Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

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In the first section of Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, a mind-opening book on the climate crisis, he traces — with great depth and clarity — why fiction has been unable to accommodate the present and impending crisis. He posits how, from origins of high fantasy, where the imagination soared and took acceptable leaps and bounds, fiction gradually evolved into its current avatar, with a single-minded focus on realism, and “individual moral adventure”. The extraordinary was relegated to the background — and there it lies currently. As a result, science fiction and fantasy were torn away from mainstream fiction, of which both were once soul and sap.

A gold rush for internet activists

In Ghosh’s thesis, and in our internet culture, we can find a diagnosis for our age of activism-affliction. While thinking about these two, I realised I would find no better pillar to lean on than a recently-released Bollywood film,  Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. After all, some Bollywood films are loyal to a certain fantastical vision that successfully draws the ire of the internet elite (no doubt unaware of the irony of calling a film “sooo filmy”). And in this ire, I believe we can find the symptoms of a different derangement.

Ghosh writes:

If literature is conceived of as the expression of authentic experience, then fiction will inevitably come to be seen as ‘false’. But to reproduce the world as it exists need not be the project of fiction; what fiction — and by this I mean not only the novel but also epic and myth — makes possible is to approach the world in a subjunctive mode, to conceive of it as if it were other than it is: in short, the great, irreplaceable potentiality of fiction is that it makes possible the imagining of possibilities.”

I suspect a similar project is underway in the world of films as well. After all, films are fiction; and many of them are adaptations of novels — hence, they are literature themselves.

In addition, along with the suspicion of fiction itself, and its ever-closing boundaries, we now also have an internet generation  that is feeding itself on half-baked knowledge. (The other half is internet memes.) As a result, we’re flooded with opinions — attached to worthy causes, no less — that nonetheless exhibit a startling blindness to the necessity of argumentation and contextualisation.

It is deemed progressive enough to have loudly demonstrated loyalty to a certain belief system (say feminism) with a rash of generic, chest-thumping statements, and then to comfortably retire into a cocoon of smugness and self-satisfaction. It can be no coincidence that companies looking to create popular advertisements are pressing writers to include groan-worthy angles of women power. Depth is unnecessary; abiding by certain tired tropes is good enough.

This mad rush to demonstrate a certain progressivism is now turning into a mass blindness (and hypocrisy) of  the internet elite.

In some reviews of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, for instance, there is a familiar disapproval — a carefully practiced, holier-than-thou disavowal of a story about unrequited love. All this has been largely centred around how the characters behave. Unsurprisingly, many wonderful subversions of tired Bollywood tropes were lost in the mad dash to be the first to call the film out for various behavioural crimes.

Blindness or hypocrisy? 

First, can we please accept that we live in a world of complexity, and messy relationships, especially when it comes to romance? Often, at the level of the individual, morals and social mores break down when two people are “in love”. We know this from our past relationships, and those of others around us. Accepting this reality is not to condone such turbulence in relationships, but to acknowledge that they exist, and that — despite our best efforts — they will remain messy. Moreover, unravelling the many threads in romantic relationships is almost impossible no matter how progressive one’s outlook might be, especially because romance involves sex.

Think about the objections to Lisa Haydon’s character because she’s apparently with Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) due to his wealth. Such straight-slamming is ironic. Largely because, in the garb of feminism, it would have you believe that there are no complex realities in romantic relationships. I suggest more research into the thriving world of sugar-daddies, ably aided by women with undeniable agency.

In How to Think More About Sex, Alain de Botton writes:

“Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation. It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives… Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values.

…This is not to say that we cannot take steps to grow wiser about sex. We should simply realize that we will never entirely surmount the difficulties it throws our way. Our best hope should be a respectful accommodation with an anarchic and reckless power.”

Even as we grow wiser and kinder, we must not forget that taking a moral high ground on someone else’s love story is the ultimate act of hypocrisy. Most of us have said and heard, and have forgiven, and been forgiven for, saying and doing cruel things in love (and obviously I do not mean physical assault).

