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Two nights in a row I read news of people I loved and admired re-admitted to hospital because their debilitating disease desired so. Two nights in a row I went to sleep asking and avoiding the terrible question, what if…? Two nights in a row I did not know I would wake up to the ‘what if’ coming true. They are stars, after all, they will be fine. And ultimately everyone has to die, they will too, but not now, not like this, I kept telling myself. But they did. I just didn’t know it would feel like this, so personal even words are saying I will give into the moment and stay silent.

Irrfan was my present, Rishi was my past, not everyone has such a glorious history; only those who share it will know. Between them they encompassed the art and commerce of the mostly silly Bollywood which both simply elevated by their sheer presence. Or even a smile. Where do I go look for them now?


The last time I felt this unnervingly devastated wasn’t yesterday, when I heard about Irrfan. The shared pain on my echo chamber of social media was so loud and deep, it somehow put my pain in convalescence. Irrfan was our present, how dare they take him away, everyone was screaming in unison. Even the ones who are generally rational and stoic about these matters. It was too deeply personal for everyone including myself, his leaving us, but in that collective heartbreak I found some solace to tide over the very, very unfair blow life and death had thrown at me, at all of us.

But with Rishi it feels like a family member has gone away and I am sitting and weeping away unable to wrap my head around what the hell is so devastating about this. The last time I felt this unnervingly devastated without understanding why was when Rajesh Khanna left us. I wasn’t even an ardent fan, just really liked him in everything he had done pre-80’s, everything that I keep hanging onto till date. I wrote about it here. I was mourning an entire era and my childhood he took away with him, making the present unrecognisable. I am sitting and mourning that again as Rishi takes away with him whatever was left of it.

But why am I weeping like a family member has passed on, Chintuji would you know? You, who with that chocolate boy innocence and lover-boy impishness never let me stay depressed for long? All I had to do was play one of your songs, mostly with RD and sing along ‘Hoga tumse pyaara kaun’ as though I meant it for you. I didn’t tell anyone but I did. You, whose manic energy uplifted everything and everyone around you in whatever dismal setting of a film you were placed in? It didn’t matter, your settings, coz whenever you were on screen it was like, ‘tere chehre se nazar nahi hathti nazare hum kya dekhe?’ You, who were so criminally under-rated despite coming from the First Family of Bollywood and being its best lover boy onscreen? When he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 for 25 yrs in the industry, I learnt the last Filmfare he received was in 1974, for his debut Bobby. That is how criminally under-rated he was and I decided to love him a little more from my end even though by then he was a pudgier version of himself, not the perfect lover boy Rishi of my dreams, but still with the same charisma, same charm, same exuberance, same enthusiasm for life.


The most attractive thing about Rishi Kapoor was not his smile, or looks, it was his enthusiasm for life that showed through in every performance. It was infectious, like how. Perhaps, that’s why when depressed all I cared to do was put on one of his songs with Neetu that RD had strung together, and live off that enthusiasm vicariously. Ek main aur ek tu, dono mile is tarah, ke he invariably put life back into my soul that was ready to give up. I still have those songs to go back to but I don’t have you anymore Rishi, and right now I am at a sheer loss what to do about that…

He was the only Bollywood celebrity I followed on Twitter for a long time, not even SRK. Twitter is such an extension of Bollywood PR it is really boring to keep buying those lies even our celebs themselves are not convinced about. But not Rishi, he was real. Fuck, he was real even in that jungle called Twitter and unabashedly so. Taking in all the hate and disdain with the same love he accepted our love. And that infectious enthusiasm for life. ‘I am ready to get back to acting,’ didn’t he say as soon as he was back from that 11-month long stint of treatment abroad? Where do I look for him now?

He was so, so, so good in his second innings. Sometimes, I thought, even better than in his prime. Perhaps, it was about the roles he got and the sincerity with which he performed them. And the accolades kept coming in, finally Filmfare was recognising him too. And he had so much more to give, and I was hungry to take. From the refreshingly honest portrayal of a Bollywood producer in Luck, by chance, to that loud, hammy, vile antagonist of Agneepath, to the cute, vulnerable, authentically middle-class father and husband of Do Dooni Chaar and more, he simply seemed to be this fountainhead of performance that kept giving. Put him in any role and all you had to say at the end of it was, waah, Chintuji, waah! With all heart and smiles. Who will I say that to now?

