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Multiple Villains: A Review of Ek Villain

Ek Villain

Ek Villain

by Amit Upadhyaya

Ek Villain’s basic plot is taken from the 2011 Korean film I Saw the Devil. Now that it is off my chest and in your knowledge, I can write freely.

To take a moralistic stand on violation of IPR is something that makes me uncomfortable. In the age we live in, all of us have, at certain points, violated someone’s rights. Whether in buying a pirated copy of a book or watching a film downloaded off torrent which young people (who are baying for Mohit Suri’s blood) call #ykw (you know where). I, therefore, find a moral stand on the issue, slightly hypocritical. Crediting the original creator is always desirable. But everyone has his/her own take on the subject and I’d like to leave it there.

Guru (Siddharth Malhotra), an ex-gangster is online with his wife Aisha (Sharaddha Kapoor) when he hears that someone has barged into his house. By the time he reaches home, Aisha has been killed. Guru is now on the lookout for the serial killer who is killing women for unknown reasons. This is how the film begins and Suri, like he always does, weaves a tale of forgiveness around the premise.

Mohit Suri is a unique director in the present day Hindi film landscape. He isn’t someone who is trying to say something new. He does not pretend that for even a second. He doesn’t really want to show-off his craft either. He is out to ‘shamelessly touch the emotional chord’ of the viewers. That kind of filmmaking has somewhat lost its relevance in the last decade. But he persists. His aesthetic sense is extremely inspired by two radically different genres of cinema – Mahesh Bhatt and Korean thrillers.

He knows how to film a song and not hamper the narrative. Instead, aid it. He also knows how to effectively stage action. He chooses to focus on the emotion and not on the gore or ultraviolence (this is where the inspiration from Korean thrillers end). What he hasn’t been able to do is find a script good enough to take advantage of his strengths. The closest he has come to making a decent emotional drama was Awaarapan, another Korean film-inspired work. He has never truly been able to rise above the extremely mediocre scripts he directs.

Ek Villain is probably the worst script that he has directed. Misfortune is that it also had the most potent idea he has ever had. Tushar Hiranandani and Milan Milap Zaveri are the culprits. In fact, Zaveri’s juvenile dialogue will sound terrible in a 1980s Mithun Chakraborty film. To take such a brutally emotional film and massacre it to such a level is sacrilege. I’d rather have a badly translated version of the original than this.  He is ably supported by screenwriter Hiranandani. He tries to somewhat deviate from the original and produces the most boring, clichéd backstory ever.

This is not a bad, unwatchable film. Suri produces at least four extremely effective sequences. The first one is a long-drawn action sequence done in a single shot. The others involve the two male leads. If not for the cringeworthy dialogue, these few sequences could truly have been memorable. Maybe, Suri should try his hand at a full-blown musical or a silent film.

Siddharth Malhotra struggles with being the villain. He is too sweet-looking, with not enough emotional heft to carry off the menace, something that Ritesh Deshmukh conveys really well here. It’s when the chase begins that Siddharth comes into his own. Some of that has to do with the referencing to the ‘angry young man’ days of Amitabh Bachchan. The black and white suit is completely in place.

Shraddha Kapoor suffers from the ‘girl next door’ syndrome. Has less to do with her and more with the lazy writing. It’s no mean feat that Deshmukh is able to get the job done despite his character. He gets it just right. Nothing extraordinary but effective.

Mohit Suri will continue to battle plagiarism charges as long as he doesn’t get better writers who know how to steal smartly. It might be better if he could direct original scripts. He is capable of producing better work. Ultimately, of course, it’s a matter of choices.

 (Amit Upadhyaya, an Allahabadi turning his nose up at all things Delhi, is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies. He is now a trainee journalist at Mint.

Kolkata in 10: Illusions

by Abhishek Mukherjee (text) and Sambit Dattachaudhuri (images)


 

Today

She sat there, alone in a crowd, confused. She could hear loud voices all around her, buzzing with excitement — voices that fed off others’ happiness.

Today, they were basking in what was supposed to be her happiness. They were having the evening of their lives, and she was supposed to have the same.

Only that she did not.

She could hear her father: or maybe she did not.

No, she could not have. That was preposterous. He’s dead, is he not?

She looked around herself in a helpless frenzy of sorts. Almost all the faces were familiar. She could remember a few of the others as well — albeit very vaguely.

The evening had culminated into the climax they have all been waiting for. She had been waiting for it tool. Or maybe she was not.

Maybe she was.

Kolkata had been harsh this summer. She had been relentless and unforgiving. Even the nights had served no respite. When she had reached the house that morning the first thing she instinctively did was to peek out of the window.

There they were, scattered across the courtyard of the ancient house; they could have been mistaken for a flock of pigeons. They could have been there for generations, sleeping peacefully in the sun when their patrician counterparts shuddered at the very thought of turning the air-conditioners off.

How could they sleep, blissfully unaware of the world around them? She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands; her sleep-deprived eyes burnt at the touch of her parched skin. She knew that the woman from the parlour would make her look pretty in a matter of a few hours; she would also get rid of the dark circles, and more.

They would not be able to get her back to sleep, though: the blissful sleep of those men, lying in the courtyard, sleeping, oblivious of phrases like “sun-stroke”, without a care for redundant words like “tomorrow”.

It's Sleep, and Worship (600x800)


A year earlier

It has been ages since she had slept properly. She remembered that afternoon only too vividly: it was one of those afternoons when time comes to a halt in her city. The spring afternoon had faded into dusk, almost unnoticed; the waters of The Hooghly were too tranquil for Kolkata to realise that the sun was about to set.

She noticed the toddler. The parents were keeping an eye from a distance. The brother, having just reached the age where he could walk, was trying his level best to put the pram into motion. The little girl did not seem the least bothered. She was probably not old enough to know emotions like  fear.

She wished she had not known fear either.

She wished she had an elder brother.

She wished a lot of things.

