulla. The film won the award four years after the film’s release), deserves a mention for exploring an unchartered territory of ‘noise’. A seven-short film omnibus, ‘Shor se shuruaat’ interpreted noise in varied ways, but lacked the subtlety of Hulla.

In his book, ’40 Retakes’, author Avijit Ghosh shares excerpts from Anurag Kashyap’s blog post that sums up the film: “A bloody courageous movie to make and an important one, but I guess everyone went only to laugh, and that, too, in the wrong places. Hulla is what independent cinema should be about, a new original voice, minimal resources and a good script…”

I have had multiple opportunities to meet and interact with director Jaideep Varma and have never missed an opportunity to tell him that ‘Hulla’ is his best film, apart from of course, ‘Leaving Home’. I sincerely hope Jaideep Varma comes up with yet another urban tale with a tinge of sarcasm and hint of humour (We can see a DVD of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron placed in Raj’s home, perhaps as a tribute to the classic). Till then you can savour ‘Hulla’ on apps like Hot Star or Jio Cinema. It’s definitely worth your time and data pack.

Babumoshaai Bandookbaaz hits the right target

Ever wondered how much the contract killers are paid for pressing that glorified trigger? Do they discuss appraisal and career growth among themselves? Do they have their idols and targets, apart from the target? Welcome to the world of Kushan Nandi, the director of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, where taking lives is just another way of earning a living, double-crossing is second nature to almost everyone, and love is just another word for lust.

Set in a fictitious city, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is a perfect jugalbandi of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and debutant Jatin Goswami, who is quite a find. After all matching scales with someone like Nawazuddin isn’t a cakewalk and this actor does a remarkable job here, making his mark on the audience and sometimes even toppling over his onscreen mentor.

 The other jugalbandi, albeit of a different kind, worth admiring here is between Nawazuddin Siddiqui and debutant Bidita Bag. The actress beautifully strikes a balance between being risqué and sensual, almost teasing the audience, but never titillating. Any other actress in her place would have made her character look vulgar but when Bidita, as the cobbler girl attacks her predators with a nail, you know she means business.

 The character of Phulwa is of a strong woman who has been raped by two henchmen of the film’s antagonist and uses Babu, the contract killer to avenge for her. Mind you, this one’s no revenge saga and this plot never takes the centre stage. Nor does the rivalry between Nawazuddin and Jatin, his protégé, and not even the antagonist Anil George and Divya Dutta.

The film centres around the character of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, i.e. Nawazuddin. In a way, the film is from this character’s point of view and his naïve perception about the world around him. The double crossing, love, revenge, betrayal, bromance, etc. become part of his perception, but never the film’s plot. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is one is one of those rare character-based films like Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome or Saeed Mirza’s ‘Saleem Langde Pe Mat Ro’, which make an impact without being a plot-based film.

Films of such genre can only be appreciated if you connect with the central character. In Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, we have varied ‘distractions’ in splendid performances by Bidita Bag, Jatin Goswami, Divya Dutta and a brilliant actor playing the role of a cop who doubles up as a henchman for Divya Dutta’s character of a local politician. Despite such distractions, the writer, Ghalib Asad Bhopali ensures that the film doesn’t lose focus from its central character.

 This film won’t leave you awestruck like the Gangs of Wasseypur series and won’t even shock you like Satya. But after walking out of the auditorium, you’d know the character of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz so well that you’d find yourself secretly hoping to see Nawazuddin reprise this role in a sequel. We are already waiting.

Bareilly Ki Barfi is a clean and toothsome indulgence

bareily-ki-barfi-new-poster-kriti-rajkummar-ayushmann-hand-cart-1

We are living in times when the concept of independent women and feminism has been largely misinterpreted. The problem with every female-oriented film, be it NH 10, Pink, Angry Indian Goddesses or the recent Lipstick Under My Burkha, is that they portray their male counterparts as dumb, fickle or lusty creatures. Thanks to Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari for coming up with a film that depicts its female lead as an independent woman minus the usual trappings of ‘feminist films’.

Bareilly Ki Barfi revolves around a small-town girl Bitti, played to perfection by Kriti Sanon. The male characters of this film, i.e. Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurana) and Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao) have their own set of attributes as well as flaws, which make them more endearing and humane. This is a kind of love triangle where you’d stay invested so much in the lead characters that it would be difficult to root for any of the two prospective grooms.

