Koode is a visual poetry punctuated with scars

koode-movie

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.

 

 

Advertisements

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’

664683-102-not-out-posters-amitabh-rishi

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

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. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.