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Dedh Ishqiya: A Review

by Amit Upadhyaya

 

Dedh_Ishqiya_Teaser_PosterDedh_Ishqiya_Teaser_Poster

 

‘Zabaan Jale Hai’. This Urdu poem in Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya defined the world Khalujaan and Babban inhabit in this terrific film.

I must state here that I’m not a huge fan of Ishqiya. It was a loosely made but entertaining thriller.

Dedh Ishqiya is anything but loose. In fact, it is so well-crafted that it doesn’t look like Chaubey’s second film. It begins with the same scenario as the earlier one. Babban is standing in the grave, at the mercy of Mushtaq Bhai (Salman Shahid). He gets away from there and Mushtaq asks his crony, ‘Ever heard of Batman’s relevance to Joker?’ The entire film is narrated in the same note of irreverent reverence. I won’t mention any more of the plot and will allow you to see it for yourself.

The biggest surprise in the film though is the language. From Dr. Bashir Badr to Gulzar, one gets to hear the ‘zabaan’ of the old, of Urdu, at its sheer magical best. Especially when spoken by the reel- life Ghalib, Naseeruddin Shah. So many lines to be taken away for the sheer ‘tameez’, even in abuse. Vishal Bhardwaj is one of the modern greats when it comes to dialogue writing and the genius is at work here. Every word has a purpose. One must listen to each one carefully, especially the word ‘lihaaf’. Mercifully, there were no subtitles in the theatre where I saw the film.

The more said about the gorgeous visuals, the lesser it is. One particular frame that my words will fail to capture is the shot of Khalujaan, tied to a chain in a huge chamber, and two enormous shadows (dancing) on the walls. Film schools will refer to that shot a few years down the line. The hinterland has been captured gloriously in all its colours by DOP Setu.

Sreekar Prasad’s editing lends the film an extremely desired pace. It thrills sometimes. And sometimes, one pauses and observes the quietness.

There is absolutely no need to say that Shah is at his usual best and his chemistry with the terrific Arshad Warsi, is memorable. Madhuri Dixit, who has come back to the silver screen after a long time, hasn’t lost her charms at all. Age has caught up and the effort shows. But the effervescent smile can still carry off a very difficult role. It is, then, no mean achievement, that Huma Qureshi stands her own ground in front of the stalwarts.

Being a huge fan of this criminally under-utilised actor, I will dedicate an entire paragraph to Vijay Raaz. He creates a romantic, believable villain with such élan, it’s spellbinding. Watch out for his scenes with Manoj Pahwa, who delivers in a small cameo.

*spoiler*

Chaubey must be complimented for treating this tongue-in-cheek black comedy-thriller so delicately that the subtle but consistent tone of homosexual love between the two women characters never looks undignified in a film, essentially about two foul-mouthed rogues. He has been aided a lot by Bhardwaj, the writer and the composer. The soundtrack compliments the mood of the film so well, it uplifts it by notches.

*spoiler ends*

This is a rare occasion in the history of Hindi cinema, known for trashy sequels, that the second part is far superior to its original. It is sincerely hoped that Chaubey’s subsequent ventures as well as the rest of 2014 is going to be as brilliant as this experience-for-senses of a film. 

 

(Amit Upadhyaya 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.)  

Like Rice to Bengali Heart

by Neelini Sarkar

It is one of those spectacular sunny blue afternoons in Milan. One appreciates it more because it has been preceded by weeks of miserable drizzle. It’s the kind of afternoon that would be well spent walking around Parco Sempione, which is bordered on four sides by a medieval castle, an arch of peace, an arena and an art museum (with a discotheque in its basement). This is where I go running every morning, all around the park, amidst joggers and dog walkers. My favourite bit of the park, though, is right in the middle, where there is a shallow lake with ducks splashing about. If you stand on the bridge you see the castle on one side, the peace arch on the other, and on a cold clear morning you can see smoke rising from the water.

But this particular sunny afternoon, I am curled up on the sofa after an Indian meal. I truly believe that rice does something to the Bengali heart that not even the best Italian mozzarella or Chianti wine can do.

I cooked chicken pulao, dal, okra and lamb chops. I discovered an Indian grocery store in a little street behind Corso Buenos Aries – home to a thousand shops and a darling little cafe called San Gregorio that makes the best cream brioche. I went to to buy jeere but ended up with a packet full of groceries. Naturally.

Chicken pulao is simple enough, but I can’t seem to find good chicken in Milan. The supermarkets have either fillets or chicken with its skin on, meant for roasting. And it tastes rather too chickeny for my liking. Of course, if you go to the pork or beef sections you will find shelf after shelf of cuts of meat I didn’t know existed. But this is Italy, a land that doesn’t believe in chicken.

