Author Archives: Hriday Ranjan

The Three Vijays of Gully Boy

The Three Vijays behind the success of ‘Gully Boy’

Enough has been said about Gully Boy and its many merits.

However, most Indian reviewers merely skim the surface by sticking to the same format – reveal the story, talk about the performances, and give it some stars. So ingrained is that style of reviewing in our systems, that product reviews on Amazon.in resemble Rajeev Masand’s opinions.

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When I first heard of Gully Boy, I was sceptical.

I am sceptical everytime Bollywood claims to have ‘discovered’ something. With Rock On, they claimed to discover Indian Rock music. Ten years later, we find most rock bands in India playing Bollywood covers and Farhan Akhtar gracing the cover of Rolling Stone.

Bollywood did the same with Indipop too – bought all the artists and made them sing songs in movies, resulting in the death of a vibrant, thriving independent music industry. It did the same with rap too – an underground movement transformed into a shitfest of booze, boobz and babez. It is the same with nationalism too. I am wary of anything that Bollywood touches, for it has the opposite of the Midas touch on that industry.

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One person who isn’t getting enough praise is cinematographer Jay Oza.

His shots of Mumbai at night are stunning. He chooses to zoom into Mumbai’s filth, and zoom out into her beauty at will. The characters are shown constricted in their houses, and thus, in their heads too. He captures the frustration of living in a small space – both physically and in the mind – with great skill.

Then there’s the fantastic casting, done with such care that leading man Ranveer Singh appears the weakest performer in the film. While the entire cast has won accolades, there’s not enough said about Vijay Varma who plays Moeen.

It is impossible to understand Murad without looking at Moeen. While most of us begin as Murads, we end up becoming Moeens. While Murad means desire, Moeen means a supporter, a provider of refuge. We all have a fire burning inside us – of varying colour and intensity – but we usually never get there. Circumstances, choices, or not chasing hard enough.

Vijay Varma’s Moeen is the reason Murad stands out. Without Moeen, Murad would be any other underdog who rises from the dust. It is through Moeen that we see how easy it is to slip, to go astray. To reach a point where employing kids to sell drugs can be justified, and even seems fair. Vijay Varma plays Moeen while walking a tightrope. Neither is he a complete tapori, nor is he the friend who sacrifices for the hero. He is both, and yet – neither.

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The second Vijay in the film is Vijay Maurya – who plays Murad’s uncle, and has also written the dialogues of the film.

Vijay Maurya has existed in the film industry for a long, long time. He won a National Award for Best Original Screenplay for Chillar Party. He has also been on the screen since the 90s, most memorably as the chilling Dawood Ibrahim in Black Friday, and the station head in Tumhari Sulu. Playing Murad’s uncle, Vijay Maurya is caring but condescending. He wants to help Murad fly, while firmly welding a cage around him.

But it is through his dialogues that Vijay Maurya creates the soul of the film. Zoya Akhtar’s films have always had sharp dialogue – but they were always urbane, laced with English. Even in Luck By Chance – her most non-urban film so far – the dialogues were written by Javed Akthar. Choosing Vijay Maurya as the dialogue writer is a masterstroke. Having written plays and acted for decades, he has a grasp over the linguistic milieu that the film resides in.

Take the scene where Murad is speaking to Kalki Koechlin (who reprises her role as the Rich Bitch). Murad asks her ‘Hindi nahi aata?’. To which she replies, ‘Aati hai’. It is the obsession of the rich over perfect grammar, even if the meaning is the same. When MC Sher inspires Murad, he doesn’t sound like a translated version of a Paulo Coelho book. No ‘shikhar pe pahunchna’, no ‘aasmaan ko chhoona’. The words Maurya chooses are ‘Tere andar ke lava ko fattne de’.

The dialogues of the film ensure that the film doesn’t appear condescending, or preachy.

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And finally, Vijay Raaz. Man!

I have been watching him act since the early 2000s, and every time I see him perform, I think to myself – ‘Ah! This guy has arrived’. And yet, he is constantly given half-baked roles to perform.

You can tell when actors shirk away from a role that isn’t meaty enough. Anupam Kher spent decades hamming his way through shoddy characters. The great Om Puri sleepwalked through his last few roles. The same goes for Naseeruddin Shah – who plays Naseeruddin Shah in every single movie. And yet, there is a certain honesty to every role Vijay Raaz plays, no matter how small, how forgettable.

What makes Gully Boy stand out from Zoya Akhtar’s other films is the presence of an actual, breathing nemesis. Zoya’s films usually have no real antagonist. In Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara, the strains of friendship are tested. In Dil Dhadakne Do, it is the pressure of being a family – there is no real villain in her films.

But Vijay Raaz, (named Shakir – someone who provides, who fulfils his responsibility) gives Murad’s nemesis a face, a shape. He is everything Murad wants to break out of. He is the reason Murad smokes joints on the terrace, and sheds silent tears. Shakir might be one of Zoya Akhtar’s greatest roles written, simply because of how earthy, how believable he is – a carefully constructed amalgam of all our fathers.

When Vijay Raaz slaps, it is not a filmy slap – it lands right on the cheek, with the fist flicking for best results. When he asks Murad to wear his shirt, it is the insecurity of a man married to a much younger woman. When he pleads, it is the desperate pleading of a father to his son. When he sheds tears in the last scene, it is Murad’s greatest victory.

If the film ended with Murad in front of screaming fans – it would have felt nice, but incomplete. It is when we see Vijay Raaz wiping his tears and bowing his head that we know that Murad has truly won. Vijay Raaz plays the oldest role in Indian stories – the strict father – with the most humane of touches – it is a master at work!

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The success of Gully Boy should also be speaking about Reema Kagti. Perennially in the shadows of her friend Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti has one of the most impressive CVs in the industry. Just have a look at her filmography, and tell me it doesn’t make you jealous!

Reema Kagti filmography

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Gully Boy’s greatest victory lies in it humanising the underdog story.

Our underdog stories are always loaded with machismo. They are about physical transformations, about blood and sweat, men punching their way out of misery, or slogging their way to the top. It is a hyper-masculine narrative that is all muscle, all brawn.

Perhaps it needed two women to dissect the more humane side of things. In Gully Boy, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti dissect the underdog. They lay him on a table, strip him of the muscles and brawn, and dig deep into his soul.

