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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No One Killed Jessica

 

 

Pic source: UTV Spotboy

Power… this one thing that is more abused in our country than it is used for what it’s meant for. From politicians to traffic cops to telephone linemen to the relatives of a bureaucrat; everybody is somebody in our country. The film, No One Killed Jessica opens with the same thought, albeit about the city of Delhi. Delhi, where no one killed Jessica Lall and no one killed Aarushi Talwar. Is it the city or is it the people or is it the system? Director, Raj Kumar Gupta’s second film after the very well made Aamir (2008) tries to ask the same question. No One Killed Jessica is a great attempt at making a hard hitting and brave film based on a real life incident that shook the nation’s conscience. I say a great attempt as the film makes a point but beyond the emotion, it falls short of achieving cinematic excellence.

The film opens with a spectacular credits sequence with the sensational ‘Dilli Dilli…’ track that sets the tone of the film. In fact, the music by Amit Trivedi with Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics is the film’s one of the biggest strengths. Talking about strengths, the film’s leading ladies, Vidya Balan and Rani Mukerji shine as Sabrina Lall and Meera Gaity, a journalist with striking similarities to NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, respectively. The first half of the film belongs to Vidya who sensitively portrays a girl in her twenties who is vulnerable and at the same time determined to get justice for her sister’s murder. Rani makes a powerful comeback with a fiery character and once again shows what a powerhouse of talent she is. I only wish that she was made to scream a little less.  Rajesh Sharma as the chief investigative officer on the Jessica Lall murder case also deserves a special mention; he is believable as a frustrated cop.

With a powerful subject, good performances and a superb soundtrack, No One Killed Jessica could have been an outstanding film. However, the film is not consistent and has its fabulous and dull moments. The film really moves you but also drags in parts; some of the court sequences actually make you cringe due to the way they are shot with extreme close-ups. The film could have been fifteen minutes shorter for a much more impactful narrative (screenplay – Raj Kumar Gupta; editing – Aarti Bajaj). Having said that, hats off to the director and the producers, UTV Spotboy for making a relevant film like this. It is the right time for Hindi cinema to experiment and present real or realistic stories on screen; no matter if it doesn’t have a hero, people will come to watch as I saw today in a packed theatre. I recommend watching No One Killed Jessica once for the subject matter and the great performances by the cast.

My rating: * * * Three stars on five

A note for fellow film lovers: If you are tired of film awards that are not merit based, it is time to take the decision in your hands. Presenting the Tweeple Film Awards! Truly democratic awards that are ‘Of the People’, ‘By the People’ and ‘For the People’, to honour the most deserving in Hindi Cinema 2010. It’s a movement started by film buffs on Twitter to counter the nonsense that ‘Bollywood’ film awards are.

Follow Tweeple Film Awards on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/twi_fi_awards and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/twifiawards. You can also email on twifiawards@gmail.com


Bollywood Wishlist

 

Expectations from the Hindi Film Industry in the next decade

Tabu in The Namesake

A lot has changed in Bollywood in the last decade and most of it for good. While bad films continued to pour in like a plague, there were many innovations and experiments that took the ‘industry’ to the next level…

Good writing finally gained the importance it deserves; casting started happening according to the characters and not based on the star power, and of course the technical improvements; Bollywood flicks covered a lot of ground in the last ten years. Specifically in 2010, the industry woke up to the power of small films that shadowed the biggies and hope this trend continues where content is the king. However, with so many improvements, there are still some irritants that we can do without.

Here’s my wish-list for Bollywood in the next decade:

Better roles for better actors: There are many good actors but a lot of times they do not get the right roles to play due to silly factors like star camps, favoritism and the actors’ own choices. Case in point Rani Mukherji, a supremely talented actress who did not get any powerful roles post 2005 when she was seen in Black, Bunty aur Babli and Paheli. Hopefully No One Killed Jessica works for her and she gets better films than the Hadippas andChunari Ka Daags of the world.

Similarly for Amitabh Bachchan, it is time that he only takes up quality work and avoids films like Teen Patti, Aladinand God Tussi Great Ho. Another fine actress, Tabu deserves better roles; her performances in Maqbool, Cheeni Kum and Chandni Bar were outstanding and with The Namesake, she garnered international acclaim. She has been signed on by none other than Ang Lee for his ambitious 3D project, Life of Pi; let’s hope that Bollywood also wakes up again to her talent.

Click here to read full post that appeared on nowrunning.com on January 3.

 

Romance On Screen

 

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset
and some of the best celluloid romances

Before Sunrise; Picture Courtesy: www.movieposter.com

Before Sunrise; Picture Courtesy: http://www.movieposter.com

I watched two beautiful films today, Before Sunrise (1995) and its sequel, Before Sunset (2004) starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. ‘Before Sunrise’ is about an American guy, Jesse (Hawke) and a French girl, Celine (Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe. They decide to spend an evening together, exploring the city (Vienna) before going their own ways in the morning. As they spend time together, talking to each other about things ranging from the gender war, sex, family, ex-boyfriend/girlfriend and more, they fall in love. However, they realise that they have different lives in different parts of the world and only have that one evening to spend together. They do not want to end what they have started and promise to see each other after six months at the same place, the train station. That is how the film ends and it is up to the viewer to decide whether they meet or not. There are only these two characters and the whole film is about the conversations they have. That is where the brilliance of the film lays, the script (Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan) and the effortless acting by the lead pair. You almost believe that these are two people who have just met and you get to know them better as each scene unfolds.

