Talking Movies

Talking Movies
Talking movies

Friday, 29 June 2018


Legendary lyricists--Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi and Anand Bakshi played key influences in Sanjay Dutt’s redemption, as seen in the film “Sanju”. That is nothing short of ‘poetic justice’, considering Sanjay Dutt was born to the famous actors, Nargis and Sunil Dutt; and grew up in the world of Hindi cinema. It is only befitting that in the best scene in the film, Sunil Dutt (play by Paresh Rawal) stands with his son after midnight, at a dockyard and tells him his own story of disarming (pun intended) the terrifying underworld don, Dawood, with a Sahir Ludhianvi song. Soon both father and son (it is difficult to think of him as Ranbir Kapoor who is simply transformed into Sanjay) start singing the song with gusto. The next morning, Sanjay does the bravest thing anyone can possibly do. Walking into a house with his head typically tilted; his eyes and mouth as vulnerable and innocent as a child’s; he faces a local underworld guy to tell him that he will not make an appearance for the Ganpati visarjan, he has been ‘invited’ for.

Therein lies the power of Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics, wisely used by a truly great father like Sunil Dutt to guide his wayward son.  (interestingly, Sunil Dutt himself has enacted several songs written by Sahir Ludhianvi, including the popular 1963 song, “chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaaye…”).Therein also lies the power of the truth told from the heart, in storytelling, especially a biopic.

Leaving aside three to four scenes when the old lyrics are mentioned, the rest of the film is classic Hirani melodrama. Like all his past movies, there is plenty of  unsubtle emotional manipulation, with the characters bawling and in this case some tiger-rish growling that portrays Vicky Kaushal’s talent at par with Ranbir’s. Only, the humour this time , has completely dried out and fallen to taking pot shots at Indian accents. The effort to bring in the commercial entertainment quotient, is too obvious.

The subject on Sanjay Dutt’s life, by itself, is full of potent drama. As a line in the film says, ‘people who make bad choices, make great stories’. However, Hirani’s ‘Sanju’  is not a complete biopic. It is a rehash of the combined parts of Munnabhai’s core strengths and the story of Sanjay Dutt’s redemption. As long as it remains the Munnabhai version, it works big time, especially in the duplicating of a long father-son jaadu ki jhappi and an emotionally explosive friendship scene between Sanju and his intense savior friend—Kamlesh (Vicky) who of course replaces the more shadow-like, jovial Circuit.

The similarities are all there, throughout the film. Munnabhai  is the story of a goon who tries to get a MBBS degree in order to please his ethical dad. In Sanju, Sanjay gets lost in drugs, unable to live up to his upstanding father’s standards and image. In both the films, he has a best friend—Circuit in Munnabhai and Kamlesh in Sanju, with shades of the virgin Jimmy Shergill’s character, thrown in for some contrived laughs. While Munnabhai is a comedy and only fiction; Sanju is dark, intense and a  true story of father and son who lived through hell, together, thanks to Sanjay’s self destructive actions.

As long as the story remains about the emotional  and mental challenges, the duo face and the real conflicts,” Sanju” is a class act. But as soon as it shifts into propaganda mode of proving repeatedly, throughout the second half, that Sanjay Dutt was not a terrorist as claimed by the media, the film loses the core integrity of a Hirani film.  Just like Hirani’s previous films which are issue driven, be it the medical industry failings or religion superstitions as in ‘PK’; “Sanju” suddenly picks up the media issue, blaming everyone’s favourite scapegoat : the big, BAD newspaper headline and the entire media. The last 15 minutes of the film are as clumsily written as the first 15 minutes where the agenda is to prove that Sanju is not a biased story, thus introducing a curly wigged, blue eyed Anushka Sharma as an objective NRI biographer.

 By the end of the film, the actors suddenly seem to announce, “ let’s play the blame game together” and  both Sanjay Dutt and Ranbir Kapoor dance in the credit rolls, to the tune of ..
”….according to the sources…. abey chup”.  In an effort to silence the so called ‘rumours’,and drill down Sanjay’s version of the story as the true story, Hirani gives way to the mind and the mindless.

If only, they had stuck to the more honest and timeless, Sahir Ludhianvi lyrics as used in one memorable scene straight from the heart: ”……na muh chupa ke jiyo….”

Friday, 13 April 2018


 Juhi Chaturvedi’ script, “October”, directed by Shoojit Sircar, refuses to leave you once it ends. There is a contemplative, aching tone which seeps into your being like Shantanu Moitra’s soft soundtrack which is more silent in its approach; like the shadow of a tree getting larger while the tree stays still.

