Talking Movies

Talking Movies
Talking movies

Tuesday, 25 December 2012


Talking Barfi and much more ..My interview with Anurag Basu.

How did you start as a writer?
I have been writing since school. In 8th and 9th standard I would write amateurish poems for the school magazine. I would try to be dark and pseudo because I thought it was cool. I also wrote short skits which would get performed in the school. So though, I never knew my true capabilities as a writer, the process of writing had already begun for me. Before moving towards Film Writing I had started my career in television as a writer, cinematographer and director.

Tell us a bit about your background prior coming to Mumbai.
I am from Bhillai (Chhattisgarh). It’s a small town where you have no other career options than going for IIT, PET or IAS. My father had a small theater group and that is how I was inclined towards theater, art and literature. But still it wasn’t a career option. I worked hard and got selected for BE but I realized it was not what I wanted to do. I first thought of going to FTII and my parents were in approval. I finished my graduation in Physics Honors because to join FTII one needs to be a graduate. By that time, I had already started working as an assistant. Once I asked Raman Kumar, an FTII alumnus and also a visiting faculty there if I should really join the institute or not. He brainwashed me and convinced me that it wasn’t necessary. I never went to FTII but today I regret that.

Coming from a small town, I didn’t have much knowledge of world cinema and cinema per se. It is something which still eludes me. I feel ignorant when people talk about international directors and their styles. Plus, I started doing non-stop TV when I came here which never left me with much time for self-learning. I am yet to see all of Godard’s films. So what I have been trying to learn since years would have been accomplished within three years had I gone to FTII. I should have gone.

But does being an instinctive filmmaker, who just follows his heart, help you on any level?
I agree that films are made with the heart but I also believe in another thing – if I am in this profession, I should know everything about it, everything which has been done, which is the history and anything which is possible. I am working on all that.

You wanted to be a cinematographer initially?
I always wanted to be a cinematographer and wanted to do the camera course at FTII. I started working as a camera assistant before becoming a direction assistant. Then I realized that it was the director who was the captain of the ship and then only I wanted to become a director.

I started with directing a show named Tara (Zee TV). Then onwards, for about 11 years, I also handled the camera for all the shows I had been directing. It was my wish and not because I did not have trust on other cinematographers. In TV you have to work very fast and deliver on time. So by being the cameraman and the director both, I could give quality and quantity at the same time.

The cinematography of films is a different ball game altogether. You have to really concentrate on one thing as you can’t afford a single slip. There I had to stop doing the camera. But being a cameraman is so much in my system that even today I can’t understand a shot without looking into the viewfinder or thinking about the lighting. Sometimes, my cameramen feel bothered with my interventions. Then I have to explain to them that it’s a problem which I can’t get rid of.

I have worked with big cinematographers in my film career and while making AD films. I have learnt a great deal from them. Of late I have again started feeling like doing camera and direction both.

How do you use your knowledge of the camera while writing?
While writing, actually, my ‘Cameraman’s Switch’ is at off. It’s the ‘Actor’s Switch’ which plays along. I get into different characters, get into different situations, feelings etc. That time, I am not worrying about how would I shoot it but face issues like ‘what is the story, what is happening in the scene?’

From TV to Films - What was your Turning Point?
A lot of things. I had been doing shows which were all hits. Before Koshish- Ek Aashaa I had become the highest paid TV director at that time. After that followed stagnancy and boredom. I wanted to do something new. The passion was missing. I would just wait for the pack-up call and return home.

Before that many people had told me that I should do films. I finally took the leap and started meeting producers. They all knew me and had seen my work. When Ekta Kapoor came to know about it she called me up and said that she would make a film with me. We were friends but after a couple of schedules of that thriller film (Kuchh Toh Hai, 2003) we developed serious creative differences. She is very strong headed and so am I. She wanted a different end-product I wanted something else. We did not have anything personal against each other and are still friends.

People do work on a mutual consent basis but my drawback is that I can’t do that. I can’t share how exactly I am thinking about doing a particular thing. Filmmaking is not about democracy. I have to be a dictator and do what I have to do. So I left the film.

So you could not continue because your vision was being hampered?
Yes. And it needs a lot of courage to leave a film in between. Making your first film in itself is very difficult and when you finally get the chance you had been looking for, it’s hard to turn your back on it. The same had also occurred while I was doing TV but ultimately I always gave in. But this time I switched off my phone and just disappeared.

How did things change for you after that?
The buzz started circulating that I am someone who should better stick to TV. Producers would not meet me nicely. I thought my film career was over and I returned to TV.

Did your spirits go down?
To cope up, I ate and slept a lot in that period. But I don’t think too much about future or failure. What is most important for me is to go to the sets the next day. I want to get busy in things. I assumed no producer would give me a film to direct so I started looking forward to get shows. I switched back as a television cameraman and things started to roll again.

But destiny had other plans for me. I had done a show Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh after seeing which (Mahesh) Bhatt saheb had suggested that I get into films. He would tell me “You are made for movies, Anurag!” However, as soon as he would leave, my editor would contradict him - “Don’t trust him. He has said the same thing to many people and has ruined their lives!” But I took a chance and went to the office of Vishesh Films. I was made to wait outside and I felt bored. Just when I was about to leave they finally called me up. I found Vikram Bhatt, Tanuja and all those guys sitting right there while Bhatt saheb was busy with some work. I sat in a corner for a while and felt that he wasn’t as warm with me as he would appear at Plus Channel’s office (on the sets of Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh). He didn’t introduce me to anyone. It felt as if what my editor had told me was right. I returned with disappointment.

I again bumped into Bhatt saheb at Delhi Airport. He asked me what I was doing. I told him that I had left a film in the middle and was back doing television. I gave him my new contact number and got called up when he returned to Mumbai. I met Mukesh Bhatt and others and they offered me a film named Saaya (2003). It was like a boon because, unlike other directors who work for Vishesh Films, I didn’t belong to their clan. It’s quite much like a non-linear narration of my life journey.

Did you also write that film?
No. Actually I was the last person to become a part of that film. John (Abraham) had already been cast. A couple of songs had been shot. Scripts and dialogues were also ready. I came onboard only to direct the film.

Were you concerned about the story or the content of the film?
That time I just wanted to make a film. I wanted to direct one and finish it. But as it neared completion I wasn’t too happy. I remember telling Tani (his wife, who was assisting him) in the edit room “Yaar, Maza Nahin Aa Raha Hai (It’s not coming out too well.)” The thing is I don’t watch a film like a multiplex audience but like those small town folks in Bhillai. My concern is “Pichhar Chalegi Yaa Nahin Chalegi? (Will this movie work or not?)”

I felt the film I had made was nice but not good enough to entice the audience to come out to watch it. Films run on mouth publicity, when people recommend it to others. I felt my film was not of the kind which people would ask their friends to go for. There was an overall problem. You see, I am very self-critical about my work.

So how did it eventually go?
The trail-shows which are held before the film’s release, from Sunday to Thursday, changed my opinion. Bhatt saheb had invited many industry people and they all praised and congratulated me. I heard compliments like “Good work - Good job - It doesn’t seem to be your first film”; which instilled in me a certain vanity. I said to myself “Whatever. It’s a nice film. People are loving it.”

Thursday night I was called up by NDTV for a show in which they take direct feedback from the viewers. They invited me to interact with the people and ask them for their opinion. I consulted Bhatt saheb if it was the right thing to do and he encouraged me by saying, “Go. You must face the audience.”

Next day I had gone for the noon show at Cineamx (Goregaon). Ten minutes into the film there is a horror scene which is meant to frighten the audience. In that run people laughed when that scene came. I stepped out, called Bhatt saheb and told him that the film was a flop. He negated me and told me about the good collections from territories like Punjab. I feel a producer’s situation is complicated in such a case. He is like the man whose daughter has run away and the whole town knows it before he does. Then the NDTV journalists called me up from Gaiety Galaxy (Bandra) and I asked them to come to Cinemax as I feared an adverse reaction at Gaiety. I had decided that I would only question old and middle-aged people or women but not youngsters. So I stood with a mike asking people who were coming out of the theatre, “How did you like the film?” I got reactions like “Locations were good - Songs were nice etc.” but no one was speaking about the film. Then a boy, who was desperate to come up and speak, came forward. He completely thrashed it - “It’s a nonsense film. Bakwas Hai!” It was a live telecast and Tani fell on the floor laughing. He seemed funny and he did not know that he was speaking to the director of the film.

Then another guy came up and talked like a critique. He said “It seems like the first film of this director. He has done a good job. Had he got a better script, it would have turned out into a much better film. He has good promise as a director.” I felt nice that at least one guy had praised my efforts. I wasn’t depressed anymore.