Real life — and love — is difficult business. And nowhere can this be experienced more than in this book review about the lives of two very famous people, one of whom is a feminist icon:

Many of the myths that surrounded Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in their lifetimes were demolished when their private letters and journals were published after their deaths. Even Beauvoir’s legions of feminist admirers could no longer view them as role models for new forms of free love. By their own accounts, Sartre and Beauvoir were often selfish, callous and cruel, not least to third parties caught in their web.”

Have we not fought angrily and thrown around things, and then made up later? Has nobody ever sulked after being turned down by a girl, or a guy? How many people have actually asked before kissing someone? Should trying to kiss someone and then stopping (which happens in the film) when rebuffed — yet display some hurt — be called sexual assault? I worry then that many or most of us could be accused of some form of sexual assault. If donning the mask of feminism closes our eyes to the possibilities and complexities of human interactions, we might as well not wear it. The complexity of human interactions is the reason why it’s difficult to sue for emotional torture.

Context matters

It must be a sign of the times that opinions attached to admittedly worthy causes can be handed out with argument or attention to context. For instance, isn’t it a worthy subversion that Alizeh, who is not in love with Ayan has agency, and isn’t, ultimately, forced into loving the guy? Or, that the entry of the third other is not an exercise in mindlessly demonstrating that women are always keen to undermine each other? The sautan of Hindi films died in this film and nobody applauded. Neither did anyone notice a man admitting, of his own accord, that his ego was hurt at the unresponsiveness of the woman.

Of course, it’s a small matter that Ranbir Kapoor’s nuanced performance was one of the most extraordinary portrayals of a leading character well in touch with his feminine side. Look at the film again — look at his babydoll dance; his bag when he’s at the airport (did anyone even notice?); his gait at Alizeh’s wedding; the mehendi on his hands; his pretending to be a bride; his easy tears; his non-embrace of a macho indifference in the face of tumult. Karan Johar’s obvious influence is strong here, but it’s easy to miss when you’re looking for ways to rip apart a Bollywood love fantasy. In fact, it has been reduced to characterising Ayan as a man-child. Five years ago we would have said “kitna rota hai, ladki ke jaise”. Irony?

So barren is our imagination, and so dedicated are we to the task of claiming virtue for ourselves, that we’ve rid ourselves of the possibility of examining whether “he acts like a child / he cries too much / he is too emotionally needy / he acts like a girl” are precisely the acts of assigning a behavioural trait to a gender / age that is an easy escape from understanding others. When “maturity” is measured by arbitrary, and ever-changing, social diktats, how easy does it become to disparage those who don’t fall into our chosen moulds?

“You see I love you better each time and I want you worse each time, and I bruise more heart strings each new time I go away, until finally you’ll just have to realize my life means you always near, and I can’t be nice and unsarcastic and happy when you aren’t near…

When I sometimes think that someday you may be married to someone else and I may be lying awake at night when it’s dark and still and deep and thinking of you, I wonder how I can stand to realize your blue eyes belong to someone else and that I can’t even have so much as the touch of your hand… Please don’t be mad at me, Eve, and like me more than a little bit. Please, please, please, please, Eve.”

James Thurber’s letter to an unrequited love could have been Ayan’s words, but since this is a Bollywood film, we are contemptuous of the latter. (Let me not even explain that the exaggerated crying of Ayan after a break-up is actually a humorous jibe at those who take the idea of love too seriously. That would ruin the fun of an easy jibe at him.) I am sure some bright person might suggest that the letter, with its forceful words, could be tantamount to sexual harassment as well. Such are the times.

The unwillingness to look at, or uncover, nuance, is a new derangement. So is the blindness to fiction — and our hard-headed efforts to examine fiction against reality. But what is reality? Some moan that the characters are too rich, they have private jets, they party too much. What is reality? Our reality, we of the internet, who belong to maybe the top 10% of this country? I don’t remember the last time the help at home, or the man who drives our car said he didn’t like a film because people were too rich. For them, the 90%, it’s fantasy that works. Which reality is real? The reality we seek in films is also fiction for many. I wonder if the reason we rail against opulence in films is because we have enough money to aspire to — and grudge — such possessions.

The great internet derangement

What is it about our internet-addled lives that closes even the most intelligent minds to possibilities other than those they’ve declared as final? I have three reasons to offer.

First, in a time of excessive information, skimming is the easy way out. Learning something appears overwhelmingly difficult. Therefore, we learn a little of everything, but not much of anything. Second, we are seized by an overwhelming desire to create a progressive personality online, because it is the right thing to do. It is sufficient in this case to loudly affirm allegiance to a cause; often, without knowing much about it. Third, people on social media behave like a mob — a much more insidious form of peer pressure can be observed here — and we’re afraid to be on the wrong side of internet opinions. Therefore, we refrain from seeking answers when in doubt, and clutch at the lowest hanging opinion.

Ghosh argues that the word “moral” which has transcended its Protestant origins and entered literature as a secular force, defines much of fiction now, compelling us to pay attention to “individual moral adventures”. As a result, “sincerity and authenticity” have become “the greatest of virtues”.

I suspect this is why we now seek a greater understanding of ourselves as individuals, but are loath to offer any acceptance to alternatives. Ghosh says “just as novels have come to be seen as narratives of identity, so too has politics become, for many, a search for personal authenticity, a journey of self-discovery”. I wonder if this makes us blind to fantasy, to other thoughts, and to other people and their opinions. No suffering, no love, no opinion matters until it is conveniently straitjacketed into a moral framework of our choosing.

Today, it’s easy to dismiss Ayan’s behaviour as that of a man-child, despite his obvious difficulties in dealing with rebuffed love that is not alien to anyone. (If I were cruel enough, I’d point to the personal lives — and some choice incidents — of some people who have called him that.)

We are now doctors with a ready diagnosis — but without a remedy — for other people’s failings. After all, on the internet, preaching is practice.

Shubhodeep Pal is a Mumbai-based freelance writer and photographer.

So after much hype (courtesy our friends Namrata JoshiAseem Chhabra and others), a few of us finally ended up joining them this time at the 3rd edition of the annual Dharamsala International Film Festival, up in the beautiful township of McLeodganj- and I’m happy to report that it did live up to the buzz, and I can’t wait to get up there again next year. It’s an excellently organized festival- with helpful signs all over town to guide you, autos hired to take you up to the main venue TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts) and a wonderful, warm team of volunteers, some of who travel from various parts of India and the world to be part of this joyous little celebration of cinema up in the mountains, in a town without a single cinema theatre.

Clearly, the common thread among many of the films shown at DIFF was that they belonged to the genre I will call ‘cinema of social unrest’- and from what I hear, this was the case the year before as well. So there are many documentaries as well as fiction features about social and political movements, revolutions, human rights violation and conflicts of land, culture and identity. This feels especially apt considering Dharamshala itself is a place where you can distinctly feel the angst of displacement and the forced refugee status of Tibetans under the gentle, tranquil atmosphere of the town.

This year included a fairly interesting selection of films (you can check out the list here) as well as some interesting retrospectives, curated short film packages and masterclass/Q&A sessions with filmmakers such as Rajat Kapoor, Hansal Mehta, Gitanjali Rao, Q and Umesh Kulkarni. I’m afraid I did not manage to catch a whole lot of them- the main drawback of having a film festival in such a picturesque location is that you are conflicted whether to spend your time watching films or savor the sights around, not to mention visit all the charming cafés and eateries in the area. Still, here are a few notes on some of the films I did catch at the festival:

KILLA:

Killa

Avinash Arun’s debut feature is a gorgeously evocative and poignant film about friendship, loss and the resilient ability of children to deal with disappointment, displacement and even death. Killa is clearly a very personal film, and is shot and crafted with great love and sensitivity. It also features some unforgettable, textured characters brought to life with amazingly natural performances from Amruta Subhash, Archit Deodhar, Parth Bhalerao and a wonderful ensemble of young actors. This is yet another strong contemporary Marathi film about children, and definitely the one with most finesse out of the ones I’ve seen. I must mention here though that I haven’t seen Umesh Kulkarni’s acclaimed Vihir yet- interestingly, Avinash Arun cites Kulkarni as his mentor and a strong influence.

BRINGING TIBET HOME:

Bringing Tibet Home documents the deeply emotional and often funny story of New York-based artist Tenzing Rigdol’s audacious art project to reunite exiled Tibetans with their land, quite literally. After his father dies with his last wish of setting foot in his homeland unfulfilled, Tenzing decides that if Tibetans can’t return to Tibet, he will bring Tibet to them by smuggling 20 tonnes of native Tibetan soil to Dharamshala for a one-of-its-kind art installation. It was especially moving watching the film in Dharamshala- though it did also really make me ponder about what makes land itself so important to human beings. Maybe because I’ve never quite had roots anywhere, soil to me just feels a little overrated… ‘it’s just tiny little rocks.’

THE SQUARE:

This shattered my heart and blew my mind to bits. Jehane Noujaim’s The Square is the most devastating film I have seen in a long time and easily the best one I saw at Dharamshala. The film puts you right at the heart of a revolution inside Tahrir Square, with young, common people spiritedly fighting a fascist and fundamentalist regime in Egypt, spilling their blood and guts out for the hope of a brighter, free future even as they come to the crushing realization that courage and idealism aren’t enough to win their war against oppression. This is absolutely essential viewing- the auditorium was filled with tears and goosebumps in the end and the applause didn’t stop till the credits had finished rolling.

(PS: Also spotted in the documentary- Aida Elkashef from Ship of Theseus and a Vikramaditya Motwane doppelganger. I kid you not- the resemblance is uncanny. See if you can spot him. 😉 )

OMAR:

Director Hany Abu-Assad cleverly sets a gripping tale of love, deceit and betrayal against the Palestine-Israel conflict. The film borrows sparingly from Romeo and Juliet and Othello to give us a heady mix of socio-political thriller and Shakespearean drama- and while a comparison might be a little unfair- I can’t help feel that Omar blends the two a lot more seamlessly and effortlessly than Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, which of course is very good in its own right. Adam Bakri gives a superbly charismatic performance as the protagonist- though admittedly, it’s hard to take your eyes off him anyway considering how jaw-droppingly good he looks.

TRUE LOVE STORY:

Filmmaker Gitanjali Rao showcased a great set of Indian and international animated shorts curated by her at DIFF (including her marvelous Printed Rainbow), and ended the session with her newest film True Love Story, which screened at the Cannes Critics’ Week section earlier this year. The film, originally scripted to be part of a feature film (alas, no one wants to fund quality animation films in India) begins as a homage to masala movies which is both affectionate and hilariously tongue-in-cheek- but in the end reveals itself to be a sharp social satire, using a real-life tragedy that made headlines a few years back (the court case is still on) to brilliant, scathing effect. The film is a visual and aural delight with its colorful evocation of Bombay’s sights and sounds through Bollywood tinted glasses, and hopefully it will make its way to a wider audience soon. And I hope some producers funding ‘indie’ films (which more often than not, turn out to be sub-par) see the potential in this medium and back Ms Rao’s extraordinary talent and bring more of her singular, unique vision to the big screen.

Jahan Singh Bakshi

(Photos courtesy DIFF Facebook page, Mihir Pandya and author)

This one is a brief  (and spoiler free) recco/review of the film. We happened to catch this at a private screening and quite enjoyed it. Here’s the post containing the trailer and the short story on which it is based on. The film releases on 12th July. Here are two small reviews by Kartik Krishnan and Nusrat Jafri.

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Ajay Bahl takes us through the narrow lanes of Pahadgunj and the badi badi kothis of Kamla Nagar/Rajpura/DU in his adaptation of Railway Aunty by Mohan Sikka (one of the many stories in the must read book Delhi Noir). The days are lazy with the freshly served wahi-purana-Rajma-Chawal-wali-Punju-Middle class Dilli-Roohafza sherbets-Cokey Coley; while the nights are neon lit with all kinds of depraved creatures on the prowl (Beer se naha kar Gaddi chalane wale Jaat, Rishwatkhor Thulley – you know the ilk). Such is the world the characters of BA Pass inhabit.

The story is fairly straightforward in the Noir ballpark. This ‘Postman Always Rings Twice‘  begins with the very talented Shilpa Shukla playing the seductress with zestful ferocity and oomph, charming the young & unsuspecting Shadab Kamal, who then delves deeper into the behind-the-parde-wala world of Kothiwali aunties residing in posh Delhi colonies. Money is tempting; Sex with ‘experienced’ married (lonely) women is irresistible, and a combination of both is a potent enough mindf**k for any below average BA/B Com/B Sc student. Not only is he struggling to make ends meet with two younger sisters (and their troubles) but is also feeling suffocated in a not so pleasant rishtedaaron ke ghar mein PG environment. Slowly but steadily, the pyaada goes onto becoming the wazir but not before he traverses through the netherworld, with the transition punctuated by clear daylights transforming into rang birangi tubelit hazy nights.

This erotic drama boasts of arresting performances by the supporting cast right down to the junior artists. While the ‘Bijis’ & the ‘Chachis’ add color to the story, the benevolent gravedigger Johnny (played adequately by Dibyendu Bhattacharya – though may be a Vinod Nagpal or M K Raina might have taken the role to another level) and the ever reliable Rajesh Sharma (once again pitching in with a bravura 3-4 scene performance) stand out. Shilpa Shukla nails Sarika Aunty to perfection and hope she gets meaty roles like this in Bollywood. One wishes however, that the pivotal performance by the sincere Shadab Kamal had been a little more nuanced and multi layered as opposed to the two note one. Also may be the film could have gone one a tangent than in the somewhat predictable direction, but that is perhaps a limitation imposed by a faithful adaptation of the short story.

But a special mention for Ajay Bahl (the Director – Dop – Producer) who’s done quite an impressive task of faithfully adapting the story and embellishing it with realism and drama. It is to his credit (along with the enthusiastic production design) that the film (considering the subject material at hand) steers away from B Grade/Kanti Shah/tacky-pulpy/Low budget ‘gareeb’ film territory and that there is enough foregrounding/back grounding in the frames to lend an aesthetic richness to the film. Definitely looking forward to the director’s next.

Kartik Krishnan

Ajay Behl’s Erotic Noir film, BA PASS is based on Mohan Sikka’s short story “Railway Aunty,” which was published in Delhi Noir. And true to the tagline of the book, B A Pass is indeed the story of “Darkness and Despair.”

Mukesh, is a young, shy, small town boy, who moves in to live with his Bua’s family in Delhi, after tragedy strikes home. He is burdened with the responsibility of two younger sisters, with whom he longs to re-unite. He runs errands in the house and plays chess in a graveyard at leisure. Until Mukesh meets the flirtatious Sarika “Aunty” at his Bua’s kitty party, and his rollercoaster ride of sex, life and deceit begins. Their surreptitious affair and dealings go on till Sarika’s husband walks in on them. Things go out of control and life reveals it’s ugly teachings to Mukesh.

When I saw the promo of the film, I was captivated. It looked classy and well made, even though the amount of sex in the promo itself was a bit concerning. Films made on such shoe – string budgets, can easily look tasteless but B A Pass is aesthetic to say the least.

Ajay Behl, donning the cap of both the Director and the Cinematographer takes you into the world of Mukesh, the naïve, and emotionally vulnerable boy. In a perverse world that not only exists but also flourishes behind the veneer of boredom that middle class lives project. It takes us into the mysterious world of Sarika, who is not only fiercely attractive but has desires that break the hypocrisy of our middle class notions of modesty. Shilpa Shukla, adds power to the character with her is impressive performance. She has gotten into the skin of the character and not let inhibitions get in the way. Rarely seen in Indian films.

Sex is a big part of the film.  Seeing purely from the growth of Mukesh’s character, it goes from initial lust driven to fulfilling the quirky requests of Sarika, to hilarious script narrations with one of the other women clients! But never once is it lewd.  The scene when Khanna, (Sarika’s husband) walks in on her and Mukesh, gave me goose bumps. It was scary and real in equal measures.

Behl has captured a middle class Delhi of colonies and gullies. One that is aspiring and ruthless at the same time. He uses sound and silences beautifully. Shadab Kamal, is raw and his performance as the lonely, timid and vulnerable boy, is very good. Though at some point I felt the transformation in his character didn’t surface too well. Supporting cast members, Dibyendu as the graveyard caretaker and Sarika’s husband are all fantastic.

I loved Bibiji, in the scene (it’s in the trailer too!) when she says “vo dayan hai” to Mukesh, she is brilliant!

Mohan Sikka’s short story ends quite metaphorically; Behl’s screenplay leaves Mukesh with even fewer choices.

If Noir has it’s roots in German Expressionist Cinematography, BA Pass has it’s in Neon – Realistic Cinematography (If I may be allowed to coin a phrase!). This is the Pahargunj we saw in Dev D, but only more asphyxiating, garish, neon lit, and yet real. Tough lessons for this BA Pass.

Nusrat Jafri

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…

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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.

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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.

Bollywood is a strange place. And to survive here, there are million things that you should know. Strangely, they don’t teach any of those things in any film school. Filmmaker Hansal Mehta cracks the B-code of the B-town in this hilarious post.  And I must say that every bit of it is true. Read on.

Disclaimer : Today was a dreadfully boring day in office. My utter boredom has led to this utterly useless and ridiculously indulgent outpouring of wisdom. Read it at your own risk.

Here is my randomly ordered list of 12 survival strategies in the world that so many of us inhabit, dream to inhabit, grudgingly observe or admiringly follow. Gentlemen (sorry ladies, nothing in this for you) here is my valued guidance – with malice towards none!

1. Remember! The world is male-centric

This is a guy dominated world. The opposite sex is purely an object of gossip, a target of lust and a recipient of false chivalry. Films succeed because of heroes. Films sell on the strength of the leading man. The leading man chooses. The leading man disposes. Obviously, I will restrict my ‘analysis’ to the dominant sex.

2. Never take sides

Things change. Nothing is permanent. In an act of bravado if you do take sides, do it in a way that you can conveniently deny, alter or contradict your stand.

3. Brother is the operative word

This is the ultimate expression of male bonding in B-town. Every contemporary, every rival, every threat, every drinking partner is your brother. Every question on every other male has the standard answer ‘He is like a brother to me’.

4. Without a camp you are nobody

Always park yourself in a camp. Play loyalist to the hilt until you get a chance to swear loyalty without having to pay a price for shifting loyalties. Camps have regular jesters, some tabloid editor/journalist for company, many desperate/aspiring filmmakers, personal attendants, business managers/star secretaries, compulsory attendance at all dos, forced laughter at all repetitive inside jokes, the same conversation over and over again. The camp has a leader who unfortunately foots the bill most of the time and in return gets the same spellbound audience for the same riveting speech or recounting of ‘that’ life-changing experience every single drunken night.

5. If you screw up, you are screwed

It’s a lonely world out there – particularly when you screw up. And if your screw-up is splashed across the screw-up-hungry tabloids only God can help you. Your camp will disown you. They begin to ignore your calls. Your brother remains your brother only for a persistent journalist who needs to stop his awkward questions. But take heart. Like everything else this is also temporary. Things change. Suddenly someone else screws up. You and your screw-up will be forgotten.

6. Criticism is NEVER welcome

If you are privileged enough to be invited for a sneak peek, preview or ‘trial’ of your buddy’s (brother’s) film be nice to him. Be lavish in your praise. You have been invited to find something praiseworthy and to dwell only on that. Criticize and you will perish. If there is nothing praiseworthy a nice, long, big hug will suffice.

7. Cultivate common hobbies

Outside drinking hours you must have common passions. Gym buddies, fellow bikers, car lovers, home theatre experts, gizmo freaks are frighteningly attractive and make great brothers. Did anybody mention cinema buff? That is an utterly ambiguous, uselessly exclusive and dastardly boring hobby. After all people (brothers) who are united by their love for cinema need to have a life beyond cinema.

8. Have a great DVD/Blu-Ray collection

You must possess the ability to spot plagiarism in work not featuring your brother, to smartly plagiarize for work featuring your brother, to unabashedly compare your brother to Cruise/Caprio/Pitt. Do not waste time watching anything seminal, cerebral or intellectually challenging; these are great decorative pieces for exquisite DVD shelves. Remember to continuously refresh yourself with an in-depth understanding of some popular Brando/Pacino/DeNiro films. These are often discussed at length; they are important reference points for some of the challenging work undertaken by your camp leader. American TV series are in. A thorough study of these masterpieces are an indicator of your passion for the unusual.

9. Reading is very important

Of course you visit the Jaipur Literary Festival every year. You brave the cold as you carelessly put on your casually purchased ethnic outfits. Always memorize the names of writers that have the largest audience. If you manage to remember the names of their books it is an indicator of your vast intellect. Besides the 4 days spent in Jaipur cultivate the daily reading habit. Recommended reading :

  1. Mumbai Mirror
  2. Mid-Day
  3. Bombay Times
  4. Twitter
  5. Shobha De

Your knowledge of these constantly updated reservoirs of vital information will determine your wisdom, awareness, standing, intelligence and capability.

10. Get Invited

It is crucial that you attend every event, every party, every ceremony, every celebration and that you are armed with a decent camera on your cell phone. Get yourself clicked. Inflict these pictures on your growing followers around the social media world. Use your superior memory to remember jokes, jibes and one-liners that you get exclusively on your messenger/messaging service. Always look like you are having a blast. Every picture must display your wide smile (visit your dentist regularly to ensure that your smile is always attractive). It is also a great pleasure to interact with the same people all the time; often at the same place most of the time. Revel in that pleasure. Take back unique stories/incidents/anecdotes from your outing. Note them in a diary. Narrate them to all your brothers to create avenues for stimulating conversation on a daily basis.

11. Stories of your sexual exploits

Here is a test of your ability to conjure up tales of sin, sex and digression. It is also the best excuse for a night of absenteeism from the camp meet. Brothers always support your eternal search for carnal salvation. Talk about a starlet that you might have seen at some event or a boisterous conversation that you might have struck up with a random attractive woman at some ceremony. Tell them how you got lucky. Tell them how you scored. Tell them how she is a beast in bed. Tell them how kinky she is. There is nothing more engaging or engrossing as stories of forbidden sex. Give your brothers a ‘deep’ insight into your story telling skills.

12. Terms of endearment

  1. Bro is the most endearing term of endearment. It is personal, intimate and essential for insider conversations. Advice often begins with Bro. Admonishment is softened by a Bro somewhere appropriately placed in a sentence. Affection, good wishes, exclamations, proclamations, public displays of warmth and all other things inclusive are generously sprinkled with a Bro here and there.
  2. Baba, Bhai, Kaka, Dada, Da either as a suffix or by themselves irrespective of age
  3. Innovative versions of your pet-names (Tony becomes Tones, Lucky becomes Lucks, Lovie becomes Loves so on and so forth…)
  4. Even more innovative versions of your surnames (Gupta becomes Gups, Kapadia becomes Kaps so on and so forth…)
  5. Imaginative derivatives from your first name (Sanjay becomes Sanju, Akshay becomes Akki, Govinda become ChiChi, Salman becomes Sallu, Sharukh becomes Shah so on and so forth)
  6. Respectful prefixes such as Big, Junior, Badshah, King are effective means of reverence and brevity
  7. Sir and Saab are widely utilized in the quest to attain Bro status.

 Sorry but I will have to truncate this list now. I have failed to relieve myself of the boredom I hoped to abandon by writing this nonsense. I will need to find another avenue, another unsuspecting audience, another cure for this disdain of the mundane. Maybe I need to find myself a new ‘Bro’.

Until then… Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna!

(PS – It was first posted on Hansal’s website where he writes on films, life, food and such inane and important things.)

Blame it on Ides Of March ? When we are wishing desperately that when we grow up just make us  Bhagnani, any Bhagnani, and Karan Johar goes for the reverse take!

Think about it – you can be a FALTU Bhagnani and still have everything you want. And we never expected that the one who are born with Khan, Chopra and Johar surnames in Bollywood would openly want to be Kashyap or Bhardwaj. They belong to the two extremes, their cinema and sensibility is different. My Name Is Johar And I am Not Kashyap or Bhardwaj ?

On a serious note, is Karan Johar serious about it ? As in, seriously serious ? One of the most powerful brands in Bollywood, if he is admitting that there is a shift in our cinema, you got to listen. To say the cliche, love or hate him but you can’t ignore K JO.

Or is it the effect of Ishqiya + LSD + Udaan + Peepli Live + Do Dooni Chaar + Band Baaja Baarat + Phans Gaye Re Obama + Tanu Weds Manu ?

Also, you may HATE his films, but there is no doubt he is easily one of the smartest guys around. May be, just next to Shah Rukh Khan. Just that their smartness doesn’t show in the choice of their films, whatever is the reason for that. Lack of talent, conviction, fear of failure or just opting for the easy route.

And here are some more priceless gems from him….( From Anupama Chopra’s show Picture This on NDTV. The topic of discussion was Bollywood discovers its roots. Vikramaditya Motwane and Habib Faisal were also part of the discussion.)

The english speaking critics were watching Dabang like they were watching a Tarantino film.

You have Kashyap as your last name so its all validated. If he was Abhinav Sharma, it was what he is making ? Oh he is Kashyap guy, so definitely he is intelligent. He is making fun of the genrae. He is having fun.

I want to change my last name. It will help a lot.

There is very strong credibility factor that people are aspiring to acheive as well. I have made so many films but none of them have got the credibility of say 3 crore net box office Udaan. I know that for a fact. And that credibility is paramount for a production house. While you want to make the money, you also want the respect. The combination of those two is 3 idiots.

You cant beat them, join them.

(Scroll down and watch the full discussion in the embedded video. And if the video doesn’t work, click here to watch it.)

And if you were surprised about Johar, Kashyap and Motwane joining hands for Motwane’s next, then this video has all the answers. Credibility. Or may be The Unbearable Lightness Of Being.

If KJo is here, can SRK be far behind. Ok, bad one. Shah Rukh Khan was at the India Today conclave recently. To quote him…

–  Three essentials to make Bollywood films global – screenplay writing, technology and discipline.

– It disturbs me that all Indian filmmakers are chasing an elusive dream of crossover cinema…It is nothing at all – there is nothing known as crossover film.

Click here and here to read the full report.

We agree on the first point. And completely disagree on the second point. Because Kites is not crossover cinema.

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