There is no plot, no action, no entertainment, not even a second-long emotional melodrama given the premise of a tragic event changing the lives of those around. There is no hero and no heroine. There is no Varun Dhawan (for the fans). There is no villain.

There is a lost 21-year-old boy: Dan (Dhawan). He is a Hotel Management trainee who doesn’t want to clean bed sheets. His father is based in Jammu and he has come to Intern at a 5-star hotel. He wants his own Start-Up some day and constantly whines about being given useless work of vacuum cleaning the hotel rooms.

There is a 20-year-old, bright and sincere girl called Shiuli (Banita Sandhu). Shiuli does her job really well and is always given the more popular responsibilities of serving the hotel customers at reception desks. She doesn’t take Dan’s digs at her personally. “Itni intelligent hai to scientist kyon nahin bani…hotel management kyon kar rai hai…” ,he objects rudely to the seniors who praise her. Shiuli simply ignores him, even when he mocks her fondness for collecting her favourite seasonal October flowers: Parijat ( Coral Jasmine).

The flowers are the only predictable symbolic objects here. The tree is called the ‘tree of sorrow”. When first seen through Avik Mukhopadhyay’s lens, they look like a hazy and beautiful early morning dream. The screen looks magical with trees bearing the fresh and pure white flowers. We see them through Shiuli’s wondrous eyes and we are filled with the sense of wonder ourselves. Later, the flowers make occasional, fleeting appearances as a reminder of what October is all about: fleeting seasons of change and the beauty of each and the inevitable sense of waiting and sorrow.

Waiting is all one can do, when the course of life changes its turns, just like the course of nature. So Dan waits. Along with Shiuli’s mother, sister, a teenage brother, for Shuili to move a muscle, to simple twitch her jaw or shift her eyeballs: left to say ‘yes’ to the doctor’s question, right to say ‘no’. Her still form, lying in a hospital bed is an excruciating sight to behold. It is merely addressed by the most inane conversation that only two scared and ignorant youngsters can have.

“There were 19 tubes on her body.’
Tune gine?”
……..tu kabhi ICU gaya hai?
Main do baar gaya hoon
Kal ur aaj.”
…yaar meri hawa nikal gayi thi…”

Light, shallow, realistic moments like these, ease the pain of waiting and watching. But the film does not shy away from the helplessness of it all. There is no attempt at heroic drama of Dan turning into the star Varun Dhawan who will suddenly claim to fall in love and magically find the resources to fly Shuili out somewhere in Karan Johar’s world of “Kal Ho Na Ho” or the tragic interplay of lost love. Instead we see Dan simply searching for his visiting card under Shuili’s hospital bed just as a visitor friend would, inquisitively looking at the bottle of urine under the bed and discussing it with the nurse and even finding hope in the body continuing to do its function while the brain may take its time to respond.

And just like that, without a major, dramatic turning point, the mood of the film changes from the mundane of hotel laundry and vaccum jobs to a shocking life event to endless and futile human queries at a hospital to the only one wonder of life : HOPE.

Hope in the form of a urine pouch filling up more as days go by; hope in the form of Jasmine flower petals bringing the sense of smell alive, in an otherwise lifeless body; hope in the form of a positive change coming over a lost boy who sees more meaning in simply hanging out with a family waiting at a hospital, than in trying to keep his job; hope in the form of a mother reaching out to another (devoid of histrionics and yet leave you moist eyed);  hope in the form of colleagues connecting at the only level which matters—that of being simply human.

“October” may not entertain or engage like Shoojit and Juhi’s “Vicky Donor’ or “Piku”, but it makes that deep human connect, without the laughter or tears, a single playing-to –the-gallery dialogue or songs. Only one simple line matters here: “Where is Dan?” It’s an almost perfunctory question which changes the way a man perceives himself. It does a classic job of showcasing the ultimate human need to be needed, to be noticed, to be given the importance he craves.

In its gentle, flowing narrative and meditative contemplation of life and its coming of age journey with apt rest house locations of a hotel and a hospital with the beautiful tree providing the answers, the stillness travels with you outside the theatre, onto the desperate busy streets. And you take that time to stand and stare, smell that rose, smile at that stranger and talk to a friend with more empathy.

That lasting, much needed theme of empathy is “October’s true and meaningful gift.

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.