Bombay Talkies

Celebrating the art of story-telling with 100-years of Indian cinema

Bombay Talkies; Pic source: Wikipedia

Indian cinema is not only about song and dance, colourful costumes and overtly emotional characters. I am glad that the film made to commemorate hundred-years of our cinema looks beyond all these clichés and focuses on story-telling. Bombay Talkies has four interesting short films by four directors who represent the modern Indian cinema (read Bollywood in this case) – Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap. While a true tribute would have been filmmakers from other regions also participating (think of an anthology with films in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil and English), it would have been a tough project to sell commercially. Maybe, we’ll see something like that soon but for now I applaud the effort called Bombay Talkies, which is not an outstanding film but is a brave attempt that needs to be appreciated.

My views on the four short films in Bombay Talkies, in order of my preference (minor spoilers ahead):

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Based on Satyajit Ray’s short story, Patol Babu Filmstar, Dibakar Banerjee’s Star is as much about failed ambitions as it is about hope and happiness. It is a poignant tale about a father who does not have a new bedtime story for his ailing daughter… it is about a failed actor who gets a shot at stardom in his own small way. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Purandar is simply outstanding and the last two minutes of this short are bound to leave you teary-eyed and in awe of this actor’s talent. It is also great to see Sadashiv Amrapurkar return to screen in a well written cameo. Banerjee’s style is lucid and the story touches you emotionally more than the others in the film. He puts an emu in the chawl to describe the lead character’s failure in business and you see the bird again in another important scene. Banerjee grows with each film and is not afraid to experiment; from Khosla Ka Ghosla to Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye; Love, Sex Aur Dhoka to Shanghai and now Star, he is what the Doctor prescribed for Bollywood’s problem of recycling everything.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

He who makes multi-million dollar blockbusters that are known for their flamboyance than cinematic artistry, has turned the tables with this small-budget, realistic short film. With this film, we discover a new Karan Johar where he doesn’t have to stress about the three hundred Caucasian dancers in designer Indian costumes or the waist size of his gorgeous leading lady. He is focused on telling a story here, he is focused on dismantling all that is Karan-Joharesque about his cinema… However, he hasn’t given up on the quality and the people he works with; ace cinematographer, Anil Mehta has shot the film, Manish Malhotra has styled Rani Mukherjee, who herself is a Dharma Productions regular. It is also a film where Johar steps out of a cliché ridden world where homosexuality is about effeminate caricatures (Rishi Kapoor in Student of the Year), scandalizing domestic help (Kanta Ben in Kal Ho Na Ho) or Punjabi mothers (Maa Da Laadla Bigad Gaya in Dostana). He takes a bold approach and establishes the main protaganist’s sexuality in the first scene itself. Saqib Saleem is a great new find; I say new as this is the film that will get him noticed and not his earlier outings like Mujhse Fraandship Karoge and Mere Dad Ki Maruti. He is confident and comfortable with the character he plays – an intern at a Bollywood tabloid who strikes an unlikely friendship with his associate editor. The other male actor in this story, Randeep Hooda is also well cast as a serious news presenter who loves old Hindi music and leads a predictable, loveless life. Rani Mukherjee returns to what she does the best… she is natural and relatable. She plays a wife who knows that her marriage is dead but keeps up the appearances. This is Karan Johar that we have never seen before and hope to see more in future.

Sheila Ki Jawani by Zoya Akhtar

It’s a story about a little boy who dreams of becoming a dancer while his strict father (Ranvir Shorey) wants him to do something ‘appropriate’ for a boy. It is also a story about the relationship between a brother and a sister, biases and unfair societal norms – “a boy should be interested in sports while a girl should be happy with a doll”; “it’s better to invest in a boy’s future than a girl who will eventually go away”. The boy finds himself burdened with his father’s expectations but is not willing to give up on his dreams. He gets this strength from his supportive sister, a year or two elder to him and an unlikely guardian angel, Katrina Kaif. Akhtar’s last film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was a big hit and it wasn’t only because of the star power and the breathtaking locales; this director knows how to tell stories, which was clear from her critically acclaimed, yet commercially average first film, Luck By Chance. Here, she simply works with an idea and not a fleshed out story, but with her superior narrative style and the lovely performances by the two child actors (Naman Jain and Khushi Dubey), the film works.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