Loosely based on H. Bruce Humberstone’s ‘Happy Go Lucky’, a British Musical Comedy of the 50s, which inspired many a film like Sajan, Sapnay, Ghajini, to name a few, Bareilly Ki Barfi takes the story a notch above the mistaken identities. It lends an Indian charm to what transpires after the obligatory ‘adlaa-badli’ of the author who penned a flop book, Bareilly Ki Barfi. Now who’s the author and who’s the imposter and who ultimately wins the girl are things best left for you to discover in the auditorium.

The icing on the cake is Javed Akhtar’s voiceover as the film’s witty sutradhaar, which is reminiscent of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Baawarchi’. For a change, this sutradhaar doesn’t appear only at the film’s beginning and the end, but stays with you throughout, often taking pot-shots at the film’s characters and situations. It’s time we bring this old-fashioned narration back to our films.

In hindsight, this is the right time to rediscover the roots of Indian films, taking a leaf from stalwarts like Bimal Roy, Satyajit Ray, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee and reintroduce their style to the current generation, rather than relying on those DVDs of Korean films.

There’s no doubt Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari is already championing this cause with her films like Nil Battey Sannata and Bareilly Ki Barfi. Her experience in advertising is evident in the brevity of scenes and putting a message across without lingering over the issue for a long time.

The film’s writing is top-notch. Kudos to writers Nitesh Tiwari (Director of Dangal and the director’s husband), Shreyas Jain, and Rajat Nonia. The songs, ‘Sweety Tera Drama’ by Tanishk Bagchi and ‘Nazm Nazm’ by Arko Pravo Mukherjee are sure to stay on your playlist for a long time. Gavemic U Ary, the cinematographer captures the beauty of a small town without distracting the audience with ‘beautiful’ shots.

Among the actors, Kriti Sanon is spot-on as Bitti. In fact, she will now be remembered as Bitti rather than Kriti. The actress internalizes her character so well that her eyes reflect the angst as well as joy of Bitti. The equation that she shares with her father, played by the gem of an actor, Pankaj Tripathi, is quite rare in our films. Devoid of an iota of melodrama, the father-daughter scenes touch you to the core, which are further well-contrasted with the mother-daughter kich-kich. Seema Pahwa is a delight to watch here and so is the one-sided conversation of Pankaj Tripathi facing the ceiling fan.

Ayushmann Khurana delivers an earnest performance and ably portrays the grey shades of his character without going overboard. All said and done, it is undoubtedly Rajkummar Rao who steals the show, not just because he’s a talented actor, but also because of his author-backed role. The role of Pritam Vidrohi is written so well that the actor laps it up and clearly revels in each scene. Pritam Vidrohi is a character you’ll carry with you home after watching Bareilly Ki Barfi.

The film’s director once quoted in an interview: “I am not saying independent means being feminist. I am not saying independent means not listening to your parents. It is about finding your space and finding your identity, which is a huge thing in our country.” Thanks, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari for setting the record straight, teaching us the true meaning of women being independent and feminist, especially in the times when words like these have been hugely misconstrued in our films and literature. Folks, indulge yourself in this clean and toothsome delicacy that leaves a sweet aftertaste even after days of watching it.

A hate note for Bare Bones

I hate you Bare Bones. I really hate do. Since the time I have watched your series of short plays at Vasvik Auditorium, Vadodara, I haven’t been able to forget the invaluable lessons your characters taught to my subconscious mind. Whenever I doubt my abilities, a voice invokes hope and mutes the whispers of negativity that haunted my mind.

Whenever I decide to buy something, a voice tells me that possessing something can only offer me easy access to it and shall add no value to it. Whenever I glance at the Christ’s image, Joshua kneels in front of me, reminding of the last words of the hermit, compelling me easily forgive those who wronged me.

Whenever I decide to get drunk with a friend, a voice tells me that the ‘knight’ in me just might show up, revealing well-guarded secrets and exposing the real person lurking behind this facade. Whenever I decide to explore the world and worry about economic crisis, a village bumpkin laughs at me, asking if the crisis would stop the sun from shining, the breeze from blowing and flowers from blooming.

Whenever I decide to follow my mind rather than heart, your character, heart speaks to me in her lilting voice, “I want to meet you without any reason” and keeps staring at me until I turn away from her in discomfiture. Whenever I decide to kill some time by doing nothing, your restless character of Time makes an appearance and urges me to rather make it stop for a while through meditation rather than killing it mercilessly.  

Whenever I decide to weave stories set amid rich ambience and golden lights shimmering through glittering backgrounds, your director Kamlesh Acharya convinces the writer in me that it’s possible to offer thrills minus the frills, sans those elaborate costumes, lavish sets, indulgent lightings, make-believe makeups, and overzealous actors wearing loud expressions spouting profanities for the ‘real’ effect.

I hate Harsh Shodhan, who articulates his emotions through the timbre of a voice so well-pitched that he speaks volumes even in muted conversation, rendering all those dubbing technology as mere gimmicks. I hate Denisha Ghumara, who wears her heart up her sleeves and never needs to ‘act’ on the stage. She becomes the character she portrays and does it with such effortless ease that would put the so-called ‘big actresses’ to shame.  

I hate Kamlesh Acharya, who triples up as a writer, director and actor with such a chameleonisque way that makes one seriously doubt his production, Bare Bones just a six-show old toddler. He makes me question all those beliefs that a guy in Ahmedabad can never write flawless English and people of Gujarat will never accept English plays. I have stopped waiting for that elusive producer to help me share my stories.

Bare Bones, you have no idea how much I hate you because your short plays have made me incapable of hating anyone. 

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is endearing

Beyond the jacuzzies and bidets, there’s another India where people have an easy access to 4G network, but toilets remain a pipe dream. A nation of paradoxes and a land of jugaad, India must perhaps be the only country to inspire a love story revolving around toilet. Director Shree Narayan Singh’s film, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha encapsulates jugaad and toilet in a heart-warming love story, along with an important message peppered with generous dose of humour.

Akshay Kumar’s Keshav is jugaad personified, which is an image that suits him to the T, case in point, Khiladi, Aflatoon, Garam Masala, Hera Pheri series, Tees Maar Khan, Housefull series, Entertainment to Jolly LLB 2 (Phew! That’s almost his filmography). The character of Keshav is someone for whom jugaad is a way of life and is a solution-based guy who doesn’t shy asking his cousin to elope with the guy she loves. On the other hand, Bhoomi Pednekar’s Jaya is a well-educated girl with an unmistakable feminist streak.

Director Shree Narayan Singh concocts his love story around these two disparate characters and the villain, for a change is the ‘soch’, not ‘shauch’. The ‘soch’ is personified by Keshav’s father, brilliantly played by Sudhir Pandey. Topics on toilet have the trappings of either being replete with toilet humour or being too preachy. Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, unfortunately gives in to the temptation of creating awareness, albeit with restraint.

In hindsight, one feels that the film knows its audience well and articulates its message to them in the language they understand. A morning ritual which is something we seldom bother about, unless there’s a water scarcity or bowel issue, is magnified here to create the urgency the issue deserves.

The recent cases of rape and molestation of women defecating in the open and especially the lynching of a man who tried stopping the government officials from clicking pictures of women squatting behind bushes is saddening and films like these need to be made so as to change the mindset of rural populace.

Akshay Kumar shines here with a performance that ranges from comedy, dejection and anger with effortless ease, especially in the scene towards the film’s end. Divyendhu Sharma is fantastic as the chota bhai wala role and makes his presence felt amid the veterans. Bhoomi Pednekar, despite sharing the right chemistry with Akshay Kumar, falls short of nuanced performance, which becomes quite clear in the intense scenes.

Anshuman Mahaley seems to know the rural landscapes well and his frames take you to the labyrinthine lanes of the village, capture the Lathmaar scenes beautifully without inspiring an awe of ‘look how brilliant the camerawork is!’ Right from Hrishikesh Mukherjee to Rajkumar Hirani, editors turning into directors have an edge over others through their inherent quality of brevity. Director Shree Narayan Singh doubles up as an editor here and knows where to cut a scene and where to begin the next transition, thanks to his hands-on experience as an editor of films like A Wednesday, Rustom, MS Dhoni, etc. 

To sum it up, Toilet Ek Prem Katha is an endearing love story and this toilet surely deserves a visit. Unfortunately, such films will always be branded as propaganda films. Sigh.