Chicken Pula

Chicken Pula

The dal was more successful, since the Indian store seemed to sell a variety of dals, and even the regular Italian grocery stores keep red split lentils (masoor/musurir dal) as it’s occasionally used to make lentil soup for the healthy Italian soul. I couldn’t find coriander leaves so I put cumin and onions in the dal. And a rather generous dollop of melted butter, since I’m cooking only in extra virgin olive oil.

Okra was a last minute purchase from the Indian shop. This is my favourite vegetable and one that I buy from my sabzi wala in Delhi almost every week. It’s quick and easy and one doesn’t have to think too hard while cooking okra. I was also cooking the Indian meal for an Italian friend, who wasn’t familiar with the vegetable. Cooked with onion, cumin and turmeric, it tasted fine but the okra was not very good. Many of the pieces remained crunchy at the end. If anyone knows how to fix this, I’d love to know.

As for the lamb chops, ah, now here is something that works in Italy! I marinated my lamb in yoghurt, ginger, garlic, chilli flakes, dhaniya powder, cumin powder, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. And put it in the oven for about an hour. Voila. My mother, when I told her I made lamb chops, thought I was talking about the Bengali chop, leaving me drooling over visions of mangsher chop from K. Allen or even Market 1, CR Park, and feeling somewhat foolish with my all too simple desi meal with which I was trying to impress my Italian friend.
Next time, perhaps I should attempt biryani, to show them how we use saffron. A Milanese specialty is saffron risotto, which is delicious and pure but at the other end of the rice spectrum.

And so I return to my sun lit afternoon, both heart and stomach fulfilled.

My Milan Kitchen

My Milan Kitchen

 

(Neelini Sarkar nurtured books and authors 24/7 at HarperCollins India for five years before her sabbatical. She has promised us many Milanese adventures in the coming weeks, particularly, though not only, in the realm of food.)

Dhoom! A Review

Dhoom 3

Dhoom 3

by Amit Upadhyaya

Dhoom 3 begins with a child running to his father with some money that he thinks might help his father pay off the bank debt. Jackie Shroff, who plays his father, tells him that the money is worth more than the debt. The two hug and moments later, Shroff puts a gun to his head.

The film is about the revenge of that boy Sahir, played by Aamir Khan. He is out there to avenge his father and shut down the bank. To stop him come the two lovable characters from the earlier Dhoom films, Jai (Abhishek Bachchan) and Ali (Uday Chopra). Only, there is a major twist that awaits them and I’ll let you to see that for yourself.

Dhoom 3 is arguably the biggest film of this year. It has the big scale canvas that such films need. In fact, set in Chicago, the film is too big by Hindi film standards. Dhoom was a runaway success while Dhoom 2 was a major blockbuster. This one was always expected to be mammoth and mammoth it is.

Only the drama overpowers the thrill and not quite. Dhoom films were easy on story and treatment. They were fun films with a basic but stylish chor-police premise. This one tries to be more. This one attempts to be a story and an emotional one at that. For this of course the drama has to work. It doesn’t. In fact the basic idea itself is lifted from an earlier Hollywood success and that is such a shame.

A father-son story works for me by default. The film is more an exploration of the protagonist than a mere cop chasing robber scheme. And somewhere I felt that the story could have worked for perhaps a more serious film. In a Dhoom film, it plays spoilsport.

And a large part of the blame has to be shared by director Vijay Krishna Acharya and lead actor, Aamir Khan. Aamir is in almost all the frames. He puts in so much effort to such little effect. By the end of the film, you are more exhausted by his laboured performance than the film itself. Other actors are completely overshadowed, even wasted. Katrina Kaif is not there for more than 15 minutes in a 3 hour long film, a terrible waste of the superstardom that she otherwise brings to the film.

Both the carry over characters are not really justified by the screenplay either. Jai’s confident demeanour and Ali’s fun Kya Mummy feel so missed.

Having said all of this, the film has enough ‘bang for your buck’ moments including a fantastic stunt on a bridge. The action sequences including the two chases are pretty well shot. Malang and Kamli, the two major songs are lavishly mounted and neatly choreographed, and stand out.

There is also a very well executed scene where the thief and the cop come face to face for the first time. It is so cleverly done that it looks like from some other film.

The first two Dhoom films had style. This one attempts heart. And gets some of it right. The festive season’s only offering is Dhoom 3 and you may go for it. It is twenty minutes too long but entertaining enough.

Go, Dhoom Machale.

Penne in a Home-made Pomodoro Sauce or Post from Milan#2

by Neelini Sarkar

Today I discovered that you don’t need to add a hundred ingredients to a recipe to make it taste good. A few simple flavours in the right combination can fulfil you.

This is the simplest of all pastas though not always easy to get right. It’s important that you have the right pomodoro, Italian for tomato, and these are usually tastiest when in season, in summer. However, I managed to find some ripe mid-size tomatoes still on the vine and I thought they were quite delicious. Of course, I have to wait until summer to compare.

I blanched the tomatoes in boiling water to get the skin loose, and then peeled them off. I crushed them with my fingers till they were nice and pulpy while I heated some olive oil in a pan. Extra virgin is the way to go, I believe. I sautéed some garlic slivers and chilli flakes in the pan – I used way more garlic than I would add to any other cuisine, and I think it’s important not to fry the garlic too much. It shouldn’t change colour because then you start getting this delicious burnt flavour that’s more suited to Chinese than Italian food.

I added my pulpy tomatoes to this and a bit of vegetable stock to give it more flavour (you can also add plain water or perhaps some white wine). And now I had to let it simmer, simmer for the longest time until the sauce dried up. Meanwhile I had set a large pot full of salted water to boil – again, I used a lot more water and a lot more salt than I normally do when cooking pasta in India. When the water started bubbling, I added the penne (ridged penne rather than the smooth kind, because it absorbs the sauce better; you can also use spaghetti, fusilli or any other pasta). The pasta took 11 minutes to cook (at least that’s what the packet said!). You know it’s done when it’s al dente – in India we tend to overcook pasta and make it extra-soft. I was used to that but I find this method even yummier. As soon as the pasta has cooked, drain it out. Don’t let it sit in the water.

The tomato sauce was done by now – I added a little more water/stock till it reached a consistency that I liked. I added fresh basil leaves at the end, salt and some pepper (not too much pepper since I had added a generous sprinkling of chilli flakes earlier).

I mixed the penne with the tomato sauce carefully, arranged it on a plate, sprinkled freshly grated parmesan on top (Note: always sprinkle with your hand high in the air, as it spreads out better), and voila.

What I like most about this recipe is the freshness of the tomato and basil, and that it’s not overcrowded with flavours. Of course, you can add anything else you like – capers, anchovies, olives, chilli peppers, etc. – but I found its simplicity remarkable. And more than the cooking method, which is really quite basic, it’s the ingredients that make this dish what it is. Tomatoes may not be in season in winter, but this is the perfect meal when it’s minus one degree outside.

Penne in a home-made Pomodoro Sauce

Penne in a home-made Pomodoro Sauce

(Neelini Sarkar nurtured books and authors 24/7 at HarperCollins India for five years before her sabbatical. She has promised us many Milanese adventures in the coming weeks, particularly, though not only, in the realm of food.)

The Sabbatical or Post from Milan#1

by Neelini Sarkar

Having recently left my first job, one that I held for five years, not in favour of a better job but simply to take a sabbatical, I wake up every morning with feelings of anxiety: Am I wasting my time? Is this going to harm my career? Did I make a mistake?

I decided to spend the first two months of my sabbatical in Milan. The Italians ask me, Why Italy? And why Milan? It is nowhere as exotic as Rome or Tuscany. I shrug. Just because. The truth is, I was worried I might get bored in a rustic country villa with only myself for company. I’m a city girl. I need people. And I didn’t want to live like a tourist for two months. I wanted the real deal. And so I rented a regular apartment in a regular neighbourhood in Milan, just north of the city centre, where I can cook and clean and wash and dust and read and watch films, wondering occasionally if I could just as well have done these things in Delhi.

A city can make you forget your heart while it hurls abuses at you from every direction. This may not be true of every city, but it certainly is true of Delhi. It doesn’t let you be. You have to become one with the city if you want to survive it. I realised this when I noticed the aggression that had rubbed onto me when I engaged with people; when at work I rushed from one thing to the next with no time to enjoy it; when I spent nights losing my soul to the city. Oh, there are good things too, it is not entirely a nightmare. I was lucky to work with some of the loveliest people in the city; I loved my job and I was good at it; it took time but I made friends and built a neat social life for myself; and at dawn when I walked around the colony park to the sound of parrots and woodpeckers, I was happy. But everything about my life there had begun to feel empty. Even the moments of pleasure felt forced – as though I did them because I was supposed to. And I knew this for a while but brushed it away, I was too busy to indulge myself beyond a point, and my attitude, like every other person in the city, was to just get on with it.

