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.