Later, after signing off from the show, when I reached my car the guy who had showered praises showed up. He said “Hello sir, did you recognize me? I used to come to the sets of Tara. I have got a new portfolio done, would you like to see it?” I felt it would have been better if he had come to me after a couple of days. So eventually, Saaya was a big lesson. I learnt that you just have to believe in yourself because no one tells you the truth.

But how does one muster the courage to hear what the truth is?
It’s not life, it’s just a film. You have to move on.

How do you analyze the failure of a film?
Films fail for two reasons – bad scripts or economics. Either your script was bad or it went over-budget.

When did you start writing your own scripts?
The next film Murder (2005) was being planned and I requested Bhatt saheb, who writes almost all the scripts at Vishesh Films, that I wanted to write it. He believed that I would direct better if I had also written the script and allowed me have a go.

Now Murder was also inspired from an English film like was the case with Saaya. But I wanted to do something more with it. Today it might be considered a cult hit but if you ask me it was written with the mind and not the heart. We wanted the audience to whistle and clap at every scene. I was so insecure that I didn’t leave any stone unturned to make it a hit.

What is the process of adaptation, as a writer, when you remake a foreign film?
I don’t know if I should say it on the record… Actually when we made those films, it wasn’t that we did not have original ideas. But all my fellow filmmakers would agree that there was a trend going on. Everywhere people would ask you “So which English film are you (re)making next?” So more than a script, a DVD of an English film was capable of convincing the producers. Initially, Mr. Amol Shetge was writing Murder. I met him and just asked what the original idea was. I thought I would give it a twist. We both started writing our own versions. Amol was writing, while watching the original film, and I was writing without watching it. Finally, I narrated my draft to Bhatt saheb and Mukesh Bhatt and they really loved it. Then once I had done a Saaya and a Murder, I could go ahead and think of original ideas!

So you decided to write all your future scripts?
Yes, and I had always been confident of my capabilities but probably Bhatt saheb did not trust me as a writer until Murder happened. Actually, I had joined Vishesh Films much later. They had their writers and I could not suddenly say that I would write, direct and do all sorts of things. I was actually very humbled that they let me.

How did Gangster (2006) happen?
The gangster angle was just a set-up; it was primarily a love story. I thought of a story of betrayal. Actually at Bhatt saheb’s office we discuss about all sorts of things. While one of such discussions Bhatt saheb said “May be the girlfriend is a mole” and we both realized that there was an interesting idea in there. I wrote it and after three weeks gave him a narration.

By that time, the script for Life In A Metro (2007) was also ready. I had to opt which one to do first and I chose Gangster. While making that film I heard that Salaam-E-Ishq (2007) was being made. I thought that I would lose the chance of making the first multiple tracks film. But that is how it goes.

Murder, Life In A Metro and Barfi (2012) have the common theme of women in stressful marriages and infidelity. Are you personally attached to this subject?
I have not thought about it like that but I guess I love to see a film through a woman protagonist. All my films are told through the eyes of the female character. Murder is Mallika’s (Sherawat) story, Gangster is Kangana’s (Ranaut) story, Life In A Metro was also the story of those three girls and even Kites (2010) was also initially Barbara’s (Mori) story. I feel I write better when I pick the female character’s point of view. They have much more depth and layers. So that might be one reason.

Another one would be that you only write what you have been living. I have fallen in love many times, have had extra marital affairs, have been caught by my wife and have landed up in domestic clashes.

The way Shilpa’s (Shetty) character sees a SMS on Kay Kay’s (Menon) phone was something which had happened to me. Tani (Basu) had gone through my phone in similar fashion. So things come from the kind of life you have been living. Whatever happens in the world around me reflects in the films I make. Unlike others, I don’t hide anything or have inhibitions. I don’t lead double lives. I put it all into my films.

Why did Kites (2010) fail?
People said that it did not look like my film. I have been also been misquoted in that matter. Kites was very much my film. If it has failed it is because of me. It was me who said ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’. If something has gone wrong, than it is because I let it happen. While we were making it, I did not know what was going wrong. It was a different process in which we wrote and discussed everything as a team.

Actually at that time I wanted to do a big scale film, fancy car chases, helicopter sequences and explosions. I did not want to make another Life In A Metro or Gangster. So when Kites was offered to me, I took it up.

After Kites, I have realized that stories should come from your heart. For me, whenever the story was given to me, whenever I did not contribute to its writing, whenever it did not come from inside, the film has failed. It’s a learning process and I have learnt that I shall never do that again. You have to put in your own personality into a film.

People aptly direct stories written by others. They are comfortable working in the fashion Kites was made. But I have realized that I can’t do all of that. I am not saying it’s a quality of mine, it’s a drawback. I don’t put the blame on anyone else, it’s my own problem.

How do you look at it in retrospect?
At least we failed while trying to do something new. Kites was the 3rd or the 4th highest grosser of the year but was still called a flop because it was not commercially viable. It just that many things add up and the whole thing goes over-budget.

However, it did fairly well in overseas. So as a positive person, I have also taken some good things out of it. I had stopped reading the reviews because it was depressing for me. Then I found out that other than India, the film had mostly got positive reviews from foreign publications like New York Times, Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter, Seattle Times, Telegraph etc. At Rotten Tomatoes it’s still running at 82 percent. It was released it 60 countries and the fact that distributors of 60 countries bought it says a great deal. It was the first Indian film which ran at US Box Office among top ten films. It was a big thing.

After Kites, how long did you take before starting to work on Barfi ?
I started immediately. Story was almost ready and two weeks after the release of Kites, I was giving a narration to Ranbir (Kapoor). I did not narrate Barfi to everyone though. I narrated to Ronnie (Screwvala), Ranbir and few others. Priyanka (Chopra) kept complaining till the very end that I did not tell her the entire story.

I had gone to her for a narration but I wasn’t sure she would be able to portray Jhilmil (her character in Barfi) aptly. I was in two minds and therefore my narration lacked conviction. I stopped in the middle and said “Piggy, I am not sure. I know you can pull it off but how, I don’t know. The moment Priyanka Chopra becomes visible in this character it will fail. You will really need to work hard not to look like yourself.”

She took a three days workshop. Then even on the shoot, I would not give her too many scenes because Jhilmil’s character did not need to know what had happened in the earlier scenes or what will happen next.

So what actually inspired Barfi ?
I don’t know what frame of mind I was in while making this film. A lot of things and a collection of lot of experiences inspired it. It gets accumulated in your head over a period of time and comes out when you sit down to write.

I remember standing at the entry of a theater to catch the reaction of the audience to my film Metro. I realized that I could understand it entirely just by hearing the sounds. I did not need to watch the visuals. It made me ponder and ask myself - Then what is the difference between radio and cinema? May be I am misusing my medium. If I can close my eyes and understand the film then what is the point in making cinema? So since then, I was hunting for a subject where I could tell a story visually.

I had been going to some schools and NGOs for special kids, like Sanskar (Goregaon), which have trained teachers. Once, there was this sweet girl who was probably having a bad day. No one was able to calm her down. Then the caretaker was called who came and handled her with great ease. They both had an amazing chemistry and communication. I told myself how great a thing it was. Differently-abled people have deeper abilities of sensing affection. That feeling of selfless love moved me completely. I felt small there. Usually we have so many strings attached when we fall in love.

On this experience, I had written a short story of two pages and had kept it aside. Once Kites flopped I thought it was the right time to do this silent-era kind of a story.

Tell us about your writing process for the film. Did you know that you would be using a female narrator?
Yes, that was there from the very beginning. Again, I used some personal life experiences. I had a girlfriend in school days and we were in a long distance relationship. She was desirous of a secured future with a man doing a nice job. The moment she came to know that I was about to join the Film Industry, she left me. She did love me, but still that is what she did. That girl is Shruti, the narrator of Barfi.

First, I wrote it as a two-character story, of Jhilmil and Barfi. Shruti wasn’t there. Then I felt I needed a point of view to define, sorry to use this expression, normal and abnormal. By abnormal I mean special people which we are not. They find happiness in even very small things which we are unable to do. So I had to have that comparison. Then only the film could stand out.

What about the kidnapping track – the element of mystery?
Let me share this here as this is a writer’s forum. Any writer can tell you that a story forms from a lot of hotch potch. You go in many directions and write a lot which you later even forget about.

First there was no kidnapping. The girl was to just disappear because of obsession and jealousy. Barfi and Shruti set out to find her, again fall in love with each other, find her and then he goes back to her. This was the story.

But if you logically write about a subject like autism, it goes wayward. Then I realized as a linear story it was not holding much interest. It was a nice story but it allowed the audience to keep ahead of me. I wanted a hook so that they remain behind. I invented many options for the script which were all worthwhile possibilities. The kidnapping track was one of them which finally made it to the film. The non-linear structure was another thing which remained.

