Category Archives: Film

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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This post first appeared on Huffington Post.

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‘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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Like these brothers who couldn't spell 'Israel' because their struggle is rael. They're also not particularly fond of the card game Uno. 

Pic: Dawn.com

The origins of ‘Fuck off to Pakistan!’

‘Fuck off’ has been the nation’s war cry for a long time now.

It is not due to the Surgical Strike in Kashmir or the ‘Sir jee, kal strike’ in Kolkata. For a while now, we have been obsessed with kicking people out. 

The sentiment is not restricted to nationality and jingoism. We do it among ourselves too. Pioneers of this school of thought are the two Senas in Maharashtra – Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Right from the attacks against ‘Madrasis’ 30 years ago, to the present day, they have been playing the ‘Fuck off’ game to stellar effect.

Those who cannot speak Marathi fuck off to your own states. Biharis fuck off from Mumbai. Pakistani cricketers fuck off to your country, or we’ll dig up the pitch – which if you think about it, doesn’t do much good for anybody. If the Shiv Sena really wanted to win the nation’s approval, they should have dug up the pitch just a little. Just enough for Anil Kumble to razzmatazz the fuck out of Pakistani batsmen, dismissing them for 73 runs. That would have been smart, but alas! – Shiv Sena.

But it is not just them. Other ‘Fuck off’ situations are those between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Two seemingly developed, mature states that produced stately statesmen like Javagal Srinath and S. Venkataraghavan. The two states have been asking people to fuck off to their own states with the recent Cauvery imbroglio. Telangana people wanted Andhra people to fuck off, Kannada people wanted North-easterns to fuck off. Kashmiri separatists committed an entire genocide to ask Pundits to fuck off. Our primeval response to conflict is ‘Bhai, bahut ho gaya. Ab tum nikal lo’.

Then there is the case of social media and popular opinion. A comment that doesn’t fit the mould of a patriotism is met with – Fuck off to Pakistan. Criticism of The Leader elicits the cry to fuck off. An alternate opinion, and you’re asked to fuck off. Criticise a God, and you’re asked to fuck off.

I do not insinuate that we are the only country with such reactions. Our neighbours across the border have fancy protest too.

Like these brothers who couldn't spell 'Israel' because their struggle is rael. They're also not particularly fond of the card game Uno. Pic: Dawn.com

Like these brothers who couldn’t spell ‘Israel’ because their struggle is rael. They’re also not particularly fond of the card game Uno.
Pic: Dawn.com

Or these dudes, whose slogan 'Go India, Go back' makes you wonder if they're egging us on, or egging us out. Pic: www.latimes.com

Or these dudes, whose slogan ‘Go India, Go back’ makes you wonder if they’re egging us on, or egging us out.
Pic: www.latimes.com

But what really is this obsession with ‘Leave our land’?

Is this an inherently Indian phenomenon? Has it somehow been ingrained into our consciousness?

I think it has to do with the way our families and societies are constructed. We as a culture live with our parents and the cruelest punishment is to banish the child from the house.

Our greatest stories, our oldest epics – from Ramayan to Devdas, involve a son being asked to leave the house. Our films and our novels further propagate this idea.

And perhaps that has seeped into the way we think. Perhaps that is why we as a nation are obsessed with kicking people out of our country, our states, and our screens. The reasons may vary, the conflicts may be diverse, but the response is standard – Nikal lo.

But when there’s a war, or a question raised on our nation, we all stand together. The Bihari banished from Mumbai and the Kannada banished from Chennai. We get together and ask the new enemy to leave the nation. May be ‘ghar se nikal jao’ is a big deal for us. Perhaps it has become our first response.

As the K3G soundtrack plays in the distance, I notice that we had a traitor living amongst us all these days. Time for me to do what I must. 

Tanushree Dutta endorsing Multani mitti. Fuck off to Pakistan, Tanushree Dutta! #PeopleWhoShouldFuckOffToPakistan

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What I Hope from the Dhoni Biopic

It doesn’t take an Einstein to understand the rush to make a biopic on Dhoni. There’s something about the guy.

If Sachin made cricket India’s No.1 priority, our national obsession, Dhoni took it to the nation’s grassroots. When historians discuss his career in the future, they’ll acknowledge that MS was no ordinary cricketer.

I detest comparisons, but it is hard to resist a comparison between Dhoni and the only star bigger than him – Sachin Tendulkar.

Sachin might be hallowed today, but he had a firm backing right from his school days. By the time he was 14, Sachin had Gavaskar, Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri around him. Gifting him bats and pads, and passing on decades of valuable experience. Apart from the immense talent and incredible hard work that he put in, Sachin took five steps, and the sixth step was taken for him.

Dhoni grew up in Bihar.

I don’t mean that as condescence, but as a comparison. Cricket in India has always been an urban, upper class sport. I wonder why a country as vast and poor as ours would choose cricket. A sport that requires a lot of investment in time and equipment. It should make more sense for us to obsess over kabaddi, or soccer.

The history of Indian cricket is replete with Maharajahs captaining the country with their coterie of servants. Scroll further down, and you’ll find that most of our stars came from upper middle class families; from urban spaces that allowed for coaches, nets, and infrastructure.

Dhoni grew up in Bihar.

If Sachin represented India’s awakening as an economy in the 90s, Dhoni proved that cricket had trickled down to India’s interiors. It now flowed in the country’s veins.

Sachin grew up in a time when Indian cricket was far from its peak. With players like Devang Gandhi, Sameer Dighe and Sujith Somasundar in the fray, Sachin was a god among mortals. He stood out like a Liberty statue in a Dharavi slum.

Dhoni came into the team as a small town boy amidst demigods. Against all odds, he went on to lead the team and then form his own coterie. A team comprising cricketers from towns and villages. Sons of clerks, shopkeepers, and farmers.

Not only did Dhoni crash the party, he got up on the table, took off his shirt and flung it in the air! MS Dhoni was the biggest star in the team for nearly a decade. He was polite, but not necessarily humble. He came from simple roots, but loved his cars and mansions.

MS Dhoni the persona evolved with his stature. When he came in, he was a youngster who could cart Shoaib Akhtar over the fence in successive deliveries. By the time he leaves, he’ll be a middle-order batsman who bats with tailenders and has finished the most matches for India.

From a merciless marauder who swung his bat like a double-edged axe, to a backfooted middle-order mainstay with a solid defence. From endorsing Mysore Sandal Soap with shoulder length brown hair, to becoming the richest cricketer in the world. Dhoni survived, and Dhoni evolved.

And not once did he let his emotions come in the way. Not once.

Not once has the man lost his temper or expressed dissent (except to journalists, for whom he reserves the coldest contempt!). Surely, a biopic on the man was a goldmine waiting to be explored.

Neeraj Pandey is a dependable filmmaker, and Sushant Singh Rajput an able actor. I’m glad the film doesn’t aim to dig too deep into his cricketing career (like the godforsaken ‘Azhar’).

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But was MS always this guy? Did he always choose to smile at problems? Was he always grounded, or was there a time when he waved a middle finger to his detractors?

How did it feel stepping into a dressing room with Sachin, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble and Sehwag? Why did Sachin recommend his name for captain, when he’d only been playing for a year? What did he see in the boy with Tarzan hair?

And why did MS choose to chop his hair off? Was there more to it than the Brylcreem endorsement deal? Why did he announce his retirement from Tests in the middle of a tour? When did the small town boy become the suave face of a hundred brands?

Who really is MS Dhoni? Does he have just one true face? Or does he wear many masks?

These are the answers I seek from MS Dhoni – the biopic.

You already screwed up the biopic on my childhood hero. Please don’t botch this one up!

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How ‘Pellichoopulu’ is bending the rules of Telugu cinema

In spite of having lived for 16 years of my life in Andhra Pradesh, and having reviewed movies for nine years now, I have never reviewed a Telugu film.

