Cinema

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.

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

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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

04-gunday poster

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

hasee_toh_phasee_2014-1024x768_(1)

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)  

I’ve Seen SHOLAY!

by Amit Upadhyaya

061105-Sholay-Amitabh

‘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)  

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.)  

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.

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.)