Delhi Fall

When glimpsed, the Delhi parrot cheers…

One day I didn’t want to be that person any more. It was a hot summer afternoon. I had just returned from a trip to the US and was jetlagged, and I didn’t feel like working. I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to leave the city, even though I had just returned. And so I decided I would do just that. In the next few months, I looked for – and found – more profound reasons why I should leave: I wasn’t happy with my job, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, I wanted to learn new skills, I needed a change, I wanted to ‘find myself’ – this last more for the amusement of friends who called this my ‘Eat Pray Love’ experience. The truth is perhaps all these things and none of them. I don’t know yet.

And so I left one city to come to another city. I am fortunate even to have the luxury of this choice, there is some level of extravagance attached to the very idea of soul-searching. This is perhaps why I gave myself, my coworkers, my friends and family all those practical reasons why this was a wise decision. I suspect they saw through me but supported me anyway. And it needn’t have been Italy, I could have gone anywhere. The point is, I had to leave.

Now here I am in Milan, doing the things I love: going for long walks, discovering new books, watching old movies, meeting new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and cooking new things every day. Am I at peace? Certainly when I am doing these things, but not all the time. Human beings need a purpose, and work provides a large part of this. I have a draft mail in my inbox begging my ex-boss to give me some freelance work. I haven’t sent it to her yet. I don’t want to escape into work. I want to do it for the love of it not because there is nothing better to do.

I know there are many who have felt this way, some had the option to take off and explore, others felt too weighed down by their lives to change it. It’s easier when you are single, when you don’t have children to take care of, but more often than not that’s an excuse and not a reason. Change need not be dramatic or extreme, but if life does not fulfil you, it’s important to do something about it. I had other options, more practical ones: I could have changed jobs, or tried to make better space for myself in my current job and life, I could have stayed on until I had decided what I wanted to do next, I could have taken a vacation. Hell, I could have spring-cleaned my house and I probably would have felt better. But I was so tied down to my life that I needed a dramatic departure in order to see the other possibilities in the world.

Why and how you choose to leave your life also depends of course on how old you are and where you’ve got to. I am too young for a midlife crisis and too old for a gap year. So for me, this is not about discovering what I want to do in life nor is it about making a fresh start. I have left with every intention to return. In time, I will be ready to plunge into the stresses of everyday once again, because I believe that is an inescapable part of today’s life and a part of me loves the energy with which we rush from one thing to the next, soaking up every bit the world has to offer.

When I return, I do not hope to be wiser or happier or ready to do things differently, I  simply hope to feel fulfilled and therefore at peace.

Milan winter

Milan winter

(Neelini Sarkar nurtured books and authors 24/7 at HarperCollins India for five years before her sabbatical. She has promised us many Milanese adventures in the coming weeks, particularly, though not only, in the realm of food.)

(Photographs by Devapriya Roy.)

Four Filmy Days and a Football Match by Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma

The obnoxius giant popcorn-bags the Goa government thought was a good idea to prop up all over the state

The obnoxius giant popcorn-bags the Goa government thought was a good idea to prop up all over the state

For a self-confessed film fanatic, my record of attending film festivals has been abysmal so far, despite the annual film festival in Pune – PIFF – and the existence of NFAI here being among the reasons I moved to the city more than five years ago.

So this year, I finally made that trip to Goa during the International Film Festival of India – and while I really spent less than three full days there, the pilgrimage was totally worth it. Also, conveniently timed during the festival was an I League Football match between my home team, Pune FC, against the Panjim-based team Dempo SC. All in all, four days well spent.

This was my first visit to IFFI. While it is impossible to talk about all the films and the overall experience, here are some quick notes.

Polish film: Life is good

With Polish filmmaker Maciej Pieprzyca

With Polish filmmaker Maciej Pieprzyca

If you read nothing else in this article, I’d still hope you take up my recommendation for this lovingly made film by a Polish writer-director with a really hard name. Based on real-life stories, this film is about Mateusz, a boy with severe developmental problems that render him unable to move around (except for crawling on the floor), use his hands or, most importantly, talk. Owing mainly to his inability to communicate, he is written off as intellectually retarded, and spends over 25 years locked inside a stubborn body that cannot keep up with his intelligent mind.

The film is warm, funny and touching without being overwrought and manipulative, and without ever indulging in self-pity – a considerable task, given the built-in pain and frustrations of the subject.

(Update: Longer review here)

Another kind of motherhood

Marussia

(Screen grab from YouTube video) From Left: Marussia producer Janja Kralj, director Eva Pervolovici and actress Dinara Drukarova (who plays Marussia’s mother in the film)

The independent French-Russian film Marussia provoked some mixed reactions from the audience, much like the 6-year-old Marussia’s free spirited mother in the film provokes in the well-meaning people around her. In the Q&A session after the film, the producer Janja Kralj (seen on extreme left in the picture above) found herself facing questions on the choices and child-rearing credentials of this character.