It's Children (512x800)

 

She sat there, staring at the river from her favourite vantage point. There were places around the Hooghly when the cell-phone connections refuse to work irrespective of the service provider. There are rumours that Fort William has a hand in this, but nobody can say for sure.

She drank the serenity with her eyes; she inhaled it, almost swallowed it down with her hands cupped around her mouth. She detested the trill of her cell-phone: she tucked it away safely in one of the inaudible nooks of her handbag, brushed the brown dust off her jeans, and took lazy steps back to what they call humanity.

The men on the boat watched her leave. Then they vanished into the shadows of obscurity.

It's River (800x531)

 

She walked around her city aimlessly. She sought the calmness of dusk with desperation in her eyes. It was one of those dry spring afternoons where you feel the mildest tinge of cold as the last drop of daylight kisses the city on its way out.

She almost purchased a cigarette.

She took the tram that took her home.

She looked up.

There it was — a monstrous structure of concrete that had taken away, almost brutally, the sky which she had declared herself to be the owner of. She still remembered the day when she had come back from college to learn that they would take away her sky.

And then they started taking it away, bit by bit, day by day.

She made sure her cries were muffled by the pillow every night.

To Expand (531x800)

 

She took the elevator to the terrace. Kolkata had outgrown herself, trying her level best to catch up with the steadily developing cities all over the country and, as a result, going nowhere. Some office-goers were back after another busy day’s work; others, not as fortunate, had no option but to stay back to attend conference calls from a continent two oceans away. They had to pay off their EMIs.

The incessant motion reminded her of the stagnant waters of the Hooghly she had watched. The yellow taxis ferried the city home in a deafening, seemingly infinite blow of horns. The city had lit up in bright orange, almost golden lights in a feeble effort to match the fire it so sorely missed.

She sighed. Something had scared the city away from her long, long ago.  If only she knew what it was.

The Night (800x547)

 

She watched evening dissolve into yet another Kolkata night. The terrace was chilly; she remembered the days when her mother would force a monkey-cap down her face despite her vehement protests. She would be ridiculed by her friends, but her mother was adamant.

She used crave for the nights with him: nights of pizzas and massage oil, of unkempt sheets and the musk of sweat, of crumpled shirts and bruised shoulders, of Asterix and Woody Allen. She missed them all.

Nights meant nothing to her anymore.

She hated being alone in her city. It was not music to her anymore. If anything, it was a continuous, seemingly infinite stream of drowning noise with incomprehensible lyrics. It did not soothe her: it made her numb.

Once again she would need a sedative tonight.

It's Music (800x531)

 

She hated Sundays. Her parents would insist she come over, but she always refused. They hated when she remained grumpy throughout the day, and would try to get her into a false sense of cheeriness.

Staying at home was not an option, either. She could somehow live through Saturday, but how could she survive entire weekends, month in and month out, without him?

They would banter over breakfast, bantering in bed till the grease in their fingers dried out completely. Bathing had to be postponed. Getting out of bed was ruled out till well into the evening.

She removed the curtains, letting sunlight bathe her — their — studio apartment. She had half-expected the sunlight to make her squint, but it was too early in the day for that.

She saw the boy from the ground floor going somewhere with the maid. Maybe the boy, too, would grow up to become an artist, just like him. Or maybe not. She almost hoped they never made anyone like him anymore.

Sunny Paths (800x486)

 

She turned around, returning to the alcove he had insisted on. She had refused point-blank on the grounds that it looked preposterous, but he was adamant. If he really needed a hole to read in peace, why did it have to be a round one?

But he would not listen to him. She had never come across anyone as obstinate as her man. At times she was irritated by him, but the anger would not last. It was difficult for anyone — anyone — to be annoyed with him.

She kept looking at the alcove till her eyed ached. She suddenly felt a strong urge to clean it with a duster and Colin. He would have laughed at her, mocked her, would have said she suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder — but at least her Sunday had meaning now.

To Relax (600x800)


 

Today

They draped her in the Banarasi once the beautician was through with her. She looked gorgeous, her mother and cousins and aunts and neighbours said, as did random women whose identities she was clueless about.

She waited for the car to arrive. It was a Honda Civic. She knew the colour, she knew of the add-ons, of the mileage, of strange words like suspender parts – all of which meant nothing to her.

She sighed. She thought of him, his man, of his bright eyes, brightest, that stood out from a faceless continuum of humanity. She longed to see those eyes.

She wanted to be in control of her eyes.

She had to be careful of the mascara.

She wondered whether the man in the Honda Civic would ever get to know of the eyes behind the mascara.

They blew the conch. They sat in separate rooms, and when they were brought together, the two parties, laughing and frolicking to glory, participating in a strange contest that would result in deciding whether the bride could be lifted higher than the groom.

It was supposed to be fun.

It's Weddings (531x800)

She did not dare to open her eyes. What if Honda Civic’s eyes were measured and devoid of all magic? What if he never believed in magic, in the first place?

Why did she even agree to this marriage? Did the psychiatrist not tell her not to rush? Did he not warn her of actions on the rebound?

She knew she had to open her eyes at some point of time. She had dared not look straight into his eyes all these months, but it could not be delayed any further. They will see to it that she did that.

She opened her eyes.

She had not expected wrath or sloth or envy, and gluttony was definitely ruled out. Honda Civic did not believe in the world of pizzas. If there was lust, it was well-disguised.

There was no greed.

There was no pride, either.

And neither was there any magic.

They were blank eyes — as empty as the studio apartment without him — as vacant as the alcove without his books — as barren as not making love to him on the terrace when it rained — as hollow as the heart since he had been cremated — as emotionless as… as… as… as…

Fish (800x512)


 

Abhishek Mukherjee is a self-proclaimed humorist who fluctuates between 5’9″ in summer and 5’8.5″ in winter. He is overweight, can wolf-whistle, thinks he is a cricket historian and a capable blogger, but is equally inept on both counts. He also has the audacity to tweet despite his aversion towards selfies and cat videos.


 

Sambit Dattachaudhuri is a young photographer and film student who has studied in Jadavpur University, Calcutta, and Momoyama Gakuin University, Osaka. In addition to photography, film-making, photoblogging and a fair amount of film-obsessing, he has also taught English in Japan to unsuspecting people between the ages of 17 and 65.

There’s Something About Vague Women: A Review of QUEEN

02-queen

by Sujata Bakshi

“Why fart and waste it, when you can burp and taste it?”

Okay – not exactly the most brilliant sentence in the film, but it had me laughing so loudly, I had no idea what the dialogue was that followed this.

Queen is a feel-good film about a young girl, Rani, from Delhi. She belongs to a decent middle class family, her father is a sweet shop owner, she has done Home Science from a Polytechnic and three days before her wedding, her fiancé, Vijay, dumps her. After shutting herself in her room and trying to talk him out of this, she comes out of hiding and tells her parents that she wants to go on her planned honeymoon alone – a decision that her grandmother supports. So far, so good, and this is what we all knew about the film before we went into the hall to see it. There must be some marketing machinery that has a movie hall at 9:50 a.m. on Monday almost full! I was amazed.

The actress, Kangana Ranaut, played her part so brilliantly, that I didn’t really think she played a role. She seemed so natural in her character that one asks, where did Kangana end and where did Rani begin?  The story starts with a voice-over from Rani herself. She lets us be a part of her thoughts – another fabulous storytelling device (without any overdoing). Rani is an innocent, and her character opens up slowly – layer by layer during the duration of the film. Even her lack of flawless English is charming, especially since all the main characters are non-English speakers. And despite her naivety, Rani isn’t boring, perhaps because she calls to the innocence many of us have lost.

As her journey starts, her hands have the colour of fresh henna, reminding her and us of the disaster that she tries to leave behind her. Rani’s journey takes her first to Paris, the city of love. There she meets the leggy, sexy Vijaylaxmi (Lisa Haydon), who tells Rani to call her “Vijay”. Rani manages to win Vijaylaxmi’s heart. Her brazenness and nonchalance is a sharp contrast to Rani’s innocence – tiny nuances, where she looks away when Vijay kisses a guy she meets at a café or her shock about Vijay having a son but no husband. Rani’s first meal at a chic Paris restaurant where she has no clue to what she is ordering (Tête de poisson avec les tomates) because the waiter rapidly though not rudely speaks French and thinks nothing of translating the dishes for her or fight for her handbag in an alley go on to show just how daunting a new city in a foreign part of the world can be. Funny yet heart stopping is the scene where Rani tries to cross the worst streets ever – Champs-Élysées – remembering her fiancé holding her hand while crossing the road back home. Vijay, the fiancé, is referred to in the various flashbacks, which form the story that lead to the romance and the engagement to the two of them.

Paris by Night (Photograph: Devapriya Roy)

Paris by Night
(Photograph: Devapriya Roy)

Though Vijaylaxmi has seen much of the world, she admires Rani’s bravure telling her, “You are a very brave person – you have come all the way from India to France. From Paris to Amsterdam is a short journey. You will manage this too.” And so begins the second part of her journey. As shoestring budget holidaymakers (and those who really want adventure and fun) do, Vijaylaxmi books Rani in a hostel. Rani’s initial horror at having to share the room with three strange men (a Frenchman – Tim, a Russian – Olekzander and a Japanese guy – Taka) wanes as she starts interacting with them and this little group of guys becomes her family away from home – each one with his own baggage and story. An extremely touching moment is when Rani forces the three to go to the church with her and while the choir sings a moving rendition of Mozart’s Ave Verum, another facet of her little “family” is revealed.

While there are several sensitive and thoughtful moments, the film has many more funny moments without being completely slapstick. Venturing into a sex-shop in Amsterdam is one such moment. Delightful is how Rani’s face lights up when she hears a Bollywood song in a Paris club – where she sheds her cardigan and inhibitions to wake up to a whacky hangover. The characters portrayed in the film, Vijaylaxmi, Tim, Olekzander, Taka and Marcello (a very delectable Italian – yummy – salt and pepper hair and delicious accent – yikes – I’m such a foodie!) are all away from home and non-native English speakers. This adds to the beauty of the film, when each one slips into their mother-tongue in an emotional moment – neither person understanding the words while perfectly understanding the meaning – then isn’t this what friendship is about? (Reminded me of Inglish-Vinglish)

Absolutely worth mentioning is the music – the film boasts of some fabulous tit-bits. My favourite is “Harjaiyaan” followed closely by “Kinare” and “Ranjha” – beautiful lyrics. As subtle as the film and the characters, equally evocative and beautiful is the music accompanying it. Various reviews have called this film a “coming of age” film. I don’t see it that way. Rani’s is a character that one can relate to. She is a strong person who realises her strength away from home. This “timeout” lets her find out what she really wants. Flashbacks and present day scenes with her fiancé show the deeper moments of their relationship. While in any other Bollywood film one would have used the shopping moment in Paris to completely change her style and give her a Cinderella look, Vikas Bahl remains authentic. Rani gains confidence without giving herself up completely, while the colour of the henna on her hands fades gradually. Her coyness gives way to a gentle confidence and she remains throughout the film the undisputed queen of our hearts. And if you do decide to watch this film, remain seated till the very end – then, in our median world of Facebook, Rani DOES feel very much at home.

(Sujata Bakshi, who likes cats, music, food, photography and writing (not necessarily in that order), is a Bong who is at home everywhere in the world but mostly in Delhi where her parents live and Gütersloh where she has spent almost half her life. She is the sort of person who, when life hands her a bowl of lemons, takes a bottle of Tequila and salt to it.)

It’s not about the cigarette!

by Deepti Chaudhary Sharma

This started as a response to Filmi Geek’s review of Shuddh Desi Romance, but I rambled on, as I tend to do, and felt this deserves a complete post in order to make a larger point. Of course, nothing wrong with someone not liking a movie that I enjoyed – this is more about the debate on portrayal of modern women, and Anna Vetticad, a feminist film critic I normally admire, had made a similar point earlier. Adding my 2 paise to the conversation.

More than once, I’ve read rants against some recent films using cigarettes and premarital sex as shorthand for the ‘modern girl’, especially in many discussions about Shuddh Desi Romance. My personal bias for Parineeti notwithstanding, what’s wrong with you guys? What do you want a girl to do?

We live in a very confused culture. A couple of decades ago, women’s lib was all about empowering the girl child, giving her an education and letting her hold on to a job. Now that the modern Indian man has discovered the delights of being married to a superhuman who brings in extra income, whips up dinner and tackles the kids’ homework without bursting the bubble of male privilege, letting women work is no longer a social taboo. But does that mean we are now living in a modern society?

Women are still held to the same unreasonable standards as ever before. Education for many is yet another quality you should acquire, so your matrimonial profile should read, ‘tall, fair, homely, buxom and educated’. A Chartered Accountant who cannot cook is frowned upon in the marriage market, and while some of us shameless ladies manage to stay happily single into our late 20s, twenty four is still the standard sell-by date.

With the advent of retro-masala movies at the screens, the celluloid ladies have dissolved into one globule of demure, simpering, helpless objects of eternal stalking played by Sonakshi Sinha. Career girls are still an exception rather than the rule. And it gets better once you switch on the TV.

Indian Television has long forgotten that women may want something beyond family peace and the copious blessings of the in-house elderly. Cherishing a career (unless it involves the family business or tutoring slum kids) is out of question, as is ever wanting anything for themselves. Heck, the last time I saw a girl on primetime television demanding some freaking ice cream was three years ago, and this girl was portrayed as modern and independent, bordering on bitchy. The demand for ice cream was also a plot device to torment the poor husband buckling under the unreasonable behaviour of the capricious wife. Also, the chick was pregnant. So the craving was really the baby’s, presumably male, because no way a female child could be having such selfish cravings that would inconvenience her benign babuji.

Today, the perfect small screen bahu doesn’t just have to brew the perfect cup of chai and make hing ki kachori materialize on the breakfast table at freaking 6 in the morning after her freaking wedding… she now has to detonate bombs, preside the village Panchayat, sort laundry and solve burning political issues like women’s safety and vegetable prices with the power of the Magic Simper.

Yes, we have high demands from our women. And we have very narrow definitions of what a ‘modern’ woman should be like, as if the right to be modern needs to be negotiated through socially acceptable caveats. “Be modern in your thoughts, not your clothes,” someone says. “Be modern about this, traditional about that,” you’re told.

A young, good little north Indian girl was once ranting about her roommates, all girls from her own home state, who smoke and drink. I can understand not wanting to share an apartment with smokers, a lot of people don’t like that. But my friend’s problems wasn’t merely with the air pollution. Her comment was, “main abhi itni modern nahi hui.” Why does a bad lifestyle choice have to be about modern or traditional values? Aren’t there women in villages who smoke bidis?

It is in this context I’d like to look at the on-screen portrayal of a girl who’s so modern, so ‘forward’, that she smokes (gasp!) and lives with her boyfriend (Western culture alert!)

No, these aren’t the only ways to depict the modern girl – the modern woman is about a lot more than that – but is there anything particularly wrong with a female lead who makes these choices? The reason I think some people appreciate Shuddh Desi Romance for depicting a ‘modern’ girl isn’t just because she smokes – it is because she doesn’t give up smoking midway to become a better woman. She remains the way she is. She also does not take kindly to the guy’s apprehensions about her past. In context of Indian cinema, this is a giant leap forward – a girl who’s had a past, is scarred by it, but not ashamed or repentant. She does not forgive the hero for being judgmental. Most importantly, the film does not punish her for being ‘bad’. She is loved by the hero and also by the elderly Mr Goyal for her good qualities. Goyal, who knows her personal history very well, is actually quite fond of her and tries to protect her from another heartbreak.

It’s this – the right to be imperfect – that marks her as the modern woman, not the fact that she smokes or sleeps around. If you think of smoking as merely a vice, equally bad for a man and a woman, I’m glad a girl is allowed her vices, lending a credible bit of flaw to the lead character. That’s more depth than many movies can claim.

In fact, if I were to give my own definition of modernism, it’d be this – the right to be imperfect, to be an evolving human being, and not having to pass some absurd test of standards set by somebody else before you can find any kind of love, happiness and fulfilment. So far, the only flaws we’ve allowed our female protagonists is a bit of incompetence in the kitchen – like it’s so cute when Juhi Chawla messes up the first meal she tries to cook in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, how adorable is she when she cries over her incompetence as a wife, and how sweet of Aamir Khan to overlook that! Of course, she must also overcome that flaw, as we see her some minutes later, beaming proudly at her father that she has learnt to make tea.

It’s time for our heroines to get over that cuteness and confront the audience with a bit of reality – I am a human being, I can have deeper flaws than an ineptitude in draping a sari, flaws that no righteous douchebag is going to ‘fix’ with some taming-of-the-shrew tactics; but I am a human being all the same, worthy of love and relationships, and capable of making your life better just by being in it.

P.S. To further the point why it is kinda cool that a film does not judge its heroine for having premarital sex, look no further than this discussion on Quora – for God’s sake! – about an Indian guy’s right to expect his bride to be a virgin. Evolved society my foot.

(Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma is an editor, writer, blogger and in her own words ‘mad mad cinema fanatic.’ If you ever find Jaani Dushman running on TV, leave her a tweet at @DeeSCJockey. Even though she has watched it a thousand times, she will bless you liberally for that.)

Ali’s Way: A review of Highway

by Amit Upadhyaya

(Disclaimer: My opinion of Imtiaz Ali’s work has, mostly, been at odds with the views of the cinema literate audience. So, read on only at your own risk.)

Highway

Highway

Kahaan Hoon Main? These are the opening words of a song that comes in pretty late in the film. You might as well ask this question of yourself. This is a pretty disturbing film to sit through because of the sheer honesty of the filmmaker.

                The film begins with the abduction of Veera (Alia Bhatt), a young about-to-get-married girl, by Mahavir (Randeep Hooda), a hardened criminal. Unfortunately for Mahavir, she happens to be the daughter of a well-connected businessman. Mahavir, quite like the film itself, embraces the eponymous Highway at that point.

                In my opinion, seeing the film in terms of realism – as one that is trying to get ‘authentic’ about the details of the plot or be believable – would be a misreading.  The film is trying to capture a particular space of the mind. One where the characters, like the audience, have to fight their inner demons while running away from them, both at the same time. It is trying to understand what a character like Veera, a well brought-up-tameezdaar-woman, will do when she finds that she is out of the bondage of home, freer among men who happen to be her kidnappers. The Stockholm syndrome is not the point of the film. Character exploration is. All this while travelling (a leitmotif in all of Ali’s films).

                Here is a girl whose actions don’t seem believable. How can she be so comfortable around her own abductors? For a country that has been brought up on and with Ramayana, this might indeed be a troublesome idea. But it isn’t entirely rosy for feminists either. They will question her actions too. But that is precisely what Ali’s trying to do. He is exploring the idea of how a journey might change few lives. He is entirely successful in bringing those complexities and vulnerabilities on screen.

                In what is a significantly different treatment as compared to his earlier films, the frills are completely off. There are no background score cues for emotions. There is such tremendous use of silence in the sound design of the film that at times, I could hear the popcorn vending machine outside.

                Of course, Ali’s collaboration with lyricist Irshad Kamil and the great A.R. Rahman results in a score that lifts the film several notches higher. Rahman always gives what his directors ask him to. From Mani Ratnam to (jaate jaate) Yash Chopra, he has always delivered great music but never quite found a match for himself. Finally, he has found a collaborator who can challenge him. Finally, he has found a director who has been able to add something to the great composer’s music. And that works so well for a story that is as surreal and unbelievable as this.

                Anil Mehta has worked with Ali for the second time and once again, they’ve got the mood and emotions perfectly. Luckily, this being a road movie with beautiful and haunting locations in the backdrop, the result is a visual delight. Even more so because the production design aids the story and doesn’t overshadow it.

                Like always, there are problems with the screenplay but I can’t pinpoint exactly what is missing. That probably is the result of another great collaboration – that of Ali with Aarti Bajaj, his editor. They find the right pace for the story and let it take its own path.

                Veera’s character, like that of Meera and Geet, is complex in its screen avatar. She goes through so many emotions that it becomes difficult to understand her. Alia Bhatt brings it alive on screen. For an actor who debuted in Student of the Year, that is an achievement worthy of praise. Proving a foil to her softness, the rough edges are brought by Randeep Hooda. And restrained but wonderful is he. The scene where Veera asks him about his mother in a shop should be mentioned with great appreciation.

                Many people might mistake this film for a love story which it definitely isn’t. Veera and Mahavir are neither lovers nor companions. They have the most basic form of relationship that can exist between a man and woman. That is all they have.

                Imtiaz Ali has always tried to explore characters with as much honesty as he could. The result has not always been consistent; but the exception is that he always comes up with very strong female characters. This is another step towards the growth of this filmmaker whose biggest strength is the fact that he has not allowed himself to be slotted into mainstream or indie. And that is why there have been such extreme reactions to his films.

                The audience in the theatre where I saw the film only indicated that they are not yet ready for the kind of honesty Imtiaz Ali brings to Hindi films. It’s my sincere hope that one day he will find the audience he so completely deserves. Honesty must be rewarded. Mercifully, on-screen it has been.

                If Highway is anything to go by, Imtiaz Ali must be one of the most prized possessions of the Hindi film industry.

(Amit Upadhyaya, an Allahabadi turning his nose up at all things Delhi, is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies. He now has a gig as a sub-editor of the famous indie film website dearcinema.com)  

Boreday is Gunday (or Vice-Versa): A Review

by Amit Upadhyaya

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Last year’s Aurangzeb was a terrific film because it could rework the Salim Javed+Yash Chopra tropes without compromising the story or the vision. A year later, the same producer gives a film that even starts off with a tribute to Yash Chopra. Only, the next couple of hours are anything but Yash Chopra-esque.

Gunday was probably never meant to be anything more than a fun and entertaining ‘masala’ film but this ends up being a bastardized version of Deewar+Sholay+Trishul+Kaala Pathhar. And a relentless one at that.

Since the plot is unoriginal (only, it begins with an ‘original’ reference to the Bangladesh Liberation War), it had to be the execution that had to work. Basically the stars had to work their magic and recreate the ‘bygone era of friendship’. They have, in fact, butchered the film (or whatever the director was trying to make) so badly that the film should serve as a reality check for other producers who want to venture into ‘masala’ projects with young stars.

The 1970s of the film appears as authentic as Ghajini or Gadar:Ek Prem Katha were realistic. The writing is as shallow as it could be. The direction, though, takes the cherry for worst performance. Ali Abbas Zafar has taken so many slo-mo shots of his leads, the footage can be used by gym instructors. The last 20 minutes of the film, in fact, is almost entirely in slow-motion.

Having said all this, some of the sequences do work because no matter how much you mess up the Salim-Javed formula, it still stands tall. It is only in the ‘dialoguebaazi’ that the film comes alive. The Mr India tribute was cleverly thought out too. Wonder where the cleverness went in the rest of the film!

Charisma, the one-word mantra for all stars including the (indispensable, apparently) Khans, is solely missing here. Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor have done reasonably good work before this film. It is, then, astonishing how they could give such a low-brow performance in the genre which they seem to enjoy, especially when all the ‘masala’ ingredients are there. Priyanka Chopra somehow salvages her scenes in the film, like her introduction.

And yet again, it is the I-snatch-away-films-from-others star Irrfan Khan who gets the star power, fun and ‘masala’ just right. Both the leads should’ve learned something from him.

Gunday was meant to be the first outing of the young stars in the ‘entertainment, entertainment, entertainment’ genre. The only thing that can be said after watching it – go back to the Khans, Kumars, Devgns. They can still carry off cheesiness and clichés irrespective of films. The young men need some time before they try their hand at this again.

(Amit Upadhyaya, an Allahabadi turning his nose up at all things Delhi, is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies. He now has a gig as a sub-editor of the famous indie film website dearcinema.com)  

H(n)asee toh Ph(n)asee: A Review, With Minor Spelling Corrections

by Amit Upadhyaya

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Hasee Toh Phasee can be viewed in different ways. It is a genre film, alright. But It can also be seen as a very Nora Ephron-ish story, built around a slightly neurotic female protagonist. Finally, it is a curious coming-together of two marquee names, of two different brands of cinema – Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap.

The only reason I was excited about the film was Parineeti Chopra. She has had three releases before this film and she owned all the three. Does she deliver here? YES. It might be a bit of stretch to predict this right now but I’ll stick my neck out and say that we are witnessing the making of a great actor.

Which is all the more important here because this romantic-comedy is almost entirely dependent on the two leads, Meeta (Chopra) and Nikhil (Siddharth Malhotra). In tune with my earlier posts here, I won’t talk much about the plot. Meeta, a scientist, returns home after seven years and falls for Nikhil, the fiancée of her sister Karishma (Adah Sharma). Rest is, more or less, ‘rom-com’ stuff.

Meeta’s character has been given a very deliberate twist and Nikhil is the perfect foil for her – a right balance to the unique element that the character of Meeta lends to the film. He is earnest, well-meaning, and awkwardly-stuck to his idea of relationships. Siddharth Malhotra, who showed spark in his first film (Student of The Year) plays Nikhil with a lot of honesty and makes it work. He has a definite screen presence and uses that to his advantage when the character starts going out of his reach. It is becoming increasingly difficult for actors to stand up to Parineeti Chopra but he doesn’t disappoint.

Vinil Mathew was an ad-filmmaker and it shows in the film’s sense of humour. Having said that, several of the hilarious and well-done sequences do not quite stand out because the screenplay is very disjointed. Dialogues, at their witty best, help in covering-up the lapses that the writer has made. It could have easily have been 20 minutes shorter but the writer-director take the character route rather than the plot. Honestly, I didn’t mind that because the performances are so good, all round. The crux of the film, Meeta’s relationship with her father, is hefty enough to bear the weight of the film.

I have no idea though if I’ll go back to Hasee Toh Phasee ever again and some of that has to do with the songs. All of them sound very good but not in the film. Their placement made me curious if it was the ‘Dharma’ of the director that made him go for songs when they didn’t add anything to the film.

This is, then, basically, just another winner performance from Parineeti Chopra who is now working at another level compared to other actors in the industry. I only hope that she keeps getting the roles that deserve her and her choices don’t let her down.

P.S – Who gave the film its title? And there should at least be a ‘n’ in ‘Hasee’ and ‘Phasee’!

(Amit Upadhyaya, an Allahabadi turning his nose up at all things Delhi, is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies. He now has a gig as a sub-editor of the famous indie film website dearcinema.com)  

Mandalay in 10

by Sudha Shah

Mandalay is a fascinating city full of structures and memories of a period not so very long ago, when Burma (now known as Myanmar) was a kingdom, and the city its capital. Today, it is the second largest city in Myanmar, and the cultural and religious centre of the country. Considerable Chinese influence, of the modern kind, can be seen in the city due to a large number of successful ethnic Chinese who have settled here.

My interest in Mandalay began in 2004, when I started the research for my book, The King in Exile: The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma, which was published in 2012 by HarperCollins India. It tells the story, from a human-interest point of view, of King Thibaw and his family. Thibaw, the last king of Burma, was toppled by the British in 1885 and exiled to India. He and his family lived in Ratnagiri (Maharashtra) as state prisoners for over 31 years until his death in 1916.

A view of Mandalay at sunset, from Mandalay Hill, with the Ayeyarwady River glistening in the distance.

A view of Mandalay at sunset, from Mandalay Hill, with the Ayeyarwady River glistening in the distance.

Mandalay is a relatively young city. The story goes that Lord Buddha visited Mandalay Hill and said that in 1857 CE a grand city would come up at the foot of the hill, a city that would be an important centre of Buddhism. To honor this prophesy, in 1857 the reigning king of Burma began the construction of the city.

A view of Mandalay Hill in the distance.

A view of Mandalay Hill in the distance.

In the foreground are the palace moat and the fortified walls of the palace. The palace is located just below the hill, and the city of Mandalay lies in a grid-like pattern mainly to the palace’s West and South.

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The exquisite palace—said to have been like a glittering jewel that could not fail to dazzle and impress—was very unfortunately bombed during World War II by the Allies as the Japanese had occupied its grounds. The government reconstructed the palace in the 1980s, and it is today open to the public. This is a photograph of the newly constructed pyathhat, or the stepped wooden spire, that stood over the Lion Throne, and was very grandly said to mark the centre of the universe!

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The newly built palace does not have the intricate detailing and the imposing grandeur of the past. To get an idea of what the palace was like, a visit to the exquisite Shwenandaw Kyaung (Golden Palace Monastery) is essential.

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Myanmar is deeply religious country, and one of its holiest sites is located in Mandalay—the Mahamuni Pagoda. The Buddha image it holds was brought to its present location in 1784 and is greatly revered. Made of bronze, over the years devout worshippers have covered it with a thick layer of gold leaf. The main entrance to the pagoda is lined with many shops selling interesting souvenirs. 

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The Kuthodaw Pagoda is said to hold the world’s biggest book. Around a large imposing golden stupa, on 729 marble slabs each housed in its own little stupa, are the entire Buddhist scriptures written in Pali. It was built around the same time as the palace by the same king who built the city—King Mindon.

Street Food in Mandalay

Street Food in Mandalay

Street food in Mandalay—a bit like our bhajjia, but mainly of the non-vegetarian kind! The Myanmar people love their fish, and their most popular condiment is ngapi, which is made of fermented fish or shrimp and is used to flavor almost everything. However, vegetarians need not despair—a lot of vegetable dishes and salads are easily available. Interestingly, Khow Suey, the Myanmar dish so popular in India, is a breakfast food in Myanmar.

Girls in Mandalay

Girls in Mandalay

Thanaka, a yellowish brown paste, is commonly used as a cosmetic and a sun block all over Myanmar. It is made from the ground bark of a flowering shrub (murraya paniculata). Flowers are also commonly and artistically used as ornamentation in their hair by women and girls. 

The Ayeyarwady River

The Ayeyarwady River

The Ayeyarwady River flows on the West bank of Mandalay. This river is the main arterial river of Myanmar and runs almost vertically through the country. It continues to be a busy river used for the transportation of both people and goods. Across the river from Mandalay and seen in this photograph, is the stupa studded Sagaing Hills. A visit to Mandalay is incomplete without a visit to the four nearby and enchanting ancient towns— Mingun, Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura. 

The Moustache Brothers

The Moustache Brothers

The Moustache Brothers, a troupe from Mandalay, puts on a show every night in their home, combining slapstick humor with a song and dance show. Until its transition into a democracy in 2011, Myanmar was a military dictatorship for almost 50 years, where any form of criticism of the government was not tolerated. The Moustache Brothers used humor to make anti-government statements and poke fun at their government—and were repeatedly jailed for this. Of course, with much more freedom in the press, their relevance is not great today. But they are an institution in Mandalay, and witnessing one of their performances enriches a visit to the city, and provides a glimpse into a period that was.

(Sudha Shah became an author almost accidentally. She was trained in economics and worked in finance. After reading Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Glass Palace, she was deeply moved by stories of the four Burmese princesses who spent such a large part of their life as exiled royals in Ratnagiri, and she began to hunt for a suitable book that documented their lives. There was no such book. So Sudha began her own investigations – amply aided by her husband Pradip Shah – and eventually, when the research had taken a life of its own, she decided to write the book she had been looking for herself. She researched The King in Exile for seven years, travelling extensively in India and Myanmar on the trail of this fascinating story, and it took her to several libraries and archives across the world. The book was published in 2012 to critical acclaim in India and abroad, and was deeply appreciated in Myanmar. Sudha is now working on her second book.)  

* The photographs are copyrighted. If you wish to use any of these do write to us at theheatanddustproject@gmail.com and we shall be happy to put you in touch with Sudha Shah.

 

I’ve Seen SHOLAY!

by Amit Upadhyaya

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‘I’ve seen Sholay more than 40 times. In theatres!’ I’ve grown up in a family full of these stories about what is arguably the most-loved Hindi film of all times. I’ve loved Sholay but always wondered about this fuss of watching it in a theatre.

Therefore I stepped into Wave cinemas, Noida, Audi 01, to understand the mystery. 4th January, 2 pm.

I was handed the 3D glasses. I was, regrettably, 10 minutes late and missed the title sequence. The legendary theme song and the horse ride to Thakur Saab’s house. I will make amends, and will visit the theatre next week to rid myself of the sin.

The train sequence was underway. I sat there, instantly spellbound, absorbed by the finesse of the film. The action looked great. The visuals were as big as cinematically possible. Jai and Veeru, along with Thakur Saab, were enigmatic. Slowly I came to terms with the fact that I was watching Sholay on the big screen.

I don’t find it necessary to say anything about the film. If you’ve not seen the film, you are reading the wrong post. One after the other, the memorably and infinitely seen sequences played out. Nothing felt outdated, something that can’t be said about other greats from the era, including Deewar. The audience clapped, whistled, sang out loud. ‘Tumhara naam kya hai Basanti?’, ‘Haan, James Bond ke pote hain ye’, ‘Hamara naam Soorma Bhopali aise hi thode pad gaya’, ‘Kitne Aadmi the?’, ‘Kab hai Holi’… so on and so forth.  Everything was in place. The entertainment, the emotions, everything kept coming.

Memories too kept coming. My grandfather, who passed away last year, once bought me a PEN VHS of Sholay. I was 10-11 years old. I wasn’t allowed to touch the VHS. He forwarded, rewinded the sequences I loved to see. I sat there, at the dining table, through the Allahabad afternoon, watching the film. The afternoons get mixed up.

The couple sitting next to me recited the dialogues beforehand, as they might the Hanuman Chalisa. I was irritated in the beginning. Later, I could only smile.

Sholay is not a mere film anymore. It is a unison point in the Indian pop-culture. Good or bad, one’s liking of any film is subjective. Sholay is above that simple scrutiny of Good or Bad. It is just Sholay. Watching it in the theatre, for a couple of hours, had me in unison with the other beings who were there just for their love of Sholay. The theatre was full of love, reverence.

It was community living.

The film was coming to an end. Jai was dying in the arms of Veeru. Thakur’s shoes were all over Gabbar. Radha was still as lonely. Veeru was going to go the city without Jai. And then, the credits started rolling.

Eyes moist, tears rolling down, I stood there till the credits rolled on.

All the stories I had heard were now making sense. I had finally garnered the experience of watching Sholay in a theatre. And I can relay this piece of information, with pride, to the next generation, and hope that 40 years down the line, in 2054, they will also be fortunate enough to see it on the big screen, the only place where it really belongs.

Post-script:

I was told later that the man who told me most stories about Sholay, my father, had gone to see the upgraded 3D version of Sholay in Allahabad. He had instructed that no one should look at him while he watched the film. Apparently, he kept crying through.

Post- Post-script:

Mughal-e-Azam? Done.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge? Done.

Sholay? Done.

Deewar? Can someone re-release Deewar so that I die a peaceful man?

(Amit Upadhyaya, an Allahabadi turning his nose up at all things Delhi, is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies. He now has a gig as a sub-editor of the famous indie film website dearcinema.com)  

Algeria to Western Sahara, Bookishly

by H. Nanjala Nyabola

Inspired by the recent article on a woman who read one book from each country in the world (and blogged about it), I put together this reading list featuring one writer from each African country and territory. I can’t say anything about the quality of the books because I haven’t read most of them, and in some cases (Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Guinea-Bissau) I put books that I personally wanted to read. As far as possible, I have tried to put in the English translation of the books, but in some cases, only the Spanish, Swahili, French or Portuguese is available. (More incentive for you to learn the languages, no? ;)) The books highlighted seem to be out of print so will need some creativity to access. Go crazy book lovers!   

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at book-signing

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at book-signing of ‘Americanah’

  Algeria Ainsi naquit une homme Myriam Ben F Fiction  
  Angola Yaka Pepetela, Onjaki M Crime  
  Benin Une Enfant dans la guerre Florent Couao-Zotti M Literary Fiction  
  Botswana A Bewitched Crossroad Bessie Head F Literary Fiction  
  Burkina Faso Les Liens Amadou Koné M Literary Fiction  
  Burundi Princess de Rugo, Mon Histoire Esther Kamatari F Literary Fiction  
  Cameroon Chuchotte pas trop Frieda Ekotto F Literary Fiction  
  Cape Verde Lisbon Blues José Luis Tavares M Literary Fiction  
 
  Central African Republic  Daba’s travels from Ouadda to Bangui Makombo Bambote M Children’s Fiction  
  Chad Les Racines De Yucca Koulsy Lamko M Literary Fiction  
  Comoros La republique des imberbes Mohammed Toihiri M Literary Fiction  
  Cote d’Ivoire Aya* Marguerite Abouet F *Graphic novel  
  Democratic Republic of the Congo  Full Circle Frederick Kambemba Yamusangie  M  Literary Fiction  
   
  Djibouti Passage of Tears Waberi Abdourahman M Literary Fiction  
  Egypt Zeina Nawal El-Saadawi F Literary Fiction  
  Equatorial Guinea Shadows of your Black Memory Donato Ndogo M Literary Fiction  
  Eritrea Two Weeks in The Trenches Alemseged Tesfai M Anthology  
  Ethiopia Beneath the Lion’s Gaze Maaza Mengiste F Literary Fiction  
   Gabon Protocole du mariage coutumierau Gabon*  Justine Mintsa  F  *Non fiction  
     
  The Gambia Chaff on the Wind Ebou Dibba M Literary Fiction  
           
  Ghana Reflections from a Black Eyed Squint Ama-Ata Aidoo F Literary Fiction  
  Guinea Fode, La petite coxeur Boubacar Diallo M Children’s Fiction  
  Guinea-Bissau Return to the Source* Amilcar Cabral M *non-fiction  
  Kenya Dust Yvonne Owuor F Literary Fiction  
  Lesotho Singing away the hunger Mpho Matsepo Nthunya F *Non-fiction  
  Liberia Ebony Dust Bai T. Moore M Literary Fiction  
  Libya In the Country of Men Hisham Matar M Literary Fiction  
  Madagascar Elle, au Printemps Michèle Rakotoson F Literary Fiction  
          Young Adult Fiction  
  Malawi Love’s Dilemma Walije Gondwe F (Pacesetters)  
  Mali Bound to Violence Yambo Ouologuem M  

 

Mauritania Sia Yatabéré  Moussa Diagana   M     Literary Fiction
Mauritius Indian Tango Ananda Devi M   Literary Fiction
Morocco Les temps des erreurs Mohamed Choukri M   Literary Fiction
Mozambique The Last Flight of the Flamingo Mia Couto M   Literary Fiction
 Namibia Born of the Sun: A Namibian Novel  Joseph Diescho  M    Literary Fiction
 
         
Niger Sarraounia: Le drame de la reine magicienne  Abdoulaye Mamani M   Literary Fiction
Nigeria Americanah Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie F   Literary Fiction
Republic of the Congo Le masque de chacal Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard M   Literary Fiction
Rwanda Le Feu sou la soutane Benjamin Sehene M   Literary Fiction
São Tomé and Príncipe The Shepherd’s House Olinda Beja F   Literary Fiction
Senegal Scarlet Song Mariama Ba F   Literary Fiction
Seychelles Contes et Poemes Africains* Antoine Abel M   *Anthology
         
Sierra Leone A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Child Soldier* Ismael Beah M   *Non-Fiction
Somalia Fairytales for Lost Children Diriye Osman M   Children’s Fiction
South Africa In the Fog of the Season’s End Alex La Guma M   Literary Fiction
South Sudan There is a Country* Nyuol Lueth Tong M   *Anthology
Sudan Season of Migration to the North Tayeb Salih M   Literary Fiction
Swaziland Weeding the flowerbeds Sarah Mkhonza F   Literary Fiction
         
Tanzania Wasifu wa Siti Binti Saad Shaaban Robert M   Literary Fiction (Swahili)
Togo L’Exile Kodjo Adabra M   Literary Fiction
        Anthology, Short
Tunisia Le Harem en Peril et autres nouvelles Rafik Ben Salah M   stories
Uganda Any “Moses” book Barbara Kimenye F   Children’s Fiction
Zambia Talakata, The Tears of Africa Zindaba Nyirenda, F   Literary Fiction
Zimbabwe Nervous Conditions Tsitsi Dangarembga F   Literary Fiction
Somaliland Black Mamba Boy Nadifa Mohammed F   Literary Fiction
 Western Sahara La maestra que me enseño en una tabla de madera  Bahia Mahmud Awah  M   Literary Fiction (Spanish)
         
    Male  

35

 
       
    Female 21

 

(H. Nanjala Nyabola is a Kenyan writer, political analyst and sometime-activist. She’s a traveller, a lover of books and good food. Follow her on twitter @nanjala1.)