Here’s a filmmaker who is truly changing the face of Hindi cinema. His films are bold, have daring or unexpected themes and usually feature new talent. He is what Ram Gopal Verma was to the Hindi film industry in his prime – a promise of changing the way films are made and watched in India; a promise to break the mold and cross the boundaries to create truly international cinema. Where RGV failed, Kashyap seems to be succeeding… films produced and directed by him are a regular feature at prestigious international film festivals including Cannes; Indian audience is open to buying a ticket for a film made by him despite no big film stars. That is why I was most curious about his short film, Murabba in Bombay Talkies. I liked the film but not as much as I liked the other three. Murabba looks at the Indian film-goers and their connection with cinema. We say cricket is a religion in India and so is cinema; nothing binds our people more than these two passions that most Indians are born with. A young man from Illahabad, Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh), comes to meet Amitabh Bachchan in Mumbai to offer him a piece of murabba (sweet fruit pickle) as per his ailing father’s wish. He stands outside the mega star’s house and waits for a chance to meet him for two-minutes. He is confident of a warm reception on his arrival as he hails from the same city and colony where Bachchan came from originally. He is let down when the star’s guards shoo him away but he doesn’t give up. The other interesting angle in the film is how we Indians like to brag and tell stories. It is an absurd story that holds your interest till a certain point but then it leaves you unsatisfied unlike the other three stories.

Bombay Talkies is good experiment that largely works and in the hope of seeing more such collaborations and innovation by our filmmakers, I urge you all to buy a ticket and see this film.

PS: Please walk out of the theatre before the terrible title song video featuring about twenty stars comes on-screen with the end credits.

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Gangs of Wasseypur 2

 

A to Z of Wasseypur

Pic source: Wikipedia

Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur 2 lives up to the huge expectations set by its prequel; the director once again delivers an entertainer that is full of masala but unlike any other revenge dramas dished out by Bollywood. The film picks up the story of Wasseypur and its goons from where the first film left it. Sardar Khan is killed by those he wanted dead in the first place; Ramadhir Singh continues to gain prominence in politics and the Qureshis are left divided between the Khans and the Singhs. Gangs of Wasseypur 2 (GoW 2) follows the story of Faizal Khan as he picks up and lives his father’s unfulfilled purpose – revenge.

Here’s A to Z of Gangs of Wasseypur 2 (minor spoilers ahead):

A – Anurag Kashyap: Writer, producer, director – Kashyap is truly changing the game for Hindi cinema. His keen eye for detail, amazing story-telling ability, penchant for style of a different kind and quirky sense of humour makes him one of the best filmmakers of this generation. GoW 2 is gory, funny and ironic… all credit to the director for giving us a pair of fine and memorable films this year.

B – Badla: Faizal Khan is not like is father, he is a different man. He likes movies, he likes to live in his own world… but he is given no choice but to follow the destructive path treaded by his father. Revenge (badla) – an emotion that sets the tone of GoW 2 from the first scene itself and consumes each and every character in the film.

C – Ch**iya: The preferred expletive amongst the inhabitants of Wasseypur along with some others. I chose this one specifically as the two main characters; Ramadhir Singh and Faizal Khan use it quite often and with style.

D – Dialogue: Excellent screenplay, peppered with some brilliant dialogue make GoW 2 also quite enjoyable like its prequel. Though there is less fire in the lines as compared to the first film; full credit to Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, Sachin Ladia and Anurag Kashyap for infusing humour in a film where there are more gun shots than dialogues.

E – English: These gangsters’ fascination with the English language is simply adorable. There is a whole sequence dedicated to understanding the meaning of the word, ‘Definite’, which incidentally is a character’s name in the film. Then there is this irritatingly sweet song that Mohsina sings for Faizal‘Set Rightva Karo Ji’.

F – Film Festivals: Both GoW films have become the darlings of national and international film festivals – from their premiere at Cannes to Toronto International Film Festival to Sydney to Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival in Delhi; the films have got the film snobs hooked along with the general audience.

G – Guns: From the desi kattas to rifles to AK 47s, there are guns and guns on display and use in the film. People shoot more and talk less in GoW 2. Guns are not the only patakhas in the film, there are apples too… watch to figure out.

H – Huma Qureshi: Delhi girl, Huma Qureshi plays Faizal’s love interest and trophy wife in the film. She is sexy and she knows it… unlike his father, Faizal is a loyal husband and Mohsina stands by him always. He likes to flaunt her with her Ray-Ban sunglasses, carefully styled hair that gives her an unkempt look and bright outfits. She doesn’t have a lengthy role but has great screen presence and is extremely likeable.