I feel extremely silly, and adolescent and naïve banging away at my keyboard trying to understand from where is this despair arising. The first time I felt it was with Shammi Kapoor and I have never been able to hear the Rockstar tune he performed without flinching ever since. Next was when Devsaab left us, the man we thought would go on and on living (and making films) even after we stop. He was my first love, I wrote about him here. Then Rajesh Khanna, then Shashi – that other breathtakingly beautiful Kapoor only comparable with his nephew Rishi. And then there was Sri…never mind. She was a piece of all our hearts. Sometimes, I think I will never accept she isn’t around anymore, I don’t, I won’t, I can’t.

Just like their films, and their eras they evaporated, taking with them everything that was special about growing up even in the dead, dank 80’s. And I am left screaming at the heavens at the injustice of it all. It was only films, after all, some would say. They were mere actors, others would say. They were only dream sellers and tricksters of your imagination, many would say. Yes, but then why did they stick so close to reality? Why did they inform life so dearly like it depended on them and their smiles, their styles, their guiles? If they were only dreams, is this how dreams always end? Taking away all those parts of your childhood that you thought would live on despite yourself?

But then, as you find out, they don’t. Those parts go where your beloved heroes and heroines go. And perhaps, it is better that way, they were meant to be together, they will be safe. As for us, who have been left behind, without our pasts and without all those who kept the past breathing long after it was gone, ‘we will always have Paris’. Long live, Irrfan, long live Rishi, and long live all the heroes and heroines taken away from us. I feel more anger than love right now, but as they say, anger is nothing but love that has no place to go so here is hoping all of them are feeling the love wanting to reach them. I have fused my past, my childhood, various parts of my identity and some of my best memories with you and sent them along to keep you safe and remind you that you will be loved always.

And that you will live forever. Wherever you go, we will always have Paris. I will meet you there.

Fatema Kagalwala

Talaash – Seeking the ‘real’

Posted: December 1, 2012 by fattiemama in cinema, film, Thoughts

Everyone’s seeking something. Identity, most often than not. Some find, some sink. Bollywood happens to be in some sort of a no-man’s land in that respect. Most of the time we don’t even know it’s looking…


What made me want to write this? Partly, a vague and naïve belief that our cinema can be saved. Especially by some who are in the very thick of commercial cinema’s circus ring. Not that it’s a bad thing, at all. But my expectations may be. And that brings me to lay them out and examine them. And with it, the reality out there, of our craven, exhilarating, diseased, infectious, addictive, inconsequential film world.

Talaash is a good film. It is tight, engaging, dramatic and emotionally expressive. It has a superb theme at the centre manifested in multiple strands connecting it. For what I think must be the first time in my cine-conscious life, I had a good word for Aamir. I had sat through an Aamir film without cringing at his non-performance and I loved him for that. But it bothered me big-time. Why do we insist on the surface so much? Why can’t we, for once, scrape out the skin and lay bare the soul of a story for absolute, complete and total consumption? What are we so scared of?

I kept getting distracted by the holes everywhere in the film that personify this superficial approach we take to things. Symptomatic of the entire sensibility of our hallowed Bollywood. And in so many ways representative of what the Excel world has come to embody.

Somewhere in the mid 2000s, Bollywood began to see beyond its general upper class fetish. It began to set its stories outside perfectly manicured sets of lavish bungalows, choosing instead, a milieu its audience lived in. You see, a few stark films had been received well and Bollywood’s herd mentality swooped in. With classic insecurity, it then mixed this trend with populism and dreamy stuff. Meanwhile, the so-called parallel camps that really wanted to break-free were busy choosing style over substance or let’s say form over hard-core story-telling. Garish, loud, escapist stuff always won hands down, and stars were always less available for anything with a remotely realistic setting, the story notwithstanding. After all, she is a whore no one cares for in Bollywood. Hence, when a film like Talaash comes out of the blue it’s a delicious prospect. Funny, how the traditional suddenly seems out of the ordinary just because it is on the verge of extinction.

From there began a worse kind of prositutionalising (if that’s a word) of the realist film. All you needed was your heroine in Fab India clothes, nude lipstick with lesser gloss and mascara-ed eyes without fake eyelashes, unclean-looking (‘looking’ only for that lived-in feel) houses, crowds made of junior artistes that rarely get work with Dharma and a little swearing. It didn’t matter if it was uttered with a convent-educated polish. It didn’t matter that none of it was convincing because it all looked so real. Looks after all is what Bollywood is all about, isn’t it?

And there and that’s why we are able to overlook Kareena speaking in perfectly correct Hindi and classy accent when playing a prostitute. We hardly notice when Rani playing a woman so heart-broken she couldn’t care about her appearance, flicks a strand of unkempt hair off her face like a diva would to avoid spoiling her painfully dressed-up hair. We pass by an entire police force that is so upright and intent on its job when the fact alone removes all doubt of the film being realistic. We gulp down a suitably grungy red light area if its characters are duly wearing garish, ill-matched clothes. Nothing strikes us as out of ordinary when the police-prostitute relationship comes with no disgust, no statement and completely without any hint of the dirtiest power plays that informs that world. Our eye-lids don’t bat when a prostitute is put in the care of a really nice woman running a rehab/NGO and chapter closed all hunky dory. And so on. It all appears properly realistic so what are we cribbing about?

Because appearances are not always deceptive. At times they are representative of what lies beneath.

Excel Entertainment that began with the era-defining Dil Chahta Hain, has made an admirable reputation for making films with strong content. (Except of course, the Don films but then when you have SRK who’d bother with content anyway. He himself doesn’t  anymore.) But why are they always so sanitised? Far-removed from going beneath the surface?

Why is glamour suitably replaced with just-about pretty when upper class and just-that-much scruffy for any of the stratas below? Why aren’t emotions all-consuming, why do characters who even when behaving ordinary seem affected and why do the stories, although full of lovely moments, keep us at a distance? It’s as if an invisible glass curtain has fallen in between. There seems a desperate reluctance to approach anything that is extreme, anything that isn’t middle-line. What began as a fresh perspective on story-telling seems to be fast developing into some sort of a middle-of-the-road voice that’s saying nothing new, happy to simply tone down the intensity of what both extremes have been doing for ages.

And so we have a dispassionate Rock On, a squeaky clean and naïve Lakshya, exotica pretending to be exploratory Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, an underwhelming Karthik Calling Karthik, a neither flaky nor deep Honeymoon Travels and now a funnily packaged thriller Talaash that simply cannot make up its mind about its physical or emotional landscape.

I’ve really liked all these films (with the exception of Rock On, which I found extremely mediocre and too populist to have true merit.) because they have been well-told stories and refreshingly non-self-conscious. But through them all I have waited for a film from the Excel stables to max out its subject, take the juice out of it and compel me to go ah-a because their films do display a fresher approach. Luck By Chance is the only exception that takes a dangerously close look at its subject but its singularity as an example makes me regard it as one of those rare flashes of brilliance that talented people are capable of but some hardly show often. And Excel, despite its premeditated insistence on an extremely sanitized reality, has the potential to show that brilliance more often than it does. The other bigger reason I felt like writing this post.


There were so many things going for Talaash but this insistence on a safe distance from any sort of crudity called out the entire game. If not for Nawazuddin Siddique and Subrat Dutta, the carefully-cultivated setting would have been faker than those pretentious Fuji apples. I didn’t write it off, despite the finale which I’d have readily bought had the film only set it up right. It had a beautiful, somber mood, carried through faithfully, successfully smearing the narrative with a blanket of bleakness that served it so well. It stayed away from incorporating formulaic elements and actually went so far as to have three top stars shedding all their vanity to actually serve the film, an almost unheard of feat, leave alone unachievable. It had Aamir Khan get into the skin of a character for a change, for God’s sake! Yet, it stopped short of the brilliance it could have been.

The curious thing about it is that it’s out-of-the-box and extremely traditional at the same time. It mixes genres not in formulaic Bollywood style but to serve its own purpose. But having done that, it doesn’t create anything new. It is well-written, tight and engaging but stereotypical at more places than one, picking its people and places more out of tested territories than a kicking imagination. It is very well-directed yet unfinished…so many rough edges, so many moments where the lack of attention to detail shows through. And these become big holes in what informs an entire sensibility and ‘type’ of film Excel is fast becoming synonymous with. Despite an actively engaging two and half hours, these holes are all that remained with me.

Bollywood abounds in horror stories more horrifying than Ramsay films so I accept that it is probably impossible to make an honest film and still earn money. But I do need to ask, if compromises (artistic, intellectual or of mere effort) are absolutely necessary, can we find a way to do them so they don’t come in the way of pure-blood story-telling and some really memorable cinema that surely we are capable of? Or we aren’t?

Any answers?

Fatema Kagalwala

Fatema Kagalwala puts on those nostalgia-wala goggles and remembers Rajesh Khanna.

I have a very 70’s generational angst. I have a theory that we, all of us born in the 70’s are marked. And politely speaking quite fucked. We are the in-between generation constantly straddling two worlds, one full of a traditionalism no longer serving us, and another of modernisation hurtling us to a place that has stripped us completely of our original identities. We have one foot in both. Our childhoods were wrapped in what was probably the blackest period of modern India – the 80’s where decay, political, social and personal was at its ugliest, poverty and disillusionment with the Great Indian Dream had left us utterly hopeless and arts were a shadow of their original selves. Maybe, it is for this that I (we?) continue to feel like an alien in this uber-modernised, superficial millennium and keep asking myself ‘Where do I belong?’ And probably it is this that makes me misty-eyed with nostalgia, sense of loss and emptiness when I but merely watch a yester-year film song especially of the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s.

Films and the heroes we loved in our childhood keep us connected to our past and the entire world it embodied. No other medium or star can do that for us, but yes, film heroes can. And that’s why when I heard of Rajesh Khanna’s demise yesterday I had a lump in my throat like he was a long-lost childhood friend. His going brought up all that sense of immense loss and pain that had been growing ever since Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor left us.

I was having lunch when I heard it. My first reaction was ‘Don’t go!’, ‘Don’t do this to us…’ ‘We need you…’ I was screaming inside, ‘You don’t know the way you keep us connected us to ourselves…’ ‘We don’t recognise this world we live in but with you it’s bearable…’ ‘What will we do without the dreams you gave us to dream?’ I felt I had lost yet another link to myself, my past, my world. It wasn’t about cinema anymore. It was about the world Rajesh Khanna was a part of, the world he kept alive for me. The world I could go to at will, to rejuvenate myself. A sort of coming home when tired… Rajesh Khanna, Dev Saab, Shammi Kapoor symbolised a world of gentility and innocence that I was born in and then rudely shaken out of before I had my fill. They kept me connected to what was no more…And now they are…

Rajesh Khanna the star and Rajesh Khanna the man were both something that I wasn’t personally attached to, like I was to Dev Anand, the first man I ever fell in love with. Yet, his charming smile, the innocence in his eyes, the warmth he invested in his characters and his eccentrically crooked style, all remained endearing to me no matter how frail a shadow of himself he became. In my eyes, he remained Anand, Arun, Raj and Kamal, none of his later life pursuits ever diminishing all the beautiful worlds he had created for me in my childhood. It must be the dreams he (and others before him) sold to my wide-eyed child that makes me cling to a world that has long past…

A world where innocence meant thinking that when actors died in films they died in real life…

Where women scraped the mud of an actor’s car tyres and marked their foreheads with it as sindoor…

Where an autograph or a mere sighting of our favourite star would leave us in a tizzy for days…

Where the word ‘matinee’ gave us shivers of delicious delight be it pre-fixed to our loved idol or show…

Where we dressed up for a film outing and carried tiffins to movie halls…

Where we were willing to sit on the aisles if need be and would get up dance when we felt like…

Where we could sit on the footpath to watch a film being projected at a random street celebration…

Where we made films run for months and months never tiring of watching it for the 5th or 15th time as long as it was in the halls…

Where it was a big big deal to escape school / college to watch that film’s first day first show…

Where first day first show meant a lot more than our careers ever would…

Where men were gentlemen and women ladies…

Where stars were gods…almost…

…until they passed on. And left us bitter about the fact that they are mortal after all.

This is less of an obituary to a man we all loved and will continue to and more of an obituary to the passing of an era he and many like him embodied. An era that holds the key to me, an era that gave me my roots only to find that they no longer sustain me in this weird world I find myself living in. I will always live by the dreams that you, my childhood stars showed me and hope it will suffice. Because now that you are gone, what else do I have?

Saying goodbye with one of my most favourite Rajesh Khanna song.

Thank you for that world

Thank you for those dreams

Thank you for those movies…

Without them, my childhood wouldn’t have been half as beautiful.

Rest in peace.