It is interesting to note that while our films have taken to depicting all kinds of lovers, friends, officers, even all kinds of fathers – we still expect a certain kind of mother in our stories.

Long queues like this one formed for most screenings at the Inox which played some of the most eagerly awaited films at the festival

Long queues like this one formed for most screenings at the Inox which played some of the most eagerly awaited films at the festival

Women in a young nation

An interesting experience was watching Chetan Anand’s 1946 film Neecha Nagar, thick with allegory and bursting with optimism for a soon-to-be-free nation. I hope to write more on that later. This is the second film I’ve seen from roughly that year, besides the rare and enchanting Kalpana (1947), Uday Shankar’s ambitious dance film that was exhibited at NFAI some years ago.

Both films are full of ideas about what the newly independent India should be like. Kalpana tends to get pedantic, while Neecha Nagar pays homage to many defining events from the non-violent freedom struggles. Both films see an important role for women to play in the construction of this new society. The women in these films have a voice, they have agency, and exercise their choices. Kalpana goes so far as to endorse a bit of besharmi – shamelessness – in the New Woman of its vision. In Neecha Nagar, the hero’s younger sister (a strikingly beautiful and fresh faced Kamini Kaushal) is his trusted partner in his fight for dignity for the people of the town. It is his sister, and later his lady love, who catalyse important turning points that spell eventual success of his mission.

The Game

In the interest of full disclosure, let me mention that my support for Pune FC is not exactly the selfless dedication of a true fan. My husband is the analyst for that team. If you happened to be at Duler Stadium, Mhapusa on 27th November for the Pune FC vs Dempo SC match, you might have noticed the guy in a red cap recording the match from atop a mast. That’s him.

Duler Stadium in Mhapusa

Duler Stadium in Mhapusa

Nonetheless, it isn’t difficult for anyone mildly interested in Indian football to be following Pune FC with some interest. The team finished second on the League Table last year, and are neck-and-neck with Salgaocar for the top position this year. Making things appropriately filmy is the fact that Salgaocar is currently coached by Pune FC’s former coach Derrick Pereira, and our last match in Goa had Derrick’s old and new team facing off in an exciting game that resulted in a draw.

Mhapusa is not a city your tour guide will likely take you to during your Goa trip. Located at some distance from the shore, this little city is soothingly devoid of tourist activity and full of the normal buzz of small town life. So instead of tattoo studios, pretentious cafes, and shops selling colourful hippie clothes and myriad trinkets, you’ll find real shops selling stuff people need and humble restaurants serving wholesome food. The low rising, moss-covered buildings give it the look of one of Mumbai’s narrow suburbs, only with cleaner roads.

Duler stadium is itself a most unimposing structure – the line of shops built under the audience stands make it look like just another commercial building on the busy street. Inside, the stadium seats are almost hugging the artificial pitch, and the pitch is bordered on two sides by houses and palm trees. No matter how humble the venue however, you can count on the Goans to turn up in large numbers for a game of football.

This unadulterated enthusiasm for the game is what always makes it worthwhile to watch one in Goa, even if I am the only one cheering for the visiting team, and praying for all these lovely people to go home disappointed today. The game was a draw, by the way.

Random highlights of the trip

  • Spotting a young Kamini Kaushal in a pivotal role in Neecha Nagar
  • Spotting a young Zohra Sehgal in Neecha Nagar (Amusingly, as way back as 1946, she had already graduated to playing the more ‘senior’ character of the hero’s bhabhi!)
  • Rahul Bose as a Calcutta-dwelling simpleton and Mithun as his loose-shirt-over-polyester-pants father in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Kaalpurush (wish I had nicer things to say about this film that is the director’s loving tribute to his departed father, but I found it extremely boring)
  • A Canadian actress playing the poet Samuel Beckett in a play within the film Meetings With A Poet
  • Kurdish film: My Sweet Pepperland (God! So many movies I haven’t enough time to write about)
  • Somehow managed to get through three days of an international film festival without having my tender sensibilities exposed to much nudity
  • Pretending to ignore Sanjay Suri even as I struggled to suppress the automatic grin on my face every time I looked in his general direction. Happened twice. (I blame this entirely on Jhankar Beats)
  • Driving a car on the lovely Goan roads
  • Cheering for PFC on their lone goal amid angry Dempo fans
  • Squeezing in time for a quick lunch at the serene Bogmallo Beach
  • Discovering a cheap cafe with delicious food right off Miramar Beach
  • Coffee at Marriott, Panjim – both food and the view
  • First ever vacation with mostly just my sister for company

(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.)