Director, Richard Linklater returns with the sequel, ‘Before Sunset’ with the same mood that the first film had set, nine years earlier (Delpy and Hawke share the writing credits with Linklater in this one). Set in Paris this time, Jesse and Celine meet again and as earlier, they have a few hours before Jesse returns to America. The film retains the freshness of the first one with an equally engaging screenplay. I strongly recommend both these films to all, even those who are not big fans of romantic films.

On the topic of celluloid romance, let me list down some fine romantic films both in Hollywood and Bollywood (fairly recent ones)…

Pic: WikipediaPic: movieposter.com
pics: movieposter.com

As Good As It Gets  (1997) – It is a comedy and a romance but not like any other rom-coms that Hollywood produces. A homophobic-racist-OCD suffering novelist, a waitress who is a single mother, a gay artist and a dog… this is a weird film. Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear give performances that light up the screen. I have only one word to describe this film: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Shakespeare In Love (1998) – Was Shakespeare in love when he wrote Romeo & Juliet? Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as his muse are a delight to watch. Judi Dench, Ben Affleck, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush form a brilliant supporting cast.

Pic: movieposter.com

pic: movieposter.com

Love Story (1970) – Ok, this film is not that new but it inspired many more romantic movies, especially in India. Rich boy (Ryan O’Neal) meets poor girl (Ali MacGraw), they fall in love and marry against his parents’ wishes… the girl dies of leukemia. One of most romantic and tragic films, it is scripted by Erich Segal who wrote his best-selling novel of the same name while the film was being made. Francis Lai’s background score is simply outstanding.

Dirty Dancing (1987) – A girl-meets-boy story with dance as the backdrop… Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze star in this stellar film with a fantastic background score (remember the song, ‘Time of my life’) and dance sequences.  

Pretty Woman (1990) – Ladies and gentlemen… presenting Julia Roberts. By the way, Richard Gere was also there. Everything about this film is iconic… this is the baap of so-called ‘chick flicks’.

Pic: movieposter.com  

pics: movieposter.com

Pride and Prejudice (1995) – Not the one starring Keira Knightley, actually I am not talking about the film. I am talking about BBC’s short series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. With six hour-long episodes, the series does full justice to Jane Austen’s most famous novel. The tension between Darcy and Lizzy, the witty exchanges and the feel of that era is very well captured here. CD / DVD sets are easily available at all leading music/film stores.

Pic: bbc.co.uk
Pride and Prejudice; Pic: bbc.co.uk

Lamhe (1991) – This film is the reason behind me writing this blog. I watched it first when I was just eight years old. I loved the colours, the funny portions in the second half set in London; as I grew up and watched it again and again, I understood the film and the emotions. This is probably Yash Chopra’s finest film till date and also one of the biggest commercial flops of his career. While it failed in India, Lamhe worked extremely well in the UK and other overseas market. Written by Honey Irani, the film has career best performances by Sridevi and Anil Kapoor. The film is about unexpressed love and has a complicated plot involving a girl who loves a much older man, who was in love with her mother. The film was even labeled incestuous at the time of its release. 

Pic: planetbollywood.com

Lamhe; pic: planetbollywood.com

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) – Jesse aka Ethan Hawke met Celine aka Julie Delpy on a Eurorail journey in Before Sunrise; in the same year Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) met Simran (Kajol) on a Eurorail trip again. Aditya Chopra’s DDLJ changed the way Bollywood made films… NRIs came into focus and Indian values were in vogue again. Simran wanted to elope with Raj and her mother was more than willing to help; Raj on the other hand wanted her father’s blessings…  

DDLJ; Pic: planetbollywood.com

DDLJ; pic: planetbollywood.com

Hum Tum (2004) – When Harry Met Sally meets Before Sunrise meets Before Sunset… there is not much original about the film apart from the chemistry between the lead pair. Rani Mukherjee dominates every frame in which she appears, sidelining Saif Ali Khan who also does a good job. It is probably the first Hindi film where the heroine does not think that pre-marital sex is a good enough reason to get married.

Hum Tum; Pic: planetbollywood.com

Hum Tum; pic: planetbollywood.com

Saathiya (2002) – What happens when Mani Ratnam (Producer, Screenplay), Yash Chopra (Producer), A R Rahman (Music), Gulzar (Lyrics, Dialogues), Anil Mehta (Cinematography) and Rani Mukherjee get together for a film? Saathiya takes an intimate and realistic look at a young married couple’s life. First time director, Shaad Ali did a great job and so did the lead pair, Rani and Vivek Oberoi.

Saathiya; Pic: planetbollywood.com

Saathiya; pic: planetbollywood.com

Silsila (1981) – Another Yash Chopra romance that failed to set the cash registers ringing. Just like Lamhe, it is one of his finest works. Amitabh Bachchan is married to Jaya Bachchan and Rekha is married to Sanjeev Kumar; yet sparks fly between Rekha and Amitabh. Fact and fiction merged with this extra marital affair saga. As a nation are we not ready to see infidelity on screen? Both Silsila and Karan Johar’s recent Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna faced criticism due to the same reason.

Silsila; Pic: planetbollywood.com

Silsila; pic: planetbollywood.com

These are some of my favourite romantic flicks. Interestingly all Hindi ones have come out from the same production house, Yash Raj Films. Some of the other romantic movies I like include Notting Hill (1999), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Titanic (1997), Chandni (1989; Yash Raj again), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Saawariya (2007), amongst others. Do share what you think about these films and any others that you think fit the list.

– Shrey Khetarpal