Partly because it took me a few years to understand the nuances of Telugu cinema, and partly because there’s nothing really to review. You could take the script of any Telugu blockbuster and replace it with another; replace any hero with another. The heroine barely has any role to play in the film apart from acting coquettish and seducing the hero. The laughs are generated when the hero bashes up a ‘comedian’ – it’s all absurd to a point where you wonder if the entire unit was smoking pot while the film was being made.

Telugu Cinema is a rather cruel place for an aspiring filmmaker. Dynasticism runs through every film industry but nowhere else is caste a determinant of a star’s pull. Actors, directors, distributors – they’re all gauged through their caste, and yet there is a deafening silence about it everywhere you look.

The hero is expected to fight and dance and mouth long-winding dialogues, even if he’s supposed to have grown up in a chawl. The heroine dances around him and is objectified, stalked, and is nothing more than a doormat. And even if you break into the scene, there’s the oligopoly of distributors who control the release of films across the two Telugu speaking states.

Of course, there are filmmakers who have attempted to break the mould, and yet they’ve sold out – there’s an item number here, an unwanted song there. Every time I have walked out of a Telugu film, I have looked for the nearest bar to get sloshed and drown my memories of the film.

In my frustration, I stopped watching Telugu films, except when they’re played on buses and I have no other option. If you are unacquainted with Telugu cinema, may I kindly lead you to this blog – A Script for Chiranjeevi’s 150th film.

I went to watch Pellichoopulu in a single screen theatre, and was doubly curious to see how people would react. If you’ve watched the trailer, you’d have guessed the tone of the film is urbane and yuppy. Pleasantly surprised that the film had a 93% approval on BookMyShow, and that the popcorn cost a mere 20 Rupees, I walked into the hall.

Single Screen Theatre issues.

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Pelli Choopulu contains the  most non-glamorous introduction to a hero that I’ve seen in Telugu cinema. There are no songs, no shots panning upwards from boots to biceps – just a regular dude waking up to a life that has fallen asleep.

It takes but a few minutes to get woven into the plot, driven as it is by sharp dialogue and genuine characterisation. We meet the leads as if by chance, just as they stumble into each other. They aren’t heroic, or loud, or driven by any motive. It is a refreshing change, and in minutes, the entire hall sat in hushed silence.

Director Tharun Bhascker uses sharp writing to prove his point, doing away with the bells and whistles one would associate with Telugu cinema. Prashant hops from one incident in his life to another in the slow, careless manner of a water buffalo. Chitra fights every obstacle in her life with the fearsome resolve of a bison. There couldn’t have been a more un-Tollywood like couple!

Pellichoopulu benefits from realism. The characters seem real, and the dialogues hilarious. The humour in the film comes from Priyadarshi Pullikonda’s impeccable comic timing. As the hero’s equally useless buddy, every second he comes on screen is gold, and the audience were giggling in anticipation even before he delivered his lines. And yet, the director never punches below the belt.

In an industry that makes sex-kittens out of talented actresses (check out Ileana D’Cruz in Barfi, and compare it with her Telugu roles), Chitra is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Ritu Verma and Vijay Devarakonda seem so much at ease in their roles, you begin to wonder if they’re acting in the first place.

Pellichoopulu gets a lot of things right, but mostly, it carries balls of steel. The film doesn’t sell out even for a moment, even though it has its weaknesses. The film refuses to bend down to market demands, staying true to its character through every single shot.

*

Tamil, Malayalam and to an extent Hindi cinema enjoy a thriving parallel cinema. For every Sultan and Kabali, there are smaller, sharper films competing in the same arena. Sadly, Telugu cinema never had a parallel movement. Probably because nobody went full-on, and partly because of how demanding and unforgiving the average Telugu film viewer is.

But Pellichoopulu is akin to the smart guy who joins your section in Class 8. He doesn’t bother about the bullies and is smart enough to tackle the 1st ranker in class. The film is running to packed houses, but on a limited release.

If you watch Telugu films, or like me, stopped watching them long ago, please do yourself a favour and watch Pellichoopulu. 

Naseeruddin Shah in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Naseeruddin Shah and the Art of Not Giving a Fuck

The debate regarding Rajesh Khanna’s histrionic abilities has been as dramatic as a 70s potboiler. Twinkle Khanna responding in true Bharatiya Beti style, Naseeruddin Shah not giving a flying fuck, tons of comments on social media about the nature of the debate.