Garmi Nahi Badha Paye, Bullet Raja: A Review By Amit Upadhyaya

17297-Bullet-Raja-Poster-Wallpapero

(Disclosure: The writer is a big fan of the Director owing to their common city of origin: Allahabad.)

The first 5 minutes of Bullet Raja has a song called Don’t touch my body which is so ill-composed, so ill-shot that you know you are in for a long film. Patience levels are alerted at once. Mercifully, the film is bearable.

The story is about Raja Mishra, played by Saif Ali Khan. He is your average ‘UP’ guy. Which means he is jobless; looking for an opportunity. He meets Rudra (Jimmy Sheirgill), who becomes Jai to his Veeru. They are taken as ‘political commandos’ by a politician (played by Raj Babbar). So far, so good.

But the second half is such a disaster that you are taken off-guard. Plotwise, the second half is the last 10 minutes of Sholay.

Tigmanshu Dhulia has a unique style of filmmaking. He mixes heartland politics with a modern-day narrative style; but employs 70s touches in his one-liners. Till now, most of his films have got the balance just right, except Shagird and Charas: A Joint Effort. But this one goes awry.

He tries to bring out caste politics in north India. Fair enough. The film is set in the capital city Lucknow (which is well shot). Every character has a surname to notice, prominently the protagonist who wears his Brahmin-ness on his sleeve. Dhulia has even got a solid ‘buddy’ setting but it doesn’t go too far. One has to read too much because nothing is overt. And unfortunately, too much subtlety is not Dhulia’s strength. Sample this line:

Brahmin jab bhookha toh Sudama, jab rootha toh Raavan.

The film works only when such lines are thrown in, which isn’t too often. That is a big shame, considering Dhulia has flair for writing great one-liners. Watch Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns for that.

Jimmy Sheirgill is the only actor who makes his character work and he does it effortlessly. His ‘achcha achcha theek hai’ is wonderful. All others, including Saif Ali Khan, suffer from indifference. And what worse sign do you need of a film when the title role, played by a senior actor, goes so wrong. Is he the same actor who played the marvellous Langda Tyagi in Omkara? He is never in the film. The coolness doesn’t work. Lesser said about the hairstyle and beard, the better. Continuity, anyone? Sonakshi Sinha was also spotted somewhere.

What could have been a pointed commentary on caste politics in the mainstream is reduced to a simple vengeance tale. And even that doesn’t work. Dhulia can’t be accused of not putting in the effort but the result is too negligible. Time for some fresh air?

Raja Mishra, if only you had delivered on the promise. Garmi nahi badha paye, Bullet Raja. 

 

(Amit Upadhyaya 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.)  

Ram Romeo, SLB and The Drinking Game: Not-a-Review of Ram-Leela by Deepti Chaudhari Sharma

This time Mr Bhansali, you had me at hello. Well, almost, before you lost me at “I am Sanjay.” The moment the lilting strains of a Gujarati folksong (music is credited to the man Bhansali himself) give way to the stunning visual of a group of village belles framed in a grand gateway against the desert sun, I was prepared to forgive this movie anything. This was with almost as much certainty as a decade ago, when the opening visual of an obscenely bedecked and bejewelled Smita Jaikar hopping around in an obscenely lavish haveli told me that it was a mistake to spend money on Devdas. Anyway.

Every frame is as gorgeously mounted as you’d expect an SLB offering to be. In fact, set pieces and elements that felt overbearing and suffocating in his earlier fares, seem to work here. And there are many echoes of his earlier work. So many of the set pieces feel like Sanjay Leela Bhansali is paying a silent tribute to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, that you can make it into a drinking game. The bridge from Saawariya – bottoms up! The Ganga Ghat scene from Devdas – bottoms up! The tree over pond in a courtyard – bottoms up!

Not that I blame Sanjay Leela Bhansali for being heavily inspired by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, seeing as Sanjay Leela Bhansali is one of the very best we have right now. He has the power to transport you to a wonderland of visual delights where you won’t feel surprised to encounter an upside down tree laden with golden kiwi fruit and still somehow believe you are in a remote village in the sands of Kutch. So never mind how Navratri comes close on the heels of Holi, or why people are flying kites in October (Sankranti, the big kite festival of Gujarat, comes in January).

I must also add that of all the recent films set in Gujarat, this is the one that has captured the sounds of Gujarat most beautifully (I won’t say most realistically, for I have never been to that part of Gujarat myself). I melted into a pool of awww… when the room service guy at a cheap motel in a small town shouts “Toowaal, saabu, paaNi?” Ranveer also gets his Gujju accent and swagger pretty close. That is, for nitpickers like me who care about accents when there is so much man-cleavage and shiny man-hair on display.

