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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Heroine

 

What’s with the tackiness, ‘babes’?

Pic source: Wikipedia

Madhur Bhandarkar made his name with realistic films like Chandni Bar, which got him critical acclaim, and Page 3, which got him both critical and commercial success. He then decided to focus on doing his brand of exposé films like Traffic Signal, Jail and Fashion. He had found a template, which seemed to work for him as well as his actors. However, there is this tackiness that is clearly visible in all his work, with the exception of Chandni Bar. Despite having A-list actresses doing his films and big corporate houses backing them, his films look like B-grade productions. Same is the case with the much talked about Heroine, which is tacky and in some parts, purely down-market.

Heroine traces the journey of a Hindi film star who struggles with the ever-changing power dynamics in the film industry, her limitations as an actor and perils of fame and the lack of it. Kareena Kapoor was possibly the best choice to essay the role of Mahi Arora, a film star full of insecurities. She lights up every scene she appears in and her real life persona of a star rubs off on the film. Her look, designed by Manish Malhotra is another highlight of the film; he makes her look great and from what I read in the papers, spent 10% of the film’s budget on her costumes alone! This possibly explains why the rest of the film looks tawdry and like a college project, put together by amateurs. The dialogues are cringe-worthy and half the film’s characters love calling each other ‘babes’! The gay characters in the film are once again reduced to over-the-top caricatures who either gossip or sleep around. Small time actors are given roles of superstars and big producers; and they all do not fit the bill. There are some interesting characters like Arjun Rampal who plays a superstar and Divya Dutta as a public relations queen (I will not call her a professional). Arjun suits the character as he has the screen presence and Divya acts well as a ruthless ‘brand maker’.  Randeep Hooda as a cricketer is also cast well but who did his hair? Then there are actors like Sanjay Suri, Harsh Chhaya, Lilette Dubey, Shahana Goswami and Ranvir Shorey in two bit roles along with a huge crowd of extras with garish make-up, outfits and over the top performances.

Coming to the story (Madhur Bhandarkar with screenplay by Anuraadha Tewari and Manoj Tyagi), Heroine is a mish mash of gossip that gets published in the entertainment section of newspaper supplements. From a popular 90s’ actress throwing wine on her husband’s ex to a model-turned-actress’ link up with a playboy cricketer; to the chappati counting, stingy wife of a big producer-director; there is enough masala for those who enjoy Bollywood gossip. However, there’s hardly any story apart from a string of these incidents. Mahi Arora, a successful star starts fading in her career and her personal life; she tries to resurrect it and then fails… haven’t we seen all this before?

Music by Salim-Sulaiman is just about ok and nothing that you’d like to play again after the film. Cinematography (Mahesh Limaye) contributes to the B-grade look and feel of the film, which required a lot more brutal editing (Deven Murudeshvar).

Watch Heroine only if you are a Kareena fan or Bhandarkar’s template is acceptable to you, otherwise there is plenty of good stuff in cinemas or on TV.

Cocktail

Neither shaken nor stirred!

Pic source: Wikipedia

Beautiful people in high fashion labels, partying at the most happening places do not make a good film. Unfortunately, the makers of Cocktail think otherwise. The film is dull, boring and predictable; there is neither smart writing nor great performances to engage the audience. Director, Homi Adajania has failed to live up to the high expectations that were set with the slickly cut promos and the dazzling visuals. Unfortunately, the best parts of the film are there in the promos only and one keeps waiting for some more excitement in the film.

**Some spoilers ahead**

The film is written by Imtiaz Ali and Sajid Ali but there is nothing new in the story. Protagonists indulging in casual sex, drinking and partying hard may have been novel ideas for Indian cinema in the last decade but not in 2012. Even from the love triangle point of view, there is nothing new… there are no surprises on who gets the guy – the girl who wears short dresses and drinks or the girl who worships and puts a blanket on her friends when they sleep.  Your guess is as good as the makers’.

Cocktail is about three friends – Veronica (Deepika Padukone), a rich party girl with parent issues; Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), a Casanova from Delhi now in London; and Meera (Diana Penty), a newly-wed girl from India who comes to London to be with her husband (Randeep Hooda), who had only married her for dowry (though he gets her a resident permit in the UK, which she uses quite well!) The writers’ have shown the most amount of creativity in showing how these characters meet – but nothing really seems believable. Anyway, after two-three party sequences, one friendship song and a fancy weekend break in Cape Town (very efficient Visa service in the UK I must say for an impromptu holiday plan); the awesome threesome get in a love triangle (yawn!) From this point onwards you can actually predict the next scene; if you’re going in a group, it can also become a game.