I was told not to go for the non-linear structure because it’s a simple story and everybody thought it should be told with simplicity. For once, I agreed with them. Tani was my co-writer and we decided not to make it complicated. Then we went on to write as many as 12 drafts and then we were back to the first one.

I think as writers one should check out all the propositions for what is working and what is not. It is important to know what is that you don’t want. If any scene or character does not contribute to the story and can be chopped off, it should be.

Where do you usually get your inspiration from?
That is very hard to tell. There are a lot of things actually. One day I was walking up and down the stairs when the one-liner of Barfi struck me.

…was this in your post-cancer period?
I won’t say my cancer inspired me to say this kind of a story. I had actually started writing the screenplay of Barfi while making Kites.

…and your association with NGOs?
The Muskaan NGO which is shown in the film is a real NGO in Bhilai run by my father’s friend. I visit them annually and also try to contribute. So it’s for real though they don’t have a fancy building. Previously my serial Koshish - Ek Aashaa also had a mentally challenged character. It was a very popular show but I felt I did not do justice to Neeraj (Varun Badola’s character). I wanted to rectify my mistake. I had also been narrating bed time stories to my daughter which affected my storytelling. You start to think differently if you do that quite often. So this is how a lot of things come together and inspire you as a writer. I can’t pinpoint how actually this story has come out.

But whether I am shooting or not, there is something which I ensure. I write regularly. Not each of your stories will get published or get made into a film. But for one good script, you will have to write several bad scripts and stories. And they all influence that one big script of yours. So I have this routine, whether I am at office or anywhere else. I pick up pen and paper, or laptop, and write.

You might write useless things for 20-25 days but on the 26th day or on the 30th, you can strike gold. That process of writing for 20-25 days, stories of different genres, different characters, is very important in order to reach a good story. And that is my process. Sometimes I write about Lucknow based stories, then I switch to Delhi based characters then I write about UK based NRIs and so on. If you follow this process, you will start looking at everything from the point of view of finding a story. Then you will see stories all around you. Otherwise you stop the chase. Stories flow around you all the time. Every news bit is a story, every book has a story. But if you are not in a habit of writing, it will not draw you in. So, keep writing. It will come in handy at some point of time.

Coming back to Barfi, do you think the non-linear screenplay helped the film?
The only thing I feel I could not make proper use of, are those three musicians. Initially, there were no interviews and the musicians were taking the story forward. Then people said it was completely devoid of dialogues. In such a case you have to think about the Indian audience. You have to spoon feed a bit. I thought people would not be able to follow the story closely only through songs. At that time, there was not much of voice-over either. Now I feel it would not have affected the film if those three musicians were not there at all. I had first thought of using them as a metaphor and as a device to change the chapters. I wanted that every time they come on the screen and play the theme, the audience should sub-consciously know that the story is about to take a turn.

I had tried something similar in Life In A Metro but could not execute it to a great effect. So if you ask me about the weaknesses of Barfi I can point out many but this is the biggest of the lot.

Any more flaws you can put a finger at?
I have always made two hours long films. I don’t like films which run longer. I am so good with timing that if I say my film would be of 2 hours 5 minutes, it can’t go to 2 hours 6 minutes. But with Barfi I failed with my timing for the first time.

I had said that it would touch 2 hours and I was wrong. I had to spend one week in understanding how to shoot it when I went on the sets. It needed different kind of lenses, lighting, rhythm of editing and all that. I could not use what I had shot in the first three days and only on the fourth day I could get the Sur (tempo) of it. That changed Sur turned the 2 hours script into a 2 hours 25 minutes film. You can cut down a film only on the script level. In editing you can just reduce it by a few minutes but not more.

In Busan the film got a standing ovation. But the distributors over there, who are releasing it in mainstream, have requested me to shorten it by 10 minutes. There the length becomes a huge factor because foreign audience is not used to watching long films.

What about the Charlie Chaplin - Buster Keaton element? When did that come into the film?
When I narrated to Ranbir I had already told him that it was going to be there. Barfi is a film which is very difficult to narrate. I showed him examples of physical comedy, like that of Charlie Chaplin, so he could know what I was talking about.

In Bhillai, though there were very less cinemas, there was a club which would show Charlie Chaplin and Laurel-Hardy films. I grew up watching those films more than any Amitabh Bachchan films because my parents thought those films were better for kids. So I really wanted to make a film similar to the ones I loved watching as a child. Even Ranbir likes such films and he readily agreed to make use of the opportunity. We were both on the same pitch since day one.

Where do you draw the line between homage and inspiration or plagiarism?
People have been putting allegations but I feel that it is their lack of knowledge. If you have to pay homage to Raj Kapoor you will show a man and a woman under an umbrella. For Gabbar Singh you will show a man walking with a belt in his hand in a low angle shot. So visually, any homage is exactly like its original. You have to shoot it as it is to pay homage. You can’t change it. They say I have copied, but if I have shot a scene exactly like the original it has to be homage. I can’t write ‘homage-homage’ over it. Had I changed it, tweaked it or shot the same thing differently then you could have said I have copied or lifted. So since I did not have to hide anything, I have shot it exactly the same way. I can say in public what is homage and what is original.

After one week of film’s release, after getting praised by one all, the moment it got selected to be sent to the Oscars; people started criticizing. The fact is that even in the making of the film, which got released before, and in the promotions we have said that it has Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It was so clear.

Sometimes what happens is that when a writer writes, especially my generation of writers, inspirations come unconsciously. It happens when we borrow from memory. I don’t know who told me that a cat can bring bad luck but it’s in my memory and somebody must have said it.

Well, nothing can outdo the fact that, you did write an original story and screenplay. Now your film has also been selected as the official entry for the Oscars. Internally, we are not happy with the way it has been reported in the media. It has been publicized as if we have already got an Oscar. There is long way to go. People have been flooding my phone with SMS’s of congratulations. I don’t know why there is this slavish attitude in all of us and why we think so high of the Oscars. It’s an award function for Hollywood films where four foreign language films are selected. It’s dominated by American films.

First of all, we should stop addressing to the Indian Film Industry as Bollywood. It denotes nothing but our slavishness. We should be happier if we make it to Busan, Morocco, Osaka, and Toronto etc. where you get officially selected. There we don’t have to pay to get selected. We hear a lot of talks of films getting selected at Cannes but actually paying for the theater while trying to get the front page in Mumbai is stupidity. Your film should be capable of getting selected at its merit.

What next?
I am again in the same old process. I started writing a new script yesterday. I don’t how it will go, I have just written the page numbers by now! I don’t how I will fill them.

Is that something to be made before the Kishore Kumar biography you are planning to make?

A piece of advice to new writers.
There are two kinds of writers whom I get to meet. First, are those who are trying to write a Ram Gopal Varma kind of film, or a Yash Chopra film etc. They tell me – “It’s a very Karan Johar-ish film, sir.” I don’t understand this. Where is your own voice?

And the ones, who have their own voices, try to be so different that they go on a different tangent. And they are a reluctant lot. It might be a god film but it also has to do business. Don’t make it too dark. You have to change the system I agree, but you also have to believe in the system before you can change it. You just can’t change it overnight.

I am saying this because I have been meeting writers who have written wonderful scripts but are not ready to change even a bit of them. They should be little careful. Such writers write one script and they think they will write the next one when they sell the first. You can’t wait like that.

Another thing is that we a0re running short of writers because every writer wants to become a director. I don’t blame them. Writers get so little money and respect.

…That might also be because they get too attached to the subject?
Might be, might be not. But as a writer you should have the dare to say – I can write a better one the next time. Let it get made first, whether you make it or somebody else. That is important. I feel that most of the writers keep their best work with themselves, to direct it in future, and in that process their career never goes anywhere. You sit holding on to your best work and give substandard work to people. How can that work?

Friday, 21 December 2012

DABBANG2: An Arbaaz Khan film

 Chulbul Pandey is a family man.

 He is less ‘dabangg’, more fun. He pulls pranks. He does his little funny jig. His collar glares have an act of their own. He continues with his Bihari accent. He is corny funny. He romances. He sings. He dances.  He fights. He leaps. He shoots. He laughs a peculiar giggle.

Then he cries. And proves Salman Khan is not just a super star. He is a very fine actor who does not take himself seriously.

Dabangg 2, as sequels go, is a better sequel than any other. There is no new story here.Chulbul Pandey is posted in Kanpur. He rescues a damsel in distress from an eve teasing goon (Deepak Dobriyal) whose brother, political honcho (Prakash Raj) swears revenge.

The film maintains the original character and tone of the film in its treatment, continues to focus on the father–son relationship from the original story and includes the whacky humour that the audience now relates with Salman Khan. Even the ‘Munni’ item number (whistle worthy Malaika Arora) and ‘naina’ song along with Dabangg soundtrack are neatly tied in.

However, in its mellowed action, lies the problem. While Dabangg  had some melodrama in Chulbul Pandey’s personal conflict, there is only smooth sailing in Dabangg2.What could have been promising in the villain casting of Prakash Raj, considering the success they saw in ‘Wanted’, remain a mere routine dialogue exchange. The much awaited action filled climax sequence lacks the power punch of the original. Sonu Sood is missed as soon as the expected shirts come off.

Written by Dilip Shukla,the screenplay is too simple, focusing on funny, endearing moments between stepfather(Vinod Khanna) and son, so much so that the film almost becomes a pleasant family drama. The dialogues raise a few smiles. Salman’s mannerisms and his belt provide the rest of the entertainment with its auto pelvic movement to ‘Dabangg hud hud “track.

 Arbaaz Khan, who turned producer with the original, now makes a decent debut as director. He clearly brings out the best in Salman’s acting prowess too; something which has been glimpsed briefly in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movies. A scene in the film has his character “Makkhi”,a simpleton trying to make himself worthy. Chulbul watches his younger brother with misty eyed pride. Arbaaz, after a failed career in acting, is like the reformed Makkhi. He gives Dabangg 2, a sensibility above inane ,nonsensical action comedies like Khiladi and Rowdy Rathore.

Salman Khan, dapper in bright full sleeved shirts, endears with his buffoonery and corny style and surprises with his performance when he sobs like a child in one scene. Arbaaz and Vinod Khanna are good in their supportive, affectionate contrasting duo as compared  to the original. Sonakshi Sinha slips in easily as Mrs Pandey, looks her part and carries off the teasing husband wife tiffs well. Deepak Dobriyal and Prakash Raj are good in their caricature villainous roles but deserve better.

Music by Sajid Wajid  is not at par with the original except for the song ‘tere naina dagabaaz re’. The lyrics  including “fevicol” (delicious Kareena), by Sajid, Wajid and Ashraf Ali  are in sync with the film.

If you expect to hoot and whistle while watching Dabangg2,you will be disappointed. But Salman’s heartwarming moments may make up for it. That includes the hilarious shirtless moment.

Friday, 14 December 2012


The Last Act comes with a prerequisite: ‘indulge me’.

 When there are 12 directors yet one story,12 clues and one murder,12 writers and 12 acts, it requires a craft of passion to make it come through as seamless and one. The film based on Anurag Kashyap’s plot, with directors selected by him, Sudhir Misra and Chakri Toleti, is both a challenging experiment and a challenging yet applause worthy watch.

A theatre troupe head (Saurabh Shukla) is interrogated by a cop regarding a missing actor. A dead, mutilated body has been found. A somewhat repetitive dialogue exchange between the cops emphasizing the gore in a matter of fact way, sets the tone for further stories to follow. More cops, more investigations, more cities, more experiment.

Each story revolves around one murder evidence in one city, thus tracking each through Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Gwalior, Pune, Bengaluru, Nagpur, Chennai,Kalyan, Ghaziabad, Chandigarh and Hissar. At times, film is multilingual, entire stories ranging from Marathi to Bengali toTamil,keeping the city’s character dominant.

The most commendable part of this  long-short film experiment is the casting. Every actor is a new face and slips in easily in the role (however weird), making the unbelievable premise  much more compelling. The pace is relaxed and each city story has a beginning and end  of its own without moving away from the main plot. Well detailed, there are interesting glimpses of 18 year old’s b’day dreams of hiring a stripper, a quirky couple messing with clues with  a wada pau, a sex change instance, greed for a wristwatch amongst others. The philosophical question it raises in the end, ties loose ends quite effectively, well enacted by Shreyas Pandit.

Some of the stories rely mostly on indulgent humour and lines. In a Pune story, the investigating person calmly and logically refers to two obituary clippings as “two dead men in a dead man’s pocket” and  makes a case out of his particular dream solving the murder mystery.

In a Lucknow story, a nicely treated conclusive  long shot shows two cops languorously discussing a piece of evidence pointing to  the missing  killer “Babloo” as if discussing Lucknowi biryani… “mere baap ki umar 78,meri maa ki umar 75,is poore Lucknow mein kitne Babloo honge?” You can imagine how the chilled out conversation  will go on till the cows come home.

Despite several crews and teams including various writers, cinematographers and editors involved in the making of one film, there is very little discrepancy in the overall narrative style. The l2 directors include Asmit Pathare, Nitin Bhardwaj, Tathagata Singha, Nijo – Rohit, Tejas Joshi, Jagannathan Krishnan, Kabir Chowdhry, Nitye Sood, Varun Chowdhury, Anurag Goswami, Rohin V, Himanshu Tyagi.

Each act is a good short film by itself and focuses mostly on the quirky. Perhaps, suitable for the directors who like moving away from anything mainstream and simply play with the cinema format. Thankfully, none have given in to unnecessarily camera gimmicks except occasional abstract nonsense and are well tied together with the first and last act by Asmit Pathare.

Those looking for  fresh ,mildly amusing and  fairly intriguing entertainment, will find ‘The Last Act’ well worth a watch. Indulge worthy. Applause worthy.

Monday, 10 December 2012


(Also published  here:
A scene in 10 ml Love has Ghalib (Rajat Kapoor),playing a jealous and possessive husband, begging to be forgiven by his wife, Roshni (Tisca Chopra).The lines are almost lyrical, somewhat like this.. ”kasoor mera nahin,kasoor hai meri maa ka jisne who dawa dee…kasoor elaaychi ka hai,kasoor elaichi ki sheeshi ka hai..kasoor is raat ka hai jisko rangeen banana ka khwaab dekha…”.

This almost poetic mood and a theatrical presentation adapted from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”rules the style and narrative followed by debut writer/director,Sharat Katariya who has earlier written the dialogues of “Bheja Fry”.

 When adapted to contemporary Indian milieu and characters in 10 ml love, it retains so much of the theatrical format that everything seems staged. Three parallel tracks centered on love come together on a wedding night. Mini(Koel Purie) loves Neel(Purab Kohli) who loves Shweta(Tara Sharma ) who loves Peter( Neil Bhoopalam). Ghalib ,who sells medicines and herbs to help couples resolve sexual problems, is plagued with obsessive love for his wife, Roshni who seems indifferent to him. His 10 ml “joshi jawani” love potion meant for Roshni, plays havoc with all four lovers and a night of mad confused love follows.
Love in its various forms is explored in a light vein in the city of Mumbai. Mini and Neel are more than long term buddies. Mini in love with Neel, doesn’t mind shopping for his bride to be, Shweta who is also her best friend. Shweta is a rich girl in love with a car mechanic, Peter. Interestingly, there are no lines drawn between love and friendship here and would have made  a more compelling story to explore their relationships deeper.

 Also, instead of each one’s love life, two very brief scenes between two unlikely characters, turn out to be the most fascinating ones. The chance encounter between Peter and Ghalib who are hiding at Shweta’s engagement party, have moments of empathy, again not touched upon sufficiently enough to draw the viewer into their love lorn troubles. While Ghalib evokes some caring for his life, both because of his story and great lines, Ghalib’s wife, Roshni gets ignored. Likewise, while we see Mini’s agony, we don’t know much about Neil, Shweta or Peter. An additional Ramleela track is given more screen time than required.

Koel Purie, Rajat Kapoor, Purab Kohli and Tisca Chopra  make this little comedy more appealing with their own screen presence and performances.

Despite the flaws ,10 ml Love charms in small doses. After all, it is based on the great bard’s work.

Friday, 7 December 2012


"Main Mansukh Desai. Logon ka band bajata hoon.” He means he arranges weddings. Himesh Reshammiya is back with his story and music (of course) and a role (more suitable) that can slip into a straw from which Akshay the Khiladi Singh can sip. It’s called ‘Angry Aam Ras’.

Mansukh Desai, who believes  ”dil milne chahiye, kundali nahin”, has a family business of lying to families to help couples wed. He goofs up at one such wedding. His father, Champak Desai, kicks him out. Mansukh Bhai makes a Devdas speech, a bottle in hand and sets out on his own match making attempt. His first client is Taantya Tukaram Tendulkar (TT,Mithun Chakravaorty) who is desperate to find a groom for his no funny-name-business sister, Indu(Asin).Him being a goon from Maharashtra doesn’t help. Mansukh pitches him as a police officer to the willing groom who is another goon from Punjab (where else?).

The supposed comedy starts from their names, with Akshay Kumar as Bahatar(72)Singh onwards best left untold here. For those seeking more of the numeral Singh entertainment, there is also the case of the missing 73 Singh. Just in case all the goondas are not enough, there is also Indu’s boyfriend in jail.

The goondon ki baraat story by debutant director, Ashish Mohan, breezes through with the simplest of screenplays (Kushal Ved Bakshi) and  dialogues (Bunty Rathore)clearly aimed at front bench audience. If it is Himesh Reshammiya’s ploy to pitch Akshay Kumar as the khiladi and be a player himself at the box office, it’s a good one. As Mansukh bhai, he makes the most of his role. His music along with lyrics like  “Khiladi bhaiya” (Shabbir Ahmed) is regular fare. R D Burman’s poster is prominently placed in one track for mysterious reasons.

Mithun Chakravorty and Akshay Kumar do little to lift the film with their comic efforts. Akshay tries to don the Dabangg glasses look and walk slow motion with Himesh’s title track of Khiladi playing but he is no Salman Khan. No whistles here either. Asin is great at pouts. Raj Babbar, Mukesh Rishi and Sanjay Misra are commendable for giving it their best.

If  counting numbers as names tickles you, Khiladi786 is for you. While at it, if you can fathom the title number, you are clearly a genius. 

Friday, 30 November 2012


Endings matter. Especially when you are offered Aamir Khan as a cop with a past, Rani Mukherjee as a depressed wife, Kareena, an enigmatic hot hooker and the efficient makers of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. But when all this just remains as good as the promo and don’t quite come together in the end, you miss the tension filled ride in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani.

If a mystery gets solved in your head half way if doesn’t quite satisfy. And when one genre is pitched as another in a promo, it disappoints too.

Talaash, unfortunately, remains one of those part satisfying, part disappointing films. Call it suspense, call it noir, call it drama. It doesn’t make a difference in the end.

A film star is found dead in a drowned car close to a red light area. Surjan (Aamir Khan), the cop in charge of the case investigates by day and drives around all night, sleepless and unable to deal with a troubled past. His marriage to Roshni (Rani Mukherjee), also depressed, has reached a dead-end. On one such late night drive, Surjan is accosted by a hooker, Rosy (Kareena Kapoor). The chance encounter leads him deeper into the glittering by lanes of the red light, further embroiling him into the mysterious car accident and his own personal trauma.

What follows is a beautifully shot almost two hour mood and murk montage of Kareena’s mysterious, beguiling, half seductive smiles, Aamir’s bitter, well chiseled, heavy moustached look carrying the conviction for the rest of the story. Strong supporting actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Raj Kumar Yadav help big time.

A particularly tension filled song sequence beautifully filmed on Nawaz, by itself establishes Reema Kagti as a director with great promise.

Farhan Akhtar’s dialogues, along with additional dialogues by Anurag Kashyap keep up the tempo occasionally but the weak story and screenplay by Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar is unable to see the film through, post interval. The story fails to establish any emotional connect when it goes into personal drama area. When tackling its main mystery plot, it lacks sufficient intrigue and intensity. The subplot involving Nawaz’s involvement is not something you haven’t seen before. Despite brilliant cinematography (especially water-car crash scenes) by Mohanan, smooth editing by Anand Subaya, Talaash doesn’t quite make the fine cut.

Kareena Kapoor gets the most dramatic lines, which she delivers without too much fanfare She has certainly mastered the art of a tantalizing walk. Aamir Khan may disappoint his fans as he doesn’t have a chunky enough role. Rani displays sufficient sensitivity. Her simple sari look does more for her sexy back than any skimpy clothes would.

Ram Sampath ‘s fabulous music and Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are one of the best things about the film, especially the songs, ”jee le zaraa”” and “muskaanein jhooti hain”.

Watch Talaash for mild entertainment, great songs, great visuals but don’t expect any mindboggling quest or puzzle.  

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


Jab Tak Hai Jaan has too many strong competitors. Chandni,Daag,Silsila,Kabhi Kabhi, Lamhe, Darr,Dil to Pagal hai, Veer Zara to name a few in the romance genre. This film just about manages to live up to the illustrious filmmaker, Yash Chopra’s image and body of work, notwithstanding the  never ending, old fashioned script.

The Chopra elements are all there: beautiful landscape, the faith in undying and unforgotten love, beautifully cherished women ,a hero who loves like none other, a stellar star cast. However, the film lacks  the one important factor which made Yash Chopra films special: boldness in thought and character. Here it falls totally thanks to Aditya Chopra’s  story and dialogue stuck in time, marathon screenplay(Aditya Chopra,Devika Bhagat) and the dragging sentiment  of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Veer Zara.

The film is set in London (where else).The snow falls. Samar (Shah Rukh Khan) digs snow for a living. His eyes fall on Meera  (Katrina Kaif)running towards a Church. Cupid strikes…”Pehli baar barf mein pari ko tairte hue dekha tha..” He follows her to the Church. Enters the main villain, Jesus Christ. Meera believes in making pacts with her God .Every time she wants something, she lets go of what she loves the most. So after some guitar strumming, serving as a waiter and giving gyan to Meera near a dustbin, dancing wildly with her, winning her over, he meets with an accident. Meera makes another pact with Jesus and the lovers separate for life. Samar, miraculously is now in the Indian army, diffusing his 98th bomb because he is “the man who cannot die”.

 Between the 98th bomb and his 108th,he meets Akira (Anushka Sharma)who has a 'fitoor’ of getting her first break with Discovery Channel with Samar’s crazy love story. She belongs to the new wave  ”instant make out, instant breakup” generation who wants to know what intense love is like. Several convoluted twists in the script later, Samar meets Meera again. The film gets longer than ever.

Shah Rukh Khan, well into his late 40s,has mastered both lover boy charm and intense passion. He slips easily from the playful Samar with Meera to the cynic Samar with Akira. Unfortunately neither Yash Chopra’s direction nor her silly characterization can help Katrina Kaif deliver any of the intensity required. Anushka as the sprightly and spunky Akira can win any heart over and sustains one’s interest in the film.
A.R Rehman’s music  and Gulzar’s  lyrics fail to match their own genius  as well as the magic of Kabhi Kabhi and Lamhe. Aditya Chopra’s much hyped poem ”jab tak hai jaan” is as much an attempt at intensity as his script. Anil Mehta’s  cinematography reflect’s Yash Chopra’s love for the grandeur.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan despite little jaan, may work for Yash Chopra loyalists, Shah Rukh Khan’s ample charm and his somewhat shy first screen kiss.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


There is a new challenge for multi crore Telgu/Tamil remake movies. The challenge is to be innovative best in PJs (read Punjabi jokes) and drag them till you have a three hour footage of turbans, song n dance, swords play, and some silly horse and jeep chase.

Here’s how Son of Sardar adapted from Telgu film,Maryada Ramannna  and Buster Keaton film “Our Hospitality” and loosely inspired by Romeo And Juliet, Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge; tries to innovate.

1.Romeo is a Sikh, known as Jassi  (Ajay Devgn) who wants to make everyone happy and keeps saying to one and all.. “kabhi hus liya karo”. It doesn’t matter if his father, a sardar  killed Sukh’s  (Sonakshi Sinha)father in a dispute,left behind some property taken over by Sukh’sccousin, Billu( Sanjay Dutt).Billu has sworn not to marry his fiancé of 25 years(Juhi Chawla) until he kills the son of Sardar. Dutt’s only weakness  is that he follows his family’s hospitality ethics  of respecting a guest at his home.  So Jassi flits between fear (lives inside with them, taking full advantage of hospitality ethics )and courage(occasionally fights like a Sardar who is equivalent to sawa lakh army of men).Hanging upside down on the entrance doorway to ward off swords, is one such innovation.

2. When Jassi first meets his dulhan to be, he reaches out from the doorway Dilwaale style as the heroine comes running after a train. His hand keeps slipping from her beautifully bangled one until he falls out. He has to work much less than Raj and Simran in the original in order to make the heroine fall for him. All he has to do is to get a coconut inside a train window grill. Tough task. There is some innovation here in coconut gifting.

3. Once the heroine’s heart has been won, the thinner than turban screenplay(Robin Bhatt,Ashwini DhIr,Shaheen Bhatt) becomes more challenging than ever. He is cornered by the enemies in their home turf. Now he has to save his life and win them over. He does that with ease, running around with a pickle jar, having a few drinks and  interacting with enemy number one in long hair and black sherwani,Billu, with comments like  ” aap truck ke piche likhi shayari acchi bolte hain”.

Ajay Devgn is quite at ease as Jassi in a turban, mouthing lines like “aap saabun se nahati hain ya cream se..” or juggling his muscular breasts prompting a line,  ”ye sardaar apne than kaise hilata hai?”. Sanjay Dutt is better at being a dumb giant of a villain than he ever was as a hero. Sonakshi Sinha is decorative enough, flashing her large eyes around. Tanuja remains a complete wonder as she carries off the most ridiculous scenes with just a bright glint in her eyes. Juhi Chawla is bright and fun as always as the romantically cheerful fiancé waiting to marry Dutt.Salman Khan makes an entirely forgettable guest appearance.

Irshaad Kamil’s lyrics like  “ yeh jo halki halki khumariya..”  are a pleasant change.

Director, Ashwini Dhir has made “Atithi Tum Ghar Kab Jaaoge” before this and clearly believes his audience would rather laugh through PJs than sit at home during Diwali.

One would be better off, playing with tiny sparkling phooljhadis, turning them round and round. Now, innovate.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


“Thoda khao,thoda pheko..”. The hilarious cake scene that never fails to crack you up.

Dialogues made  memorable by Ranjit Kapur and Satish Kaushik.

“Shaant gadadhari Bheem shaant…”.

“Draupadi jaisi Sati naari ko dekhkar maine cheerharan ka idea drop kar diya hai.”

“Nalayak, adharmi,durachari,vamachari, bhrashtachari,bol sorry.”

The infamous Draupadi  cheerharan redefined, Mahabharata and   Anarkali/Salim rolled into one. Can there be anything more side splitting? ROFL would be an understatement.

 Vinod Chopra’s (Naseeruddin, God amongst actors) loud whispers in the most ridiculous telephone sequence with Ashok (Satish Kaushik,hilarious).”Albert Pinto ko gussa kyon aata hai?”  Buffonery at its best.

Shobha Sen’s (Bhakti Barve, brilliant) cold yet seductive scenes as she allows Naseer to lean in towards her until he falls. Literally and metaphorically. A femme fatale, or a bitch-call her what you like, she is the most fascinating character yet to be repeated or matched  in Indian cinema.

Municipal Commisioner,D’Mello’s dead body playing Draupadi. Satish Shah infuses life into the most challenging role of a lifetime.

Late Ravi Baswani ‘s perfect timing as an actor. His innocence and naiveté as Sudhir Misra cries out to be protected.

Tarneja locked in a toilet, along with his screwball team of idiots including the talented Neena Gupta.Taneja is the epitome of greed and corruption. Pankaj Kapur in his element as he becomes one with the corrupt builder,  effortlessly.

A sloshed builder, Ahuja talking to a dead body. Om Puri at his ultimate best. 
The mystery of a disappearing coffin on a  bridge. A location-the city of Mumbai can’t be used better than this.

Two bumbling photographers trying to revive a failing studio, hired by an investigative editor to expose a corrupt builder. A setup has never been more classic, more potent, and more powerful. Sudhir Misra and Kundan Shah put together the most powerful story and screenplay in Indian cinema. Binod Pradhan’s charming cinematography and late Renu Saluja’s sharp edit complete the small and big picture.

Beauty Studio,Khabardaar magazine, a bitch of an editor, a bridge, a moving coffin, a bomb waiting to burst, Mahabharata, D’mello in a saree, Draupadi’s cheerharan,classic  burkha chase,Tarneja and Ahuja,Naseer and Baswani in prison clothes, the last shot facing the camera…these and the list above  are umpteen recall moments which  make the film a cult classic it remains today.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, made in 1983 on a meagre budget of Rs 7 lakhs, is far more than a two hour film or a weekend at the box office. It is an experience that ironically means let go but doesn’t leave you ever. It is about associations you and I have formed as cine goers over the past 30 years. It is spontaneity, honesty, fun, commitment as a team that shines through celluloid. The best and the most entertaining and hard hitting reflection, not just of the eighties but of the corrupt life and politics which continue to plague India.
A fabulous bridge, coffin and stage ride later, you are left with the hollowness of the song that plays endlessly, hits you harder than any slap and becomes an anthem that defines the dark satire .... ”hum honge kaamyaab ek din…”

Every single scene, every single character, every single actor is applause worthy as it plays again in cinema halls. Take a bow, Kundan Shah.

Friday, 2 November 2012


Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana milks the Punjabi flavor of Bollywood formula dry and ends up warm but bland.
The ingredients are all well assembled and well fleshed out. Here’s a look at the recipe:
1. A London return Punjabi crook on the run.
Only he looks too decent to even harm a fly or a chicken. Omi Khurana (Kunal Kapoor) is a small time thief who owes the local don several pounds in London. He asks for more time so that he can get it (read steal) from his rich grandfather, Daarji (Vinod Nagpal, Humlog fame) who runs the best Dhaba in India. Daarji is known for a secret chicken recipe which is now locked in his lost memory. Omi’s mission is to find and sell the recipe along with the closed dhaba to a competitor to pay off his debts and save his life.

2. The yellow mustard fields, a dhaba and lots of parantha and chicken gravy.
All seen before, except that the scale is smaller, the ambience more real. Besides, Amit Trivedi’s DEV D like eclectic music track with plenty of Punjabi lyrics ( Shellee)add to the mix.

3. Hot Punjabi kudi who can dance and cook.
This one rides a scooter, wears a  helmet( a plus) and is a local doctor.She is Harman (Huma Qureshi) ,an old school flame who has been treating Darji Here comes a conflict. She is engaged to his cousin. Except that it doesn’t seem to be much of a conflict where the Punjabi bad puttar’s intentions are concerned. It doesn’t help much either when  the cousin takes the plot to a lopsided Bengali twist. Ki bolcho?

4. Authentic faces in the family.
Khosla ka Ghosla got that better. Each one here, doesn’t quite make the cut despite meaty roles. Except a crow who provides the most significant twist. Quite neat.

 5. People who are weird but adorable.
 Wierd,yes. Adorable, not always. Vicky Donor got that like makkhan on paratha. So here, we have an eccentric mama(Rajesh Sharma) who likes snuggling in the blanket with his nephew and pretends to be off the rocker. In the end, he or rather the story attempts a shocker, ends up a no brainer. There is also a brief appearance by a buaji turned saint (Dolly Ahluwalia)who smokes and sniggers and accidentally reveals the much sought secret our hero is after. Well played.

6. Fart jokes and pissing scenes.
 Neither funny,  nor touching. Close to gross. Far cry from Bansali’s ‘hawa ka jhokha’ in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or more recent Vicky Donor’s description of a husband being missed.

All of the above ingredients would have had  some potential of  a palatable dish if spiced and mixed right. But the severe lack of conflict and miraculous resolutions, slow writing despite well etched characters (Sumit Batheja), forced scenes and contrived jokes; makes LSDCK completely lose the plot especially in the end.
Despite being well shot  by Mitesh Mirchandani (particularly a small moment where Kapoor is half reflected in sunlight in his dhaba, putting on an apron)and skillfully  directed by debutant(Sameer Sharma) the film lacks energy and pace. Some more play with food visuals would have been more than welcome.

Decent  performances don’t help either. Kunal Kapoor and  Huma Qureshi are competent and controlled but lack chemistry. Rajesh Singh in a stellar role as mamaji is noticeably good. Of the lot,chachaji  steals the show during one boring speech scene.
Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana starts off with some hot air, grows on you with its lovingly crafted ingredients but sadly ends up with a fleshy heart, half cooked.

Thursday, 1 November 2012


Real lives can be more inspiring than reel lives, both in life and in death. Shahid, based on the life of Shahid Azmi, criminal lawyer murdered for defending a 26/11 accused, is one such riveting watch.

It takes rare courage to live a life like Shahid did. It takes a genuine voice like director Hansal Mehta(‘Chal’ and Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar’),to showcase the same life within logistic restrictions.   

The film begins at a small chawl in the by lanes of  Govandi  in Mumbai in 1993 amidst Hindu Muslim riots. The residents, Shahid and his  family miraculously escape death. The fear in the tiny room is taut and palpable as the family of 4 grown up boys cling to their mother in desperation.  Traumatized by the attacks he has just witnessed, Shahid runs away to Pakistan occupied Kashmir and joins a Jihaadi camp to train as a terrorist. Every day the leader brainwashes the recruits into willingly becoming suicide bombers. Shahid questions the leader, “If Quran does not permit suicide, how is it right?” This questioning attitude and Jihaadis’ utter ruthlessness, makes Shahid run back home. He immerses himself in his studies, as if determined to find answers in his books. Unfortunately, he is arrested soon for being associated with the Jihadis. In Tihar jail, he meets his true mentors who help him continue his education. Few years later, Shahid is proved innocent and released.

The real story begins here. The film follows Shahid’s life as a lawyer who takes up challenging cases of innocents falsely implicated in acts of terrorism. He ignores life threats and phone calls by terrorists, tries unsuccessfully to balance his own married life and continues with his one man battle against the system where the police catch hold of anyone remotely connected
The film goes deep into two such cases, showing real and rare glimpses of court trails. Every single scene and interaction with defence lawyers and victims, is laced with subtle humour and irony. The battleground of courtroom becomes the viewer’s drawing room as the involvement with Shahid’s life gets real.
Better production values and camera work and a tighter script (Sameer Gautam Singh,Apoorva Asrani,Hansal Mehta) might have taken Shahid to a finer level in cinematic values. However, the story itself told with passion, the docu drama treatment and fantastic, controlled performances by Raj Kumar Yadav as Shahid, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayuub  as Shahid’s supportive brother and Vipin Sharma as prosecuting lawyer, together, make the film a gripping watch.

 Shahid, a runner up in Gold category at MAMI festival, will hopefully release soon. Watch it to enjoy  honest cinema and to know true heroism.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012


“Samar sirf news banayega nahin, news banega bhi.”
“Crime reporter tha, tum logon ne mujhe criminal banaa diya.”
“Jo raakshas ka shikaar karne nikalta hai, khud raakshas ban jaata hai.”
“Jo aadmi risk nahin leta, uska sabkuch risky ho jaata hai.”
“Jab tak main bhaagta rahunga, tum chain se nahin baith paaoge.”

On the nose dialogues, predictable drama, one conflict played several times over. Honest but shrewd, ambitious but ethical young man gets caught in ruthless business of crime. It’s a plot told before several times, last seen in Blood Money.

Every single thing in Rush has been seen before, the story, the hero, the heroine, the villain and the vamp.  Samar Grover, (Emraan Hashmi) is an honest but over eager crime reporter who will do anything to get a breaking news story on TV. He will even face the gun and interview a killer (Murli Sharma).Only to be fired because certain richer and more powerful people running the channel are involved. Samar has a gorgeous girlfriend,Aahana  (Sagarika Ghatge ,a welcome change amongst leads),a painter who loves him enough to give up her work and go to Kuala Lumpur with him for his new job. He is offered a plum job as editor in chief by a seductive Lisa (Neha Dhupia) and her  reckless car racing boss, Roger Khanna  ( Aditya Pancholi,always rocks).

A super swanky office, a BMW, a penthouse: all apparently don’t come on a platter. Samar’s life is now a rush of breaking news, crime and a roller coaster of special effects, loud music, deafening sounds and never ending dialogues; a style as shoddy and tacky as some of our own news channels on TV.

Written and directed by late Shamin Desai, with dialogues by Sanjay Masoom, Rush is clearly a film made in a hurry and rests totally on Emraan’s not so muscular shoulders and half intense expressions. Aditya Pancholi brings in sufficient screen presence . Neha Dhupia looks hot and glamorous ,is cool and competent; her sexy high heels do the rest. Sagarika Ghatge is wasted in a small role.

The film tries hard to be a pacy and hard hitting thriller  and incorporates special effects and rapid cuts but ends up being as tacky as TV news channels. Pritam music  in “Dil to hai fukrah,style hai  wakhra..” written by Kumar and Sayeed Quadri’s  pleasant, Sufiana, “O re Khuda” are nice to listen but not much to watch.

Rush in an attempt to shock, delivers less than run of the mill ‘breaking news’.

Saturday, 27 October 2012


Sometimes one needs a first time, enthusiastic, sensitive Bengali filmmaker to bring the best out of Hindi mainstream actors. Though the best of Dia Mirza in Paanch Adhyay may not be good enough for the viewers but it is certainly an achievement by writer/director, Pratim D Gupta.

Paanch Adhyay (screened during MAMI festival) is a relationship story that has sometimes bookish, sometimes endearing, sometimes old fashioned, sometimes self indulgent pages structured in the form of five chapters of a couple’s life. It attempts to unravel the complications of married life, a subject too intense, with a treatment too casual. A stylized, contemporary narrative form and stunning visuals lifts Paanch Adhyay to an above average watch.

A handsome young film director, Arindam ( Priyanshu Chatterjee)  and a pretty, young school teacher,Ishita  (Dia Mirza)meet at a party. A charming banter  later, Arindam follows Ishita  around with red roses and wins her over. Starting on this rather filmy  and amateurish note, the film moves to real ground. Arindam, now an older and  a successful film director eats lonely meals at home. Opposing ideologies have created a silent rift in his marriage. He casts a young, vivacious new face, Ranjabati(Sampurna Lahiri) in his upcoming film. They fall for each other, thus opening  a challenging chapter in Chatterjee’s  life with Dia Mirza. More complications follow, both predictable and unpredictable, turning around Chatterjee’s concept of lasting love. A simple line in the film puts out an interesting perspective,.. “there is nothing purer than love, sometimes with the same woman..sometimes..”

Besides the story, the film’s take on Satyajit Ray’s Charulata(as one director-played by Soumitra Chatterjee in a fabulous guest appearance, says to Arindam in the film-“how long will Bengalis milk Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray ”)is a good insight. Arindam’s character in his new film is called Charu. In his own life, Ishita portrays the neglected wife with strong beliefs which challenge his own. This fascination with Ray’s Charulata is brought out well; kind of a half chuckle.

Dia Mirza as Ishita  looks extremely pretty and graceful in elegant cotton sarees but doesn’t quite get into the character’s skin. Likewise, Chatterjee is equally charming in his presence but superficial in his performance. Sampurna Lahiri  as the young newcomer is the most compelling of the three.

Anand Chakravarti  ‘s cinematography makes every frame look like a piece of admirable artwork. Shantanu Moitra’s music lifts the theme wonderfully but at times gets distracting, especially in a serious scene between Mirza and Chatterjee in the end.

Writer/ director, Pratim D Gupta who is also a film critic with The Telegraph, is commendable for  displaying a keen cinematic sensibility and a genuine love for the medium.

Paanch Adhyay has much promise and potential in its style and theme of love redefined but lacks the intensity and maturity the story requires.                    

Friday, 26 October 2012


A young girl loses her eyesight and turns to photography. A monk fighting a case for animal rights would rather die of liver cirhosis than take medicines which are animal tested. A stock broker discovers his kidney donor had his own kidney stolen during an appendix operation. Three different people, three   different lives, each obsessively pursuing a belief and one connection unknown to them. Ship of Theseus explores slowly, gently, humorously and seamlessly   quintessential   life philosophies and the paradox of Theseus through these people.

Written and directed by Anand Gandhi, his first film is deservedly a winner of MAMI organized MFF jury award for technical excellence. It is a film that has its merit in the eye for detail in both script and choice of locations, capturing long vivid images of something as simple as a long walk down a bridge on a rainy night or a centipede struggling its way out of giant shoes treading by or several monks trudging bare feet on dry, hot, stony pathways with windmills towering all over.
Every story(written by Anand Gandhi, Pankaj Kumar, Khushboo Ranka) is an experiment by itself in solitary or quiet moments. The camera follows every protagonist so closely that before one knows it, one is a part of their everyday life, however disturbing or uncomfortable.

Sample some long quiet sequences from each: The first  story has Aliya (Aida El Kashef)who challenges herself by taking up photography after losing her eyesight and is later seen dealing with her loss of  intuitive insight after she regains sight; sitting blindfold in the dark post her successful eye operation. The monk,Maitrya’s (Niraj Kabi,outstanding) story has a long silent sequence where the stark whiteness of his dhoti is marred by yellow bowel stains one night when he wakes up in a severe ailing state of near death. The stockbroker, Navin’s (Sohum Shah) story has him in a silent shot, washing a bed pan, helping his bedridden grandmother pee into it and washing the pan again.

Besides dead serious moments like these are simple conversations that bring out tragic-comic humour and irony. As the monk lies in bed, fighting to breathe, one of his followers comes to touch his feet, desperately seeking answers to the perpetual age old question, ”maharaj, aatma hai ki nahin?”The monk replies simply,  ”pata nahin.”

Several more everyday conversations and hilarious location choices that bring out the irony of life  ever so casually.  When Navin (fabulous, natural performance by Sohum Shah)considers the possibility of his own kidney stolen from a poor patient,  Shankar. He feels responsible for the robbery. He drives down to the slums with his friend to find Shankar. They reach a narrow lane where it’s impossible to take the car any further. They walk into the lane which gets narrower, small rooms on both sides. Asking for directions to Shankar’s house, they climb several steps and shaky ladders and eventually even find the lanes narrowing down to walls on each side with just enough space to squeeze in sideways .  Navin’s overweight friend constantly gets stuck and exasperatedly cries, ”kahan phas gaya?” The absurdity, cruelty of the situation of stolen kidney, the pathetic plight of poor slum dwellers, the new found compassion and mission of humanity all come together in the characters and situation through sheer use of fantastic real dialogues, location and cinematographer , Pankaj Kumar’s camera work.

 Many more scenes like these in all three stories coming together in a wonderful climax sequence, make Anand Gandhi’s debut, Ship of Theseus , a really special cinematic treat and experiment  to enjoy. As for the Theseus’ paradox which raises the question if an object which has all its parts replaced, remains the same object; this film just might have a delightful answer.                

Thursday, 25 October 2012


Director Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh, like his previous film, Aarakshan, takes up a relevant issue, gives it a sufficient entertainment quotient but refuses to push the political envelope.Nandighat is a village (fictional) taken over by Naxalites who have killed 84 policemen. This powerful backdrop along with a story taken from a few real incidents, immediately draws you in. A cop, Adil (Arjun Rampal) arrests a key Naxalite leader, Govind Suryavanshi (Om Puri). Industrialist, Mahanta (Kabir Bedi) announces grand plans of opening an international university in Nandighat which is in Naxalite hands. Adil is sent to Nadighat to eradicate the place of terrorist leaders including Rajen (Manoj Bajpayee).
 Adil’s close friend, Kabir (Abhay Deol) offers to help him by joining the movement himself and be an undercover informer. Kabir wins over a notorious and fiery leader, Juhi (Anjali Patil) who has killed 49 cops. Here onwards, the film moves to Kabir getting sucked into a Chakravyuh of his own making. Chakravyuh has a good story (Anjum Rajabali), a somewhat convenient, matter of fact screenplay (Prakash Jha, Anjum, Sagar Pandya) and average dialogues (Prakash Jha, Anjum). The plot with good use of action sequences in rustic Chattisgarh locales, gets interesting once it follows Kabir’s involvement and just stops short of advocating Naxalism. 
A scene stands out significantly, showcasing the realities of Adivasis taking up a cause in total ignorance. Kabir while training the tribals, takes his count beyond twenty. A fellow leader tells him to start again from the count of one. ”Why?” Kabir asks. ”Aagey ki ginti nahin jaante hain,” the explanation is simple. Kabir reacts in stupefied wonder, ”Politics..kranti ..samajh mein aata hai..”
However, this is the only scene that comes close to hard hitting truths. The rest of the film ends up merely as an interesting drama involving two friends on opposite sides. The friendship between Adil and Kabir in the beginning is not established well enough to provide any kind of loyalty tug. The story plays safe as it doesn’t venture into exploring the Naxalite voice represented by Bajpayee and Om Puri who remain caricatures mouthing a few speeches. The political, industrial nexus too, remains sketchy and predictable. Kabir’s acceptance into the Naxalite camp is handled with too much ease and convenience. 
What begins as an interesting and honest perspective of both the police/capitalist and Naxalite, essentially doing the same right or wrong, caught in helpless political web of corruption, remains just a bird’s eye view. It would have been an engrossing and excellent drama if the story had moved deeper into Kabir’s shift of ideologies instead of taking refuge in police atrocities. 
Music is in keeping with the film’s tone. A.M.Turaz’s lyrics in ‘mehengayi ‘song says it all-- “Arey humre hi khoon se inka, Humre hi khoon se inka, Engine chale dhakadhak, Aam aadmi ki jeb ho gayi hai safachat”. 
Amongst the cast, Abhay Deol as Kabir does his best but is not quite as effective as his previous film, ‘Shanghai’. Arjun Rampal, and Esha Gupta with their chiseled looks are miscast though they do try hard to be desi cops. 
Manoj Bajpayee and Om Puri are equally unconvincing with belting out repetitive ‘lal salaam’ slogans. Anjali Patil in a strong debut role, is quite competent. 
Chakravyuh at best remains a perfect counter point drama unexplored fully. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012


The school is uber cool. The students are hot. The coach is super hot. The costumes are perfect. The music is a chartbuster. The dialogues are fun. The mood is popcorn light. The style is unabashedly superficial. Gay jokes are in plenty. The film is a ramp walk riot. The hero is the director, Karan Johar. 

Every time Karan Johar makes a movie, it inevitably requires suspension of disbelief. A line in the movie puts it aptly, “ yeh koi normal school nahin tha. Apne aap mein ek alag duniya thi.”

Once one accepts this as a norm in Karan Johar’s world, it’s easy to enjoy any of his films. “Student of the Year” is no different. Super glossy, popcorn light, costume perfect, the film packs in more fun than hot young boys showing off smooth skin and chiseled abs.

St Teresa is a school run by a closet gay dean (Rishi Kapoor). The school is straight out of fairy tales and Vogue magazines. The school owner, Ram Kapoor’s son, Rohan (Varun Dhawan) is rich and popular, arrogant and a playboy. He has a girlfriend, Shanaya (Alia Bhatt) with a Barbie doll life and wardrobe. His rank amongst his peers and girlfriend gets shaky when ‘poor’ and ambitious, orphan boy, Abhimanyu (Siddharth Malhotra, who looks richer than the rich) joins the school. A friendship strikes and is soon tested by a school competition for Student Of The Year. Rohan’s girlfriend, Shanaya finds herself caught in confusion and rivalry. Her own participation in the contest along with other close friends, add fuel to the friendship fire.

The film is a pleasant experience with a decent story, good screenplay (Rensil d’Silva) and entertaining dialogues (Niranjan Iyengar). The characters are familiar (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na). The actors are not. Fresh new faces along with known television actors and a fabulous role played by Rishi Kapoor, make for a terrific casting.

In the competition amongst all the young hotties, Ronit Roy as the sports coach wins abs down. Rishi Kapoor endears himself instantly, playing a principal with a crush on Ronit. A short jig on his old and famous ‘dafliwaale’ song completes his joyful performance. The 80s most popular ‘Disco Deewane remix is well used except for clumsy dancing by the trio. Lyrics by Anvita Dutt in “Ishq wala love’ are refreshingly nice and simple.

All the newcomers: Siddharth Malhotra, Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan are convincing and confident in both style and delivery. Supporting actor, Sana Saeed who had appeared as little Anjali in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, is simply outstanding as the seductive Tanya.

Student of the Year scores high on gloss, costumes, entertainment and direction. 

Monday, 15 October 2012


Chittagong is a well intentioned salute to unsung heroes. This, despite a few shortcomings, is one of the reasons the film deserves to be seen.

Another reason is the powerful subject, based on real events: Chittagong uprising in 1930, one of the first amongst many movements towards fighting for Indian independence against the British rule.

Thirdly, it is a story that moves and inspires, told from the perspective of a teenager who along with several youngsters his age, fights against all odds.

Jhunku, (Delzad Hiwale), a 14 year old son of a successful UK educated Indian lawyer, has the rare privilege of good education and future prospects of going to Oxford. He lives amidst the less privileged villagers who are constantly humiliated by the British. He is a silent admirer of a school teacher, Masterda Surya Sen (Manoj Bajpai) who is quietly organising a resistance movement with the help of a handful group of men and teenagers.

Jhunku is painfully aware of the consequences of disobeying the British. But when he witnesses British atrocities spearheaded by his father’s British boss, he sacrifices the much promised future in Oxford to join Masterda’s little army. A small group of school boys train themselves to use barely functional rifles despite watchful eyes in the small village. Soon, in an amazing act of bravado, the inexperienced teenagers, along with a few men, succeed in raiding the British garrison. However, the victory is short lived as the British reinforce themselves with twice the strength. Jhunku finds himself deeper in trouble and has to choose between his commitment to the Independence cause and surrendering to the British.

Debut director/producer/writer Bedabrata Pain, a scientist with NASA, quit his job to pursue filmmaking. His own passion and sincerity is reflected in his first film. However, Pain’s commitment alone is not sufficient to hold the film together. Despite a strong, well researched subject, co written by Pain and Shonali Bose (writer/director, Amu) and some good dialogues by Piyush Misra, the film lacks the required punch. Effortful, forced scenes weaken the patriotic element.

Surprising lazy performances both by Manoj Bajpai and the young protagonist only make it more challenging to believe in the conviction and fire that the revolutionaries had actually displayed. Nawazuddin and Raj Kumar Yadav’s presence don’t help much either. Backed by Anurag Kashyap and Bohra Brothers, the film manages to make its presence felt in the midst of regular commercial fare. Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Khele Hum Jee Jaan Se’ has tackled the same subject from a different perspective but failed to make an impact. Music by Shankar/ Ehsaan/ Loy and Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics, especially ‘Bola Na’ and ‘Ishan’ , complement the narrative quite well.

Chittagong is a significant effort and worth a watch to revisit t the lesser known Indian Independence struggle history.