RaamLeela

The problem is that the drama here hits a crescendo one too many times. The story comes frustratingly close to a climax and instead of denouement, you find yourself at the beginning of a whole new Act. This happens over and over again, until you want everyone to shoot each other and die already.

This, of course, applies if you consider the mass of white turbans and red veils, providing the backdrop for our differently-coloured protagonists, as people. For all practical purposes, these are human props, bobbing their heads, jumping in synchrony, or dropping like flies as required by the script, nay, the choreographer. They have no more identity than the faceless storm troopers in a Star Wars movie or the blank ovals in a newspaper cartoon. Even their blood is shed in an aesthetically appealing manner, to provide a nice foreground against all the dull white.

At one point, Ranveer does the daring thing and walks into the lioness’s den – Supriya Pathak playing the matriarch of the Saneda clan, in arguably the best role of her career – to seek an end to the centuries-long enmity between the clans. This he does by first offing more Saneda men than Mithun ever killed in the climax of his most blood-drenched revenge saga in the 90’s. Through all this, Pathak continues chanting her morning mantra, and later coolly chats with the uninvited guest. No mention is made of the dozen or more men who just dropped like flies. None of them has a name.

When a woman from the Rajadi clan later taunts Pathak over the murders of men in her community, her lines fail to invoke any emotion in me as audience. By this time, so many people have been senselessly murdered, one doesn’t care if our Raam and Leela join their ranks sooner rather than later.

(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. A longer version of this not-a-review is available on the author’s blog.)

50 Shades of Red: A review of Ram-Leela by Amit Upadhyaya

Goliyon ki Raas Leela Ram Leela

Goliyon ki Raas Leela Ram Leela

The first time we see Ram and Leela together, pointing guns at each other, colours all around them, we know the end is going to be similar.

Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela is drawn more out of Ramayan and Indian classical art than the bard’s famous tragedy.

Bhansali’s films have increasingly been set outside of any known socio-political context, and even though you hear Twitter somewhere in this film, you know it is all happening in Bhansali-land. The film is based on a romance drama but seems more like a story of hate. Rajadi and Saneda are two warring clans somewhere in Gujarat. Ram is a Rajari and Leela, Saneda. Rest is more or less, Romeo & Juliet.

Only, the characters are more Ram and Sita. Ram (Ranveer Singh), who stayed away from his village for 12 years, is the modern day Krishna. He meets Leela and lust consumes both of them. Leela (Deepika Padukone) flirts with him, responds to his overtures. But midway in the film, the characters become Ram and Sita. Ang Laga De, the most gorgeously shot song of the film starts with a shot of Leela with a lamp in her hand standing in front of a painting of Sita in Lanka. The idea is to show devotion; but then, character progression has never been Bhansali’s forte.

What his forte is is to tell a story visually. And he does it like a craftsman. This story of hatred is told from a woman’s perspective. The film is full of female characters who never succumb to situation but play accordingly, chiefly Baa, played by Supriya Pathak, who owns every frame she appears in. Guns and blood are the instruments Bhansali uses to say this hate story. And consequently, red becomes the colour of the film (much like the earlier Bhansali film Devdas). From ‘Lahu’ Munh Lag Gaya (a brilliantly choreographed-and-shot song) to blood from Leela’s fingers, and finally to Laal Ishq (another wonderful song but underutilised), red is a cleverly used motif in the story. And the question asked by Bhansali in his own auteur-ist style: can love overcome hate?

The answer lies with the women. Baa, at one point, is seen dancing in front of a Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh idol. She is the one who can create as well as destroy. This is the world of Bhansali where women refuse to be used as tools in the hands of men.

Ram and Leela share passionate love and it is that love and devotion that is put to test by Bhansali, something he does in all his films.

That the two leads share a dazzling chemistry helps. Ranveer Singh has the same manic energy that Shah Rukh Khan exhibited in his early films. The voice does creates some problems though. Deepika Padukone is flawless. She is having the time of her life. Ravi Varman’s cinematography is breathtaking to say the least. National award, maybe? Siddhartha-Garima’s dialogues add a lot to the film’s raunchiness, completely consistent with the film’s tone and treatment.

Two issues, like always, crop up with this Bhansali film. Screenwriting and editing. Both are co-credited to him. Maybe, he needs to let others do this for him. His films crumble under the weight of external logic because he uses the story as means and not the end. A director of his calibre only needs a good script to create something magical. The kind that he demonstrates in this film, albeit in parts. How often does one get to see Ram going away with Sita wrapped in a red sheet?