I – Ishtyle:  From razor-blade loving young gangsters to the gadget loving mafia dons who flaunt their pagers; Kashyap’s Wasseypur world is carefully designed with small details that show style, reflecting the period and the people’s aspirations. Then there is the gore, Tarantino style – the severed head, the spray of blood and the screw driver in the eye. Faint-hearted be warned.

J – Jail: It is like a comfortable guest-house for the characters in GoW. They walk in and walk out as per convenience and usually use the prison for safety.

K – Keh Ke Loonga: The first film’s attitude stays throughout the sequel as well. Faizal Khan may not want what his father left him but he is not afraid of anything or anyone.

L – Ledar: From the whole soundtrack, ‘Dil Chhi Chha Ledar’ song stands out for me. Not only because it is catchy but it is used with the most amazing chase sequence I have ever seen in Indian cinema.

M – Manoj Bajpayee: While his character, Sardar Khan dies at the end of the first film, one cannot forget him in this saga.

N – Nawazuddin Siddiqui: He had a tough job laid out for him. Manoj Bajpayee was brilliant in the first film but Nawazuddin as Faizal Khan not only met but exceeded expectations. Faizal thinks he is Amitabh Bachchan but the discovery of him being Shashi Kapoor in real life jolts him – the actor brings this alive brilliantly. Honest film award juries will have a tough time choosing the best actor between Bajpayee and Siddiqui next year.

O – For all the moments in the film that make you go – ‘Oh God!’

P – Perpendicular: What a wonderful character and what a wonderful name! Perpendicular is a star – a fourteen-year-old nuisance that plagues Wasseypur and loves a razor blade in his mouth. Aditya Kumar as Perpendicular is fantastic. And where there is Perpendicular, there is Tangent also. Confused? Mathematics nahi padhe ho kya?

Q – Qureshi: There is only one evil Qureshi left in this film, Sultan (Pankaj Tripathi) who is also less menacing than the last film. But he makes up for the entire clan with one heinous act.

R – Richa Chaddha: Where has an actress of this caliber been hiding till now? If Richa Chaddha was good as Nagma Khatun in the first film, she is better in this one. From the fiery wife of Sardar Khan to a vengeful mother, she ages well on-screen. She is fabulous in a scene where she gets emotional while singing a happy wedding song.

S – Sneha Khanwalkar: Her music takes the film to another level. Apart from ‘Dil Chhi Chha Ledar’, I loved ‘Kaala Re’ that she also gave vocals for; and ‘Taar Bijli’, which is folksy and captures the mood well in its two versions.

T – Tigmanshu Dhulia: He has played the most memorable villain in Bollywood in a long-long time. Ramadhir Singh will be remembered like Shakaal and Mogambo. Dhulia plays the character with élan and makes him believable.

U – Unexpected: The first film trained us to expect us the unexpected but GoW 2 does not cease to surprise. Bollywood music at a funeral; characters acting against what is expected and a lot more unexpected fun is packed in the film.

V – Vineet Kumar: While Nawazuddin Siddiqui gets all the attention; this man as Faizal’s elder brother, Danish Khan shines in the first half an hour of the film. He is the one who makes Faizal Amitabh Bachchan feel like Shashi Kapoor. This actor certainly deserves more good roles.

W – Womaniya – Reemma Sen: Hell has no wrath like a woman scorned.

X – Xtra: Just like the first film, GoW 2 is extra long and could have done with some editing.

Y – Yashpal Sharma: Cameo of the year. Period.

Z – Zeishan Quadri: He has not only the man behind the story of the film but also plays one of the most important characters – Definite. A Salman Khan fan, Definite is an enigmatic gangster, who proves most dangerous to both his allies and enemies.

Gangs of Wasseypur

Revenge is best served on coal…

Pic source: Wikipedia

After watching ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ (GOW) yesterday, a friend tweeted, “go watch, if you have class enough to appreciate crass…” While I am not sure if I agree with her completely, it is certainly a film to watch. Director, Anurag Kashyap’s ambitious saga about coal mafia and revenge, set in Wasseypur / Dhanbad (now in Jharkhand; earlier in Bihar) packs in a lot of punch with its clever writing (Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, Sachin Ladia & Kashyap himself) and performances. Expansive in vision and scale, the GOW saga spans three generations and borrows heavily from real life incidents from pre-independence era to the modern times. (Minor spoilers ahead).