One thing I quite liked about the film and also got a bit miffed with is the styling. Indian Vogue’s Fashion Director, Anaita Shroff Adajania has styled the film and the three lead characters do wear good clothes. Deepika is styled well throughout and carries the look of a London based fashionista quite well. Saif as usual is well turned out and you cannot miss the Burberry jackets and trench; he only needs a little more lip balm. Diana looks pretty and her styling follows her BTM (behenjiturned-mod) story. This is where I have a complaint with Anaita – when Meera lands in London, she has no sense of style and even lesser money; even after she finds a job as a graphic designer, I am assuming she doesn’t earn loads; but the stylist thinks it is ok for her to sport luxury labels – a Tod’s bag for instance.

In the acting department, I am quite impressed with Diana as she has delivered an above-average performance in her first film. I just wasn’t convinced with the way her character shaped up; we are supposed to like her and she is supposed to be the conscientious one but then she does betray her best friend (Tequila shots cannot be blamed for it Mr. Director). Deepika still needs diction lessons but she did go beyond her usual range. Regarding Saif, he was mostly irritating and I mainly blame the character; also he is no longer convincing as a 32-year old! My favourite was Dimple Kapadia as Gautam’s mother who essentially did what Kirron Kher usually does as an aggressive Punjabi lady. Boman Irani was good in his short role and Randeep Hooda was completely wasted.

The film’s music by Pritam is nice and adds a dash of fun (lyrics by Irshad Kamil). I enjoyed ‘Tumhi Ho Bandhu’ (vocals – Neeraj Shridhar & Kavita Seth) and ‘Daaru Desi’ (vocals – Benny Dayal & Shalmali Kholgade) tracks. But my favourite song in the film is not an original one but borrowed from another album; it is ‘Angreji Beat’, sung by Gippy Grewal and Yo Yo Honey Singh. I liked the way they introduced Deepika’s character with this fun song. Cinematography by Anil Mehta is brilliant (as expected); London looks even more inviting through his lens and Cape Town simply gorgeous. Editing by Sreekar Prasad is ho-hum; the film just goes on and on in the second half making you crave for a real cocktail!

Overall, the film leaves you cold and disappointed. This Cocktail is not mixed well; watch it if you don’t mind predictable but good looking stuff.

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster

Oh see, they have a script…

Meet Saheb (Jimmy Sheirgill), a royal who has the status but no money; Chhoti Rani (Mahie Gill), his alcoholic and volatile biwi (wife) and Babloo (Randeep Hooda), a local goon (can’t really call him a gangster) who becomes her driver and later, lover. Tigmanshu Dhulia’sSaheb Biwi Aur Gangster’ lives up to the interesting title and keeps you engaged till the last sequence. In a time where film makers struggle to have a basic plot or present downright stupid stuff, Dhulia’s film has an interesting story (written by Dhulia himself and Sanjay Chouhan) and some interesting dialogue (cheesy at times though). Having said that, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster falls short of being a perfect thriller due to its length.

The film’s strength, as mentioned earlier is its writing; while the story is largely predictable, you enjoy the numerous twists and turns in the screenplay. The other good thing about the film is an interesting cast and all of them justify their roles. Jimmy Sheirgill has great screen presence and his stylist helps him get the perfect royal look and demeanour. He is also an interesting choice to play a raja who has different moral yardsticks for himself and others; you don’t dislike him and yet you do not approve of his actions. Mahie Gill is confident and brings equal amount of madness and vulnerability to the character. And lastly, Randeep Hooda who is the surprise factor in the film; he shows how much he has grown as an actor since his first appearance as an NRI in Monsoon Wedding. He is convincing as a cheeky driver who has other motives on mind. His body language changes basis who he interacts with; he is submissive with Saheb and rogue with Saheb’s Biwi. The supporting cast however disappoints a bit as no one stands out; Deepal Shaw is completely wasted in a character that doesn’t grow.

The film’s music is nothing that you’d remember but the opening track, Jugni (vocals: Babbu Maan; music: Jaidev Kumar) is catchy and has some funny lyrics. The songs, especially the one where Saheb’s mistress is introduced could have been avoided. They do not help the movie but act as speed bumps in the otherwise engaging narrative.  Aseem Mishra’s cinematography is nice and so is the production design; they help set the right mood, which could have been a challenge keeping in mind the setting and the low budget of the film. The editor, Rahul Srivastava could have been a little bit more brutal and kept the film under two-hours to maintain the pace. Overall, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster is an interesting one time watch if you’re willing to forgive some silly things here and there.

My rating: * * * Three on five

– Shrey Khetarpal