Gully Boy is not life-changing, or path-breaking. But it is effective cinema. It is a story where characters feel like real people. Where the writers put in efforts to ensure the roll numbers of students in the exam hall are consistent. Where the bouncer who first denies Murad entry guides him in. Where Muslim characters do not say ‘Ya Allah’ once every seven minutes. Where characters have arcs that are completed.

Gully Boy is effective storytelling. And in times like ours, an effective film seems like a blessing from heaven.

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The Making of an Outrage

As someone who writes articles and cracks jokes for a living, I am fascinated by the cycles of rage and outrage that appear on the Internet on a daily basis.

I wish I could say I am detached – but my livelihood depends on keeping track and opinionating on these outrages. Writing an article on a trending topic has brought me thousands of readers. Cracking a joke on a relevant person has won me applause and cheers. Suffice to say my livelihood depends on me being in tune with what’s the rage and outrage on the Internet.

But I managed to get into the eye of an outrage storm last month, and the entire experience – while tiring – has been fascinating for someone who studied culture and trends.

The article

I wrote a blog on Hardik Pandya’s controversy on Koffee With Karan, and how it was unnecessarily being drummed up to be an issue.

If you are familiar with my blogs, you’ll know that they are peppered with abuses, sarcasms and jabs. I write for a newspaper, news websites, for TV channels, the Internet, for my stand-up bits – amidst all this, writing for my blog seems like a release – I can write what I want and move on without thinking about it too much.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here.

The article gained some traction and I got a request from the site – ThePrint. They asked me permission to repost the article after making minor changes to it. I agreed, because that is how I begin writing for most sites.

But not only was I NOT offered any money, ThePrint did not have the courtesy to reply to my repeated mails about the article. The worst bit though, was they edited the headline of the article. From The Lynching of Hard-Dick Pandya, it was changed to If Hardik Pandya was a woman, she would be hailed as a sexual revolutionary.

This was one line in the post, but making it the headline changed the slant of the article from political correctness to gender equality – which the article wasn’t about. They also added their own tagline to the article – Rich Liberals attacking Hardik Pandya same as Right-wing trolling of Naseeruddin Shah.

They also sanitised the article of all the puns and jokes. From a funny rant, it now read like the rabid outpouring of a deranged man.

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Perhaps I could have gone about it in a smarter way. I later found out that the site was run by Shekhar Gupta. That it was accused by right-wingers as being leftist, and by liberals as being jingoistic. And I had uniquely brought myself into a situation where I was hated by both the sides!

The article began to get traction because the headline toed three trending topics that week – Hardik Pandya, Feminism, Political Correctness. I began to get comments on the post by readers who were ‘disappointed’ in me. I don’t understand this ‘disappointment’.

They all said that they’d been reading me for years, and were ashamed of being a subscriber after reading the article. I don’t get it – I write what I want, you don’t pay me a penny for it. On days that you smile, laugh or take your mind off work – do you send me a message saying ‘Thanks’? Better still, do you ask for my Google Pay number and transfer me some money? Where does this ‘disappointment’ stem from, then?

I generally reply to every comment or mail, and I was trying to do the same.

I tried explaining that misogyny or gender is hardly my point here. It was about being overly politically correct.

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The one line that angered a lot of women in the article was this – If Hardik Pandya was a woman, she would be hailed as a sexual revolutionary. I still stand by the line. I think Indians don’t speak too often about sex. We need to address it, get comfortable with it, discuss it

The next question was – how do you know she would be hailed? Who would hail her? How can you speak on behalf of women when you’re a man? Accusation of ‘mansplaining’.

I have never understood that line of bullying. That being a man gives me no right to speak about women. Being a woman however, gives someone the right to comment on men’s behaviour. This is bigoted logic, but one cannot oppose it without being called a misogynist or sexist.

I do not claim to speak on behalf of women; I can only speak on behalf of myself. I would certainly have hailed her for speaking about sex on national television. Unfortunately, it was a case of a man presuming how society would have reacted to an imaginary comment by a woman, and the red flag began to flutter on Twitter.

 

THINGS STARTED GETTING SCARY

In the meanwhile, two important things happened – Baradwaj Rangan and Anurag Kashyap shared the article. These are two men whose craft and opinions I respect, and it felt wonderful to see that they echo my sentiments. But the warm feelings quickly began to subside.

Them sharing the article led to even more shares. From a few hundred shares on my blog, it spread far and wide – getting shared more than 10,000 times.

If you’ve read my blog, you’d know that I always reply to comments. If there’s a contrarian opinion, I always engage in a discussion. On the blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook – both on my blog page as well as The Print’s FB post.

By then, it was too late. I was already branded as a misogynist.

 

THE HATRED

Unfortunately, it is impossible to debate with someone who has a preconceived notion of you.

The comments began about the article, slowly got personal, and then became about promoting rape culture. I was baffled how the interview, my article, or anything in the issue pertained to ‘rape culture’ in the first place.

One comment said, ‘Then you must also support the Nirbhaya rapists who gangrape women’. That one comment really shook my insides. For all their contributions to a great cause, most Indian feminists are rude, condescending, and bigoted in their views. Talking to a feminist is no different from talking to a BJP fanboy in many ways.

Also, I am sick of people bringing up Nirbhaya just to buffer their arguments. It is an insult to Nirbhaya herself, the trauma her family goes through, and every woman who has faced sexual assault. But unfortunately, there is no spectrum of moderation in Indian debates. You are either a bra-burning feminist or a Nirbahaya-rapist supporter. There is no middle ground, no scope for negotiation, no moderation of any sort.

A WORD ON INDIAN LIBERALS

Indian liberals are not very different from the hardcore right-wing.

Both these sections are constantly looking for ways to slot you into a category. Spoke against Congress? You are a Modi supporter! Spoke for Hardik Pandya? You support rape culture!

This narrative is so lazy, so uninspired, so dull – that you quietly back off into the background to avoid a splitting headache. What was most surprising was the reaction of my juniors. I studied in the University of Hyderabad – one of those Indian universities where the professors subtly plug moronic leftist agenda into their students.

The indoctrination in universities is astounding – you take an impressionable 20-year-old kid and feed him/her with your own ideology. You could walk into any Indian social-sciences university today, and you’ll find you need to fit into a ‘category’.

These are all kids with no real-world knowledge, haven’t worked a single job all their lives, their world is a limited, urban coterie of echo chambers, but now they are equipped with a rigid, myopic view of the world.

I generally laugh off my University juniors and their opinions but sadly, it didn’t just end with trolling.

I perform stand-up comedy shows all through the year and people started commenting on the events. One dude with an anonymous profile (but of course!) posted messages like ‘Do you also promote rape culture? ‘Cos Hriday Ranjan certainly does!’. Every single link or event I shared was met with the same response – some 20-year-old dumbfuck pissing his half-baked opinions on my wall.

I logged into Facebook the next day and the scenario was the same. The article had been shared over 30,000 times. I was being called a misogynist, a promoter of rape-culture. Friends of mine pinged me to say that their boss shared the article, and they are misogynists, and my article was enabling them, giving them a voice.

Memes began to be circulated of Hardik Pandya’s interview being compared to Rahul Dravid’s MTV Bakra clip from the 90s. Shit had hit the fan, but it wasn’t the first time something like this was happening. I was used to being trolled by fans of actors but being labelled as a supporter of rape because of an article really perplexed me.

THE EBBING

In a few days, it was all gone, People found new things to outrage over, and I was glad the thing was beyond me. I had thought of putting up a post about what I meant, but it would seem like I was justifying my opinion – something I didn’t find necessary.

But then, something amazing happened. Rahul Dravid the man that Indian liberals were comparing Hardik Pandya to, himself commented on the issue. His take? That they were boys who made a mistake, the issue was being blown out of proportion, and that it was necessary to educate youngsters rather than chastising them.

So, I guess Rahul Dravid is a promoter of rape-culture too then, huh? And Anurag Kashyap, and Baradwaj Rangan, and all the men and women who shared the article – they must all be promoters of rape culture?

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I have found that discussions and debates in the country are slowly descending into mud-slinging and name-calling. It certainly wasn’t the case a few years ago.

I have been writing for more than a decade now, and till a few years ago, someone who disagreed with my opinion would leave a long comment on the post. I would chill through the day and check the comment in the night and reply to it. Some of these debates would go on for days, and one got to learn of different opinions, facts, and viewpoints.

Around 2014, the rise of the right-wing in both India’s political spectrum and social media brought about a new phenomenon. Ardent devotees of the Supreme Leader who would bash your opinion to the ground, bury it in soil and piss all over it. But the liberals could at least be reasoned with.

In the last few years, the liberals have risen to challenge the right-wing in their own currency. What we have now is two cardboard boxes on either side of a debate. One must come running and quickly jump into one of the boxes. If you’re not a feminist, you are a misogynist. If you are an atheist, you must be a left-winger. If you criticise the BJP, you must be a ‘presstitute’ (whatever the fuck that term means). This type of categorisation is sickening and stifling.

To stay neutral, or to be able to pick pros and cons from different side – is called out as ‘hypocrisy’. Which is funny because in India, there is no real left-wing or right-wing.

These were concepts created for economic reasons, and in India, every party is a left-wing party. If you assume that the BJP is truly right-wing according to global standards, have a look at sops, subsidies, and demands for reservations among the ruling party this year. In India, right and left wing is determined primarily on religious grounds.

It is a laughable dichotomy to begin with, but turns out to be silly when you see passionately calling themselves either ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’.

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In a few days, the news became stale.

Ranveer Singh wore an outrageous costume, or Jahnvi Kapoor picked her nose on the way to her gym, and all was good with the world again.

That, unfortunately, is the way we feel, discuss, and debate issues in our country.

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pubg

‘Yeh PUBG-PUBG kya hai, yeh PUBG-PUBG?’

The recent ruckus about PUBG reached absurd heights when the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights deemed the game ‘harmful’.

A 11-year-old kid in Mumbai – Ahad Nizam – moved the Bombay High Court to ban the game as it promotes ‘violence’. The game was also in the news because Modi referred to it in one of his staged talks. Our expectations from politicians is so low that we are bowled over when a staged question is asked, and our Prime Minister is aware of a video game!

But this is hardly a new phenomenon – Indian parents have a tendency of brandishing anything beyond their comprehension as ‘harmful’ and ‘evil’.

 

Television and Upbringing

While growing up, we were told that watching TV was bad for us. That watching too much television promotes vices in children, even if the only shows available were Krishi Darshan and Swaabhimaan. The only real risk children faced in that time was going brain-dead from the quality of shows.

My parents hated my habit of reading novels and comics, and thrashed, abused and emotionally blackmailed me through childhood. Today, as an aspiring writer, I wonder how my life would have panned out if I was encouraged to read. Their decision literally changed my life – for the worse.

It was the same when early ‘video’ games came into the market. My parents got me a Tetris game – it is blasphemous to call it a ‘video’ game as there was no real ‘video’ – just a blob of pixels floating about. But they regulated the time I spent on it, constantly mouthing the dangers of playing ‘video’ games for hours.

 

Computers and the Internet

Indian parents adapt to technology in their rigidity. When computers arrived, Indian parents equipped themselves with new-age rebuttals. PCs came with pre-installed games that were as exciting as getting your ears cleaned by a quack. Games like Minesweeper and Solitaire were so boring that Bill Gates decided to donate all his wealth to the needy.

But till a decade ago, Indian parents regulated time spent on computers, the use of Internet, and what kids choose to do with it. Browsing through educational sites was accepted, anything beyond it was frowned upon. Watching science videos was okay, picking up a new hobby was not.

Honestly, the only forms of leisure that Indian parents children to pursue are those that they engaged in – ‘Why don’t you go out and play?’, or ‘Ride your bicycle’. For if a child dabbles in something they do not understand, Indian parents see it as the first sign of rebellion. “Today he is playing video games, tomorrow he will rob the neighbours, loot the railway station, escape to Syria and blow up buildings”.

It is of course, completely alright for them to watch news for hours at stretch, or forward riot-inducing crap on WhatsApp – there is no danger in that!

Last year, the Blue Whale Challenge whipped up a storm in Indian media, but the statistics and real numbers were miniscule. Indian media played it on loop like it was the biggest problem in the country.

The Blue Whale Challenge was a confirmation of all things evil that Indian parents personify about technology. It gives them yet another reason to stifle the desires of their children, to hammer and mold them into socially acceptable individuals. That is the reason why most Indian kids grow up thinking sex is bad. That ‘drugs’ are a sweeping category of substances that ruin lives. That sipping on beer makes us an alcoholic and buying clothes online is an avarice.

 

PUBG

I have been meaning to write on this subject for a while now, but I needed to first get familiar with the game. I installed PUBG on my mobile and played the game over the last week, just to check out what the fuss was all about.

I found the game highly addictive, but also extremely fun. I met people from the ages of 12 to 45, happily playing with each other. There were young boys and college kids, women who finished their office, and middle-aged men who were making the transition from CounterStrike to mobile gaming.

I played the game for more than 50 hours in the last one week, and not once did I find any trace of bullying. If anything, I found people making new friends, teaming up with them, collaborating to come up with strategies.

One team I was a part of had two boys from Varanasi and one from Chennai. Usually, Hindi is the language that players communicate in. But seeing that the boy was struggling, they began speaking in English. It was a beautiful moment – three strangers getting to know each other, making efforts to understand each other – coming together with no agenda but to take their mind off their stressful days.

How the fuck is this harmful to society?

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The real reason the PUBG issue is being brought up now is because of the upcoming Board Exams. For Indian parents, life begins and ends with the Board Exam, and since a mobile phone cannot be controlled and rationed (like PCs), they are losing their minds.

If my children do not adhere to the exact path that I charted out for them, how will I mold him/her into exactly what I think they should become?

I feel bad for the kid in Mumbai who moved the Bombay High Court to ban PUBG. It was clearly not his decision – kids have better stuff to do than move a High Court. He must have been severely pressurised by his parents.

I wonder what his schoolmates think of him. And if they secretly invite him to join their team on PUBG during a boring Hindi period!

*****

URI-Manikarnika-Thackeray-BO-FI

Thoughts on Uri and Manikarnia

It’s been a month since 2019 shone on us, and I find it extremely disturbing that all the prominent releases were somehow related to India, patriotism, or the idea of India.

There was The Accidental Prime Minister, a terrible film that was as successful in hiding its intentions as in hiding Akshaye Khanna’s receding hairline. There was Uri – The Surgical Strike – which was about Indian forces attacking the evil people in PoK.

Then there was Thackeray – a film so ironic that it would have made the late leader choke on his beer. That Nawazuddin Siddiqui – a Muslim from UP – would play him in a biopic would make even the gods chuckle. Then there was ‘Cheat India’ whose title, in a stroke of Vedic genius, was changed to ‘Why Cheat India’. It’s like the Censor Board is run by four children deciding the annual play for an apartment complex. The only saving grace amidst this barrage of patriotism was Govinda’s Rangeela Raja – a throwback to the days when it was okay to pinch a woman’s bottom on screen.

Personally, I also had the misfortune of watching NTR: Kathanayakudu – a film so bad, it made me want to go back to my 10th standard, study well, choose Science, become an engineer, and avoid journalism altogether. (Read my review of the film here).

Among the films that released this month, I got to watch Uri and Manikarnika, I liked them both for completely different, extremely selfish reasons.

URI

I actually like Uri more than the other releases this month. Most reviews lambasted the film for being a jingoistic exercise and that was the mindset I’d walked in with.

I wanted to watch a film with army men who were efficient, effective, incisive. I am tired of films portraying Indian men in uniform as emotionally charged, jingoistic men who will hug a bomb for their nation. If you watched Border, for example, you’d think Indians won the war not not on the basis of military superiority, but because they loved their motherland more than the Pakistanis.

However, the critics were doing the film a disservice by painting it in jingoistic colours. If jingoism is really the issue, one needs to look at American war films and how embarrassingly jingoistic they can get – think of the US President flying in a warcraft to fight off aliens!

Raazi which released last year was praised for showing Pakistanis as human beings – something is commendable, but also quite easy. In Uri, Pakistanis are all shown as evil buffoons, but probably I was expecting too much. When was the last time you saw a sensitive Russian man in a Hollywood film?

The film is slickly shot, and succeeds while operating within the parameters of the Hindi film.

We Indians do not just want an action film. We need some maa ka pyar, behen ko vaada, bhai ka badla. We are not content with the hero shooting the baddies, we need him to wield his arms and smash them to pulp. We also need a plot-hook that allows us to return to the movie post interval – once we have gorged on samosas and Coca-Cola.

MANIKARNIKA

Manikarnika was the worse of the two movies.

In fact, strike that out. It was quite terrible. I have always maintained that I’d rather watch an average film that’s trying something different, rather than a successful film that plays safe.

Manikarnika has every trope in Bollywood – including the Amitabh Bachchan voiceover. Ever since Lagaan, Bollywood has used the Amitabh Bachchan voiceover for historicals to such an extent that if Amitabh Bachchan doesn’t give a voiceover, it probably didn’t happen.

We are so used to Zeeshan Ayub getting shoddy characters that you don’t really expect too much from him, and he doesn’t disappoint. Then there are the foreigners! Like most Bollywood Britishers, they are permanently evil, spouting lines in broken Hindi, and planning one saazissh after the other.

Manikarnika is one of those movies in which you can predict everything – if there’s a sword-fighting contest, you know Kangana is going to win it. If there’s an elephant, you know she’s going to get on top of it.

The real problem with the movie though, is that you know the story. You know that the British army is larger, more technologically advanced, and that Rani Lakshmi Bai will finally die in battle. With that in mind, the film fails as a narrative – it is basically Border with Kangana playing both Sunny Deol and Suneil Shetty.

 

TRAILERS

One common problem with both the films is that I knew exactly what would happen well into the intervals of both the movies.

There is a fundamental problem in the way we cut our trailers in Indian cinema. Our trailers reveal the entire plot, leaving only the final conflict for viewers to watch in the cinema halls. In recent times, only Andhadhun managed to cut a trailer that kept its cards close to its chest.

I liked Uri more than I liked Manikarnika – but I liked both of them for two completely different reasons.

I wanted Uri to succeed so that filmmakers realise it is possible to make an action film that isn’t overtly jingoistic. That we can move beyond the Maa Tujhe Salaam and LoC template of army films.

I want Manikarnika to break box-office records because it is helmed by Kangana Ranaut. In this cesspool of nepotism, it is an outsider who is starring in, directing and carrying the entire film on her own shoulders. It is commendable, and if this encourages more women to helm their own projects, we could get to see lesser and lesser of zombie-hippopotamuses like Arjun Kapoor and Sooraj Pancholi.

 

PATRIOTISM

The only real worry though, is the rising nationalism in our films.

There is a film on Modi coming up, apart from films on Manmohan Singh and Bal Thackeray. Down south, there are films on NTR and YSR releasing in the coming months. The stupid trend of playing the National Anthem before a movie begins still continues unabated, even though the Supreme Court has ruled it unnecessary.

Films have always exploited the emotions running through the masses. Amitabh Bachchan’s blockbusters from the 70s did the same, as did Manoj Kumar’s films in the 1960s.

But to have nearly each and every film releasing in a month talking about India, how great India is, and what it means to be Indian – is a bit too much to stomach.

I won’t be surprised if in the coming years we have films like Golmaal Tujhe Salaam, Sacred Patriotic Games, and Sonu Ke Titty Ki Freedom Fighter!

   *****

Hardik Pandya

The Lynching of Hard-dick Pandya

I am amused by the kind of shit that angers us Indians.

Our issues are such a beautiful, fluffy assortment of the most random shit, it’s almost cute. The latest being Hardik Pandya getting ‘called out’ for his statements on Coffee with Karan.

Yup, that’s the zenith of our intellectual journey, folks. It’s all downhill from here. Journalists and intellectuals were dissecting the terribly important talk that Hardik Pandya delivered on the show. Which was then picked up by news sites, who lurk around cyberspace like out-of-work dementors, sniffing for outrage.

They then splashed their ugly, ad-whore sites with articles and editorials on what he should and shouldn’t have said. Let me repeat that – what Hardik Pandya shouldn’t have said on Koffee with Karan! Kan you believe that shit? 

As a journalist, it makes me feel ashamed.

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Coffee with Karan (I hate spelling it out in its retarded original spelling) is a sleazy, silly show where the host gets his friends to reveal how many times they bang whom on which days of the week. Running through the show’s invitees will give you an idea into the depth of the show – Fardeen Khan, Zayed Khan, Rakhi Sawant and Himesh bhai. The tagline of the show is Stop Making Sense, not Aman Ki Asha. 

Are we really going to intellectualise that show? That bane on television shows in particular and intelligence in general? What next? A psychoanalytic conference on Sasuraal Simar Ka? The Freudian slant in Bhabiji Ghar Pe Hain? What the fuck is going on?

I am sick of the Political Correct nature of Indian media. They play this stern, moralistic hostel warden, running around and telling people what to think. He likes women and brags about his exploits – so what? If a woman did it, she would be hailed as a sexual revolutionary. And why do we expect every cricketer to behave like Bharat Ratna Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar?

And what gives these journalists the right to judge these people? Are they all perfect in thought, word, and action? Or assuming they become massively-followed millionaire celebrities tomorrow, will they all become perfect role models?

Role model.

That’s always the word thrown around, isn’t it? Cricketers are role models.

In fact, every fucking body is a role model in our country. Actors must be role models. Parents, teachers, elders, writers, their neighbours, the milkman – every goddamn person in this country needs to be a role model. I don’t get it.

Role model for kids, apparently.

Who are these kids learning life-lessons from Coffee with Karan, pray?

If that’s where you’re looking, I’m sorry but you’re a dumb fucking kid whose life is screwed, anyway. You might as well befriend your neighbourhood chemist and start taking Valium.  How long are we going to throw this dumb, carcass of a logic that people are affected by TV, films, and books?

It is this retarded logic that has led to our films coming with cuts and disclaimers. It’s the reason why television shows in India cater to the intelligence levels of orangutans.

People can be influenced by anything. Dayanand Saraswati saw a rat eat a laddoo and decided to eradicate the caste system from the country. Sanjay Gandhi traveled to Europe and got inspired to dump half a million people on the other side of the Yamuna overnight. How the fuck does it matter who gets influenced by what??

This politically correct nature of Indian media is (like most things) a rip-off the sickening PC culture in the West. Appallingly, we in India have way more important issue, that flipping out over what an actor said.

And why the fuck should Pandya apologise for his statements?

What is this culture of bullying someone for what they said? This is not very different from what right-wing online trolls do to people like Naseeruddin Shah. It was something he said, to a pointed question, on a talk show that is meant to be sleazy. He was not in the Lok Sabha, for fuck’s sake!

Till a decade ago, our popular culture had normalised stalking and following women. A lot of us English speaking urban people have moved beyond and called that out because we had access to education, exposure and there’s no other way to say it – privilege.

That’s the thing about PC culture. It consists of enlightened people who realised something about the world, and WHAM! They want everybody to fall in line, irrespective of their upbringing and roots.

Hardik Pandya studied till Class 9. In Surat.

He then moved to Baroda as a kid, playing cricket for schools and leagues till he and his brother earned money and fame for their family through their skill. He did this till he ranked among the 11 best cricketers in the country by the age of 22.

And now you expect him to become an exemplary citizen, a role model? Why the fuck, pray? Thanks to the outrage, BCCI has sent a showcause notice to him, and might ban cricketers from non-cricketing talk shows. Does that make you enlightened people happy? Does it give you dil chandan sa thandak? 

Hardik Pandya is 25 years old. He is paid to play cricket, that is what is expected from him. If we all were good enough to be in Top 11 in India in what we did, we wouldn’t have the time to outrage over such dumb shit.

Hardik Pandya isn’t paid enough to live up to your high moral standards. Nor is he morally obligated to be a role model for kids.

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Go ahead, Hardik Pandya. Win matches, party, date women, have fun. If only just to piss off these dumb, perennially angry people on Twitter!!

***

India Australia Feature Image

The Day is Here!

The day is here.

If you had told me that I would watch a Test series where India would beat Australia in Australia, I would have scoffed at you.

I had assumed it was one of those things that would never happen. Like Govinda losing weight or Modi dancing in a Muharram procession.

India has been touring Australia since 1947, and we had never won a single tournament down under. Ganguly’s ‘greatest Indian team ever’ – the one with stalwarts like Sachin, Dravid, Sehwag, Laxman and Kumble – managed to draw a series in 2003. But winning a tournament was unthinkable.

Of course the fates had a role to play. A lot of people I meet talk about the absence of Smith and Warner. ‘Two of the world’s best batsmen, would have made a world of difference’, they say. True, but getting banned for taking a sandpaper to the field is not bad luck, it’s stupidity.

It’s the kind of thing you expect from Pakistani cricketers. We have grown up reading about them – Pakistani cricketers booked for kidnapping, or caught with ganja in West Indies.  

To lose players to a crime, injury or retirement is one thing. But carrying sandpapers to the field in this digital age where everybody and their kid has a camera, is a lack of brains. I don’t think that counts as misfortune.

 

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The most incredible fact of the series was the performance of our fast bowlers.

It was never an Indian thing to have attacking fast bowlers who run through sides. We churned out pot-bellied batsmen who batted for hours. It was always an Australian thing to produce tall, lanky fast bowlers who charged in and attacked the stumps.

Bumrah and Shami are unassuming bowlers who do not live under the burden of being called ‘The Next Kapil Dev’. The curse of the next Kapil Dev has been thrusted upon a number of Indian bowlers – Srinath, Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan.

And Ishant Sharma! He is one bowler I could not stand. He has been playing in the team for nearly a decade, and yet it is difficult to think of matches that he has won solely by himself. For the longest time, I was under the impression that Ishant is only in the team because he doesn’t get injured. While we are told not to think evil for others, there have been times I’ve wished that Ishant slipped on a banana peel that was left over by Umesh Yadav – and remained out of the team for crucial tournaments. I know, I know! I am not proud of my mind.

In my weekly humour column for Indian Express, I have written about the agony of an India-Australia Test series.

One has to wake up at 4.30 – Brahma-muhurtam – the time of the gods. Only to watch one’s gods tottering and stuttering in foreign lands. Their powers diminished, their charms broken. If you live with parents, they ask you how you did in school/college, and curse you early in the morning for switching on the TV. You watch two sessions, and by the third, India has sailed closer to defeat than it was the previous day. Half your day is over, and you go through the motions with as much enthusiasm as Raza Murad in Phool Aur Kaante.

It is five days of desolation and hopelessness, series after series, year after year.

 

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KL Rahul's face looks like it's been photoshopped to the image. I wonder why!

KL Rahul’s face looks like it’s been photoshopped to the image. I wonder why!

Surprisingly, I am not overly excited about the victory. As I watched Kohli accept the award, I quietly smoked a joint and smiled. Is it because I have matured as an Indian cricket fan?

Have I gotten rid of my passionate bias, my unrealistic expectations from the team?

Fuck, no! We need to win the World Cup. Come on, assholes!!
***

 

The Witch Hunt of Kevin Hart

Last week, Kevin Hart was chosen as the host for the Oscars.

In a few hours, he was dropped because people lost their shit on social media. Over tweets from 10 years ago. Yup, you read that right – a decade ago!

In case you’re unaware, hosting the Oscars is considered the biggest gig for a comedian. Kevin Hart had to step down as (in his own words), he did not want to be a distraction on this glorious night where blah blah blah…

Kevin Hart Tweets

Sometimes, I think of myself as a visitor from Neptune and wonder how I’d feel flipping through a newspaper. We live in strange times – parts of the world are facing dictatorial leaders who behead and shoot people on a whim. Then there’s the other side of the world where people get angry for a joke from ten years ago – and violently demand that the person be denied work!

Of course, this wasn’t the first time something like this was happening. A few months ago, James Gunn was fired from tweets that were published a decade ago. It has happened in India too – Tanmay Bhat’s tweets from years ago re-surface everytime there’s any criticism of the fragile, sensitive, constantly PMS-ing government and its leaders.

James Gunn tweets

If we were all booked for saying things like this, we would all be working from jail.

I have often wondered what the point of these witch-hunts is.

Are these actions supposed to be punitive? If yes, what really is the extent of these punishments? Who determines that an entire person’s body of work is made irrelevant overnight? It boggles my mind!

And what happens when a star is ‘brought down’? Do people celebrate? Do they set out on marches and light candles and Hail Jesus? And what about reform? Is there any consideration to what the person feels about the issue today?

In our everyday lives, we are allowed to grow and evolve. Remember dancing to that Falguni Pathak’s song? Yeah, I know you did it. Come on, we all did it. But we grew out, we matured. We learnt that one can dance to Falguni Pathak’s songs only during Navratri, didn’t we?

Then why are celebrities not given a chance to reform for their statements? Are we to be held to our statements forever? Are public statements permanent albatrosses around our neck – to be pointed out and mocked and cursed for all of eternity?

It’s sickening how people seem to enjoy this virtual mob-lynching. It is almost as if there’s a sense of victory, like a revolution has begun? Like the times will be a’changing. The most common argument for such social media witch-hunts is that celebrities enjoy fame, success and money – and hence, they are supposed to be moral examples for the rest of the world.

It is almost as if the fame they enjoy is a privilege that common men bestow on celebrities. And that they are permanently obliged to toe the line of what the followers want! That is such a retarded line of thought, it keeps me up at night.

True, celebrities earn their money when people go to watch their films and shows. But most of them are hard-working professionals who have come up the ladder for decades. And their entire worth is lost due to an angry teenager on the Internet with a Twitter account and onion rings for brains. To troll someone is one thing, but to cause them to lose their work, money and reputation is a hideous trend.

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If one were to zoom out and look at the larger picture – what really is the intent of a social media movement?

Is it to penalise people for having an opinion that is not tangential to your opinion? We are not talking about people who harassed or harmed someone – these were jokes that were assumed to be funny, in a time when people got on Twitter and spat out whatever came to their minds.

Twitter wasn’t a politically correct space ten years ago. It was this gigantic cloud-wall that people took a spraycan to and went crazy. Some of it was moving, some insightful, some stupid.

Or is the point of a social media movement to talk, discuss, embrace and be open to new ideas? What did the witch-hunt of Kevin Hart really achieve when he clearly said he doesn’t relate to those tweets anymore? How is this any different from the Ayatollah of Iran whose fatwa on Salman Rushdie still stands valid because of a book written thirty years ago?

And how many Kevin Hart fans do you think heard the news and sympathised with the LGBTQ cause? How many of them carried candles and vowed never to utter a homophobic slur again?

If anything, these trends widen the rifts, cause more hatred and stereotyping from both ends. For Kevin Hart fans, the LGBTQ community will be viewed as humourless spoilsports. For the LGBTQ community, anybody who enjoys Kevin Hart’s work will be seen as a homophobe.

Unfortunately, we all lie well in the middle of those extremes.

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Zomato

Zomato Delivery Boy and Elite, Urban Sympathy

It’s been three days since the Zomato video surfaced, and now the video has run its course on social media.

We live in an age when an actress’ wedding and an US election enjoy the same duration of relevance on our phones. So the Zomato video has run its course of online relevance. Most news items follow what I call the 3-day Relevance Cycle.

Three Day Social Media Relevance Cycle

Now that the Zomato video has passed the initial outrage and jokes phase, and memes have been paid, it will organically move on to the Editorial articles. This is when articles telling us how to be better human beings will be shared across opinion sites.

Like this Tweet-collector article on The Indian Express which undertook the brave journalistic endeavour of collecting a few tweets on the subject. In it, you find people making statements like ‘If an employee is so hungry that he has to steal food, we must ask ourselves what sort of a society we live in’. (I can’t diss Indian Express too much because I write a humour column with them).

Another article by Arre (another fantastic website that churns out witty, insightful, unique articles) harps on the same subject. That we need to ask questions about the working conditions at the company, and how the guy deserves our empathy. Something about the tone of the article put me off (but I can’t diss Arre too much because I contribute columns for them too – you should check them out!).

The article begins with an allusion to a time in the French Revolution when there were thousands of hungry people on the streets who didn’t have bread, but the queen famously said ‘let them eat cake’. I was baffled at the extrapolation – this was not a case of a destitute man scrounging off the streets. This was daylight theft, a breach of trust, and a cunning cover-up that would have affected honest, innocent customers if it wasn’t caught on tape.

The article goes on to break down the trade on economic grounds. There’s a link to the fountain of all credible knowledge – Quora. Even if one were to go by the Quora post, it mentions that a delivery guy makes Rs. 2010 a day on an average of 21 deliveries. I am sorry but that is not as bad as it seems. In fact, freshly passed-out engineers and MBAs from most colleges in India will find a gross salary of 60,300 lucrative in any city in the country.

The post also mentions that the employees have to pay for the fuel themselves. Assuming that every order is 10 kms away on average, and the employees use your typical 100 CC bike that gives you 50 km/hr – that is a total of 10,800 Rs. on petrol every month. Deducting that amount, it still comes to 49,500.

The working hours are mentioned as anywhere between 8-12 hours a day – nearly every job across every sector falls in the same category. All things factored, a Zomato employee makes a neat 50K a month. How on earth does that demand sympathy and empathy? That’s more than what your average artists, musicians, and journalists earn. And the job doesn’t need high educational background or work-ex – a driving license, a bike, and time during the day.

That’s a bloody good deal.

So it clearly isn’t the economics – but rather an elitist condescension that somehow food delivery is a ‘lesser’ trade. There are nurses saving lives on less than half that salary, there are government employees slogging off for years for less than amount. If anything, the job is one of the modern off-shoots of a growing economy.

For any other job that pays you 50K a month, mishandling company’s property and assets would be met with similar seriousness. If an IT engineer takes company data home on a pen drive, he/she will get their ass booted the next day. If a comedian steals one joke, it is the end of one’s career.

It was an act of theft, a breach of trust, of putting unsuspecting customers at a health risk. And it wasn’t even a one-off act of desperation. It was done in a cunning, carefully planned manner. The employee was not starving or malnourished – he was what Pammi Aunty would call ‘very healthy’. This is not fat-shaming, it is fact-checking.

Unfortunately, the article proceeds to launch into a Guru Dutt film climax-speech about the injustice in society and how we must be ashamed of ourselves for letting this happen. That we must instead be complaining about the working conditions of the delivery boys. That’s just intellectual drivel.

And who really has the time to speak up about every issue in the world? Who possessed the time, dedication and energy to keep harping about injustices in society? For all you know, Indian Express and Arre themselves would have never broached the topic if the video hadn’t surfaced.

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Out of curiosity, I checked Twitter, Facebook and Instagram if people were baying for the delivery man’s blood – they weren’t. And mind you, we live in a country where a person got killed for having mutton in their fridge.

It was a dick move – an act of theft and cheating, committed with an air of carefully planned crookedness. The guy deserved to get his ass fired.

Amidst this idealistic drivel – nobody speaks about the customers – honest, hardworking, and hungry. What if the food was meant for a child or someone susceptible to dust, allergies and infections? Why should anybody not be alarmed when the health, hygiene and well-being of their family is jeopardised by a cheating asshole?

I’m sorry, but to expect sympathy instead of alarm is juvenile. It’s the kind of stuff university students mouth after wearing a kurta and smoking two joints. The guy broke a rule, put people’s health at risk, tampered with company property, and got caught.

He got caught, and got fired from his job. It is sad, but that’s how life works.

Grow the fuck up!

*****

Zomato

ZoMaToo? How to protect your order in the age of botched deliveries

 

You must have seen the video.

A food-delivery executive mooching off food meant for a customer, then cleanly resealing it, and setting off to work with the focus of an award-winning star employee.

When I searched for the video on YouTube, it was preceded by an ad by Zomato itself – asking me to order food that would get delivered in minutes. It’s the kind of video that makes you think back to all the orders that reached your doorstep decimated. Remember the time the salad looked like it had been ravaged by vultures? Or the laddoo that resembled a 5th day ball of a Baroda Test match? All of those memories come flashing back.

The case is even more interesting because the company in question usually has a funny retort on social media. Unfortunately on this occasion – and pardon the phrase – they have had to order humble pie.

We Indians have taken to food delivery apps quite well. Perhaps because the first instance of order-deliveries was of Hanuman delivering the Sanjeevani plant. We have an intrinsic faith in the food delivery system.

The video was also forwarded to me on WhatsApp groups, and it triggered active conversations. There were those who wanted that delivery personnel be provided better pay, food coupons, and lower targets. Conspiracy theorists, never too far away on a WhatsApp group, argued that it could be a ploy by Swiggy to get rid of their biggest competitor (since FoodPanda has begun to go extinct).

But the conspiracy theory sounds implausible when you see the actual video. It is done with the precision of an experienced hand, of a seasoned (for the lack of a better word) customer. In a way, I sympathised with the delivery executive. He looked stockily built, someone with a natural proclivity for food.

The video was shot in Madurai – a temple town with a rich variety of local foods. An average food-delivery person delivers about 20 orders a day. Imagine zipping through the city, the aroma of different cuisines wafting with you. When the food is so near, yet so far. Luckily for the employee, the video isn’t very clear.

It is also not the first time such a video shattered the faith of people. A few years ago, a video surfaced from Mumbai where a pani puri vendor decided to offer a new twist on the old favourite – Urea Puri.

Be warned: The video is not safe for work, home, jungle or the hills.

 

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The video proves that in spite of apologies and warnings, any system that involves human beings is subject to tampering. In spite of best practices and quality ‘testing’, one can never really be sure.

It is only prudent therefore, to make a list of low-risk and high-risk food to order online.

At the low end of the low-risk spectrum stand South Indian food. It is impossible to take a bite out of an idli, vada, or dosa – without altering the shape. However, kindly do not enter the marshy territory of upma, pongal and sambar rice.

The look and feel of the food item is also crucial – a lasagne will be hard to break into. Pizzas are safe too, and in case of doubt, go for one with less toppings. Wraps are difficult to tamper with, and if someone scoops out the filling of a wrap carefully – they probably deserve the wrap more than you do.

If you are a biryani lover, you fall in the high-risk category. When they say ‘family pack’ biryani, they don’t specify how many members of a family. It isn’t hard for a bachelor to want to belong to your family.

Noodles and fried rice are high-risk too. Geo-politically, India and China might not be on Baloo-Bagheera terms, but Chinese food is considered quite accessible. Milk-shakes are a strict no-no. If it’s an ice cream thickshake, you wouldn’t even know that the quantity has reduced! Soups are out of question.

If you’re the suspicious kind, you could even do a test case on your deliveries to check if they have been tampered with.

For example, order Rasmalai and check if the delivery agent has a satisfied, benign smile on his face. Or order Chicken Teekha Mirch Kabab (select Extra Spicy option), and wait for the order.

If you notice the delivery agent puffing and panting, sweaty or fidgety, it might make sense to check your order.

It’s the least one can do in times like this. Of course, one could learn to cook for oneself. But why even go there?

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Tumbad-min

What Tumbad does with horror

In the age of Netflix and other online streaming apps, amidst entertainment that can be slipped into your back pocket, in the age of stream, download, and watch – what really is the role of a horror film?

We have seen the spooky, the creepy, the horrific, and the Satanic. We have had horror movies involving men, ghosts, monsters and creatures. In water, in the air, and from beyond the earth. Jump-scares and screeching doors and ghosts slamming their ghostly faces into the camera to startle us. All of that is done.

Which is why one wants more from a horror film. We look for more than a ghost chasing a human. We need the film to have more soul – atma – if you please!

Tumbad achieves what horror films in the 21st century are supposed to. To leave you with a feeling you can take back home – beyond the scares and twists and blood. A slight unsettling feeling, a tinge of memory that hits a dark space deep inside you.

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We Indians might make the most number of movies on the planet, but we are terrible at one particular genre – horror.

Indian cinema has gone through a number of horror tropes – the lady who was wronged and is looking to avenge her death. The pus and blood in lonely buildings era with Ramsay brothers. Followed by the Trishul and Yagna era where a Baba dressed in black directs the ghost to do things – acting as a veritable HR professional for spirits.

This is not to say that I don’t watch them. I have a fetish for bad films, and will usually sit through a bad horror film on television. People like me are partly responsible for these films being made. And once I realise this truth, I feel guilty if I don’t watch them.

It’s only natural therefore, that I have my favourites in the genre. There was Hawaa, with Tabu starring opposite a bad script. Where the ghost is a BA student from Gurgaon who molests Tabu in her sleep. The CGI in the film is pathbreaking  nightie-entering, a sight that could trigger guilt cold-hearted ghosts.

There is horror, there is titillation, and then there’s this video.

Then there’s 1920 – one of those films that were ripped off from a number of English films featuring churches, priests and Christian ghosts. Of course, the legendary brains of Vikram Bhatt decided to adapt the film to Indian context.

So instead of Biblical phrases, the actors start chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. But wait. One can’t just show a few lines of Hanuman Chalisa because VHP. It is a crime to recite a prayer halfway through – and so the actor chants the entire Hanuman Chalisa – from start to finish. For 3 and a half minutes!

And guess what! Tulsidas was right. Bhoot pishaach nikat nahi aave. Mahaveer jab naam sunaave.

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Indian ghosts have back-stories, character arcs, motives, evidence, and exhibits in court. I won’t be surprised if they turn up in suits and fight legal cases too.

Which is probably why Tumbad doesn’t wish to remain in that space of Indian horror. It takes comfort in the oldest of formats – one that is strictly Indian. Those involving grandmothers, ghosts, palaces, greed and treasures.

The kind of stories that had no motion capture, or CGI, or Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The kind of stories that were narrated by grandparents, or cousins on terraces.

Tumbad is as much about the story, as its atmospherics. The cinematography of the film makes you forget that it is in an independent film. If you ever felt frustrated at the huge budgets commercial Indian films have at their disposal, and yet the mediocre tripe they churn out – watch Tumbad for its efficacy and its indulgences. The cinematography meets the background score and makes deep, passionate love on the screen.

Tumbad succeeds because it isn’t trying to scare you. It’s like a magician asking you to pick a card, and then after a while showing you a completely different card. It isn’t trying to shock you, or trick you, or show you how smart it is.

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As I write this, Tumbad is limping out of the last few theaters in cities around the country. If you manage to find a show on BookMyShow, do bookyoushow.