In admiration of ‘Hindi Medium’ in English medium

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In a nation where English is more Hindustani than Hindi, a film like Hindi Medium is likely to strike a chord with many, be it the ones with an inherent attribute of minding their Ps and Qs and often indulging in an ‘exasperating farrago of distortions’ debate, the average English speakers who have mastered the art of surviving with ‘functional English’ of sales and marketing, to the ones who just couldn’t crack the Queen’s code and believe that a suffix of ‘ing’ makes every language English – yup, they’re the Hindi Medium types.

“How would you introduce poverty to your child?” is one of the questions asked by the school authorities to the parents of their prospective students. Hindi Medium, despite centering around the Babel that divides two classes, is about the deprived and destitute populace who receive water supply for barely ten minutes and ration in marginal quantities. In hindsight, one feels that Hindi Medium is an introduction of poverty instead of an eye-opener of education lacunae.

Irrfan Khan essays the role of one such ‘Hindi Medium type’ to perfection. So much so that you’d be tempted to google his name in the dubbing credits for Namesake, Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire or the latest editions of Jurassic Park and Spiderman series in Hollywood. This earthiness surely stems from his humble upbringing, where the actor might be drawing parallels and finding inspiration.

Hadn’t it been for experience, what kind of reference would this gem of an actor ever find while playing a Chandni Chowk garment shop owner interacting with an affluent woman and her daughter with those ‘Aji Kareena lagti hain aap to…” and “Juice piiyengi madam?” to sell them ‘Manish Malhotra designer lehengaas’. This, dear folks, is just the beginning and there are multiple of such nuggets you’d discover on your way while watching Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium.

Saba Qamar, in her Hindi (Medium) film debut, impresses by the way she approaches this role with varied emotional graphs. She essays the role of a wife, as well as mother with effortless ease, sans melodrama. And trust me, the film had immense scope for melodrama but the engaging screenplay by Zeenat Lakhani and Saket Chaudhary avoid it like plague, and emerge triumphant with many a lump-in-the-throat moment in the offing.

The film is sarcasm cinefied. Right from what is wrong with our education system, to the definition of poverty reminiscent of ‘Asli Naqli’ (The Dev Anand starrer directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee), Hindi Medium ticks all the boxes of a well-rounded film that engages, inspires and educates, all in the same breath. A story about the desperate measures a couple would take to admit their kid in an upmarket English medium school takes a completely different route in the second half, by questioning the norms, and shaking up collective conscience.

Amrita Singh, too leaves an impact with a role that suits her persona, but is quite a caricaturist one. The other actor who makes his presence felt with his mind-numbing performance is Deepak Dobriyal. Having explored the rib-tickling terrains in the Tanu Weds Manu series, the actor goes on to prove that he can make you go ‘LOL’ in a minute, and ‘OMG!’ in the next. There is one scene that would linger on your mind for a long time after leaving the auditorium, and I’d better leave at that.

Well, to sum it up, Hindi Medium essentially belongs to Irrfan Khan, be it his chemistry with Saba Qamar, friendship with his lil daughter, camaraderie with Deepak Dobriyal or equation with his nemesis, Amrita Singh, the actor justifies the nuanced writing and a direction by Saket Chaudhary that dots all the Is and crosses all the Ts. Didn’t get the phrase? How Hindi Medium type!

 

 

 

Sarkar 3 isn’t just dimly-lit, but also dimwit

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The format is set. A shady guy walks inside the artifact-ridden and electricity-deprived mansion of Sarkar. The henchmen are about to hit him while he speaks, but Sarkar’s eyes prevent them from doing so. Sarkar hears him out while sipping and slurping chaai in a saucer. The offer of the shady guy is refused with a prompt ‘Kisi aur ko bhi karne nahin doonga’. The shady guy walks out, resolving of making Sarkar’s life hell, instead of getting his work done elsewhere, despite Sarkar’s caveat. Add to this, some domestic issues, ego clashes and double (multiple) crossing, lo and behold, you have your Sarkar script ready.

Film after film, Ram Gopal Varma is churning out assembly-line of films under the pretext of The Godfather (It’s a blasphemy to compare the two). Well, the first film did leave us awestruck with its novelty factor of Amitabh Bachchan, the second one ambled along on the Anna Hazare-Kejriwal terrains, and the third one dumbs itself down with ‘naatak kar raha tha mein’. It’s as if the director telling his audience, ‘Ullu bana raha tha mein’. Yup, the joke is on us, who could have easily watched Bahubali 2 yet another time rather than sitting through this done-and-dusted Sarkar yawnathon.

The background score blares out the Govinda chant, making the audience secretly wish Raja Babu makes a brief appearance with ‘dil behelta hai mera aapke aa jaane se’ and brightens things up in this dimly lit and dimwit film. Amol Rathod’s camerawork is far from the brilliance demonstrated by Amit Roy in the previous Sarkar films. This time, the Sarkar mansion is so dimly-lit that many characters are barely visible in poignant scenes, especially where Sarkar reprimands his grandson, Shivaji alias Chiku, who stands in the dark. One can’t help remarking, ‘Sir, daantne se pehle lights on karke check to kar lo ke Chiku hi hai ya dhobi?’ Perhaps there was a load-shedding issue in the vicinity and the only electrical appliance you could see was television playing perfectly-timed breaking news (Why aren’t those channels playing irritating commercials like Vicco Turmeric ad in between those breaking news?). Guess those television sets must be battery-operated. Okay I give up here.

Among the actors, Amitabh Bachchan does try to recreate the magic of the first Sarkar, but it’s the lazy writing that lets him down. For instance, if you watch the first two films, Sarkar was never a verbose character. And here you see him addressing a plethora of extras with yellow flags (Not saffron, lest they’d resemble a certain family in Mumbai), uttering inane lines like ‘Ek haath mein maala hai to doosre mein bhaala’. When was Sarkar’s character about Maala and Bhaala, Mr. Varma? Wasn’t he someone who was a ‘soch’ and not ‘bol bachchan’, who let his actions speak louder than words?

This deviation right from the opening shot sets the tone of the film which entirely relies on its camerawork, be it using and abusing the shallow depth of field (Okay focus-defocus feature in your mobile), along with artifacts strategically placed inside every room, be it Ganesh idol, pug, laughing Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi or a large picture of Abhishek Bachchan (Who seems to be insisting upon the fact that he is the hero of the film, like he does whenever a Dhoom series is about to release). No character enters the Sarkar mansion without being depth-of-fielded along with an artifact. The director’s brief seems very clear in every frame, not to mention the camera peering through every possible aperture (no pun intended) in the dark Sarkar mansion.

Actors like Ronit Roy, Manoj Bajpayee, and Jackie Shroff are completely wasted with roles of glorified extras. Amit Sadh comes across as a miscast here, who seems to be wondering why he took up this role of playing Sarkar-Sarkar. Not a single emotion of Amit Sadh makes you root for his character or relate to his anguish, something Kay Kay Menon pulled off with a veteran’s ease. Just like Sarkar’s henchmen, you just cannot accept him as the Sarkar scion, no matter how hard the actor and director try.

As for Yami Gautam’s character, the lesser said the better. Here’s a girl, who seek vengeance against the man who killed her father (The allegation is conveniently written off as a misunderstanding over a single meeting with Sarkar that the director doesn’t even bother to film, and is mentioned in a dialogue as justification), but barely chalks up any strategic plan. There’s no trace of chemistry between her and Amit Sadh. Yami wears a constipated expression all throughout the film (Rubbing her fingers under the table, just in case you don’t get that she is a threat to the Sarkar family).

Manoj Bajpayee, who seemed to be the only saving grace of the film, is done away with midway, killing all your hopes against the hopes for this colossal mess of a film. There’s a Mahatma Gandhi scene where he clearly outshines Bachchan, such is the power of this gem of an actor, who must seek a compensation from Ram Gopal Varma, for being exploited in this film.

Jackie Shroff clearly wears the expression of ‘Mere ko kyu cast kiya Bhidu, khaali-fokat bikini babe aur dolphins ke saath time-pass karney ko?’ Even his face-off scene with Sarkar towards the film’s end is the weakest ‘filmy takkar’ we have seen of late. Heck, even the Mithun-Mukesh Rishi scene in Gunda (1998) was far effective, at least you felt the tension between the duo. In Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar 3, everything, except Sarkar’s chaai, is all thanda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bahubali 2: The Conclusion is a spectacular celebration of cinema

There are films and there are experiences. Films like Bahubali easily fit into the latter category, where the canvas is so grand that you keep wondering what hue the artist is going to paint next, in this chef d’oeuvre of a film. In a generation of Harry Potter and Hobbit, the granny’s stories that lulled kids to blissful sleep have become a thing of the past. The art of storytelling, especially in films seems to have lost its sheen, and we as audience find solace in mere star presence, where a certain Khan outstretches his arms for the nth time, another Khan rips off his shirt, and the third one adds method to the similar madness by losing and gaining his weight, and lo and behold, we attain our ‘paisa-wasool’ nirvana.

If not the Khans, we have Kumars, Kapoors and Singhs to help producers keep their cash registers ringing. Amidst these assembly-line moneymaking films, there comes a mammoth ‘dubbed’ film without a known face, conjures up a magical world and takes the entire box office by storm. While it exudes charm by its resplendent visual imagery, it narrates a fascinating story, akin to those granny tales, where she’d mix up Ramayana, Mahabharata and Krishna’s pranks, dishing out a mishmash of mythology that is far from the banal ‘Ek tha raja ek thi rani’. Director SS Rajamouli, with his gripping screenplay and visionary direction, is the modern-day granny of filmmaking.

KK Senthil Kumar shoots the film with a style that matches scale with the international blockbusters and Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao edits the film with the deftness of an artist. The music by MM Kreem creates a whole new world of its own, especially the opening sequence. One hopes for a song like Dheevara in this one too, but the rest of the songs seem to have been lost in translation. Just like those good ol’ grannies, the story (Written by KV Vijayendra Prasad, the director’s father and also the writer of Bajrangi Bhaijaan) that the director narrates is far from original.

We know Amarendra Bahubali and his son Mahendra Bahubali (Prabhas in a role of a lifetime that easily secures his position as an iconic actor and a superstar-in-making) is going to triumph over his evil brother Bhallaldeva (Rana Daggubati as one of the finest antagonists we have ever seen in recent times), in a Mahabharatasque style, yet you still are all ears throughout the narration.

The character of Katappa (Satyaraj) is like Hanuman in Ramayana, Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan) has shades of Kaushalya as well as Kaikeyi, Devsena (Anushka Shetty) has shades of Devaki in the previous installment of the film and Jodha, Sita as well as Draupadi in this film. In fact, Anushka and Ramya have the meatiest roles in this film, apart from, of course the titular Bahubali(s). Ramya, who had made her presence felt in the previous film, has an interesting character graph in this film, where she falters and eventually emerges triumphant, with that signature shot of an infant in her hand.

Satyaraj demonstrates his funnier side, which is a welcome change. The only ruse is the repeated usage of ‘Kutta’ for his character. Being a Senapati who commanded immense respect in the previous film, he deserved much more respect here too. His character is almost reduced to a caricature, especially towards the film’s end. The aggression displayed in the first film during his meeting with the Afghanistani king (Sudeep, who unfortunately doesn’t appear here) is missing here. The oft-repeated ‘Kutta’ word loses its gravity as an expletive (If it ever is), reducing him as ‘Kuttappa’ instead of Katappa (Pardon the pun).

Anushka Shetty, as Devsena, the fiery and ‘feminist to a fault’ princess, owns the screen in every frame she appears. One glance at her and you secretly hope Sanjay Leela Bhansali ditches his current favourite for his upcoming films, as you helplessly visualize Anushka in the roles of Leela, Mastani or Padmavati. The actress convinces you that she is indeed a warrior princess and a perfect match for Bahubali’s character. We are yet to see someone of her caliber in our films, after Madhuri Dixit.

As for Prabhas, it seems he was born to play Bahubali and the actor nails his role to the T. There is not a single frame where he lets you check your mobile phone or talk to the ones sitting next to you. In hindsight, it’s quite difficult to ascertain whether the actor commands such screen presence or is it the writing of his character that inspires awe. Prabhas is surely going to remain Bahubali for us, no matter what roles he might essay in the years to come, which is boon as well as bane for him (Remember Arun Govil, Nitish Bhardwaj, Mohit Raina as Rama, Krishna and Shiva?). Honestly, one won’t mind multiple Bahubali films or perhaps Arjuna in a Mahabharata made by the same director (Only SS Rajamouli can pull it off, if Mahabharata was ever to be made on celluloid). Bahubali could well become India’s first superhero franchise (You are forgiven if you just mentioned Shaktimaan, Krrish, RA1 or Flying Jatt).

As far as the proverbial question, by the film’s interval, you’d care two hoots about why Katappa killed Bahubali.  After all, with an engaging screenplay and a mammoth scale like this, who cares? Admittedly, I knew the ‘suspense’ well before watching Bahubali 2, thanks to a plethora of ‘FB friends’ who quite immaturely spilt the beans on social media. And believe me, the spoilsports of their ilk stood no chance in dampening my experience of beholding this spectacular film. With its charismatic blend of mythological stories, this granny’s tale is sure to mesmerize you. While we are at it, when was the last time you met that curious-eared child in you?

 

 

 

Begum Jaan: Popcornversation: Partition of story and logic

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A fictional conversation between Begum Jaan’s director, Srijit Mukherji and writer Kausar Munir, who has been credited for writing the dialogues of the film. The conversation is an attempt to understand what thought or logic went behind making such excuse of a film:

Director: I am doing a remake of my Bengali film, Rajkahini, which is a remake of Mandi.

Writer: But sir we don’t have the rights to remake Mandi.

Director: Who cares? I will set the same story against the backdrop of partition. I don’t want you to watch the original Bengali film. So, come up with your own draft, especially the dialogues. I will adapt the screenplay later and credit you for the dialogues.

Writer: That will require a lot of research and even the budgets will shoot up.

Director: Who cares? I will make two groups of villagers pass through a patch of land along with bullock carts. That’s partition for you.

Writer: And what about the riots?

Director: Simple. Make woman lay unclad before a mob. Place the camera above her head. Take a perspective shot, punctuated or rather accentuated by a loud background score. That way we’d be killing two birds with one shot, hinting at the Nirbhaya episode.

Writer: Sir, how about showing an old woman disrobing in front of the rioters and rapists, hence shaming them?

Director: That’s brilliant! I will use this same technique by showing a teenage girl doing the same towards the film’s end. The idea is to keep repeating things until the audience gets it.

Writer: And let’s have two fine actors like Rajit Kapoor and Ashish Vidhyarthi representing India and Pakistan.

Director: And let’s cut their faces into two halves, symbolizing the two nations.

Writer: Won’t it look odd? And will people understand?

Director: They will. I will employ the same technique 3-4 times until they get it. And add a Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar angle to the story…we can cast someone like Naseeruddin Shah to play an aging king losing it all to the British regime.

Writer: And what about British actors? Most of them look like Bob Christo in our films.

Director: Let’s do away with them.

Writer: How are we going to depict colonialism without British actors?

Director: Who cares? Our film will have enough distractions to keep the audience away from story and logic. We will have an opening narration by Amitabh Bachchan. His deep baritone will ward off all the evils of intelligence.

Writer: And what about the lead role? How about Kiron Kher reprising her role in Sardari Begum?

Director: Sardari Begum…sounds an interesting name. We will cast Vidya Balan playing Kiron Kher and call our film Begum Jaan.

Writer: But why Vidya Balan? Why not someone like Seema Biswas or Nandita Das?

Director: By casting Vidya Balan, we won’t have to worry about paying her extra to put on weight, like Nitesh Tiwari had to do for Aamir in Dangal.  Secondly, we can thrust the feminist angle down the audiences’ throats, by casting someone who has already done female-oriented films like Kahaani and The Dirty Picture, which means wider ‘aunty audience’.

Writer: And what about the other roles? Mandi had an interesting ensemble of actors like Smita Patil, Neena Gupta and Soni Razdan…We, too, should have an impressive cast of women working in a brothel.

Director: Who cares? Vidya Balan will rule the three-legged roost in the film and boss around the girls. We can have someone like Gauhar Khan and other obscure girls speaking in different accents. And why are you referring them as ‘women working in a brothel’? Just call them whores. Even our posters will read: Lived like whores, fought like queens. Subtlety is for the art film directors. I am establishing my brand as a ‘commercial art’ film director.

Writer: What will be Vidya Balan’s accent? Since the film is set near Agra so should it be Urdu?

Director: Does the audience really care about such things? Let her talk in different accents, be it Punjabi or chaste Urdu or Hindi. We will add other characters speaking with fake accents of Punjabi, Gujarati and Bihari for those ‘cinema connoisseurs’. Don’t get into silly details like these.

Writer: You also asked for a Holi scene despite the film’s story set during the partition i.e. August…

Director: Did you say something…?

Writer: Okay, I get it…Shall do.

Director: Here’s the DVD of Mandi, go and watch the film again and develop the screenplay. Make sure you underline every scene with additional dialogues, some sex and menstrual references, a clown character, lesbians, etc. and I will take care of the rest to underline it further with loud background score and artistic cinematography.

Writer: We need some goon and traitor who shall evacuate the kotha or kothi whatever…I need to visualize someone while writing these characters…

Director: Chunky Pandey is a star in Bangladesh and wants to do a comeback in Bollywood. We can ask him to shave his head off, blacken his teeth and wear a vest-lungi costume.

Writer: Chunky Pandey? Okay…maybe that will draw the curious audience…And what about the traitor?

Director: Cast an innocent looking guy…Can be Vivek Mushran. The key to the success of any film is unusual casting.

Writer: But what if Chunky Pandey overtakes Vidya Balan with his performance?

Director: Who cares? We aren’t making the film for Vidya Balan. Well, to be on a safer side, we will ask Vidya Balan not to do her eyebrows for few months.

Writer: But since she is into prostitution, shouldn’t she be conscious of her looks?

Director: Let the other aspects remain the way they are…Just the eyebrows will have a ‘realistic touch’.

Writer: But how can she remain oblivious of what’s happening around in the country? She can shift her kotha elsewhere and still thrive…

Director: The kotha is her home, remember!

Writer: But countless Indians and Pakistanis abandoned their ‘homes’ during the partition. So, what’s the all fuss about?

Director: Did you say something…?

Writer: Okay, I get it…So, how are we going to end the film?

Director: Padmavati is news these days. Do a Google search on her and see what you can do. Add some grandma kind of character like Ila Arun to narrate the tale and manipulate with the emotions of the audience in the climax. Make sure your screenplay has truckloads of melodrama. It always works, be it Chopra, Johar or Bhansali film.

Writer: But sir, will this film work?

Director: Who cares? My debut in Bollywood should establish my brand as a stylish auteur who uses unconventional camera angles and you as a female feminist writer. We have a star like Vidya Balan to carry the entire film and producers like Mahesh Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt. What else do we want?

Writer: Er…We do need a story and logic…

Director: Did you say something…?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until we meet again… 

There’s this thing called ‘intermission’, a tradition of our storytelling, wherein a dichotomy slices the narration of a film into two halves at a peculiar point of the plot development. Well, to cut the long story short, the column, ‘Revisiting the classics’ has reached its interval point and we’re taking a break till we strike back with yet another series of classics peppered with trivia and an incurable movie buff’s musings. So, here’s a throwback to the few classics we revisited during this journey:
Hum Dono Rangeen at Rs. 30/-

“Let’s go to watch Hum Dono Rangeen!” I suggested my parents, when Hum Dono Rangeen, the coloured version of ‘Hum Dono’ was released in 2011. The theatre played old songs, which set the right ambience to watch Hum Dono Rangeen. I looked around and felt a bit guilty of completely abandoning single screen theatres after multiplexes mushroomed around the city. The blackened ceiling and walls wailed silently, while the fans whirred with a lamenting song of being neglected, until its bearings found the grease of solace and hushed it. 

Sholay: The greatest story ever told

Watching Sholay on TV or DVD with parents is like revisiting childhood all over again. While watching Sholay on TV, DVD or online, today’s youngsters might wonder how a village can have an overhead tank when they have no electricity. ‘How did they transport water up there?” “Hey how did the villager ‘Dholia’s character suddenly become ‘Shankar’ in the second half of the film?” Well, such questions of logic die an illogical death the moment Gabbar Singh roars: Soowar ke bachho! 

Pyaasa is an eternal masterpiece 

There are films and there are text books of filmmaking. Having written a play script, ‘Kashmakash – the two worlds of Guru Dutt’, I have revisited Pyaasa and read its dialogue book umpteen times, yet this classic continues to leave me awestruck.  Right from the ethereal Waheeda Rehman who brilliantly underplays the most dramatic scenes, the wit of Johny Walker, the quiet disdain of Rehman, the layered character of Meena aptly essayed by Mala Sinha, to the restrained intensity of Guru Dutt, Pyaasa will always remain a classic worth revisiting. 

Guide is cinematic nirvana 

“Kehte hain gyaani, duniya hai faani. Paani mein likhi likhaayi. Hai sab ki dekhi, hai sab ki jaani, haath kisi ke na aayi” is a nugget at the beginning of Guide, in the song, ‘Wahan kaun hai tera’ brilliantly penned by Shailendra. The song makes one to introspect on life passed by and the years that lie ahead. 

Dev Anand had cold feet while doing his death scene, as he felt his fans might not accept it, much to the chagrin of Vijay Anand. Fali Mistry, the cinematographer, intervened and explained the importance of the scene to Dev Anand and convinced him to do it the scene which became a legend. 

Abhimaan: Love triangle of the third kind

The songs of Abhimaan have a permanent place in my playlist. Interestingly, the songs, when placed in chronology, sum up the film’s story, be it ‘Meet na mila’, ‘Nadiya kinaare’, ‘Teri bindiya re’, ‘Loote koi mann ka nagar’, ‘Ab to hai tumse’, ‘Piya bina’, to the finale, ‘Tere mere milan ki yeh raina’. A film that continues to inspire filmmakers and ‘the Abhimaanesque angle’ has become part of common parlance among film critics, Abhimaan is in fact a love triangle between Subir, Uma and Music, which plays a key character. 

Anand is immortal 

Right from its beginning, when the character of Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee, essayed by Amitabh Bachchan, rues on the rising poverty and his helplessness as a doctor, to the deteriorating medical condition of Anand, hope is smashed mercilessly across the screenplay. Anand’s climax is easily the textbook for screenplay writing, where Hrishi Da employs something as ordinary as a tape recorder and juxtaposes laughter with tears, when Anand dies. Correction: Anand maraa nahi, Anand marte nahin. Well, the same holds true for the film. 

Chupke Chupke perfected the grammar of filmmaking

When it comes to Hrishikesh Mukherjee films, Amitabh Bachchan no longer remains an angry young man, Dharmendra ceases to come across as the nostril-flaring garam-dharam, Sharmila Tagore comes across as a girl-next-door, minus the Kashmir Ki Kali hairstyle. We are yet to find a Hrishikesh Mukherjee in our times. One hopes we cure ourselves from this ‘zukaam’ of today’s slapstick and double entendre laced dialogues.  Speaking of dialogues, without which you can never converse on Chupke Chupke, have been written by Gulzar. 

Masoom simplifies the complexities of human relationships

They say the first twenty minutes of any film decide whether it is a good film or bad one. Masoom, with all its sheer brilliance, engages you right in its opening scene, where a family picture topples over by a pup – A visual metaphor that sets the tone for the scenes to transpire. On being asked about its remake, Naseeruddin Shah had stated in an interview: “In this modern world of emails and mobile phones, how is it possible that a child grew up to the age of 10, and his father has no clue of his existence? Masoom cannot be made better. I don’t think anybody should try remaking it.” 

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro: Thoda haso, thoda socho!

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, at best, is a time-travelling machine, which transports one to the good ol’ days of Doordarshan. Whether you read between the lines or leave your brains behind, watching ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ will nevertheless make you laugh and think in the same breath. Perhaps D’Mello would have put it as: Thoda haso, thoda socho…

Andaz Apna Apna is a Prem that will always remain Amar

Any nineties kid worth his VCR salt will swear by this cult of a film which had to be booked in advance at the video cassette library for renting. Andaz Apna Apna is replete with inside industry references like “Sholay iske baap ne likhi thi” hinted at Salim Khan being one of the writers of Sholay along with Javed Akhtar, “Wah wah productions”, “Mogambo ka bhatijaa Gogo” referring to the iconic villain Mogambo from ‘Mr. India’, to the Ajit dialogues done to perfection by his son Shehzad Khan playing the role of the confident and relaxed Bhalla. 

Satya: A true game-changer of gangster noirs

For me, Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Satya’ is about the scene where JD Chakravarthy and Manoj Bajpayee are standing facing seaward and we can only see their silhouettes. It reminds of the opening of Ayn Rand’s book, ‘The Fountainhead’, where the character of Howard Roark is introduced. Anurag Kashyap, who was one of the writers of ‘Satya’, stated in one of his interviews: “Ramu was making Daud…there was a new actor he was working with. It was Manoj Bajpayee. Ramu fell in love with the shot, he fell in love with the actor and his intensity. He wanted to put Howard Roark in the underworld.”

See you folks soon and thanks to friends like Chandrakant Golani for his relentless debate on Gulzar’s films, Ruturaj Mistry’s messages of ‘Where is my weekly dose?’, my wife Shalini Somanath Gowda for religiously proofreading the articles and suggesting films every week, the Asst. Editor, Darshana Shukul for patiently bearing with my ‘revised versions’ after sending the articles, and most importantly, readers like you, who have been patient with my frequent WhatsApp messages, sharing the scanned images of this column with the excitement of a kid. Signing off for now. This is just an interval. Picture abhi baaki hai…

Classics Revisited: Pather Panchali: A visual poetry punctuated by raw emotions 

Two young siblings, holding their hands, watch a train pass through the fields. The grey clouds begin to swell and melt. The raindrops create ripples in the pond, leaving the kids mesmerized. The strains of sitar by Pandit Ravi Shankar punctuates the imagery strewn with bounties of mother nature. Our films, equipped with all the technical finesse and aesthetic sense, have never been able to recreate the magic that Satyajit Ray conjured up way back in 1955 with Pather Panchali, a Bengali film that speaks a universal language of human emotions. 
Satyajit Ray had no experience of directing, shooting or writing a film. He used to work with an advertising agency as an illustrator and wrote for an in-house magazine for kids. The entire crew of Pather Panchali had a day-job and the shooting was hence done over the weekends. Roger Ebert, the renowned film critic wrote about the veteran filmmaker and his film, Pather Panchali:

“Ray (1921-1992) was a commercial artist in Calcutta with little money and no connections when he determined to adapt a famous serial novel about the birth and young manhood of Apu–born in a rural village, formed in the holy city of Benares, educated in Calcutta, then a wanderer. The legend of the first film is inspiring; how on the first day Ray had never directed a scene, his cameraman had never photographed one, his child actors had not even been tested for their roles–and how that early footage was so impressive it won the meager financing for the rest of the film. Even the music was by a novice, Ravi Shankar, later to be famous.”

Pather Panchali is based on a novel by the same name, written by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay in 1929. In 1949, Jean Renoir had come to Calcutta to shoot his film ‘The River’ (1951). Ray, a founding member of the Calcutta Film Society, helped him scout for locations within the vicinity of Calcutta. When Ray told him about his longstanding wish to film Pather Panchali, Renoir encouraged him to follow his dream. 

In 1950, the employer of Satyajit Ray at the advertising agency, DJ Keymer, sent him to London to work at their headquarters. During his six months in London, Ray watched multiple films from across the world and after watching Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist film ‘Bicycle Thieves’ (1948), he resolved to become a filmmaker. The film made him believe that it was possible to make realistic cinema that was shot on location with an amateur cast.

In his book, ‘Satyajit Ray – The Inner Eye’, a biography of the master film-maker, author Andrew Robinson shares: “Pather Panchali never had a proper script. Unlike every other Ray film, there was no red shooting notebook for it. Most of the dialogues, three-quarters of which came from the writer, Banerjee, he kept in his head. By showing producers these sketches, which were of course unheard of in Bengali films, and telling them the story, he hoped to raise interest in a film with him as its director.”

Ray could complete his movie Pather Panchali because the Chief Minister of Bengal financed him. It seems like all other politicians he, too, lacked an eye for art. After watching the movie CM suggested Satyajit Ray that he should change the sad ending of the movie and show that the family participates in a government housing scheme and gets a house. Thank heavens, Ray didn’t relent to the suggestion and went ahead to make the film that he’d set out to make. 

On being asked about the biggest obstacle that Ray faced while making Pather Panchali, given the kind of bureaucracy he had to endure while making the film, he stated, “The finances took a long time to get approved. My only fear while making Pather Panchali was that the kids shouldn’t grow up and the old woman shouldn’t die.”  

Pather Panchali gave way to other two films, Apur Sansar and Aparajito, which, along with Pather Panchali are reckoned as ‘The Apu Trilogy’. All these three films have the train in common. The arrival or passing of train always paved way for a new twist in the stories of all the films from the Apu Trilogy. 

The film went on to win national as well as international accolades and till date, Satyajit Ray remains the only director from India who has won the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ conferred by the Academy Awards. Do revisit this classic, with the language bar notwithstanding. 

Khullam Khulla is an unapologetically honest biography

 First things first. This isn’t a fanboy’s musing. Any writer worth his/her salt can never ‘dare’ to write on ‘Khullam Khulla – Rishi Kapoor Uncensored’ without including this excerpt from the book, where Neetu Singh writes: 

“First, a checklist:

Is Rishi Kapoor a grouch? Guilty as charged.

Is he loud, gregarious, and prone to wound with words? Check all three please.

Is he suspicious of people, stiflingly possessive, difficult to live with? You seem to know my husband well. 

Is he generous with gifts? Not really.

Does he sulk? Do we fight? Have I ever thought of leaving him? Yes, yes, yes. I ‘ve entertained the thought of walking away every single day of our life together. 

So why am I still Mrs. Rishi Kapoor, thirty-seven years after saying ‘I do’?

Because thirty-seven years is a long time. And I cannot, would not, live with any other. Because once you get to know my husband, he’s the most straightforward man there is. Though, admittedly, it’s not easy to ‘get to know him’.”

The closest I could manage to get to Rishi Kapoor was during the recent Vadodara Literature Festival organised by Syahee.com, an online platform for authors and poets, where Rishi Kapoor launched the festival and spoke eloquently about his book. Excited to meet up the ‘Luck By Chance’ actor, I took along my copy of his biography (That I had ordered online right on the day of its launch), along with two books penned by me, which I wanted to gift him as mementos. 

He took my books and kept them aside, speaking in an irritated tone, “I don’t want this…I don’t read books!” Dejected, I meekly took them back, along with his book, thinking, ‘Why should I read a book of someone who doesn’t read?’ He smiled and asked my name, and insisted on signing his book. This stark contrast between his tones of ‘I don’t read’ and ‘What’s your name?’ within a single minute, defined Rishi Kapoor for me, who is unapologetically honest and sincerely affectionate. 

Like Neetu Kapoor would like to put it, ‘Once you know Rishi Kapoor, he’s the most straightforward man there is.’ And the only way you could get to know a celebrity is through interviews and biographies. Khullam Khulla is a free-flowing conversation between Rishi Kapoor and the reader, which could well have been christened as ‘Ek mein aur ek tu’. 

To be honest, I have never been an avowed ‘Rishi Kapoor Fan’. He is one such actor from our film industry who is loved and adored by one and all, but seldom revered or put on a high pedestal. The actor was never a superstar and makes no bones in admitting this fact that he has always been around, battling many a superstar storm. I am yet to come across anyone who dislikes Rishi Kapoor. Well, how can you not like an actor with the most innocent smile? 

A simple YouTube search of songs like ‘Mein shaayar to nahin’ and ‘Hum tum ek kamre’ from Bobby, ‘Tere dar par’ from Laila-Majnu, ‘Ek mein aur ek tu’ and ‘Khullam khulla pyaar’ from Khel Khel Mein, ‘Dard-E-Dil’ and ‘Om Shanti Om’ from Karz, ‘Chug chug Bombay se Baroda tak’ from Rafoo Chakkar, ‘Hoga tumse pyara kaun’ from Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai, ‘Mil gaya humko saathi’ from Hum Kisise Kam Nahin, ‘Parda hai parda’ from Amar Akbar Anthony, ‘Sochenge tumhein pyaar’ from Deewana or ‘Gawah hain chaand taare gawaah hain’ from Daamini, encapsulates his illustrious filmography. 

As for his ‘Privileged second inning’, his roles in films like Agneepath (The shocker), Luck By Chance (Strangely, he doesn’t speak about this film in the book), Do Dooni Chaar (A role of a lifetime) and the recent Kapoor & Sons (Warm and memorable role), which introduced us to a whole new terrain of his craft that remained unexplored all through his ‘Jersey days’.

Meena Iyer approaches the autobiography of Rishi Kapoor with a style that complements with the actor’s temperament. Rishi Kapoor has always been a spontaneous actor (A fact he has vouches for in his book) and his book is replete with honesty and spontaneity, especially in chapters like ‘Dream run, defeat and depression’, ‘Buddies, bad men, peers and contemporaries’, or ‘Fights, flare-ups and fans’. 

The actor minces no words in coming clean about the awards he bought, the Bachchan tirade, the Javed Akhtar grudge or the incident that distanced him from his buddy, Jeetendra (They do share a cordial relationship, but not like the good ol’ days), or the love and affection he has for his wife, Neetu Kapoor. In fact, the chapter, ‘Neetu, my leading lady’ comes across as a heartwarming love letter that every husband or lover would cherish and relate to. 

It would indeed be a crime to include any excerpt written by him because that would spoil the fun of reading Khullam Khulla. After reading this book, you’d end up knowing Rishi Kapoor so well that you wouldn’t mind if he doesn’t reciprocate to your ‘autograph/selfie requests’ or reject your gifts. You’d understand that he is a man who is incurably honest. Well, to sum it up, ‘Khullam Khulla – Rishi Kapoor Uncensored’, written by Meena Iyer is a book that engages, enthralls and entertains with an effortless ease. To quote the marketing cliché, ‘Rush, grab your copy today!’

Rishi Kapoor’s response on this book review: