Talking Movies

Talking Movies
Talking movies

Tuesday, 6 February 2018


“….binte dil misriya mein

(the girl of heart is in Egypt.)

pesh hai kul shabaab
khidmat-e-aali janaab
aatish-kada adaaon se
aatish-kada adaaon se
jal uThega aapke
deeda-e-tar ka hijaab

( you'll forget all your sorrow under the effect of my beauty.)

….binte dil misriya mein

binte dil misriya mein…”

In this beautiful song, with an Arabic tune, a lover attempts to express his own love in a quest to draw the attention to the present moment of unspoken passion. Only, in this case, the singer is a man opening his heart to another man lost and blinded in his own lust for a woman whose beauty he has not glimpsed but only imagined. So lost is this man, that he barely hears the pain and the longing of his slave. Instead he starts swaying in lunatic joy, sprawled in his huge bathtub.

The tragic notes of the song, completely disappear in the sudden, Eastern  Opera turned comic show. Much reminiscient of Shah Rukh Khan’s Devdas mourning his father’s death, alone in the Ganges, performing his own shraadh, pouring alcohol over himself as he drowns himself in his sorrow, literally. Only, the entire scene starting off on the highly dramatic note of him bemoaning his losses while sprawled drunk on a boat, coming to a crescendo as he wades into the water; works not because of Devdas and his alcohol dipped lines but because of his loyal man servant’s sobbing reactions.

Likewise, in ‘Padmaavat’, we see more longing and pathos in Alauddin Khilji’s slave, Malik Kafur ’s declaration of unabashed love in this Arabic tune ballad, written by A M Turaz and sung beautifully by Arijit Singh. So powerful is Jim Sarbh’s performance in this rather challenging part of a homosexual who can be as cruel as he is devoted, that the rest of the characters and the movie based on the victory of duty and honour over extreme evil and lust, seem like mere loosely flying music notes in the air: a distant background score.

And that’s where the director, Sanjy Leela Bhansali fails. Bhansali is quite like that lost man- the evil Alauddin Khilji. Khilji is so blinded by his own madness for conquest, be it Chittor or the beautiful queen of Chittor, that he fails to see the impossibility of a sheer fantasy he has never as much as glimpsed. Just like Khilji, Bhansali too,  is sunk too deep in his imaginative over indulgence of the senses.

He falls in his own trap of creating a storm much like the constant, majestic visuals of the sand storms and clouds of dust covering entire celluloid frames for long seconds; and forgetting the real saga underneath. He is magical at weaving threads into gorgeous vermilion silk chunris draping a screen full of women swirling to the lovely folk tunes of “Ghoomar” or bravely marching, in throngs of bright red, towards a scorching fire. The blinding colours, the beauty of shining pearls and the ever present chandeliers, the sound of bangles and anklets, the sight of a lithe fairy like princess chasing a deer, bow and arrow in hand; are straight out of the Bhansali wonderland of perfectly created sets where fortress walls form a magnificent landscape of conflict and challenge. We don’t just have stunningly choreographed songs but also every sequence is a carefully choreographed mini theatrical drama leading a to a long, orchestrated climax which leaves you at once full of awe.

Yet, completely unmoved.

How is it even possible that melodious song compositions like “Ek dil hai, ek jaan hain..”          in Padmaavat or “Tera zikr hai …” in Guzzarish, both composed by Bhansali, end up as mere beautiful notes without soul? So intent and obsessed is Bhansali, on creating a visual spectacle out of climax sequences like the palatial gates closing in Devdas as Aishwarya’s Paro runs in wild pathos, and the soundtrack “ta nom tara dehere na…” plays out the tragic notes, that he loses the sight and more importantly the ‘feel’ of that particular moment?

In ‘Padmavati’, the beginning has a still painting, with a very somber note of “Rani sa” track playing. Bhansali’s careful opera and choreography is mounted beautifully here onwards, but loses its impact by the time it strikes the crescendo in the climax. While we see the brave women marching towards their act of Jauhar and the glorious Deepika Padukone in all her refinery, her head held high, carrying her husband’s hand prints on a white cloth like a kafan; we don’t really see the love or even chemistry between the king and the queen. Dramatic lines are exchanged between the two, their eyes shining as much as their glittering ornaments. But none translate into deep, abiding love.

After all, the focus remains the villain of the cinematic ouvre—the two plaited Khilji who wears his two scars below his left eye, like medals. Khilji’s evilness, so vile and foul, straight out of childrens’ comic books, may not be new or even multilayered. But there is great potential in his story of lust that brings this love story to dust and ashes. That is the story that fascinates more, much like the perverse gluttony of senses. Bizaarely, this monster who bites into meat like an animal that he is, suddenly exhibits shades of human when he asks his slave if there is a line indicating ‘ mohabbat’ fate in his palms dirtied with blood all these years. Perhaps, Bhansali should have titled this film, “Khilji” and it might have made sense.

Unbelievable moments like these, empty dialogues galore, about a Rajput’s valour and ridiculous sights of a headless Rajput soldier continuing to fight with his sword; try to fill up the sound and imagery on this Bhansali canvas overcrowded with costume extravaganza. What’s missing is a script that needed to be filled first with a story about a brave king, a queen whose fabled beauty invited an evil invader to bring about a tragic death by fire.

And that is Bhansali’s epic failure to capture the essence of Sufi poet, Jayasi’s work. A three hour work of choreography, a song without soul, an opera reduced to a tamasha that is preceded by Karni Sena drama involving a nose and followed by a more ridiculous, attention seeking furore involving a vagina.

Irrfan Khan's Yogi in Qarib Qarib Singlle is quite the unsuitable boy; or is he?

The best moments in Qarib Qarib Singlle come courtesy small gestures by the characters. Like the one when Yogi (Irrfan Khan) instinctively opens a cab door for the driver who is about to do the same for Yogi, the passenger. The moment does not end there: a long romantic scene between Yogi and his co-passenger, Jaya (Parvathy; utterly sweet) follows, with the cab driver as an unobtrusive witness. You forget all about this minor character as you get absorbed in the sensual mood building up between the romantic leads – until later, when the cab driver gives a piece of wisdom to Yogi. In appreciation, Yogi slips him something precious as an exchange. It’s not a tip. It’s a plot point.

Such moments are not new, especially in the romance genre. One of my favourite similar exchanges is between Richard Gere and the hotel manager in Pretty Woman, which leads to Gere’s ultimate realisation that he’s in love with Julia Roberts’ character. QQS makes these moments special because there are no long camera holds to underline any significant depth. They simply breeze along like the character — Yogi himself.

Yogi is one of the best characters to be written in Indian coming-of-age romances in recent times. He is not young like Sid in Wake Up Sid. Thankfully. He is a mature 40-year-old, and unabashedly annoying. When you see him first, he is perspiring, and sporting a garish red jacket. This is how we (and Jaya on her first date with Yogi) see him. Perfect rejection material, you would think. Next he throws up a lame wisecrack: “Do latte lana...laatein nahin!” He shakes with laughter at his own joke while Jaya stares back, unamused. By the time the coffee date is over, you and of course, Jaya, are interested enough to want another date. And irrationally enough, even go to Gangtok with him.

You see, he has two irresistible traits. One is that he is a poet and wit, candour, charm and sharp observations simply pour out of him. In contrast, Jaya, always wary, speaks little. When she starts texting on her phone, he points out: “Zabaan kum bolti hai lekin ungliyan tez chalti hain!” Two, he’s a through gentleman, helping Jaya shake off the creeps she’s met on the same dating site as Yogi. Now, here’s the interesting part: Yogi is no knight in shining red jacket, out to rescue a damsel. This is more of a ploy to get his date to trust him. Jaya catches on and asks him: “You’re not a stalker, are you?”

No, but he is the good old-fashioned guy who pursues with you with words and his life experiences. The kind of guy who thinks poetry isn’t for a Facebook status to get 1,000 likes, but to make it to a book that will be savoured by a reader. That makes you sigh  for the magic of words, for honest conversations, for eyes that speak – just as Yogi’s do, when he stares into Jaya’s bespectacled eyes, ignoring an incessantly ringing phone.

When a seemingly harmless scene revolving around pakodas ends up becoming a serious, contentious one, you realise that it is mundane matters like these, not the candle-lit dinners and song-and-dance sequences that make Qarib Qarib Singlle stand out as a gem in the romance genre in Hindi cinema.

In this fine and deliberately meandering road film made by Tanuja Chandra, and co- written with brilliant dialogues by Gazal Dhaliwal, the hero may wax eloquent in poetry but he is also full of himself. And he snores. This character is qarib qarib annoying, but bilkul bilkul adorable.

Published Date: Nov 12, 2017 ?

Daddy: Arjun Rampal gives his heart, body and nose to the film, but is let down by Ashim Ahluwalia

The first time you see him, it’s through a glass wall. Light tinted, slightly oversized sunglasses  and a small, neat moustache embellish the face, carefully half hidden in profile. He hasn’t spoken and you don’t take much notice of him except as a big gangster, Maqsood (read Dawood). He is, apparently, a man of some importance. We know this because he has a sidekick who addresses him as “Bhai”.

The second time you see him, he is seated in a car. He is dressed in a printed silk shirt. His hair is long and thick and the camera is close enough to see his eyes through those light gold shades. And then he speaks. The unmistakable grainy voice belongs to Farhan Akhtar. The hitherto dull and dim lit screen, suddenly lights up. The rest of the long hour and a half, you wait for the next glimpse of Bhai.

Oh, but isn’t this film about Arun Gawli, the gangster who became known as DaddyUnfortunately, yes. It is also a film that attempts to walk the thin line between the real and commercial cinema. But how real can a movie be, without it being a documentary?

In the previous scene with Bhai, the men, sort of huddled outside, are being given an important assignment. One of them dares to enquire about the payment. He is Arun Gawli, a small time goon from Dagdi Chawl in Mumbai’s Byculla area.

If Farhan Akhtar is unrecognizable, with the perfect detailing of the underworld man from the eighties; Arjun Rampal as Arun Gawli fondly called Daddy, is equally nondescript behind the prosthetic big nose and long hair. Utmost care has been taken to recreate the real world of a man whose humble beginnings in the 70s and 80s are traced to a place called Dagdi Chawl.

The old staircases, the crowded, long balconies, the small rooms with faded, cracked paint and weak, wooden doors — are painstakingly lit with dim light to show a world as dark as Gawli is made to be. This is that Mumbai chawl  where he woos a Muslim girl across the balcony and eventually marries her. This is the unsafe place which he builds into a mini fortress, armed with his faithful men and guns. This is where crossfires are exchanged every time the cops come to get him. This is the hideout where he religiously prays to his God — Shiv Shambho.

This is the home where he holds his baby and a gun with one hand and a toy rattle with another.
The latter, particular image should ideally evoke some strong, mixed emotions.  But it doesn’t. In fact, the film, does not stir up any emotion, whatsoever.
Daddy has been positioned as a ‘real’ film with ‘commercial’ value given by Arjun Rampal’s name. But this faithfulness to the realistic feel, ends up overlooking the required drama and entertainment in films, which go beyond repeated shootouts. The silk shirts and the bell bottom pants also need some flesh, blood and soul, just like a simple Dagdi Chawl-made vada pauneeds its dry garlic, and red, hot chutney.
Rampal’s Gawli says “ikde ye” quite comfortably but does not engage you with a real conversation after that.

The matter of fact tone is as dull as the Wikipedia page which informs you of as much as you see in the movie. The story had sufficient meat in the way three men — Baba (Anand), Ramu (Rajesh) and Arun (Arjun) — formed the BRA gang and their eventual journey. However, you never really get to know who they were as people or friends.
None of the fantastic detailing to recapture the '80s matters. The flat dialogues make the pace  and the tone feel so stretched that the songs provide a welcome break. Particularly, an item number that reminds one of Parveen Babi in a gold, shimmery costume and of the popular disco beat.

Arjun Rampal seems to have given his heart, mind, body, soul and ‘nose’ to this film as actor, co-writer and producer. Hence, it’s disappointing to see it all ruined by director Ashim Ahulwalia who is obsessed with art direction and the costume department. The setting and sepia tones take precedence over the screenplay and the character.
This is not so surprising, considering his debut film — the Nawazuddin-starrer Miss Lovely — which drew some attention during film festivals but failed when released in theatres.

Rampal in Daddy, is like Aishwarya Rai in Sarbjit. Both are fighting their immense good looks and their image, with heartfelt sincerity. Rampal gives a satisfactory, restrained performance in Daddy but he needed better scenes, especially with the ineffective and badly miscast Nishikant Kamat who plays Inspector Vijaykar.

Daddy could have been like Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya but ends up as fake as Farhan’s character name, Maqsood, in its guise to be real. Was Dawood singing in their ears — “main hoon kaun…main hoon, main hoon... DON”?

Babumoshai Bandookbaaz proves Nawazuddin Siddiqui is best suited to be a foil, not a star

Nawazuddin Siddiqui has mentioned in his interviews that he watched James Bond movies to get into his character for the film Babumoshai Bandookbaaz. After sitting through the absolutely meaningless film, you wonder just where does the similarity lies. Certainly not in the trigger-happy gun in his hand — that bit is Gangs of Wasseypur part three. Perhaps, it’s those steamy scenes with the actresses, who are more smoking hot than the gun — Bidita Bag and Shraddha Das — and there are plenty of those. Not that they match for the kissing scenes in James Bond films, which proved to be too hot to handle for Pahlaj Nihalani in the last installment of the franchise.

But then, who goes for a Nawazuddin movie for the steamy scenes, vulgar language and violence? Ever since Nawazuddin played the title role in Manjhi - The Mountain Man in 2015, he has been given heavyweight films to carry all by himself on his talented shoulders. Babumoshai Bandookbaaz (the title is as pretentious as the film) is his third such film after Raman Raghav 2.0and Haraamkhor.

Are these script choices, along with the forgettable Munna Michael, really good enough for Nawazuddin?
Raman Raghav 2.0 may fall into the same category of cinema that has previously explored his ability to play characters with a dark side, and had some shades of the sunglasses-wearing, confident romancer in Gangs of Wasseypur. However, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, directed by Kushan Nandy, is obsessed with copying the mindless killings of Gangs rather than providing a cohesive story.

Every character in the film, including the women, is more unscrupulous than the next. Nawazuddin plays Babu, a contract killer. He finds himself pitted against a younger contract killer, Banke (Jatin Goswami), who is assigned to kill the same targets.
Lust is as prevalent as gunpowder dust in these hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh. Whether it the wife of a local politician who flirts away at parties before the amused eyes of her husband, or Banke’s girlfriend (Shraddha Das) who is Babu’s raunchy wife, Fulwa (Bidita Bag) or Jiji (Divya Dutta) who dirty-talks and is ready to do it in the fields, the women are as one-dimensional and dark as the men. The only redeeming character is the cop with a dozen children, played with natural ease by the pleasant looking Bhagwan Tiwari.
Surrounded by these characters, Nawazuddin is always in his element. However, his performance in the film does not match up to his portrayal of the ever-pleasing subordinate in Lunch Box or the sincere but comical Pakistani journalist Chand Nawab in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It does not come close to his shameless baddie in Badlapur, his hard-nosed cop in Raees, or even his funny detective, who would constantly banter Sridevi in Mom.

Nawazuddin is no doubt one of the actors who is best equipped to can carry a film on his shoulders without the star baggage. This is an actor who can prove his worth with just a two-minute long scene, such as his appearance in New York.  The scene where he describes his torture at the hands of the Americans owes its poignancy not to the dialogues, but to Nawazuddin's slight pauses and the pain in his eyes, which was not limited to tears alone. Of noteworthy mention is also the small part he played in Peepli Live; his portrayal of a journalist is far more memorable than an entire two-hour long film like Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, filled aimlessly with bullets and sex.

In this story of rampant treachery, it is Nawazuddin the actor who suffers the biggest betrayal. His real strength lies in his give-and-take with his co-actors on screen. There is something more magnetic about him when he shares the frame with Irrfan Khan, Shah Rukh or Sridevi. His humour seems more improvised than scripted, and hence, raw and delightful. For example, the way he reacts to a painting or the way he sings the Shammi Kapoor song'Chaahe Mujhe Koi Junglee Kahe' in Mom. In Lunchbox, he could have easily outweighed Irrfan’s presence, but he remained controlled and was thus the perfect foil for Irrfan. This is also true of him with Shahrukh in Raees, every time they shared the frame. The pleasure of watching Nawazuddin simply reacting to moments with a touch of that characteristic eccentricity doubles in the presence of another prominent actor.

Jagga Jasoos: The fantastical madness to Anurag Basu and Ranbir Kapoor's methods

Jagga Jasoos could easily be India’s Harry Potter-meets-Tintin’s -‘hair raising’-adventures. When Jagga was a little boy, he lost his parents, spent long, lonely years in a boarding school and waited every year for his birthday when a videocassette would arrive from his mysteriously missing foster father. Like Potter, in his growing years, he wears big, round glasses, and says very little. He stammers out a few words and is the cleverest child, who solves cases that revolve around murders, a teacher called Miss Mala and giant clock towers. Like Tintin, he wears his hair in a quiff. A very brief silhouette shot of just the back of his head, with the hair up against a porthole on a ship, is the memorable image from Ravi Varman’s stunning cinematography and an instant throwback tribute to the gentlest of comic book heroes. The magic here lies with Jagga’s creator— writer and director Anurag Basu, and the actor who slips easily into the trickiest of characters—Ranbir Kapoor.

The duo worked together previously in Barfi, with Basu marvelously directing Kapoor's Chaplinesque acts. Basu had a field day, enjoying the visual brilliance he was creating (in his early days, he started out with a course in cinematography at FTII) while using Ranbir’s characterisation of a dumb and deaf boy to tell a story that relies more on images than words. Now, the two go further and take another leap of imagination, combining their talents and several genres of filmmaking. Kapoor’s character in Jagga Jasoos stammers, hence he sings to communicate. And this, of course, provides an opportunity for a musical form of story telling.

Kapoor’s choice of scripts have not followed the beaten path of commercial cinema, whether it Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha or Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet,or Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, a film he did early on in his career. Both Barfi and Jagga Jasoos have showcased his talent like none other. His outstanding performance clearly reveals his complete faith in Basu. The two, together, dare to take the risk of exploring a vividly rich, cinematic landscape beyond imagination, and the result is a heady and ambitious work of passion, full of courage and conviction.

Jagga Jasoos exudes a wonderful warmth, a child-like joy. It brings back the memories of comic book heroes, and has a fresh innocence in its Broadway format of storytelling, made most endearing with Pritam's music and Amitabh Bhattacharya's lyrics. Bhattacharya and Pritam provide Basu with just the right words and notes, the humour and the mood switch, the fun and the crazy tone. If Basu’s last film Barfi depicted romantic love at its purest, Jagga Jasoos is a further extension of this endeavour, which embraces the world of children’s fantasy, spins a beautifully narrated emotional tale of a father (a brilliant Saswata Chatterjee, better known as Bob Biswas from Kahaani) and son and simply goes wild, juggling several genres at the same time. The story plays out in various beats, from musical to drama to romance to fantasy to action, and ends at a fabulous note that leaves you waiting for the next thrilling adventure, which promises a lot more insanity.

n this ‘Disney’-land, characters perform quirky dance routines choreographed by Shiamak Davar and unbelievable slapstick action scenes. We are taken through the best joyride of the year involving old-school planes, giraffes swaying, elephants trumpeting, and of course, the charming Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif frolicking through it all, atop ostriches and trains and rafts. Needless to say, it is a Disney Pictures offering.
The madness extends to passing off 34-year-old Ranbir Kapoor as a schoolboy, and his acting will convince you more than the uniform he dons. Animals of all shapes and sizes appear out of nowhere, and transport you into another make-believe world. And oh, there is a 'red circle' theory of destiny weaved in, along with a real-life incident of arms drop in Purulia in the mid-90s, leading to mysterious caves and encounters with even more mysterious two-headed villains.

As if the craziness here is still not enough, at one point, the characters burst into the unlikeliest of choruses, which is the finest moment of the film as a musical. Ridiculously simple lyrics like  "Sab khana khaa ke, daaru peeke chale gaye…” tell a whimsical story of their own. Therein lies Pritam's method to the cinematic madness of Anurag Basu and Ranbir Kapoor. There is no choice but for the heart to sing along and fall in love with their movies.

Published Date: Jul 18, 2017 /

MOM is unabashedly a Sridevi show: Is this the shining beacon for middle-aged actresses?

An ominous background score and a long aerial shot of a black SUV gliding on a deserted, dark street at night — these are the only two audio-visual elements used to convey the chilling horror of a brutal gang rape in MOM.