Till that time, one can hum Ye laal ishq, ye malaal ishq, ye aib ishq, ye bair ishq.

(Amit Upadhyaya 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.)  

Yeh Kaahaani Hai Rahim Aur Anjum Ki by Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma

Or How to Spot a Bollywood Muslim in 5 Seconds

You know what? Secularism sucks. I mean, look at what goes in the name of secularism and freedom of expression in our country – let’s face it, freedom of speech is a one-way street and we, the poor voiceless Hindus, are always at the receiving end of the minority-appeasing Sickulars. Or riddle me this – why are only Hindu Gods and religious text the butt of jokes and no one dares joke about other religions, by which I mean Islam and Muslims?

Well, I don’t know the politics of it, but here’s a fact. Forget jokes, we just don’t see Muslims in our popular culture so much. Just look at our movies. For some reason, Muslims in our films are still ‘special characters’.  So were Sardars, till very recently. At least in Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year, we got a guy-next-door protagonist who just happens to be a turbaned Sardarji. He isn’t there for some Kirpan-aided grandstanding, or to systematically diffuse some Sardar stereotypes. He’s just your average college grad looking for an honest living.

rocket-singh-salesman-of-the-Year-02

Ever since the buzz about Shahid, I’ve been racking my brain to remember one mainstream Hindi film in which the protagonist just happens to be Muslim. To be more specific, a Hindi film with a pivotal Muslim character, which is not:

  1. A film about being Muslim or Muslim in India (Shahid, Garm Hawa)
  2. Preaching about communal harmony/diversity in our great country (Amar Akbar Anthony, Aapke Deewane)
  3. About Partition, communal riots of 1993 or 2002, the Kashmir problem, or terrorism in general and 9/11 in particular (Garm Hawa, Mission Kashmir, Bombay, Kurbaan, Hey Ram, Shahid, New York…). Actually, I could go on with examples in this category till the cows come home – and I don’t even have cows.
  4. Preachy in general, with obligatory all-Muslims-are-not-terrorists message (Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye, Dashavataram)
  5. An ensemble film with three or more lead actors, one of whom is the token Muslim (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, 3 Idiots, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd)
  6. A Muslim social shot exclusively in pastel colours/ a Historical (Jodha Akbar, Pakeeza, Nikah, Zubeidaa)
  7. Boring (let’s not go there)
  8. An Indie made on a shoestring budget by an artsy director and exhibited in a handful of multiplexes, earning more rave reviews than revenues (I Am, Mammo)

So far, only Gangs of Wasseypur comes to mind as a film which is not brainy, entertains in a very old-fashioned way, and the events in the film have little to do with the leads being Muslim. They are just a violent lot, and the Hindu Ramadhir is no less of a bastard than the trigger-happy Khans and Qureshis. Ishqiya is another juicy entertainer where two of the three leads just happen to be Muslim, and the widow Krishna couldn’t care less if they were tentacle mutants so long as she gets to use them in her nefarious mind games. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool comes to mind too. Now would it be nitpicking on my part to exclude one more category of films here?

9. A gangster flick (Gangs of Wasseypur, Ishqiya, Maqbool)

gangs-of-wasseypur-05

Not that I have anything against ensemble casts, gangster flicks or patriotic stories, but when I look around at the Muslims I know in real life, I realize that I never see these guys in the movies – my classmates from school and college, my colleagues, my husband’s friends, social media acquaintances. Where are the people from the urban middle class milieu that I know, people with jobs, families, girlfriend/boyfriend issues, who deal with the lofty challenges of reaching office on time and getting the kids to do their homework?

The Muslims in Indian films are almost like the black guys in Hollywood – the hero’s trusted friend, the funny guy, one of the first and almost sure to die in a disaster or climactic showdown with the villains, or better still, the guy who leaps to take the bullet for our hero. You can be almost certain that at some point you’ll see him offering Namaz or serving sevaiyya on Eid. You can be more certain that his/her parents are very conservative, religious folks invoking Allah every now and then.

Namaaz (Photo credit: Sambit Dattachaudhuri)

Marking Time
(Photo credit: Sambit Dattachaudhuri)

You never see Rahim and Anjum playing basketball in a posh South Bombay college; you never see Sajid, the spoilt rich brat without a clue about life; or Ahmed, the vivacious guy with a terminal disease… In fact, most Muslims you come across in our films are in some way a representation of Indian Muslims, not simple everyday humans in their own right.

This is stranger if you consider that even the Khans haven’t played a lot of Muslim roles in their over two decades in the industry – unless the film is called My Name Is Khan.

(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.)