But as an actor, one can sympathise with Naseeruddin Shah’s frustration. Whether you admit it or not, most Bollywood films do not seem to follow any semblance of logic. Proof of this lies in the recent film Sultan where the hero undergoes a month of training and wins the Olympic Gold. Most of our films are more concerned with glorifying our stars than stay true to the reason a film is made – to tell a story.

But here one begs to ask the question – is the story really the motive? Most blockbusters seem to have made their very purpose the glorification of superstars, so one can’t really tell. Since Cinema is an art form, any opinion on it is subjective. It is not scientific research that can be held up to universally accepted standards. One can only have opinions, but I must admit I share Naseeruddin Shah’s opinion.

Bollywood has a knack of squeezing out success from its fraternity. If something works, you’ll do the same thing for decades at stretch. Rajesh Khanna broke through the scene as a charming man with a slightly awkward dancing style. And he did it till he looked seven months pregnant. Shah Rukh Khan played the sweet chocolate boy when he was in his early 30s, and was caught in his avatars of Rahul, Raj and Regina till a few years ago. Amitabh Bachchan played the Angry Young Man right up to the time he was an Angry Old Man.

And these are the biggest guys around. Look beyond them, and you’re left with cardboard caricatures. Shatrughan Sinha played an array of loud, embarrassing roles for much of his career, Sunil Dutt played Daaku Cringe Singh for more than 20 films. Many a talented actor have been sacrificed at this altar of Lakhsmi – Satish Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Navin Nischol and Asrani are a few that come to mind. The only mainstream hero who avoided being typecast in my opinion was Sanjeev Kumar. The man played a wide vista of diverse roles throughout his career, and yet is caricatured as Thakur.

So Naseeruddin Shah is not really off the mark. His autobiography And Then One Day is a brilliant, crackling account of his life and opinions of the industry. In an industry that is perennially bending over backwards to suck each other off, his opinions are refreshing, honest and unforgiving.

Like the time the whole nation was orgasming over Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a completely mediocre piece of work. Shah, the eternal Thug Life, made a rather unflattering statement about how growing one’s hair and getting a sculpted body doesn’t make you an actor. Or the time he took Aamir Khan’s case for spreading fear psychosis among Muslims of the country. Or how he keeps needling Anupam Kher for his statements. Or when he called Sholay out as the greatest con job, for having directly lifted scenes and shots from Spaghetti Westerns (which is actually 100% true. Ramesh Sippy was a youngster who was exposed to Western cinema, and the characters, scenes, and shots of the film are basically a rip-off of Sergio Leone’s pathbreaking work. Sadly, we in India had no such knowledge and Sholay, which reads, looks and plays like a Spaghetti Western has become the most iconic film – it’s hilariously unfortunate). Or the time when Shah was asked what sort of a legacy he’d like to leave behind, and his answer quite simply was – I don’t give a shit.

Naseeruddin Shah is one actor who doesn’t suck up to the industry, or its so-called superstars. His opinions have been honest, cynical, and hilarious. In fact, if I could choose a personality that best speaks the language of my blog, I’d be choose Naseeruddin Shah.  And Jackie Shroff. Because Jackie.

But this is where things get a little queasy. For you see, Naseeruddin Shah hasn’t exactly been the epitome of versatility in his career spanning thirty years. I chanced upon this while talking to a roommate of mine, who happens to be a Masters in Theatre Arts. It was he who pointed out the fact that Naseeruddin Shah rarely steps out of his comfort zone. And it’s true!

Naseeruddin Shah’s career can be clearly demarcated into three distinct phases. The first phase was in the 70s and early 80s, the truly golden era of Hindi cinema. While India was discovering its first batch of superstars in Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, a motley crew of filmmakers was challenging notions of caste, religion, prejudice and conventions. Shyam Benegal, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Basu Chatterjee, Govind Nihalani, Gulzar – directors who wrote and shot stories that sought not to merely entertain the audience, but to provoke, agitate, soothe, and calm. These filmmakers were supported by stellar performers like Shah himself, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Deepti Naval, Kulbhushan Kharbandha and Shabana Azmi. The fact that this second crop of films ran parallel to the Deewars and Sholays of the time prove that it was a diverse time, a good time to be alive (also, rock music, hippies, and LSD in general).

Such was the impact of this era that even mainstream actors like Hema Malini and Rekha worked with these filmmakers. Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna acted in movies by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Probably because it was an era where every film wasn’t compared on collections, opening day earnings, total earnings, NRI box office and other statistical vagaries. The films of the time continue to be my second favourite decade of cinema (after the 90s, for purely biased, nostalgic reasons).

The second phase in Naseeruddin Shah’s career was when he dabbled in commercial cinema, from the late 80s to mid-90s. Naseeruddin Shah stepped down from his leading man status and played second, third and sometimes fourth fiddle to brawny stars with no brains. Films like Zulm Ko Jala Doonga, Vishwatma, Mohra, and Tridev are examples of this phase. The films were trashy, the plots always the same – a bunch of good guys gang up to uproot an evil dictator/drug lord.

These films followed the basic rules of 90s action hits. Like the rule that says,

‘The number of heroes must equal the number of heroines in the film, even if one of them has the screen time of a stray cow on a busy street’.

Or the other rule that states –

If there are more than two heroes in the film, they must sacrifice their lives in the final climax, or die valiantly in the end, as it is impossible to feature more than two pairs in the final ‘The End’ snapshot.

These films are trash-gold if you like watching trashy movies (May I kindly direct you to the wonderful Facebook page – I love trashy Hindi films), but if you aren’t, they are an eye, ear and soul sore.

Perhaps the experience of acting in these films hardened his soul so much, that with the 2000s, Naseeruddin Shah stepped into the third phase, the Don’t Giva Fuck phase.

For the last 15 years, Naseeruddin Shah don’t giva fuck. He has essentially been playing himself in every film.

He is always the old, wisened, wise-crack cracking smart alec. He employs a limited array of expressions, uses his gravelled voice to effect – not too much effort, just a miniscule amount that would make the Salman-crazy crowd to wet their pants.

I can’t remember a single film in the last fifteen years where Naseeruddin Shah didn’t play himself. Here’s a look at his roles in the last fifteen years.

Naseeruddin Shah in Mohra 1994
Naseeruddin Shah in Sarfarosh 1999

Naseeruddin Shah in Iqbal 2005

Naseeruddin Shah in A Wednesday 2011

Naseeruddin Shah in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

Naseeruddin Shah in Ishqiya 2010

Naseeruddin Shah in DIrty Picture 2011

Naseeruddin Shah in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Naseeruddin Shah in tHE BLUEBERRY HUNT

The comedy show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge threw up a number of interesting comedians. Their impersonations of popular stars have become a trope, and one finds that the same mannerisms, actions, voices are still being used today to mimic that star.

The winner (albeit completely undeserving) of the show was Sunil Pal, whose set on Veerappan kidnapping Madhuri Dixit acquired a cult viewership. One of the voices in his set was Naseeruddin Shah’s.

Sunil Pal perfectly nails the Shah voice. The voice of Shah in the 90s – when he stepped into the murky world of bad 90s cinema. Unfortunately, that voice remained in the minds of the people. For all his diversity, all the stellar choices he has made as an actor, and the immense repertoire of skills that he possesses, that voice today is the trope that associates itself to Naseeruddin Shah.

For in a country like India, you know you’ve been doing something for far too long when a mimicry artist picks up your nuances.

*

I watched Monsoon Wedding a few days back and was shocked by the Naseeruddin Shah in the film. He seemed to enjoy every single moment on screen. He was affectionate, and vulnerable, and clumsy, and when it mattered the most – strong as steel.

I remember going to sleep that night wondering what happened to that Naseeruddin Shah. And if that guy had been buried long ago.

Today, Naseeruddin Shah essentially plays himself. In that sense, he isn’t vastly different from Salman Khan who plays himself, or Rajesh Khanna who played himself for two straight decades.

And I’m still waiting to watch a film by Naseeruddin Shah in the theatres. Still waiting for him to blow my mind.

***

Blond Rajinikanth

How much more are you going to milk Rajinikanth?

The madness of Kabali has rained down on the nation, and I’m yet to watch the film.

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know I’m not a fan of over-the-top masala potboilers. I was curious to see how critics would react to the film, as it is utterly futile to review a Rajinikanth film. Like asking Virat Kohli to deliver a speech in Sanskrit, or Salman Khan to solve a calculus problem.

I was curious to see how critics react to Kabali for two reasons – 1. Most of the critics are from up north, and have minimal exposure or understanding of the aesthetics of South Indian cinema. 2. No critic is going to outright bash the film, as they’d a Salman Khan or Sanjay Dutt film.

I watched the trailer of the film, and I’m sorry to say it evoked no interest in me to go watch it. If anything, the news of 50,000 litres of milk being poured over a stupid cardboard cut-out repulsed me.

The first time I came across the Rajinikanth phenomenon was during my school days. My friends from Tamil Nadu would rave about his films, narrate the stories, and enact the scenes. I heard the stories of most of his 90s hits – Padayappa, Baashha, Muthu, Arunachalam – before watching them on television.

In the beginning, I found it all too amusing. That such a man was the biggest star. I found it ridiculous that Kamal Haasan, who puts in so much into his films, is side-lined by a guy who flips cigarettes into the air and shoots them instead of asking for a lighter.

As I grew older and wiser, and studied Film Studies as part of my Masters and MPhil, I have realised that one man’s ridiculous is another man’s norm. That Rajinikanth is not too different from Tom Cruise who keeps saving the world and dating young girls every few years.

But if you remove the settings, every single Rajinikanth film is essentially the same – one man changing the scenario around him. A man without any weakness, flaw, or trait that would take away from the cult that he carries around like an aura.

I understand fan-worship. I understand devoutly devotion to the man, to an extent where the dynamics of the game don’t matter anymore. The 90s created two such superstars – Sachin Tendulkar and Rajinikanth – both demigods for their fans. The two of them are humble, successful, and polite – in short, they symbolise Indian values that have been revered over the ages.

And yet, like Sachin Tendulkar in his last few years, how good has Rajinikanth really been? Endhiran was a Shankar wet-dream, Sivaji was loud to the point of being funny, Lingaa and Kochadaiiyaan fell into the category of My Friend Ganesha and Bal Ganesh.

And yet, every single film of his continues to revolve around him. Every single film expects him to fight goons, send them flying into the air, struggle with dance moves, romance women half his age – it’s all cringe-worthy, to be honest. The best action scenes in his films are laughable, the romantic scenes seem weird at four different levels – does he really need all this?

While it may pass off as devotion in today’s times, history will laugh at these films. The future generation will make jokes and memes about it, since the films are dishonest in their basic motive – to tell a story. Which is why I like to ask Rajinikanth fans – do you really love the man?

Or do you love what you like to see of him?

If you truly loved him, you’d let him age gracefully. You’d let him play his age, choose films where he has to utilise some of the acting chops that got him his fame in the first place. How long is he going to be dancing for you morons? He looks weak, washed out, and uncomfortable in the fight sequences. How long does he have to keep churning out stuff so you guys can put up a fuck-all update on Facebook and feel ‘proud’ about him?

I wonder what he thinks of his movies. I wonder if they get him excited in the first place. He never gives interviews or promotes his films. Even when he does, he is polite and humble, to the extent where he called Aishwarya Rai a tremendous actor. So one will never know!

Let him go, guys!

From a conductor of state-run buses, he has come this far on his own. He didn’t need you, or your stupid Facebook posts, or all those liters of precious milk poured over his cut-out.

The guy deserves a break. A retirement plan. The choice to choose a film where he doesn’t seem like the ambassador for calcium tablets.

Let go of Rajinikanth. He deserves a more benevolent look-back from history.

But mostly, he deserves a break from you guys!