Category Archives: Film

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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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!

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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.

The World of Kancharapalem

There are two versions of this review – a spoiler-free version, and a spoiler version.

Please feel free to read the version that is appropriate for you.

SPOILER – FREE VERSION:
Go and fucking watch the movie already!

SPOILER–FILLED VERSION:
SCARE OF KANCHARAPALEM

The first thing that strikes you is how different the film is. Like it turned up for a fancy dress competition without a costume. There is no fluff, no fail-safe gimmick. Even the dialogues are written without trying to overtly impress you, the viewer.
The film’s initial struggle is to be taken seriously. But how?
There’s the acting – amateurish, with neither heightened drama or finesse. It is a question, then, on our aesthetics – are we attuned to only consume the polished, the fine, the honed and the nurtured?

 

DARE OF KANCHARAPALEM

But director Venkatesh Maha gives you no other way to connect to the film. This isn’t Lagaan – where actors from around the world get together to transport you to another place. Most of the actors in the film are from Kancharapalem. C/o Kancharapalem is a film of Kancharapalem, by Kancharapalem. But is it for Kancharapalem?

This I where the film differs from its predecessors. Films centered around a place – Masaan, Manhattan, Kahaan – are often credited with making the city a part of the narrative.

This film steers clear of those tropes. There is something universal about the place – it could be your hometown, your grandparents’ native place. There is no physical location that binds the story to the place. Unlike Angamaly’s obsession with pork – there is no quirk to latch on to. Which is why you don’t need to be transported to some place else; you dive into it and stay put.

 

GLARE OF KANCHARAPALAM

Each of the four stories weave religion beautifully into their fabric.

Most films deal with religion in two ways – fear or relevance. Devotee or atheist. Blind faith or vociferous challenge. Black or white.
But these two portrayals gloss over an important aspect of the nature of religion. That it is mostly a part of our existence, as internal as blood or DNA, or genes. Religion is an overarching umbrella that shields you from the rain. But try to break free from its shade, and it becomes an all-encompassing dome that traps you within.

Most people have a resigned attitude towards religion. Like family, ancestry, and citizenship – human beings negotiate with religion not with fiery confrontation, but a reluctant resignation. When Bhargavi gives the gym members her wedding card, it is not accompanied by a rousing soundtrack. You want her to fight, but the director is not interested in painting powerful portraits. He is taking Instagram shots of their lives.

Sundaram Raju’s association with god and religion also follow this pattern. He starts off with blind faith and complete trust. When he dares to challenge the divine powers, he pays for it with a deep personal loss.

By the time he meets Bhargavi – he is a changed man. ‘Converted Christian’ on the surface, broken and shaken on the inside. When she gets married to another man due to their religions, he calmly walks away into the evening.

Which is also why Saleema’s religion does not matter to him. Neither does it perturb him that she sells her body for a living. When she is gone, he has no fight left in him. He has been paying a hefty tribute to religion all his life – his parents, his wife, his companion.

It is easy to etch out character who fight valiantly against the suppressive nature of religion. But that is not how most of us negotiate with religion. We are not valiant gladiators, but silent slaves manning the gallows.

FLARE OF KANCHARAPALEM

There is something about a director’s first film. A certain nod to indulgence, a giant ‘fuck you’ to the norms. First films are wild, fierce creatures who later go on to become domesticated. This is true of cinema worldwide – it is true of Trouffat’s 400 Blows, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

Closer home, Anurag Kashyap is yet to make a film that simmers like Black Friday does. Tharun Bhascker’s Pelli Choopulu meekly pushed open the door of mainstream Telugu cinema. Sandeep Vanga’s Arjun Reddy was a drunken brawl in the same room. Venkatesh Maha’s film flings a leaky gas cylinder into the room, and throws in a lighter for good effect.

There is a culture of ‘twists’ in Telugu cinema – but most of them could give you brain malaria. They all revolve around the hero revealing that he is a police officer – even though he spent half the film chasing and poking the navel of nubile girls. Or it is a reveal that the heroine’s father is the man the hero had vowed to kill in the first few minutes of the film.

Cliches that leak from a corrupted writer’s pen are passed off as ‘twists’. C/o Kancharapalem delivers the most satisfying twist I have seen in recent times. Not a cheap gimmick, nor a sorry excuse – it is a Hallelujah! moment that makes you sit up, and smile.

Underneath the twist lies a deeper statement of our understanding of India’s villages. We never question why Sunitha chooses to sing Baley Baley Mogadivey as her song. We do not raise our eyebrows when Sundaram gets her a ‘song book’, even though he haven’t come across one in decades.

Our idea of a village has been frozen in sepia shades. Our perception is a prototype that’s dusted off from memories and brought out when needed. And that is why we walk gleefully into the delectable trap that the director set for us.

C/o Kancharapalem relies on nothing but a story. There is nothing else to show here; there are no shiny lamps and syrupy sweets on display. The director sits in the Sunday Market, selling us his story while swatting away flies.
For its ingenuity, its bravery. For the size of its giant metallic balls, for the middle finger it waves at mainstream Telugu cinema – C/o Kancharapalem is the best Telugu film I have ever watched.

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Manmarziyan-Movie-Review

Manmarziyan is Anurag Kashyap’s least engaging movie

Most Indian critics say the same things.

Have you ever noticed how Rajeev Masand and Anupama Chopra seem like siblings, freakily saying the same thing? This film was hailed as Anurag Kashyap’s entry into the ‘love’ territory. A film where Anurag Kashyap steps out from the dark, psychopath-filled by-lanes and steps into the blue and red hues of Bollywood pyar.

I don’t understand how we became a nation of love consumers? Why are most of our films about love, the loss of love, craving for love, the need for love, the virtue of love – how much fucking love do you guys need? Has anybody asked the people if they want to see this much love? Maybe Indians want to see other stuff – gripping political dramas, slithering, twisted mysteries. Who the fuck decided ki they will bombard Indians with all this love?

And Anurag Kashyap, who was the only guy flowing against the tide – goes ahead and makes Manmarziyan. The most pointless film of the year. We already have so many love triangles. Every third movie is a love triangle. We have movies with the golden ratio where three heroes have three love triangles. We have so many love triangles, I am surprised we didn’t invent the fucking pyramids. Then, what pray, was the need for another love triangle?

This is also the first time that Kashyap hasn’t written the story himself. The film is written by Kanika Dhillon – the script is everything you do not associate with a Kashyap film. It’s slow, boring and predictable.

Kashyap’s films have love stories in them – and while they are not conventional and sappy – they are unbridled in their passion. Dev and Chanda from DevD for example, brought to life by a haunting theme by Amit Trivedi. Or Sardar Khan’s tormented, fatal flings. Kashyap has always dealt in love, just not in the currency that Bollywood operates in.

Vicky Kaushal who is in Kohli-like form at the moment, gets a step-motherly treatment from the writers. A superb portrayal is caged within the boundaries of lazy writing. Tapsee Pannu gets the meatiest role, but the character seems to be just another Anand L. Rai character. Here too, an earnest portrayal is locked withing a KanganaRanautish role. Nearly every shade of fiery, independent woman role has already been portrayed by Kangana. And in hindsight, she has done them all so uniquely, that every actress today seems to mimic her in some sense.

The real shit-show in the film though, is Abhishek Bachchan. The guy can’t fucking act. I wonder how many more films he is going to act in, how many more millions of dollars are going to be burnt till people politely ask him to fuck off?

Watch any interview, and he sounds like he is the protege of Marlon Brando. An accent that is shakier than his acting, and the smug confidence of someone who’s the shizzz. It is unbelievable that after more than 20 flops in 18 years, this guy is still allowed to hang out around film studios. His acting is still like a stoned high-school kid. Honestly, you can draw out a clip from Dhai Akshar Prem Ke, or Kuchh Na Kaho, and there’s literally no change in voice modulation, posture or dialogue delivery.

Most reviewers spoke about how he has to use his stares and silences to play he is role. What they don’t tell you is that the film that had been racing on steroids suddenly grinds to a halt everytime he appears on screen. That he takes a frothing, bubbling film and transforms it into an experience as exciting as jacking off AK Hangal.

Ask any ‘fan’, and the only films they will mention are ‘Guru’ and ‘Yuva’. Both Mani Ratnam films made greater by stunning Rahman soundtracks, and frankly, strictly above-average acting. What they don’t mention are shit-fests that bombed louder than Kim-il-Jong’s nuclear missiles. Shararat and Zameen and Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost. I doubt there’s anybody else in world cinema who keeps getting movies after delivering as many flops as this guy.

