Manto is magical

The ‘thehraav’ that has been missing in our films since days of yore finally makes a ‘comeback’ with Nandita Das’ latest offering, Manto. The old world charm finds resonance in the film’s scene, where Saadat Hasan Manto (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and his wife Safia (Rasika Dugal) are sitting in a park and weaving a silly story around a couple seated opposite to them. Devoid of the ‘Mantoiyat’ school of thought, this lighter moment from the film still establishes Manto as a sharp observer who can spin a tale around the world he inhabits.

The beauty of Manto’s screenplay is the way Manto’s short stories like ‘Dus rupiye’, ‘100 watt ka bulb’, ‘Khol do’, ‘Thanda gosht’ and ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and even the essay, ‘Muftnosh’ seamlessly blend in its narrative. The lines between fact and fiction begins to blur with each progression of the scenes and Nandita Das recreates this magic all through the film’s 120 minutes of runtime – a difficult feat to pull off for any screenplay writer or director worth his/her salt. Respect.

Nandita Das, in a recent interview stated that Nawazuddin Siddiqui is an actor who melts himself into the mold of his character. This film goes on to prove that he is one of the finest actors of our times, who never ceases to surprise us with his breathtaking performance. The actor morphs into Saadat Hasan Manto right from the first frame to the closing scene.

Be it musing over the world around him, delivering fiery speech at Jogeshwari College, debating on what’s obscene and what’s kosher in the courtroom, being petrified at the thought of being incarcerated (Despite his bravados that could land him in jail), drowning helplessly into the quagmire of alcohol, to taking a jibe at his fellow writer and friend Ismat Chugtai’s work, ‘Lihaaf’ – the actor nails each scene and owns it.

Safia, played by Rasika Dugal could have been yet another role of a suffering wife, but Rasika leaves a mark with her flawless performance Rajshri Deshpande (The brilliant actress who plays Ganesh Gaitonde’s wife in the Netflix series, Sacred Games) as Ismat Chugtai is spot-on, just like the actor who essays Ashok Kumar with panache, using the tone of his voice to perfection. The other actor worth mentioning here is Tahir Raj Bhasin as the star-in-the-making Shyam. Tahir leaves an impact on you, especially in the scene where he is parting with his friend Manto. A brilliant performance is impossible without equally brilliant reaction of the other actor and Tahir never hits a false note.

Manto has an eclectic mix of actors making an appearance, right from Rishi Kapoor, Purab Kohli, Gurdas Maan, Ranveer Shorey, Divya Dutta, Paresh Raval, Ila Arun, Vinod Nagpal, to Javed Akhtar, who makes his debut in films as an actor (He did a cameo in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Corporate, where he played himself, here he’s playing a character, hence the closing credits mention his name as ‘Introducing Javed Akhtar).

On a personal note, I was quite delighted to watch Ahmedabad-based theatre actor and director, Abhinay Banker playing the role of a Muslim who rescues Manto from a communal riot. He had staged a wonderful play, ‘Chalta Firta Bambai’ based on the short stories of Manto. The play’s title, finds a mention in the film when Manto proclaims, ‘Mein chalta firta Bambai hoon!’

Terming these roles as cameos would be a misnomer, more so because these artists appear in the film as a tribute to the ace short story writer and screenplay writer, Saadat Hasan Manto.

Kartik Vijay’s camera captures the 40s without resorting to the usual gimmicks of focusing on objects and backdrops that scream, ‘Look, how well the art director has recreated this era with minute details’. The 40s, through Kartik Vijay’s lenses and ably cut by Editor Srikar Prasad, show Bombay and Lahore as silent spectators who witness a dichotomy that goes on to define India, Pakistan and Manto. The music by Sneha Khanwalkar and background score by the maestro Zakir Hussain beautifully merges with the film’s overall tonality and add a distinct characteristic to every scene.

Manto’s world is far-flung from the Nehruvian optimism of India’s post-independence era. The timeframe that director Nandita Das chooses to mount her canvas of Manto’s portrait is when India is at the cusp of independence till the time when it is at the cusp of intolerance.

There’s a scene in the film where Manto tells his audience that before independence we were fighting for freedom from the British regime, and post-independence, what’s there to fight for? The line is a sharp comment on our times, when we seem to have lost our sense of purpose and the two caps (Hindu and Muslim caps) are perhaps a jibe at our politicians, who wear the religion cap as per the political situation’s demand.