GOW is a story about men obsessed with power and revenge. Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) swears to avenge his father’s death by the hands of coal mine contractor turned politician, Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia). He does not want to kill him but savour the revenge by bringing Singh’s empire to a downfall. On one hand, Khan has Singh to destroy in Dhanbad; he has the Qureshi clan in Wasseypur to fight with as well. Butchers by profession, the Qureshis were responsible for driving out the Pathans (Khans) from Wasseypur in 1941. Not that the Pathans were innocent; Sardar Khan’s father, Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) used to loot the British trains by impersonating the legendary dacoit, Sultana Daku, a Qureshi. The film’s plot is complex and this is just the main premise; there are many characters that keep getting introduced throughout the film. However, the director manages keeps it all together and sustains the interest for about 160-minutes.

Kashyap effectively uses humour and music to keep the film entertaining and not only a blood-fest. The film has powerful dialogues that shock and amuse in equal parts. At one point, Sardar Khan’s wife tells him to eat properly so that he doesn’t embarrass himself by not being able to perform sexually at a brothel; she says something like, “Khana khao, takat aayega, bahar jaa ke be-izzati na karana”. Coming to the women in GOW; Richa Chaddha as Nagma, Khan’s fiery wife steals the thunder from Bajpayee whenever she appears on screen. She loves and hates her man in equal parts but stands by him in all adverse situations. Then there is the other ‘womaniya’, Durga (Reemma Sen); like the men in Wasseypur, she does not have any qualms in claiming what is not rightfully hers. Both actresses deliver impressive performances but Richa’s character draws more empathy. In GOW, Bajpayee gets his career’s best role and he shines; the character he plays is not really positive but the flaws make him more real – someone you support at times and hate at others. Tigmanshu Dhulia makes a powerful debut and has a career in acting apart from filmmaking. The next generation of gangsters is also introduced in the film but most of the action is reserved for them in the second part of the film that is expected to release soon. The person to watch there is Nawazuddin Siddiqui whose character, Faizal seems to have been modeled on Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man on-screen persona in the seventies.

Music (Sneha Khanwalkar; lyrics: Varun Grover, Piyush Misra) is one of the best parts of the film and you often hear unexpected tracks playing in the background (background score: G V Prakash Kumar). The song, ‘Teri keh ke loonga…’ defines the film and its attitude; ‘Womaniya’ and ‘I am a hunter’ are both enjoyable and thankfully none of them disturb the film’s narrative. The only real flaw I could find with the film is its length; however, that can be forgiven if the film is good overall.

I strongly recommend watching Gangs of Wasseypur but those who are averse to violence and blood on screen, may avoid.

 

Shaitan

Hindi cinema is no longer a lesson in moral science…

Pic: Shaitan; Source: Wikipedia

In the seventies, we saw the rise of a Hindi film hero who was anti-establishment and ‘amoral’ (mostly Amitabh Bachchan); but his evil deeds were mostly limited to smuggling of gold or infiltrating the villain’s gang to avenge his father’s murder or his mute sister’s rape. He was never into drugs himself and protected the heroine’s honour with his life. In the nineties, we saw the evil protagonist return with the hero pushing his fiancée off a high rise (Shah Rukh Khan in Baazigar), once again to avenge his father; or the obsessed lover who tries to kill the other guy in order to get the girl (Shah Rukh again in Darr). However, viewers were always given reasons to like the anti-hero with a sad background story… It is only in the new millennium, our filmmakers really started exploring dark themes and the audience started accepting them as well.

New age filmmakers like Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Sriram Raghavan present their characters as flawed human beings who are jealous, greedy, selfish and at times evil as well. Hindi cinema is no longer a moral science lesson where the good triumphs over the bad but is more real or more fantastical where the good co-exists with the bad. This allows directors, especially the new ones to be brave and present innovative and path breaking ideas. Debutante director, Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan also explores something different; it is about the inner evil that over takes all sense and the characters are the victims of their own excesses.

Shaitan is bold, shocking, disturbing and an entertaining thriller… its strength lies in the writers’ (Megha Ramaswamy and Bejoy Nambiar) ability to shock; the principal characters’ vulnerability while they project complete control (great job by all actors); along with the technical finesse. It is a story about five friends who live life on the edge; they trust each other and believe they can do or achieve anything when they are together. They are not go-getters and achievers in the traditional sense but rebels without any cause. Amy (Kalki Koechlin) has not been able to get over her mother’s demise and finds solace or a sense of escape with her new friends in Mumbai; KC (Gulshan Devaiya) is a rich brat who thinks he owns the world and all the women in it; Zubin (Neil Bhopalam) is a geek who is happy to go with what his friends say or do; Tanya (Kirti Kulhari) is bulimic, insecure and dreams about her future with KC; Dash (Shiv Pandit) is the group’s master mind who has nothing to lose but everything to gain from his friends’ insecurities and vulnerability. Things go wrong one day and they need a lot of money to get out of the mess. They plan Amy’s fake kidnapping but things go out of control. An aggressive and sincere cop, Arvind Mathur (Rajeev Khandelwal) gets involved in the whole drama that unfolds in a way that the youngsters had not envisioned.

