Category Archives: Film

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

 

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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.

*****

‘The Lunchbox’ is an ode to loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

 

*****

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

‘Newton’ Review: Rajkumar Rao is a frikking chameleon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FU

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m trying to say is, FUCK YOU!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

Loads of love,

Hriday.

Arjun-Reddy-Review

My Thoughts on ‘Arjun Reddy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Sinful Indulgence

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

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

 

Miss O. Ginny

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

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

 

The Grudge Part 1

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

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

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

 

The Question

So, will Arjun Reddy change the Telugu film industry?

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

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

Saif Ali Khan dancing in Keemat

I want to smoke what Saif is smoking

I always thought Saif Ali Khan was a chill dude.

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

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

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

I am also familiar with the life of a controversy.

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

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

By the next day, nobody gives a shit.

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

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

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

saif dopp main

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

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

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

Let’s see…

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

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

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

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

Like this bit:

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

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

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

What genetic investment are you talking about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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