Beginning from the Bombay of 1946 and ending with Lahore of 1948, this period was crucial not only in Manto’s life, but also India’s history. The freedom that we won in 1947 is ironically set on fire by the intolerance of our own people. In hindsight, Manto could well be writer Nandita Das’ metaphor for freedom, and not a biopic. While we’re at it, Manto is undeniably a textbook for our biopic filmmakers.

Manto, to sum it up, chronicles the journey of the written word, not just a particular person. The film, though set in the 40s, is still relevant for our times. Writers being paid peanuts, freelancers not being paid on time, publishers wary of printing work that questions the norms, hypocrite readers, communal disharmony, laws that curb freedom of speech, skewed notions of obscenity – Who says times have changed?

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Manmarziyaan is neither pyaar nor fyaar

Is it a Tanu Weds Manu rehash? Is it an upgraded version of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or Woh Saat Din? Is it a story inspired by Amrita Pritam’s life or is it based on Manmarziyaan’s writer, Kanika Dhillon? Like Clark Gable’s immortal response to Scarlett O’Hara in the movie, ‘Gone with the wind’, after watching Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Manmarziyaan’, one would respond with an indifferent, “Frankly dear, I don’t give a damn.”

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Sixty minutes into the film, and you know where this messy love triangle is heading forth and you already find yourself losing interest halfway. You neither root for the blue-dyed DJ Vickey Sandhu (Played to perfection by Vicky Kaushal), fiery and feisty Rumi Bagga (A tailor-made role for Tapsee Pannu, the latest flagbearer of feminist fervor), nor do you give two hoots to the calm and composed Rajbir ‘Robbie’ Bhatia (Abhishek Bachchan in yet-another NRI role). It’s probably the most ‘thakela’ love triangle you’d ever want to be entangled into. Nah, this ain’t no rant. So, stay.

To begin with, you find two characters i.e. Rumi and DJ Vickey ‘Sand’hu like Munna and Mili of Rangeela, who’re constantly at loggerheads with each other, yet are as inseparable as Siamese twins or rather those twin dancing sisters who keep popping up during song sequences and leave you asking for more. In this love story, the lovers seem to derive some sort of high while fornicating behind banging doors (no pun intended).

Along comes the good guy, Robbie – the Ramji type character, who carries the mantle of ‘Goodman di laaltein’ forward, after his predecessors like Vanraj (Ajay Devgn in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) and Manu (R. Madhavan in Tanu Weds Manu). He instantly falls in love with Rumi and learns about Rumi ka Romeo, yet croons, ‘My heart will go on’ and hangs on with his feeling for her, voluntarily assuming the role of Option B, at the risk of ending up as a Phone-a-friend, as his Pa, Big B would like to term it.

The drivel goes on, until you find yourself concluding, ‘Okay, the girl is fiery, the guy is commitment-phobic and the NRI guy is Ramji-type. We get it, what next?’ The three characters are like three trains running parallel on their own tracks – never do they shift tracks. Halfway through, you assure yourself, ‘It’s an Anurag Kashyap film so there has to be some grey shades to the NRI’s character, which he does hint at, right before the interval, plus didn’t the film begin with the song, Grey wala shade?’ So, you hang on till the end, desperately hoping for some grey wala shade. Tough luck, sigh.

The only respite you find in Manmarziyaan, apart from its mind-blowing music, is the excellent performance by its lead characters. Vicky Kaushal goes on to prove that he’s here to stay for a really long time, perhaps snatching away crowns of the high and mighty. You wonder whether he’s the same guy you watched in Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, Masaan, Raghav Raman 2.0, Raazi, Lust Stories or the recent Sanju.

Tapsee Pannu, fresh from her fabulous performance in Mulk, is in complete form here. Any actress worth her acting chops would bet her bottom dollar on such a brilliantly fleshed-out character of Rumi Bagga. Her role is loosely modeled around Amrita Pritam, who was an orphan at young age, smoked leftover ciggies of her then-lover Sahir Ludhianvi, got married to a stable guy, Imroz and fell in love with him. Tapsee makes her presence felt in every frame she is featured in, despite the other hard-nailed actors around her.