This is the audio-visual medium (A.R. Rahman and Anay Goswami) at its best, under the skilled hands of debut director, Ravi Udyawar. No victim cries, no details, just a persistent, unforgettable background score that make the heart leap in fear. There is nothing more powerful than a viewer’s imagination.

The director clearly knows this but immediately forgets it, the moment the camera rests on the lovely, luminous eyed Sridevi.

As soon as Sridevi takes centre stage, all hell breaks loose (in a good way) — for the histrionics at display and for the audience who is hooked and hypnotised by that trembling accented voice and the easy switching of emotions from the vulnerable mother to the determined, steely person who takes revenge.

MOM is unabashedly a Sridevi show, 148 minutes long.

There is much to be applauded in the film. Here is a 53-year-old leading actress doing what Amitabh Bachchan once excelled at — playing the angry, tormented hero who is out to get the baddies.

"Aa gayi uski maa," she whispers and growls to one of the antagonists in a chilling scene of revenge. Ah, the delicious satisfaction of sweet ‘apple seed’ revenge! (there is an entire sequence with apple seeds). It’s fascinating how the apple has been used in story telling through the ages, be it with Adam and Eve, or in Snow White, or in this case with MOM.
A woman can do much more, with a kitchen knife and a mixer blade, than a cop with his uniform and gun — this is the takeaway from MOM.

This really hits home when you realise Sridevi's graph. She has transformed herself from the famous Yash Raj, white-costumed Chandni, who charmed with her sing-song baby voice, to the blue saree-clad sensual dancer in “Kaate nahin katte din ye raat” in Mr India, to a 360 degree turnaround as a middle aged, non-glamorous mother matching Nawazuddin’s humour and Akshay Kumar’s sarcasm. And what a transformation it has been.
Suddenly, Bollywood shines bright with hope for the heroine over 50.
With her brilliant talent gleaming through her face (she is even more beautiful with slight age lines),  Sridevi is a far more a riveting watch than a shirtless Salman Khan with his 6 plus packs or the quintessential middle aged Hindi film hero, who refuses to grow up.
But does this justify a talented star, 300 films old now, being treated bigger than the subject? When will a filmmaker respect the story more than the actor? Both Udyawar and Rahul Dholakia (Raees), seem to be better than most other overrated directors from the current lot. However, they seem to prefer catering to the age-old stardom and paisa vasool dialogue baazi in their films.

It certainly worked, going by the number of times the more cliché-savvy members of the media clapped at the press show of Mom.

However, some questions were left unanswered in the film. Who are these rapists? Surely, they are more than rich, spoilt brats and goons with shaved heads and a Shakti Kapoor grin? Simply giving Nawazuddin big teeth and a semi bald look is not enough to add layers to his character as a detective. Why does Akshay Khanna as a cop still arrive too late on a crime scene? More importantly, why don’t we see more of him in the film, considering he is as compelling as Sridevi in every frame, with or without her?

MOM is a well-stylised movie that can easily grip a viewer for two hours. When told with the larger purpose of finding emotional depth in the victim’s life, a film can go beyond its stipulated time. Rang De Basanti is probably the only film that addressed a national issue with as much drama and yet left behind some thought provoking debates for long.
MOM could have been the same, but it doesn't end up, eventually.
A woman’s safety is an issue far more urgent and compelling than the box office and stardom. It gets more dangerous when a film allows the magnetism of an actor to overshadow the deeper horrors of rape.
The 80s revenge drama trope has its thrills but in 2017, we need to go beyond and dig deeper into the loopholes of justice. And the solution does not lie in apple seeds and Sridevi’s anguished eyes alone. Not in the name of rape.

Published Date: Jul 08, 2017 08:42 AM |

Rangoon's real star? Saif Ali Khan's Russi Billimoria is the film's most memorable character

The year is 1943, and World War II is raging fiercely. In these times, live three Indians, each captive to political circumstances.

One among them is his rich, powerful father’s puppet. His name is Russi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan), a suave Parsi producer whose earlier glory days as an action hero come to an untimely end in an accident. His magnificence presence becomes evident when the camera in his movie studio zooms gently upwards, as if to show us all of his pomposity. He zips up his black gloved hand (a mechanical one to replace the one he lost in the accident) with such aplomb that you cannot help but know — it is he who wields the whip that is an iconic prop in his heroine’s hands.

His heroine is Julia (Kangana Ranaut) — the masses’ darling; she cracks her whip, sings, dances, risks her neck by leaping onto chandeliers. But when Russi asks her to jump, Julia asks how high. When he pats his thigh and beckons for her to be seated, calling her ‘Hey Kiddo’, she obeys.

Julia is Russi’s ‘slave’ — bought by him for Rs 1000 when she is only 14. He moulds her identity; as she puts it, in a voice reminiscent of Meena Kumari: “Tum kaho to Miss Julia, tum kaho tab Mrs Billimoria.” When she makes the statement, Russi merely gives her a sharp glance, and comments that she’s grown up. Up to this moment, their past has only been mentioned in a funny, roundabout way when Julia shares her personal history with a Japanese captive soldier who doesn’t understand a single word she says. While that moment is gradually leading up to intimacy with another silent soldier — Jamadar Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor), you wish that you would see more of the fascinating relationship between this master and slave, the mentor who later, venomously reminds his protégée: ”You are a Russi Billimoria creation”.

This is not your typical evil master and slave relationship, but one of passion and belonging. One, where Russi, having lost his dreams in that accident, has transferred them onto a wisp of a woman; a woman who is an intoxicating cocktail of fragile vulnerability and fierce daredevil, courage. She is also content to parrot Russi’s opinions on the ongoing war, blindly accepting the British rule in India. But she is the only one who sees Russi naked and without the dignity of the black glove that hides a missing right hand.

If she is a parrot, lovingly kept in his grand film set cage, how can she possibly allowed to fly? There is of course, the irony that Russi gave Julia the wings and the confidence to fly dangerously high. There is a moment when she has just been told that her close friend and costume designer is missing, lost during an enemy attack. Too distraught to perform, she is coaxed by Russi to go out and put on a show for the British troop waiting outside. She asks him helplessly, “Magar main pehnoongi kya?’”Seconds later, she is seen in a military uniform, the shirt knotted waist high and she is transformed into Miss Julia, the performer, crooning “Bloody hell”. She is back to what she knows best, dancing to her master’s tunes, grateful and dutybound only because — “haath pe usne rakh di ring”ring, ring, ring” — that shining stamp of respectability along with ownership.

However, the ring is not enough for him to bring his slave to her knees. When he notices the marks of sandy passion on her neck and that of her lover, Nawab, Russi’s eyes glint harder than the shining rock on Julia’s finger. The moment of intense, possessive jealousy covered with pride, turns into a theatric expression of sword wielding where he brings Julia down to her knees, his sword stopping short of piercing her chest. Yet, they both know he is more helpless than her. She may have lost the sword fight but he has lost his ‘kiddo’, just like his one limb. Forever.

And when this trained showgirl does finally use all the trappings of the character that Russi gave her — the mask, the whip, the stunts — it is to help Nawab. Nawab, the one who transformed her from “kiddo” to a woman, from the ignorant Indian willing to dance for the British, to the fighter who now quotes him instead of Russi:“(apni jaan se kuch kimti hai kya/)...hai; woh jiske liye mara jaa sake”.

It is only apt that the locations become the narrators of this epic story as the camera moves from the swooping heights of fame and power to dancing around, inside trains; to long, beautifully choreographed and shot mud fights that turn into passionate kisses; to thick billows of dark railway engine smoke clouding the screen, uncovering a heroic, female, action star; finally to the most cinematic vision of all: the bridge between India and Burma — where the interval begins, and the film ends. It is only apt that she is seen crawling down that wooden, nearly destroyed bridge — hovering between captivity and freedom. It’s a perfect untold love story when the black gloved hand of Russi is the one that clutches at her as she rebelliously whispers her last words, “Bloody hell”.

Julia and Nawab may have been the charming Romeo and Juliet of Rangoon. But it is Saif’s Russi Billimoria — the man who rarely drops his mask — who I carried out of the theatres, along with his love story that was the one not shown on screen. A story that begins when Julia is just 14-year-old Jwala and he teaches her to walk a tightrope and says, “Hey kiddo”.

Published Date: Feb 26, 2017 08:22 AM |