I wish like the #MeToo campaign, there was a #HeToo campaign, where people on Twitter got together and asked shit-actors to fuck off. For an industry that survives so much on commercialisation and economics, I am appalled how morality and personal life is used as a barometer of an artist’s work, and not market dynamics, economics, and actual fucking skills.

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If there’s one person my heart goes out to, it is Amit Trivedi.

He has been loyal to the Kashyap camp, always choosing smaller films with a soul and a story. Unfortunately, even with immense skills as his, he has been unable to crack the A-listers’ market. While people like Pritam Chakraborty win awards and fame by lifting songs from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Mars.

Give Manmarziyan a miss if you are not an Anurag Kashyap fan. If you are a fan, stay the fuck away from this hogwash of a film. It will ruin your image of the man.

Give me the dark, brooding Anurag Kashyap any day. Not these diluted ORS solutions in collaboration with Karan Johar and Anand L. Rai. I rarely walk out of films, but I walked out of Manmarziyan simply because of how frustrating the film was. A member of the opposite gender had pinged me on Tinder. And I was confident I would perform better than fucking Abhishek Bachchan was!

***

Sanju

The Real Problem with Sanju

Reviewing a film is a tricky matter.

All art is subjective. And cinema encompasses all art. And the final product is advertised a few weeks in advance and then sold to the general public at 100 rupees per person. How does one discount the huge amounts of subjectivity in the consumption and appreciation of cinema?

I have been reviewing films for 101India in the last few months, and on my blog and other magazines for more than a decade now. One of the side-effects of the job is to develop a thick skin. I have been accused of being a ‘hypocrite’, a ‘pseudo-intellectual’, ‘trying too hard to be different’, and the worst curse of them all – ‘of being a Salman Khan fan’.

Bollywood fans are so stupid in their understanding of cinema, that they cannot fathom any other reason for a negative review, than a conspiracy that was brewed on the sets of Koffee With Karan. My review of Sanju was accused of being partial to Salman Khan’s Race, which was running at the Box Office at the same time.

This hasn’t been the first time, either. I have earlier been accused of being an Aamir Khan hater, a Saif Ali Khan hater, a Farhan Akhtar hater. Believe it or not, I have also gotten hate-mail from a gentleman who was offended by my article on Uday Chopra. Fucking Uday Chopra, for god’s sake! Even Uday Chopra doesn’t give a fuck about Uday Chopra!!

While the accusations are hilarious, it is also sad that educated, urban youngsters of the country carry such devotional love and adoration for film stars – one that goes beyond logic and decency.

But anyway, you can find the review here – https://www.101india.com/arts-culture/sanju-sells-its-soul-baptise-its-hero-and-ends-lame-effort

 

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I wasn’t among those who were terribly excited to watch the film in the first place. Why?

Because we Indians suck at making biopics. Our idea of a biopic is a masturbatory eulogy – full of hype and glory. Our biopics come across like Thanksgiving speeches – never probing beyond the surface, never exploring beyond the superficial.

I did some research and found the three most filmed personalities in India. It’s an eclectic mix – BR Ambedkar (8 films), Bhagat Singh (5 films), and Kalidas (5 films). Kalidas!!

I have had the misfortune of watching many such movies over the last decade. There was Azhar – one of the worst films I’ve seen in my life. A film so idiotic, so dull – it could have been the biopic of Venkatpathy Raju. Then there was the MS Dhoni biopic – while the person was still actively playing in the team. It would inconceivable in any other country. Or Mary Kom – that masturbatory exercise in fuelling Priyanka Chopra’s career – a film that didn’t have the decency to cast someone from the region. This is the case with most Indian biopics. Our biopics are lingaabhishekams to the rich and famous.

The review evoked a extreme responses, as expected. I had to endure a number of conversations about the film, its intent, the creative freedom of a filmmaker in choosing what he depicts. With much annoyance, I decided to give the film a second chance. Well, guess what!

The second time left me even more pissed off.

Here’s why.

*

I have never understood why Sanjay Dutt is revered so much.

His body of work is ridiculous. He has spent an entire lifetime playing gangster, bhai, dada – or a combination of Gangster Dadabhai. A glance through his filmography will give you an idea of just how many films have been recycled tripe, where he sleepwalks through the film from the first scene to the last.

But even that is subjective, I guess. As the years have rolled by, I have reconciled to the fact that I might be a cinema snob. Of course, I can understand the intent of the film – it is a fascinating story. A life constantly under lights, adoration and scrutiny. What I did not understand was the motive of the film.

Sanjay Dutt is depicted as a misunderstood hero – almost a patriot, a martyr to the Indian judicial system. Like the hero of a Greek tragedy directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Hirani’s school-play style (exaggerated mannerisms, jarring background score, emotionally manipulative writing) – they all feel phony and motivated at the same time. But art is subjective, and a matter of personal taste.

What pissed me off was the positioning of Dutt – as this innocent bystander to circumstances around him. The fake shroud of honesty by depicting drugs and womanising (which are hardly frowned upon today), but escaping into clichés during the portions dealing with guns and terrorism.

*

It is treated like an act of mischief. Like it is Natkhat Nandalal who stole some butter from nubile gopikas. I understand one cannot be completely unbiased, but how about one fucking shred of objectivity. The film keeps you from asking questions, by shamelessly hiding key facts about the case.

Like the sheer amount of ammunition, for example. Three assault weapons (we are shown that two of them were returned – Hallelujah! What nobility!) and 20 grenades. 20 grenades. While there were already three licensed weapons in the Dutt household. Why does one need assault weapons and grenades to protect one’s family? Who are you protecting them from? Taliban? An alien invasion??

Or the fact that the information Dutt had could have averted the riots, saved hundreds of lives. One call to the police could have helped the city avert its greatest tragedy to that date. All because our hero was too much of a scared moron to own up to his faults.

Or the sheer impunity with which we are shown the jail scenes – like it is a favour to the Indian judicial system. When there are documented reports of youth who are tortured for alleged connections to terrorism. Some of them spend years in interrogation – beaten, given electric shocks, their fingers ripped off – on mere suspicions.

And here is a guy who was in touch with terrorists, procured assault weapons in the middle of riots, and then continued to remain in touch with them even after prosecution. A guy who was allowed to go home on numerous occasions – even to ‘ring in the new years’, which others accused in the same case are still rotting in jail after 25 years.

Hirani’s films have been successful to drawing attention to the villains in Indian society – blind faith in religion, autocratic education system, the wrath of the powerful. Sadly, Sanju makes the media the villain.

Not only is this extremely lazy and unimaginative, it is a low hanging fruit. Like the media nudged him to stock up on guns. Like newspapers wrote editorials asking him to call Chhota Shakeel.

If anything, the media is the reason Sanjay Dutt is relevant today. The incessant coverage, the gossip, the ongoing interest in his life – that is the reason Sanjay Dutt has not been relegated to the zombieland of action stars – a desolate park where Suneil Shetty and Sunny Deol hang out.

*

This is not mere whitewashing – this is an utter disservice to the truth.

Is it too much to expect some objectivity from one of the country’s most prolific filmmakers? Why even go through the trouble of making this movie, then? Why not just put giant cut-outs of Sanjay Dutt across the country and ask people to jack off while offering coconuts and flowers? Why fucking bother to write a script and go through the farce of being honest and truthful?

*

It is hardly shocking that the film is a hit. Of course, it is. Like its politicians, a nation gets the films it deserves. And these are the kind of films we love to watch – masturbatory eulogies. We invented the Kamasutra, no doubt. But our favourite position is to bend over and lick the asses of the rich and the powerful.

It’s sad because I had immense respect for Rajkumar Hirani. He has a keen understanding of the pulse of the people. He has a wonderful knack of storytelling, he has a way with humour.

What he doesn’t have, sadly, is a set of balls.

*****

Why Indians cannot connect to Shape of Water

Why Indians Cannot Connect to ‘The Shape of Water’

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water swept away the Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Director, Original Score, and Production Design. The story of a mute woman who rescues and falls in love with an amphibian god had swept the world away.

I have never been a fan of the Oscars and hate the way they are looked at as the gold standard for cinema. Nonetheless, I walked into the hall and took my seat amidst a fully packed hall. In spite of the Indian government’s best efforts to make you squirm in your seat before the movie begins, there was a sense of excitement as the movie began.

Around half an hour later, I found that the audience wasn’t really enraptured by the film.

You can always tell when the audience is blown away by the film. There are stray giggles that escape in the darkness, gasps and groans that dance in the silent darkness. There was none of that in this movie. It didn’t take me to long to figure out why.

As Indians, we have seen this premise over and over again. Picture this – what comes to your mind when I tell you the following premise?

The underdog protagonist is going about life, when an otherworldly creature enters their life. The protagonist can’t help falling in love with the creature, as they see themselves in new light for the first time. After changing the protagonist’s life, the creature has to go back to its world in a heartbreaking climax.

What image does this description flash in your mind?

If you are an Indian who grew up on local cinema, there are high chances you can name at least three movies with a similar theme. The most obvious answer would be Koi Mil Gaya. Not only did it have a blue creature, it also used halogen lights that lit up when Jadoo was happy or excited.

I also remember watching a film called Sahasa Veerudu Sagara Kanya, where a young Venkatesh rescues a mermaid who acts like Shilpa Shetty. Indian cinema has an obsession with otherworldly creatures – apsaras and fairies and angels. We also have movies with dogs, horses and elephants as lead characters. Not to mention our obsession with snake-women!

(ALSO READ: The Greatest Bollywood Snake Movies of all time)

 

The most horrifying ‘outerworld’ movie I’ve seen though, is an Odiya film called Keun Duniyaru Asila Bandhu (Which world have you come from, friend?). The filmmakers wanted to capitalise on the success of Koi Mil Gaya, so they hired a midget, painted him brown, gave him a little space suit and made him dance around. The result was a creature who would give Odiya kids sleepless nights for years!

*

Indians have watched the story play out screens over and over. To an extent where the story isn’t gripping enough anymore. Admittedly, Guillermo del Toro is a visionary – a unique filmmaker amidst factories that churn out wholesome packages. But how can a delicate love story compare to the excitement of Moti the dog killing Amrish Puri to avenge Jackie Shroff’s death in Teri Meherbaniyan?

 

How can Indians be moved by the Amphibian God leaving to his world, when they’ve already seen Ramu the elephant sacrifice his life for Rajesh Khanna? Which emotion in the world can compare to Rohit Mehra getting dissed by the computer teacher for being unable to copy a folder?

You see, Indians cannot be excited about the shape of water – we have songs called Paani ka rang vekhke. We are quite familiar with the shape, colour, and shape of water. To make a film a hit in India, you need to have Salman Khan blasting his way to Mars, and then convincing three aliens to be nice to three other aliens.

Guillermo del Toro is a visionary and a modern great. The Shape of Water has been garnering accolades around the world. But sorry, Mr. del Toro, we are used to more. We are used to extraterrestrial beings talking to us and praying to Krishna. The film is great, but it did not have any songs, and there was no post-interval twist.

So good luck with your next movie, Mr. del Toro! Or as Jadoo would say-

‘Dhooooooop!’.

*****

queen lisa haydon kangana ranaut

Rani Should Have Ended Up with Vijayalakshmi (And other stray thoughts on the movie ‘Queen)


On January 1st, I vowed not to be a slacker, and to go about doing my work in a timely, hardworking manner.

On January 2nd, I was lying like an endangered polar bear on the couch, watching Queen on television.

*

Most films that I enjoy in theatres do not stand up to the challenge of a second viewing, but I found Queen to be utterly watchable. In fact, I enjoyed the film even more on second viewing. Since I knew the general direction of the plot, I started noticing smaller things in the film. Like the bit where Rani removes her sweater and appears to throw it into the crowd, only to stuff it back into her bag. And how, a few seconds later, she takes the waitresses’ fire-helmet, and then promptly puts it back on her head!

Queen was easily the movie of the year. The makers of the film had to tread a very fine line, as there were a number of traps that the films could have fallen into.

Firstly, it ran the risk of resemblance with English Vinglish, which was also about a conservative Indian woman moving to the West for a few days and discovering herself. English Vinglish also had the female lead developing feelings for a white man. Also, both the films featured music by Amit Trivedi too.

Queen also ran the risk of becoming a fluffy, female-transformation films. The ones where two girls – – one modern, the other conservative – meet and become friends. The modern one takes the conservative one shopping, to a parlour. And the conservative girl walks out leaving behind her complexion, upbringing, culture, personality, and older clothes.

The film could have also gone the ‘road movie where character does drugs and discovers her inner self’ sort of a movie. But it steers clear of all those plotholes, charting a course of its own.

The dialogues of the film are spot-on too, thanks largely to some fantastic acting by the others – Rajkumar Rao – who’s a goddamn chameleon – and the rest. Also, Queen will forever be Kangana Ranaut’s finest film. It’s like one of those Sachin innings from the late 90s. Right from the first ball, you know the guy’s in fine form today! Right from the first shot, Kangana knocks it out of the park. It’s the kind of role that, if essayed by a male star, would have been called ‘revolutionary’, and ‘genre-bending’.

*

Keeping pseudo-academic analyses aside, there was one lingering thought lurked in my head while I was watching the film.

Rani should have ended up with Vijayalakshmi.

I know it sounds like the rabid fantasy of a college-student, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find that there’s solid reasoning behind my argument.

The two share an oozing chemistry from the moment they set eyes on each other. In spite of being utter contrasts. Their clothes, the lives they lead, their moral compasses, even their acting skills – one actress is playing the role of her lifetime, the other is barely managing to walk across an ice-lake.

In fact, there’s even a moment where the filmmakers (probably) doff their hat to Before Sunrise. After the two get drunk, Rani is babbling about hiccups, when Vijayalakshmi stretches her hand out and touches her cheek.

I don’t mean an overt Haye rabba, Rani! Tune ladki se pyar kar liya sort of a moment. But even a subtle nod would have done. Like the glorious bit in Dedh Ishqiya where the two women express their love for each other using Vishal Bharadwaj’s beautiful brain.

But the modern world wouldn’t allow it. The idea would be bashed for fetishizing gender descriptions in popular culture, and a few debates would rage on the Internet for a few days, before we move on to Taimur Khan breaking the Internet in Papua New Guinea.

Rani and Vijayalakshmi should have ended up together, waving a gigantic Indo-French middle finger at the guy. The two of them would have been happy. Chintu would have been happy. The Universe would have been happy.

*****

Tiger Zinda Hai

This Tiger Needs to be Endangered.

We Indians have a knack for knock-offs.

The heroes of our start-up revolution are essentially knock-offs of international giants – Flipkart, Ola and Campa Cola. Our films aren’t too different either. We like our own knock-offs of international heroes.

Which is why projects such as Tiger Zinda Hai get bankrolled. In the film, Bhai is Indiana Jones cum James Bond zyada Jason Bourne. Tiger Zinda Hai is yet another film made with a process to target a specific audience – Bhai’s fans.

Whatever their quality, Salman Khan’s films possess a truly unique quality. They are a throwback to unabashed fandom. To a time when you hooted and whooped and whistled when your star came on screen. Salman Khan is able to bring out single-screen reactions from a multiplex audience. It is a strange sight, one that I realised I’d secretly missed.

Bhai’s films are essentially college plays. Where the most popular, most-loved dude of the college plays the lead. What he does, and the story – are secondary to their best friend mouthing his lines and playing the role.

*

If this were an article on The New Yorker, the Editor would have rejected it without a second thought. Ethically, I’m not qualified to write a review, as I was asleep for about an hour of the film’s runtime.

I’m not saying the film was solely responsible. I had spent the entire day chilling, and as Chunkey Pandey will tell you, chilling can get tiring too. I walked from Gachibowli to Indiranagar to eat keema pav. And then a friend graciously agreed to share some herb, and I walked into the hall happy and stuffed.

But the film played a substantial role in me falling asleep. Salman Khan’s movies might be a lot of things, but surprising is not one of them. You know that Salman Khan will charm his way into the heroine’s heart. You know that Bhai will win in the end, no matter how complicated or powerful the enemy is. Bhai will defeat entire armies with Katrina Kaif on his side. He can solve corruption by introducing some sort of 3-member Amway membership. Solve global warming while having sex with a polar bear.

I find that kind of predictability boring. But like all pieces of art, Bhai’s films are subjective and dopey.

*

Having dealt with the problem of Pakistani terrorism in the earlier episode of Strangest Things, Bhai is now happily married in a secluded European country and has a son. Like all Bollywood children, this kid is so sweet that you want to strangle him. Kids in Bollywood are wise beyond Yoda’s ears, dish out life-advice on love and belonging to their parents, and exist in a permanent limbo of cuteness. Their primary reason for living is to invoke giggles from the audience in their attempt to make the hero appear wholesome.

Bhai is going about his daily life fighting wolves and chopping wood outside his house, when he gets a call from RAW – Bhai needs to save the day. The only problem? Bhai doesn’t look like a top military agent anymore. He looks like the marwari businessman who owns the sweet-shop down the lane.

Bhai used to be fit at one point.

Salman Khan’s contribution to Indian cinema might not be of the cinematic nature. But if there’s one thing he has contributed to, it is in drawing attention to the fact that our heroes need to look fit. Before Bhai came on to the scene, it was okay to be frail and limp. Like Dev Anand, who like the answer, was always blowing in the wind.

Bhai in a still from the 1998 superhit - 'Body banaaya toh Acting Karna Kya?'

Bhai in a still from the 1998 superhit – ‘Body banaaya toh Acting Kya?’

At one point, the whole purpose of Bhai’s films was to show off his body. It was one of the primary tasks of filmmaking – Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Salmanbodyshower. But abhi Bhai ka paet nikal gaya hai. Also, he hasn’t wielded a gun for eight years, and has computers at home that track every single development taking place in RAW. Instead of being tried for espionage, his senior dismisses it with a pat on the back. Bhai smiles. RAW ne mujhe bhula diya, par main unhein bhoola nahi. The director comes in his pants.

This is a secret agent who is called ‘Tiger’ by everybody around him. His boss, his wife, his son. Even the friendly neighbourhood tigers call him tiger. He eats Tiger biscuits and applies Tiger Balm.

His team consists of Angad Bedi, who when he delivers a dialogue – is scarier than ISIS terrorists. There’s a hacker who uploads a virus using a program that says ‘Uploading Virus’ in big, green letters. After uploading the virus, he says ‘Yayyyy! Ho gaya!’ and pumps his fists. The secret code used by RAW is – hold your breath – ‘Tu tu tu…tu tu taara. Aa gaya dost humaara’. Right below ‘Dulhan ki bidaai ka waqt ho gaya’.  The villain of the film looks like the illegitimate child of Osama and Gaddafi. He speaks Hindi in a manner that could bring about Javed Akhtar’s early demise.

Be that as it may, the RAW likes its agents raw, and hire him to get back into action. The enemy is bigger this time. How big? Well, think of the biggest terrorist organisation in the world. ISIS, you say? Done!

Bhai enters the most dreaded terror organisation with a few friends and agents. His plan is to blow up the place, kill the leader of the organisation, bring a group of Indian and Pakistani nurses to safety. And show body.

What follows is truly mind-blowing. Bhai smiles and simpers his way to the desert to take on the most dreaded terror organisation. With tactical missiles and weaponry, through intricate search and rescue operations? Nope.

By using neend ki dawayi and paet kharaab hone ka dawa.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters. Film is stranger than truth is stranger than fiction.

Mind you, this is the most dreaded terror organisation in the world. These are the dudes who assembled a team of fearless fighters from across the globe,set up a state-nation of their own, and even produced nuclear missiles. But in their quest for perfection, the insipid fools had overlooked the disastrous effects of paet ka dard.

Many years ago, Gandhi countered the might of the largest army in the world using non-violence. Much like Bapu, the Brother of the Nation goes about his mission armed with Angad Bedi and Dabur Hajmola.

He also rides a horse and fires a rocket. While riding the horse. He shuts down a rabid wolf by saying ‘Sshhh. Bas. Bahut ho gaya’. And the wolf falls asleep.

You know a film well and truly sucks donkey-balls when Katrina Kaif is the best actor in it. In spite of her Neptunian accent, she manages to look like the only professional in this film (apart from the VFX guys who created Bhai’s abs, of course – those guys worked extremely hard in every film!).

*

By the end of the film, the enemy has been vanquished, and Aman ki Asha has also been restored. Having killed two blackbucks with one stone, Bhai returns home, ready to be called for the next mission.

I’m told in the next film, Bhai will solve climate change by masturbating in the Great Barrier Reef. Or he could solve water scarcity in Mars. Mangalyaan se aage Mangal hai.

It’s a good thing that ISIS has been defeated by the Iraqi forces. That they will not be able to watch Tiger Zinda Hai. For even terrorists are human beings, and can only tolerate so much humiliation.

Bhai is bhai, man. Critics and reviews and dopehead bloggers don’t make a difference. Go ahead and watch the film if you have to. Or don’t if you don’t want to. Bhai is sniffling and grimacing and grinning his way to the bank.

Oh, wait. It’s his driver.

*****

‘The Last Jedi’ is Chandrakanta in Outer Space

When it comes to books and movies, I’m a bit of a cultural parasite. If something is popular, I’ll watch it even if I haven’t been seeped in its cult. On most occasions, this has paid off. I happily dived into the GoT cult, and now spend every single day cursing and blessing George RR Martin. I had read the Harry Potter books because of the hype around them, slowly passing on the virus to my friends like a sexually transmitted disease.

And yet, in spite of all my urges and tendencies, I have never been able to warm up to the Star Wars franchise. I know, I know!

I know that when the films came out, they were revolutionary and cutting-edge. I understand that the films changed the way we look at space films, and created a genre called ‘space opera’. I understand that the film gave us legendary characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

And yet, I’m sorry. I have never been able to invest in the series. I have watched all the films in the series, and I have found them tacky. The graphics don’t hold up after all these years (kindly have a look at 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)), and for someone who grew up in India amidst dramatic family sagas, the entire ‘soap opera in space’ doesn’t do it for me.

In spite of this, I have watched the movies. Right from fighting off sleep through the tepid Episodes I, II, III in the 2000s, I have tried my best to invest in the films, and yet, I couldn’t. I understand it isn’t fair to assume that my choice is the definite word on the films. And yet, how can not one of the films impress me? Not one in the list of nine films? Really??

But as humans, we survive on hope. And I decided to go ahead and watch the latest episode of the space opera.

 

*

It was the worst film of the year, and I say this after watching the suicide-inducing Munna Michael and Raabta.

It’s difficult to point out a single flaw in a film that has flaws the size of black holes (I’m trying to use space terms to fit into the gigantic cult that the film commands!). The actors have the screen presence of boiled potatoes. Their lines are delivered like stoned high-schoolers rehearsing for the annual play. The young actors who have been entrusted with carrying the legacy of the movies are (and there’s no nice way to say this) severely incompetent.

In fact, they’re so bad that the film has to fall back on a 66 year old Mark Hamill and a 60 Carrie Fisher to deliver the acting chops. You know an action film is doomed when sexagenarians have more sex-appeal that 20 year olds!

Since the film knows it commands a loyal legion of movies, it gives two shits about logic or common sense. When Leia gets blasted away, she flies for a while in outer space and hops back to life. Clearly, usne script ko mooh mein leia.

The villain of the film is killed abruptly with more than an hour to spare. Two of the characters connect to each other through some sort of tantric-space healing technique.

What annoys me the most is 20 year old Indians claiming to be a die-hard fan of the series. Really? How bad is your Fear Of Missing out?? And can we spend a minute to talk about Chewbacca? How the fuck is that red pubic hair costumed creature supposed to be cute? As if looking at that abomination is not good enough, Disney went ahead and added some cute animals for cheap giggles.

Chewbacca: Putting the 'Chew' in 'Chewtiyapa'.

Chewbacca: Putting the ‘Chew’ in ‘Chewtiyapa’.

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Out of curiosity, I checked out the reviews of the film and was shocked to found that it has been rated 93% fresh. That shook me a little. Perhaps there was something about the films I didn’t understand. May be my tastes, my cinematic aesthetics weren’t the same as most people in the world.

And yet, this is what I will say. The film is Chandrakanta in outer space. Naugarh-Vijaygarh mein thi takraar…and nobody gives a shit, yaar. If the same film was made in Hindi, it would be lambasted to outer space. But it’s a Hollywood film, so our heads will automatically twist and stuff itself into our asses.

The latest Star Wars movie is a nostalgia whore of a movie that counts on people trying to fit into a cult that was created long before they were born. In many ways, the Star Wars cult like religion.

You try your best to fit in. Logic and reason do not matter. And if you tell people you hated the movie, people will look at you like like there’s something wrong with you.

*****