Abhishek Bachchan, though a terrific actor who wowed us with his performance in ‘Yuva’, ‘Guru’, ‘Bunty aur Babli’, ‘Bluffmaster’ and ‘Raavan’ seems to be stuck in the rut of playing NRI with a heart of gold. Manmarziyaan was supposed to be his ‘comeback’ film, but the film adds insult to his injury with the ‘NRI desperate to get hitched’ role that’s making him comfortably numb. Ironically, the actor reasons that he took a break because he thought he was doing the same kind of roles, of late. Well, the bitter truth remains that the only actors to benefit from Manmarziyaan are Vicky Kaushal and Tapsee Pannu. Heck, even those twin dancers are sure bag some more films, perhaps in a Remo film.

The music by Amit Trivedi provides the much-needed breather from the sluggish screenplay written by Kanika Dhillon. Tracks like ‘Dariya’, ‘Grey wala shade’, ‘Dhyaanchand’, ‘Chhonch ladiya’, and a brilliant unplugged version of ‘Dariya’ by Deveshi Sahgal are going to stay on your playlist for a time inversely proportional to the time till you’d remember Manmarziyaan, a forgettable film with an unforgettable soundtrack.

To sum it up, Manmarziyaan oscillates between ‘Pyaar’ and ‘Fyaar’ (Desi version of ‘Friends with benefits’), just like Karan Johar has been relentlessly ping-ponging between ‘Pyaar’ and ‘Dosti’. Commitment phobic man-child lover, confused heroine with a feminist streak, golden-hearted sacrificial lamb husband material – We’ve had it enough. It’s high time our filmmakers take a leaf from the opening lines of ‘Grey wala shade’ song penned by Shellee: ‘Zamaanaa hai badla, mohabbat bhi badli, ghisey-pitey version, maaro update…’

 

 

Karwaan is an inward journey that explores horizons of relationships

Some journeys aren’t planned, yet they often end up as the best journey one has ever embarked upon. Karwaan is one such journey. What begins as a yet another road movie that ticks all the road movie clichés, evolves into a heartwarming narrative. Right from Dev Anand starrer ‘Nau Do Gyaarah’, Raj Kapoor’s ‘Chori Chori’, Jeetendra’s ‘Caravan’, Dev Benegal’s ‘Road, movie’, Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin’, director Gyan Arora’s Oscar nominated ‘The Good Road’, Homi Adajania’s ‘Finding Fanny’, Imtiaz Ali’s ‘When Harry Met Sejal’, to Irrfan Khan’s ‘Road to Ladakh’, ‘Piku’, and ‘Qareeb Qareeb Single’, road movie is a genre that has piqued interest of our filmmakers, yet remains unexplored.

Karwaan takes a detour, by charting an inward path, apart from of course, the scenic locations and a redundant midway stopover. The story by Bejoy Nambiar shines through only because of the engaging screenplay penned by Akarsh Khurana, who also wields the Director’s megaphone.

While the trailer promises you an Irfan indulgence, director Akarsh Khurana surprises you with Dulquer Salman. This chameleon of an actor never fails to inspire awe by his performance, be it his Malayalam film, Bangalore Diaries or Tamil film, Nadigaiyar Thilagam where he plays Gemini Ganeshan (Rekha’s father). Far from a conventional ‘Bollywood Debut’, his role of Avinash is a regular guy, whom you’d barely notice in your day-to-day life. His character graph does change, but the transformation is organic, rather than filmy.

Irrfan Khan as Shaukat is spot-on. He’s street-smart yet naïve, strong yet vulnerable, practical yet emotional. The actor pulls off such paradoxes with a veteran’s ease and a flavour of Hyderabadi Muslim accent, peppered with old-school romance of the yore. There surely is a déjà vu feel to Irrfan’s role, which one hopes, he’d stop doing for a while. But then, who else could have delivered lines like ‘Mayyat pe romance mat kar’ or ‘Logo ko haq jamaana aata hai, rishta nibhaana nahin’ – two extremes of emotions performed to perfection. Dialogue writer, Hussain Dalal, take a bow!

Mithila Palkar, as Tanya has a breezy screen presence and ably plays the role that represents the millennials, with all those devil-may-care or don’t-you-judge-me attitude thrown in at the right places and in right proportion. It’s the ordinariness of both the lead characters that makes Karwaan special, apart from the fact that these two leads never ‘fall in love’ during their journey, unlike any other road movie worth its frame. Director Akarsh Khurana must be applauded for practicing such restraint.

The cinematography by Avinash Arun, the guy who shot and directed the brilliant Marathi film, Killa, captures the essence of Kerala with the indulgence of a cinematographer and restraint of an editor. Ajay Sharma, the editor, ensures that the shot is long enough to touch you and short enough to keep you invested all through its 114 minutes runtime.

Karwaan is one of those rare films of our times with a soundtrack that you’d love revisiting after watching the film. ‘Chota sa fasaana’ penned by Akarsh Khurana and composed by Anurag Saika makes for the perfect go-to song while on a trip, while ‘Saansein’ written and composed by Prateek Kuhad is a track you’d end playing on loop, apart from the quirky ‘Dhaai kilo bakwas’ and ‘Bhar de hamara glass’ by Imaad Shah. Admittedly, I am still listening to them while writing this.

The only thing that doesn’t work in the film’s favour is its indifference to death. You find the characters dining and celebrating during a prayer meet, as if they were ‘Mayyat pe celebrating’, if not romancing. In India, one does move over an elder’s death in the family, but it’s generally due to prolonged illness or suffering.

Agreed, Avinash doesn’t share a healthy bond with his father, but their relationship isn’t explored beyond a few stray shots. One wonders if a guy’s father doesn’t let him pursue his dream, would he become indifferent to his death? Sadly, it’s true for Avinash’s character. But like Shah Rukh Khan says in Om Shanti Om, ‘End tak sab theek ho jaata hai’. So, by the time you reach the final reels of Karwaan, you no longer make bones about the corpses.

To sum it up, Karwaan is an inward journey that explores horizons of relationships. Sometimes, it takes one to go the extra mile (‘Diesel ka paisa kaun dega?’ Shaukat would have cribbed) to discover oneself. Bon voyage!

Koode is a visual poetry punctuated with scars

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The magic of cinema lies in its ability to transcend the tower of Babel and speak a universal language. Easier said than done, not every filmmaker is able to achieve such feat, where the film touches a chord with someone who doesn’t understand the language. Kudos to director Anjali Menon, who paints the silver screen with varied shades of human emotions with her latest offering, ‘Koode’.

Calling ‘Koode’ a remake would be a misnomer. It should be rather called a reinterpretation of Sachin Kundalkar’s Marathi film, ‘Happy Journey’ starring Atul Kulkarni, Pallavi Subhash and Priya Bapat. While Sachin Kundalkar in ‘Happy Journey’ relied more on the dialogues to tell its story, ‘Koode’ poetically pauses on tender moments of the film’s characters to build a narrative that touches you to the core. In hindsight, one would refrain from comparisons as both films are unique in their own ways.

To begin with, as hinted above, I am a linguistically-challenged audience for this beautiful Malayalam film, who watched it without subtitles – Blame it on the distributors of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Director Anjali Menon sticks to the basic storyline of ‘Happy Journey’ but spins a soulful yarn of a screenplay that ‘shows’ rather than ‘tell’. For instance, Prithviraj’s character, Joshua is sexually exploited as a child, and Parvathy’s character, Sophie has braved the storm of domestic violence – these aspects of their characters are subtly hinted, yet are intense enough to move you.

Prithviraj Sukumaran, as Joshua is a man of few words but his eloquent eyes speak volumes about the wounds he has nursed and the sacrifices he has made all through his life for his family. Nazriya Nazim, as Jenny, Joshua’s sister, believes in living life, as well as afterlife to its full. Parvathy, as Sophie uses silence as her biggest strength to emote her feelings. There’s an addition of a football coach’s character, Ashraf, which is ably played by Atul Kulkarni, who leaves an everlasting impact with his performance. Roshan Mathew, as Jenny’s love interest, too, has a brilliant screen presence. Right from the child actors, to the character artists, the casting is spot-on.

Littil Swayamp’s camera beautifully captures the idyllic ambience of Ooty and is deftly edited by Praveen Prabhakar. Raghu Dixit’s music almost becomes the film’s character, which aptly lends its support to Anjali Menon’s engaging screenplay, rather than digressing from what transpires on the screen.

Well, digression reminds me of this: In Japan, there’s an ancient art called Kintsugi, which uses liquid gold to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery item. By repairing broken ceramics, they breathe a new life into the pottery that becomes even more refined, thanks to its ‘scars’. In ‘Koode’, director Anjali Menon uses the character of Jenny as the gild of gold that gives her brother, Joshua and his beloved, Sophie, a new lease of life and makes these two broken souls look beautiful.

 

 

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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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: