Category Archives: Film

‘The Lunchbox’ is an ode to loneliness

In the last one year, a strange practice has taken over my film-viewing habits.

Instead of hunting for new movies to watch, new stories to trip on – I have been revisiting films that struck a chord with me in the last few years. I like to rewatch them, go back to my review and opinions of the film, and see if anything has changed. If I still feel the same way about the film.

I found that I’m kinder to Imtiaz Ali’s films (Tamasha, Highway), and find myself having been overtly kind to a few other films (Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola).

However, the experience of watching a film without the urgent, binding pressure to review it, to pronounce a verdict; is a much better way to watch the film.

It was in this journey of re-reviewing films that I came across The Lunchbox a few days back.

*

The overwhelming emotion that the film evokes, is that of loneliness. The entire film is an ode to loneliness – not the sudden, crushing loneliness of losing a loved one. But the slow, corroding loneliness that gets deeper and darker. Like the rods of old trains that have gotten rusted with time.

The look and feel of the film carries a minimalistic tone. The name, the trailer, and even the sets of the film evoke a feeling of overwhelming loneliness.

On the surface, the film is the story of Ila and Sajan. But scratch this fragile surface, and you’ll find that each and every character in the film is lonely. Each of them distinct from the other, and yet; each of them lonely in a distinct, different way.

There’s Nawazuddin Siddiqui. A man rooted in no family or home, a man who carries his kitchen with him in his briefcase. Who makes up an imaginary mother and feeds her memorable quotes. Who latches on to his superior in the office, bearing insults and jibes – striking up conversations from the limited matchsticks in his armoury. Nawazuddin is probably the happiest person in the film, finally pleading with another lonely man to join him on the happiest day of his life.

There is Ila – dressed in  sepia toned chudidars. A husband who doesn’t care, a father on his deathbed. She’s a housewife, a non-economic entity in the City of Dreams, surrounded by lonely people.

The aunty upstairs is lonely, having spent 15 years tending to a paralysed man who has been staring at the ceiling fan for a decade and a half. Ila’s daughter is lonely too – her large, round eyes lack the boisterous exuberance of a child. She plays by herself, with a doll that he mother used to play with. Ila’s mother is lonely too, a wife with no tears to spare for her dead husband. Her husband is pursuing an extramarital affair at work. So disconnected is he to life that even though he’s been eating the same curry for weeks at stretch, it evokes a mere complaint to his wife. Her brother has committed suicide, his death hanging over them like a family ghost.

Which is why Ila clings on to that little connection when it comes her way. Which is why she checks if her daughter is around before opening his letters. Why she giggles when she reads them, and lies to Aunty about the brinjals she bought. She clings on to it, even if the feeble, gossamer of a connection is with Sajan Fernandes.

A man who doesn’t just look old, he smells old. A man who has resigned to life, and by extension, to death. Who discusses vertical coffins like it was an item in his grocery list. A man who gets his food from nearby hotels, who religiously performs his duties, and has nobody else in the entire world. As a child, when we would play cricket in the bylanes of my colony in Bhubaneswar, I used to wonder what sort of people didn’t return the ball when it fell into their compound. Perhaps there are Sajan Fernandes-es all around us.

Which is why Sajan grasps onto the gossamer too. The secret is a window of indulgence in the pale grey room that is his life. The terror in his eyes when the ceiling fan above him stops moving; the pride he feels when Sheikh praises his food. Sajan is a man who would meticulously cling on to a thread in a storm.

And when the two leads begin to connect, they do not discuss the bright, colourful joys of life. They do not connect over dreams of tomorrow, but over morbid themes – lung cancer, a woman who jumped off a building with her daughter, and the distance between two people who live together.

*

Which is why when the film ends on a cliffhanger, you as a viewer feel neither ecstatic, or crushed, or moved, or elated. The last shot of the film is a group of dabbawalas, singing bhajans, carrying empty tiffin boxes back. It will be another day tomorrow.

Perhaps the two will meet. Perhaps they won’t.  

 

*****

Newton-Full-Movie-Box-Office-Collection-1st-2nd-3rd-Day-Worldwide

‘Newton’ Review: Rajkumar Rao is a frikking chameleon

Actors in India usually take years, decades even, to string together a half-decent body of work. Take the works of any of our superstars, and you’ll be able to name 2 – 3 good films in a career spanning three decades. If there was a way to calculate the ratio of films : critical acclaim, Rajkumar Rao would sit comfortably on the top of the heap. In fact, I dare say he’d be alone there.

In a mere seven year career, Rajkumar Rao has somehow managed to star in films that have won critical acclaim across media. In an industry that thrives on mediocre crap, like flies that continue to hover over a pile of shit – the man has managed to carve out a truly unique body of work for himself.

Whether it is Love, Sex aur Dhoka, or the mildly porny Ragini MMS, Gangs of Wasseypur 2, Kai Po Che, Shahid, Queen, Aligarh, Trapped, or Bareilly ki Barfi – the man seems to have an agent up in Neptune. Someone who can zoom out, look at the larger picture, and offer him scripts that are out of this world.

Newton is a film of a man at his peak. A man confident in his choices, a man assured of his prowess. Most actors change their look, their hairstyle, their body shape – to get into a role. But they are most actors. Rajkumar Rao just shakes his head and slips into the role. Like a chameleon camouflaging into the background. Like a snake shedding its skin and adopting a new one.

It is frankly impossible to imagine any other actor pull off the role like Rakjumar Rao does. As the earnest, idealistic Newton Kumar, he knocks it out of the park from the first ball. We have all met such Newtons in our life. Those who refuse to back down, those who are persistent enough to make you yank your hair out in frustration. The drama in the film is neither loud, nor bawdy. So much so that your sympathies as a viewer see-saw between the Rao and the terrific Pankaj Tripathi.

*

Newton is also a statement on India’s General elections.

We have all quoted the numbers, felt pride in being the world’s largest democracy. And yet, is the entire process so homogeneously harmonic? The film explores these fault lines, carved deep into the palm of the world’s largest democracy. The risk of conducting elections, the farce of choosing leaders to change our lives. And at the centre of it all, the director chooses to adopt a non-patronizing view of the tribal population, for whom the elections are just a bureaucratic hassle. Like linking Aadhar Card with PAN is for us.

Newton benefits from a fantastic ensemble cast. The solid Sanjay Mishra opens the innings with a quick cameo, only to return to the dressing room and leave the match to Rao and Tripathi. As Aatma Singh, the leader of the battalion assigned to deal with Newton’s crankiness, Pankaj Tripathi is in fine, fine form. Supporting him is the fabulous Raghubir Yadav, who has put on weight, but still pulls off a fine role. Special mention here needs to go to Anjali Patil, the actor who plays Malko. Not once does she step overboard – her full lips, her eyes, the cynical attitude towards the forces – this is an actress who is probably as cranky as Newton, but with lots of tact.

And at the centre of it all, is Rajkumar Rao as Newton Kumar. Watch him as he blinks while looking away, as he mutters, sighs and grits his teeth. As he runs away from the security forces, or as he explains the rules of voting like his life depends on it. Rajkumar Rao’s most heroic act of the film is in how un-heroic he makes it all seem.

Credit also to director Amit Masurkar, who whips up a story as idealistic, as uncompromising as the titular hero. The film is proof of how might tighter, how honest our films would look if we grew the balls to castrate the fluff. Newton doesn’t claim to change your life. In fact, the film works like a scientific theory put forth by Isaac himself – it works with scientific precision, is to the point, and is effective.

***

FU

To Those of you who presume I am biased against Telugu cinema

After my last blog on Arjun Reddy, I received a number of mails and complaints from readers.

I was accused of being biased, and harbouring stereotypical ideas about Telugu cinema. That I was some jobless blogger who smoked three joints and went on a rant.

Firstly, I have a day job now, so fuck you! Secondly, I honestly wasn’t trolling or ridiculing Telugu cinema without reason. Most of what I said holds true. Nearly every Telugu film fits into the 5 Song Design Sandbox. Most Telugu films star heroines who can’t speak the language. 95% of Telugu films are exactly how I described them in the blog.

The blog was also accused of being the flippant views of an outsider shitting over the Telugu film industry. Here’s the thing – I am not really an outsider.

I speak Telugu, and have lived in Andhra and Telangana for more than 17 years now. I have grown up watching Telugu films and even Telugu soaps (Antarangaalu…ting-ting-ting-ting, ting-ting-ting-ting!). I am a huge fan of Jandhyala and his movies with Rajendra Prasad and Naresh. My teenage years were spent in listening to songs of Venkatesh movies, and early RGV films from Shiva to Kshana Kshanam. My M.Phil topic was the rise of Telugu diasporic filmmakers who created a new genre of films in Telugu cinema. I have written and performed shows in Hyderabad for years now.

What I’m trying to say is, FUCK YOU!

 

I was also accused of being a biased outsider who carries the stereotypical bias that most North Indians carry against South cinema. An entire paragraph in a hate mail was dedicated to how ridiculous Hindi cinema is. And I agree wholeheartedly.

Bollywood is the scum of the earth. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I barely review Hindi films anymore because I can’t sit through them. I watch a maximum of two Hindi films a year and immediately spend money on Hyderabad’s best psychiatrists and psychologists. In fact, if there’s one film industry worse than Telugu cinema, it is the incestuous shit-fest that is Bollywood.

So, at the risk of sounding repetitive, FUCK YOU!

It is not a random rant. Why did I write it, then?

Because I genuinely feel most Telugu films that release around the year are shit. In fact, most films that release in India are shit. We are so caught up in our formats of intervals (where fat kids go stuff their fat faces with sandwiches and Coke), or musicals (with playback singers, and actors who couldn’t be bothered to hold a fucking instrument correctly!) that we have been blinded to our own bullshit.

But more than anything else, I wrote the blog because the Telugu film industry has no honest critics to talk of. Read the review of any Telugu film, and you get articles that are as interesting as an Encyclopedia Britannica page on cacti. People who call themselves critics churn out reviews that are as shitty as the films themselves – ‘Film is good. Dances are nice, fights are terrific, actor is good, loka samastha sukhino bhavantu’. Fuck off!

The Telugu film industry deserves film critics. Recently, a film critic Mahesh Kathi (who has worked in cinema, and studied Film Appreciation), was given death threats for criticising a film starring Pavan Kalyan. Are you kidding me? Death threats?? Is this fucking Syria?

So screw you, Pavan Kalyan fan who wrote an angry mail to me. The article wasn’t biased at all, it was honest. Go get an IQ test done, go home, close the door and windows, and jack off to Tammudu at your home, you dumb piece of shit!

Thank you!

Loads of love,

Hriday.

Arjun-Reddy-Review

My Thoughts on ‘Arjun Reddy’

I have lived in Hyderabad for 7 years, and have only reviewed two Telugu films.

Why? Quite simply, I think the Telugu film industry is among the dumbest film industries in the country. With such expansive budgets and reach, the films churned out are primarily made to masturbate the ego of the stars.

Also, if you look at our neighbours, films in Tamil and Malayalam continue to push the bar year after year. Even the Kannada industry, which was a poorer cousin to Tollywood for decades, has woken up to the ingenuity of people like Rakshit Shetty.

A sign of how honest Telugu films are can be gauged by the fact that none of the Telugu heroines actually speak the language. Why would you, if your role is primarily a Telugu adaptation of 50 Shades of Navel? Also, stardom and following of Telugu superstars is on the basis of their caste, literally putting the ‘caste’ in ‘casting’ director.

I watched Arjun Reddy a week after it released, after reading the review by Baradwaj Rangan – undoubtedly the best film critic in India. If you wish to read a review of the film, kindly read his review here – I couldn’t do a better job than the man himself. What I have however, are a few stray thoughts on the film, and my answer to the question if Arjun Reddy is going to change Telugu cinema.  

*

It doesn’t take too long to notice that Arjun Reddy – both the film and the character – have no fucks to give. Arjun the character bashes up his opponent in a football match, then explains to the dean that he’s going to leave the college.

Arjun Reddy the film doesn’t bother with an Intro song, or any of the 5-song formats that Telugu cinema is stuck in. In fact, it blows my mind how most Telugu films afford to waste 30 minutes of screen time on senseless songs! Neither does Arjun Reddy the film bother with glorifying the hero. The hero here, is supremely flawed.

It is to Vijay Devarakonda’s credit that he manages to steer clear of the tropes that pass off as acting! In a film where he’s on screen for 95% of the running time, he’s fire! Vijay breathes the role, and his training in theatre shows in his subtlety. The earth doesn’t shake when he’s angry, a vein moves in his neck. Which is the other shocking thing about Telugu films. I find it weird how star-sons get into films without having done any theatre work. It’s like playing Stick Cricket on your phone, and then being called to represent India. But Vijay, is prepared.

Take the scene where he confronts his Dean. He does not sprout world knowledge, but the shallow, egoistic world-views of a 22 year-old at his peak. When he orders the heroine to sit in the first bench, it is with the swag of a college bully, not once bothering to soften the role for the politically correct, extra-sensitive world that we live in. Or the scene where after shooting up heroin, he wets his pant. Vijay charts territories that no Tollywood actor would dare to – scared as they are by the brainless gits who call themselves fans.

 

A Sinful Indulgence

Director Sandeep Vanga handles the film like an acid trip. Riding the highs and sinking into the lows. At over 3 hours, the film does seem like an indulgence, but is indulgence a bad thing? Would Tim Burton be who he is, without his psychedelic extravaganza? Would the works of Baz Luhrmann, or the magical-realism of Marquez hold their own without the indulgence? Indulge is not necessarily a bad thing.

This is a man in love with his story. In a world running around formulaic palettes, Sandeep chooses to marry his scenes to a delightfully eclectic background score by Radhan. When Arjun sees Preethi for the first time, a Carnatic song plays in the background. Louis Armstrong (whose posters adorn the artwork of the film) breaks into What a Wonderful World at a funeral. There are scenes that are six minutes long, characters etched out even though they have nothing to do with the plot. Take for example the delightful Shiva, who runs a clinic in Maula Ali and caters to Muslim aunties. Or his even more delightful father. Or the maid who doesn’t respect Arjun’s dog, who’s named after the love of his life. The director is tripping on a drug he created from scratch!

 

Miss O. Ginny

Is the film misogynistic? I don’t think so. Arjun Reddy as a character is, for sure. But he’s a character. It’s like saying Game of Thrones promotes incest because Cersei and Jamie celebrate a different kind of Rakshabandhan.

But that’s who Arjun is. This is a man who shouts at his father, punches his brother, insults an old friend on a whim – how can he be sensitive to women? Making him sensitive would have been politically correct, but cinematically lousy. Also, if you see interviews of the actor and director, you’ll know they are aware and educated, brought up on cinema from around the world. Painting Arjun with misogynistic shades would have been a risk, but they end up staying true to the character, instead of stooping to political correctness. This isn’t Balakrishna slapping and pinching a heroine’s ass for no reason. Kilgrave, Patrick Bateman, Faisal Khan – all share misogynistic traits, but that doesn’t make them any less brilliant.

 

The Grudge Part 1

If there’s something I hold against the makers of the film, it is the shoddy writing of Preethi’s character. In a film full of strongly written roles, Preethi is no more than a sex-doll. We know nothing about her apart from the basics. What are her likes? What are the conflicts that gnaw into her?

While we are given more than an hour of Arjun moping in misery, what happened to Preeti? While Arjun was skipping through jobs and banging actresses, Preethi had to leave her husband, her parents, stay alone, work, and carry a baby.

The film had a fantastic opportunity to sculpt a wonderful Telugu heroine for the first time. A real, breathing character with emotions and real dialogues. And yet, the film squandered it away. Also, the final act of ‘purity’ put me off. When the protagonist decides to go back to Preeti, it is his first act of maturity, the first time he mans up. And yet that is softened by the big reveal in the end. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps, in a film trying to push boundaries, that could have stayed. The idea of ‘purity’ is an absurd, Vedic-age concept that sticks out like a sore thumb in the film. But these are small pickings in a film that has balls the size of boobs.

 

The Question

So, will Arjun Reddy change the Telugu film industry?

I have my doubts. I had similar hopes after Pellichoopulu a few years ago, but as long as children of superstars continue to star in films, the future is dim. As long as caste decides an actor’s popularity, as long as the next big star-kid is called Stylish Energetic Young Bubbly Star, Telugu cinema is doomed.

But it is heartening to see Arjun Reddy play to packed theatres. It is a stray ray of hope in an otherwise dark cave inhabited by unruly beasts. Go watch it if you’ve given up hopes on Telugu cinema.

Saif Ali Khan dancing in Keemat

I want to smoke what Saif is smoking

I always thought Saif Ali Khan was a chill dude.

Just going about his job as a 50 year old man playing a 25 year old man. A man who stayed away from Bollywood bullshit. Who sits in his haveli and plays the guitar, sips on French wine and probably wears satin underwear – a nawaab among kabaabs.

I don’t care too much about the ‘Nepotism rocks’ controversy. Or for any controversy for that matter. I am at an age where nothing can faze me anymore. When Linkin Park’s frontman died, I felt bad for a few seconds. As mourning, I ate one idli less and didn’t ask for onion chutney. My cold heart has been turned to stone in the heartless world we live in.

Also, I understand that scripts for award shows usually begin pure like Gangotri – and end up like the Hussain Sagar lake, thanks to the inputs of actors, writers and event producers. I wrote the script for Filmfare South Awards this year and somehow, we ended up having a dark guy dressed in a saree on stage accepting the ‘Black Lady’. So I know. I get it.

I am also familiar with the life of a controversy.

A controversy first erupts on Twitter, and is picked up by BuzzFeed and ScoopWhoop, those two beacons of journalism who put the ‘nali’ in journalism. It appears on my news at 9 AM, fresh and hot like blessings from Gomata on a national highway.

Slowly, opinions are shared. First, from that one person who is unnecessarily vocal about issues (if you’re on my list, I’m that guy!). Then the issue slowly dissipates to second level social news aggregators – like Being Indian, Sarcasm, and Bahut bhook lagi hai, subah subah thoda tatti khila mujhe. By lunchtime, it has become the OUTRAGE OF THE DAY. Our half an hour contribution to nation building under the Pradhan Mantri Jio Phone Lo, FB pe haggo Yojana.

By the next day, nobody gives a shit.

*

Then I saw the open letter and was tempted to read it.

I imagined the letter to be a nuanced, thought out treatise. A well-read man writing out a regal letter, sitting on his porch with his pooch while twirling his mooch. Royalty coupling with satin underwear to produce a beautiful, thoughtful letter.

What it was though, was a man sprawled on the footpath after gulping down a bottle of Director’s Special Premium XXX Brand Whiskey. A man who has run out of cigarettes and has had to smoke a pack of Ball Beedi.

saif dopp main

His retort was absurd, fantastical and tangential to the point where it got excruciating. It was so full of shit, I had to cleanse my screen with Harpic Powerplus Toilet Cleaner.

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 2.22.14 AM

So far so good. But Nawaab has just lit the joint and taken a puff of the strong stuff. He inhales deeply, his royal lungs filling up with the white smoke, only to float out of his royal nose gracefully.

Nawaab saab closes his eyes for a few moments, ponders on the meaning of life and then wonders what he has to say. Kya Kehna?

Let’s see…

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 2.23.38 AM

This is where things get a little icky. Firstly, the analogy of race horses doesn’t make any fucking sense. Race horses are bred with the single aim to run courses. Are you seriously telling me that’s what goes in human’s minds when they look for partners? That we think not with the nuanced intelligence and empathy of human beings, but in terms of pedigree of race horses? By that logic Kim Sharma and Umesh Yadav must produce the finest children in the country? Are you even fucking serious?

Not only is Saif pleased as punch with his philosophical analogy, he goes on to give some shit to a poor reporter from Elle. To read a book and improve her vocabulary – which is all fine advice. Only, she’s a writer who contributes articles to internet magazines. You own a town.

A fucking town! You’re the ruler of a place in the largest democracy in the world! Anybody who is the Nawab should stay away from discussions on nepotism, man. And you’re lecturing a girl some 20 years younger to you to read books? Could you be a little less cocky, Mr. Dicky Malhotra?

Saif Ali Khan then proceeds to light the joint again (for it might have gone off with all the brainwaves that crash at the banks of his brain. So he lights the joint and comes up with more gems through the night.

Like this bit:

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 2.25.06 AM

What the fuck are you talking about? Three systems at play? Aristocracy, meritocracy, democracy? What the fuck is this? Chandrakanta??

I always thought Saif Ali Khan was a deep, philosophically intelligent man, but now I realise it was always Kareena Kapoor who said so! And her opinion can be taken with bags of NaCl. But then NaCl ke liye bhi akal chahiye!

Nepotism cannot work in the film industry because it is a democracy? So where will nepotism work, wise one? The People’s Republic of North Korea? Do you even read what you write, O! Nawaab of Kabaabs?

What genetic investment are you talking about?

You of all people shouldn’t be talking about nepotism. Your debut film was symbolically called Parampara. In a space of four years, your character was named ‘Raja’ in four films, ‘Prince Vijay’ in one, and another film was called Ek Tha Raja! And you own a fucking town, man!

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 1.50.37 AM

What sort of genetic investment went into Bambai ka Babu, Surakshaa, and Aao Pyar Karein? What investment philosophy is this? Rich Dad, Poor Dad??

You won a National Award for Best Actor for Hum Tum. Not Manikchand Superstar of the Year Award – the NATIONAL AWARD. For Hum Tum, a film that was shamelessly copied from the legendary Hollywood rom-com When Harry Met a Shitty Scriptwriter. Your mother Sharmila Tagore was the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification. Hum Tum? Are you fucking kidding me? 2004 was the year of films like Swades, Lakshya, Yuva, and Ab Tak Chhappan. And you won it for Hum Tum. And you’re lecturing a 20-something writer to read more books?

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 2.26.12 AM

What does that bit about Johnny Depp’s advice even mean? Never complain and never explain? You just complained and explained a fucking 1000 word slob-fest. And what do you mean when you say you have forgotten his advice and you’re never going to forget it again? Does that sentence make sense in a different dimension? The one in which Kachhe Dhaage exists?

And now we are supposed to root for fucking Arjun Kapoor? The guy has the acting range of a drunk hippopotamus? Why don’t you just go ahead and tell us which design of Amul Macho underwear we need to buy too?

You get to play the lover boy opposite actresses half your age, even though the film has all the realism of a Saavdhaan India Weekend Dhamaal episode. You get to play guitar with Parikrama with skills that are marginally better than a 3rd year IIT student’s. You get to strum G-A-D-C chords on a guitar and pretend to sing songs along with Pritam Chewbacabarty on a music awards show. AND, YOU’RE THE KING OF A FUCKING TOWN!  

The truth is, you got to act in 25 films before Dil Chahta Hai. 25 films! Most actors in the country would give their arms, balls, and liver to get to act in 25 films. You got to live the life of a superstar while sucking gloriously at your job. And I don’t know if you realised it along the way of all the beautiful books you read (which the writer for Elle didn’t). That you lead a life of privilege.

Kangana Ranaut has no such luck. She will not get producers making ‘genetic investments’ in her career for twenty years, while she pathetically flaps about with bigger stars for a hit. To go up on stage and perform a gag is one thing. But to write an open letter from a closed mind, to give vague analogies of race horses and genetic investments – proves you’ve clearly been reading the wrong books. May be if you picked up the latest edition of Elle, you would see the number of actors who struggle to get films.

So kindly shut the fuck up about nepotism. Smoke some cigars, order satin underwear on Zivame, and go the fuck to sleep.

And oh, pass me your dealer’s number, will you, Raja?

***

Jio Filmfare South Awards

Writing for the Filmfare Awards

Alright, let me clarify.

I wrote the script for Filmfare Awards South 2017. Not the one where Shah Rukh Khan makes fun of the rest of the industry. Nope.

This is the Filmfare South Awards, where all the four industries are brought together – a gigantic jaagran where 58 awards are given in one night. In the span of the one show, you could watch Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham thrice, complete with the Mera Naam Mukesh Hai campaign and the Vicco Vajradanti advertisements.

The Filmfare South Awards are also different because stars south of the Vindhyas are very touchy about themselves. Take for example the Telugu film industry, where the biggest stars are not followed because of their acting skills, but their CASTE (I know! It’s fuck-all). There are reports every year of fans of one actor clashing with fans of another actor. Just last year, there was a report where a fan of Pavan Kalyan was fatally stabbed by a fan of Junior NTR for a fight during …hold your breath… an organ donation drive!

Half of my jokes got self-censored when I read up on this.

*

The brief from Filmfare was simple. The Awards had been a bland affair so far, and this year they were looking to make it lively and fun, which is why they wanted someone from a stand-up background to script it.

I went through last year’s script and found that it had been hosted by the same couple for the last five years. The script for last year was so interesting, I went to sleep and dreamt of having cervical cancer! So clearly, I had my work cut out.

The hosts for this year’s awards were Vijay Devarakonda, a rank outsider who shot to stardom with Pellichoopulu (coincidentally the only Telugu film I’ve reviewed), and Allu Sirish – younger brother of Allu Arjun, whose films can be found dubbed on Zee Cinema as Main Hoon Lucky the Racer, Veerta the Power, Bunny the Hero, and Natraj the Pencil. 

Surprisingly, the two hosts agreed to make fun of themselves. I was confident that Vijay would be fine with the jokes since we both studied in the same school, and he had also agreed to come for one of the stand up shows I directed, completely around offence humour.

But when Allu Sirish agreed to the jokes, which were mostly about nepotism and the lack of talent among star-kids, I thanked my stars and quickly went on to draft the rest of the script.

The show in itself is a nightmare to write for, as there are about 58 awards in all the four South languages (No, C++ is not a South Indian language, fuck off!). I am not really connected to the movies intellectually or emotionally, and it helped me have an outsider’s point of view to the proceedings. I was told not to make fun of senior actors or popular stars, which meant I could only write jokes about the hosts, which didn’t seem too bad after reading the news about fans stabbing each other!

Finally, we had a reasonably funny script, two hosts who were willing to take a joke on themselves, a video that would be played at the live event, and a couple of gags that would make people wake up from their slumber and hopefully laugh.

*

Since I am not too attached intellectually or emotionally to films and their stars, I didn’t have too much work to do backstage. Apart from announcing the beginning of the show, and making sure I didn’t screw up the words ‘Please rise for the National Anthem’ in English and Telugu, I had no real work to do.

The format of the show is rather treacherous, and after a point me and Sai Santhosh (my writing buddy) nearly zoned out. It was just a haze of one actor after the other getting up on stage and thanking the Almighty, their director, their parents, their children, their neighbours, the weather, the North Pole.

That was until I noticed Rahman!

If you’ve read my blog, you’d know I am not a fan of Rahman, I am a devotee. I realised this might be the closest I’ll ever get to the man, and the moment I noticed his chair empty, I ran to the washrooms, just in case he wanted to sa re ga ma pee.

Unfortunately, Rahman was nowhere to be seen. What I got instead was a Malayalam singer looking around with his Filmfare award. Our eyes met awkwardly and I congratulated him on the award. He immediately handed me his award to hold while he went to pee!

*

It was 1 AM by the time the show ended, and the two of us went back home.

It had been a fun week, hanging out with all these famous stars like I was one among them. But one cannot fight one’s true destiny. It was time to return to writing articles on the 10 Benefits of Mosquito Repellents.

One day, I'll be there for Best Story. Till then, for writing silly jokes for the hosts, I guess.

A post shared by Hriday Ranjan (@heartranjan) on

Sachin A Billion Dreams

‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’ is two and a half hours of Tendulkar Porn!

As I stepped out to buy overpriced Coke and oversalted popcorn during the interval, I overheard a father explaining to his son—”It’s not a movie, beta. It is a documentary.”

I could empathise with the kid. Sachin: A Billion Dreams is a film that works only if you were born before 1995. The film has no hero, no antagonist, no songs or dances. In fact, the film sits more comfortably in the domain of documentaries than cinema.

If Sachin is God, his life is a mythological epic.

*

The story is known to all, told and retold, written and rewritten, over and over. His childhood stories are similar to Krishna’s exploits in Vrindavan. When he looked at the skies, scoring a century after his father’s death, Indians wouldn’t be shocked if flowers came falling from the sky, reminiscent of Bheeshma’s terrible oath.

Sachin fulfils every single criterion of being an Indian adarsh baalak. Fair-skinned, immensely talented, honed by the right people, had the world eating out of his hands. But most importantly, Sachin is humble and soft-spoken. We Indians love humility and soft-spokenness—we’d prefer Harishchandra over Howard Hughes, Ratan Tata over Warren Beatty. In Sachin, kids saw what they wanted to become, and parents saw what they wanted their kids to become.

The thought often rankles me—would India have loved Sachin as much if he was flashy and proud? I doubt it. They’d wait for him to fail, and tear into him—”Told you! His success got to his head!” they’d say! But Sachin remained humble, and joined our long list of gods.

When every single detail of a man’s life is known, how do you make a film? You hire a foreigner to do it! When Indians make films on Indian cricketers, they’re either too fawning (Dhoni: The Untold Story), or mind-numbingly dumb (Azhar).

Director James Erskine uses Sachin and his wife as narrators, using home videos and wedding clips to create a personal bond. There are clips where he’s playing with his daughter, teaching her the umpire’s signals for boundary, sixer and out! This is a portrait of a man who knows nothing but cricket, being worshipped by a nation that follows nothing but cricket.

*

But if you’re a cricket buff, you begin to notice the details. Take for example the Sachin of 1994-1997, when there’s swagger in his stagger—he wears Suniel Shetty glasses, a thick gold chain, and a superstar gait. The swagger quickly vanishes when he’s made the captain, and he’s the obedient adarsh baalak once more!

Like Sachin himself, India grew into a generation which likes to date before getting married. Where the wife calls him by his name, instead of silly words like “woh” and “unhein.” Like the India of today, we find out that Sachin goes through depression too.

Within an hour, you begin to feel like a part of the dressing room. You begin to feel for players like Dravid, who put in hours of blood, sweat and tears. For Shane Warne, who has graciously contributed to the legend of Sachin, in spite of being no less of a genius.

*

The masterstroke though, was getting AR Rahman to create the background score. They’re not too dissimilar, Sachin and Rahman. Short, stocky, curly-haired, immensely talented, humble to a fault. Rahman’s background score is like a Rahman background score—rousing, thumping, an army of emotions charging forward. A Rahman soundtrack can make mating anteaters look graceful, so imagine the effect it has on childhood nostalgia.

By the end, as Sachin stands on a beach in shades and shorts, it feels like a trip to the planetarium. To a museum of innocence, where ugly relics of match-fixing and controversies are locked up in the attic.

*

How much you enjoy Sachin: A Billion Dreams depends on when you were born. If it was before 1995, you can’t stop looking at the man who personified the nation you grew up in. If you were born after 1995, you begin to wonder about this strange obsession with this man!

The film is a heady cocktail of two of our obsessions—cinema and cricket. Now, if only Sachin would go back to the Rajya Sabha…

***

This post first appeared on Huffington Post.

Hindi-Medium-Trailer-1

‘Hindi Medium’ proves Irrfan Khan is Bollywood’s best leading man

It’s a matter of great sadness that Irrfan Khan is not the biggest star in India. Over decades, the man has brought life to his roles, stayed away from embarrassing caricatures, and has been bold enough to call Bollywood out on its bullshit.

It pains me that Irrfan still has to act in smaller budget films, competing with coma-inducing shitfests like Half Girlfriend.

But a few minutes into watching him on screen, I was glad he isn’t a mega superstar.

*

Hindi Medium drives home a topic that we are all aware of. English prejudice.

The Britishers took away not only our resources, but also our pride in native languages. This thought pains me for two reasons.

1) As a comic, most English stand-up in India is limited to elite, urban spaces. In most shows, half the jokes are on poor English – we are so comfortable with our privilege that we mock those without it.

2) As someone who grew up in a lower middle class household, English helped me enter social circles that my economic status wouldn’t. It’s a guilt I am guilty of.

I walked into the hall with this baggage, only to have Irrfan Khan blow my mind in the first few minutes. There is a gentle casualness about Irrfan’s acting. Unlike most of our stars, he is not loud, striking, or garish. He does not require the showmanship of a lion or the exhibitionism of a tiger. Irrfan has the lazy elegance of a cheetah. He does not roar, or leap at you through introduction shots. He waits and he purrs, and he traps you and then snarls. Such is his conviction in the role, that he mutters his punchlines, sometimes whispers them – and still has the audience laughing hysterically. What a joy it is to see this man on screen!

Director Saket Chaudhary and writer Zeenath Lakhani give him the best lines, and the field to play his shots. It helps that Irrfan is surrounded by a stellar cast of actors. My perennial crush Tillotama Shome plays an education consultant with such aplomb, Irrfan himself takes a backseat.

Deepak Dobriyal, who appears on the screen to hoots and whistles, walks a tightrope on a role that could so easily slip into caricature. And yet, he steers his role so well, you cheer him on as he takes sharp turns on the bend.

And finally, Pakistani actress Saba Qamar who brings from across the border an unbridled feistiness to her role. She is petty and high-strung and lovely and strong and vulnerable at the same time, and is an absolute joy to watch. It’s a good thing they didn’t cast an Indian actress, for most Indian heroines have stock expressions to scenes.

When they come together, this fantastic ensemble of actors elevate this story into an immensely watchable film, even if the writers let the story run wild.

*

If there is any grouse against the film, it is that the director and writer allow the film to meander about like a drunk cow in the second half. The plot points shift without giving the audience any notice, and it is up to the actors to amp up their performance in reaction. This could partly be due to the fact that the film has been earlier made in Bengali and Malayalam, and perhaps the writers were staying true to the original story.

Hindi Medium also left me wondering if the Indian practice of adding an interval in the film is the reason our films are so bad. Imagine the plight of the writers – they have to create an engaging story, only to have a 20 minute break where people buy cola and popcorn, and children run to the toilet, and ads of Vicco Vajradanti play on the screen!

The writers then have to draw the audience back into the story, and this is where most Indian films falter. People walk out of the theatre mouthing brilliant lines like – ‘First half mast hai. Second half tatti hai’. But they will not let go of popcorn and coca cola for 15 minutes in the film!

*

Be that as it may, the actors of Hindi Medium elevate the story with their honest performances. Go watch the film to see Hindi cinema’s finest leading man paint a canvas for you. Watch him play audacious shots, touch risky notes.

Also, watch the film for Saba Qamar’s terrific performance.

But mostly, watch Hindi Medium because as you read this, the film is losing out to Half Girlfriend, a film that stars a privileged ox and a porcelain bimbo.

*****

farhan-akhtar-singing

Why the fuck is Farhan Akhtar considered a singer?

There used to be a show on Channel V called Love to Hate you, where celebrities would meet their haters and try to change their opinion. The show was mildly exciting, except for Arjun Rampal, also known in scientific circles as Saraca asoca.

In the episode starring Farhan Akhtar, his hater accused him of being a miserable singer, asking him to stick to directing. On that show, Farhan Akhtar said something really sensible – ‘There’s no particular reason why a person chooses to do something. You can’t question that choice – at that point, it seemed right to do it’. Firm logic.

Farhan Akhtar’s film Dil Chahta Hai in my opinion changed the way Hindi films are made today, turning the idea of a hero right on its head. I have lost track of the number of times I have watched the film, and learnt to mimic Saif Ali Khan just so I could say his lines from the movie. So, I have respect for the man.

I liked Lakshya and Don too, to an extent. And then, Farhan Akhtar started acting. Which again, is not a problem. He usually plays the witty South Bombay guy who writes poetry, like the coming-of-old-age film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Any film where he wasn’t that guy has flopped. It is with Farhan Akhtar’s singing that I have a problem.

THE GUY CAN’T FUCKING SING.

Ever since Rock On, with its pseudo-rock and quasi-profound lyrics came out, Farhan Akhtar has been portrayed as some sort of rockstar. Truth is, the songs in films are heavily auto-tuned. Take for example the scene from Rock On where they sing Saason ki zaroorat at a Garbha. A layman could tell the guy is missing the notes in those two lines.

I heard him live once, and it felt like two gnomes were fucking both my ears at the same time. He was off-key, managed to hold the tune for about half the songs, and left a grating feeling at the back of my head – like when the teacher would write on an old blackboard with chalk. Or when you run your nails against a wall that’s just been whitewashed.

The guy is barely what we call a ‘bathroom singer’, but nobody has told him that yet. He continues to sing songs in his raspy, friendly-pedophile voice, and does shows all over the country, while there are genuine musicians who have devoted decades to the art, and are as famous as Venkatpathy Raju.

In fact, so obsessed are we with Bollywood that even after nearly 70 years as an independent nation, we have no pop, rock or indie music scene in the country. Bollywood gobbled up the fledgling Indipop scene that thrived in the 90s, and all we have today is Arijit Singh covers of every song imaginable.

This obsession is the reason Pakistan’s Coke Studio sounds orgasmic whereas our version is like a semi-boner. Actors continue to sing songs without being able to tell the difference between Sa and Pa, and people go gaga over them because we can’t look beyond cricket and films in our country. Which is why you have Salman Khan singing for Fuckall Pancholi, Alia Bhatt piss over a Rahat Fateh Ali Khan song, and even Sanjay Dutt singing songs. Listen to these songs more than once, and you begin to feel you have piles in your ears.

Farhan Akhtar has featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, above names like Indian Ocean and Parikrama. Are you fucking kidding me? The only time Farhan Akhtar should feature in the magazine is if people were asked not to sing like him. He has featured on MTV Unplugged, a format that has been made legendary by bands and performers like Nirvana, Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Rahman. Why is this guy even allowed on the same stage?

nh7-weekender-hyderabad

And what did he sing? His Meri laundry ka ek bill, I should freeze on Tiger Hill bullshit. Where he misses half the notes so that Shankar Ehsaan Loy can catch them. The icing on the cake was the poster for NH7 Weekender Hyderabad edition this year.

Plastered across the city are two people – Nucleya and Farhan Akhtar. Nucleya, who has created a unique sound of his own. Nucleya, who has attained a cult status over the years for his ability to beautifully mix EDM with Indian folk sounds. Has to share the stage with Meri Laundry ka ek bill, where can I find sleeping pill.

farhan-akhtar-and-nucleya_11470401678

This obsession with Bollywood is the reason a country of billion has about ten famous singers. It is the reason our taste in music is so limited, so cramped, so claustrophobic. But what the heck, Sindbad da sailor ek jahaaz mein nikla tha, mere yaaron sunlo sunlo.

images

The mediocrity of ‘Pink’

I watched Pink a few weeks after its release.

The dark, deep pink had faded to a weak, thin pink. A night show with families who brought their 2 year old kids along.

I usually stay away from films that are highly praised. For example, critics went raving mad about the film Fan, but it made me look for a rope. I don’t mean to sound like an elitist, pipe-smoking intellectual, but when the biggest films are shitfests, the bar is very low. It is so low that it is an underground bar with only Haywards 5000 and Knock Out available.

But I did go to watch Pink.

I dislike late night shows as I tend to fall asleep. The silence, darkness and joints earlier mix together in a heady, drowsy concoction. Thankfully, Pink is short, so 10 points to Gryffindor there!

If you compare the reviews of Pink, I find that most of them harp on the message of the movie. On how important the message is, and why it is absolutely relevant to the times we live in. None of them linger too much on the actual film.

Probably because Pink takes its message seriously. So seriously in fact, that it doesn’t bother with basics like fleshing out characters. We know nothing about the protagonists – the three girls are Hindu, Muslim and Christian, and we are supposed to go along with the Amira Akbari Antoinette palette. Nothing is known of the antagonist, except that he’s a rich spoilt brat. There’s no explanation for Amitabh Bachchan taking up the girls’ case. Pink is so hell-bent on hammering home the point that it the message seemed to loom over the film like a gigantic Dementor.

The second aspect where it fails is in the genre of courtroom drama.

At the very outset, it is important to mention that courtroom dramas are not really Hindi cinema’s strong suit. We have been churning out hammy, illogical courtroom drama for decades now. Our courtroom dramas are deeply emotional, loud, and dramatic – every court scene is elevated to the heightened drama of a Draupadi Vastraharan scene.

From the dramatic Damini to the snoozefest Veer Zara. I’ve even watched a film where Anil Kapoor drinks poison to win the case, only to vomit and take antidotes when the case is adjourned. The only exceptions I can think of are Court and Shahid.

Which is why I wasn’t biting my nails waiting for the courtroom scene. And the film proved me right. The court scenes pack neither tension nor provoke thought. Amitabh Bachchan’s points don’t really make any sense, except to highlight drama. Showing the accused a Facebook picture of his sister in a bar to prove that girls from ‘good’ families also drink, sounds laughably lame. The wonderful Piyush Mishra’s character is only a caricature, and the villains are constantly glaring, threatening and intimidating.

As I expected, the courtroom scene ended with Mr. Bachchan delivering a speech. The only difference here was that it wasn’t loud and punctuated with words like M’Lord, Kanoon, and andhaa.

Pink did nothing for me.

It didn’t seem inspirational, because I had no personal connection with any character, they’re not living, fleshed out characters but names with faces. Pink ends up as a two hour Public Service Announcement.

It delivers a very important message, yes. But does little else in the process.

***