The film moves at a fast pace apart from the sequences involving Amy’s memories of her mother and Arvind Mathur’s marital discord. While too much focus on Amy’s story distracts from the film’s mood; the scenes between Arvind and his wife are sensitively shot and help empathise with his character. Cinematography by Madhie is outstanding especially a shoot-out sequence in slow motion, set to a remixed version of ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’ in the background. Music by Prashant Pillai, Amar Mohile, Ranjit Barot and Anupam Roy is impactful as it works so well with the film’s narrative. The two remixed tracks, ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’ and ‘Hawa Hawai’ (which appears for only a few seconds) are outstanding. Editing by Sreekar Prasad is also good but the second half could be much tighter.

Overall, Shaitan is a well made film and we have a brilliant new director to applaud. Congratulations, Anurag Kashyap (producer along with Viacom18) for introducing new talent like Bejoy Nambiar and Vikramaditya Motwane (Udaan).

My rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal

Video Courtesy: T-Series

Udaan

Fly High…

Pic: UTV Spotboy; Source: Wikipedia

There are a very few films that stay on your mind for hours, days and even more after you’ve watched them… Debutant director, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan is one such film. Its beauty is in its simplicity and honesty that touches your heart. Udaan wins in each and every aspect but the real winner is the story/screenplay (credit shared by Motwane and the film’s producer, Anurag Kashyap). It is a coming-of-age film, a genre rarely touched upon by Indian filmmakers; a couple of good ones I remember are Wake Up Sid (2009) starring Ranbir Kapoor and Saaheb (1985) starring Anil Kapoor. Udaan was also screened at the Cannes Film Festival this year under the Un Certain Regard category, which is how it got noticed in India and am glad it opened well in cinemas this week.

Udaan is the story of a 17-year-old motherless boy, Rohan (Rajat Barmecha), his dreams and aspirations. The film opens in a boarding school in Simla where Rohan has spent 8 years without anyone visiting him. His friends are his family and the initial few scenes of him breaking school rules with his friends involve you instantly in the story as you connect with Rohan and his friend Muninder (Manjot Singh of Oye Lucky Lucky Oye fame). Rohan is made to return to his father, Bhairav Singh (Ronit Roy) in the industrial town of Jamshedpur. Life changes for Rohan from this point onwards as his dreams of becoming a writer are shot down by his authoritarian father who prefers being addressed as Sir. He is forced to attend an engineering college and work in his father’s steel factory. In Jamshedpur, he also meets his younger step-brother, Arjun (Aayan Boradia) whose existence was not known to him earlier. An abusive relationship with his father, hardships at work and distance from his friends do not limit Rohan’s imagination as he struggles to find his way to break free.

Rajat Barmecha makes a brilliant debut in the film as he brings alive the vulnerability, the hatred, the spirit and the dreams of Rohan’s character on-screen. The little kid, Aayan Boradia is also very good and is able to emote well in all his silent sequences. Hats off to Ronit Roy for taking up a complex character like Bhairav, who you end up hating and also feel sorry for. The casting is perfect (Jogi) and so is the setting (production designer – Aditya Kanwar) that suits the mood of the film. The director is able to bring alive the thinking of a frustrated business man from a small town and contrast it well with a free-spirited youngster. The scenes between Rohan and Bhairav are tense and disturbing at times; imagine a drunken father slapping his son and ridiculing him for being a virgin; he says, “Sex kiye ho… nahin! Ladki saala!” (Have you had sex… no! What a wimp). But mind you, Udaan is not depressing; it is anything but that; it is a film about the triumph of spirit.

Technically also, Udaan is perfect with good cinematography (Mahendra J Shetty) that captures the changing moods through the rains and fine editing (Dipika Kalra). Amit Trivedi’s music is also beautiful, not as popular as his Dev D but a really good soundtrack. Sample these motivating lyrics (Amitabh Bhattacharya) that sum up the film… ‘kahaani khatm hai, ya shuruaat hone ko hai…’ (Is the story coming to an end or is it the beginning…) Go watch Udaan, you won’t regret it…

My rating: * * * * ½ Four and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal