Category Archives: Film

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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. 

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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.

A post shared by Hriday Ranjan (@heartranjan) on

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Mohenjo Daro Music Review

AR Rahman is generally at his best when in partnership with his friends.

His greatest works have come in collaborations with Mani Ratnam, Gautham Menon, Imtiaz Ali, Shankar and Ashutosh Gowariker. It’d be interesting to hypothesize about the success of these filmmakers without Rahman’s music, but that’s for another post.

Ashutosh Gowariker is back with his next film, and it looks like it took him six years to recover from the debacle of Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se. He’d earlier taken a six year break after Baazi, coming back with Lagaan.

Gowariker’s earlier stints with Rahman were all major winners, and the two of them come back along with their third musketeer – Javed Akhtar. So does Mohenjo Daro live up to the filmmaker’s earlier collaborations with Rahman?

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Track 1: Mohenjo Mohenjo

The first track in the album begins with Rahman’s tribal sounds, a set of gibberish accompanied by Shivamani’s thumping beats. In a few seconds, you’re looking forward to what’s coming. You see, listening to a Rahman album for the first time is almost a spiritual experience.

If the songs are good, that is. If they’re not, like Blue or Yuvvraj, you begin to question the purpose of life in the first place. It’s alright to listen to Anu Malik make bad music, but for Rahman to do it, is tragic.

The first track sounds familiar, a bit from Behne De, a bit from Ghanan Ghanan. Arijit Singh croons to Javed Akhtar’s rather simplistic lyrics, a problem I faced throughout the album. Lines like Chand aur Suraj donon ne dekha, Mohenjo Daro mein Rangon ka Mela just don’t cut it anymore. They were in vogue in the early 90s, but the analogies sound rather stale now.

Rahman manages to make Arijit sound the most un-Arijit-like, and that’s what keeps you interested through the track, which ends in a crescendo by Shivamani. All in all, the song feels like a performance in a reality shows, where Rahman seems to half-heartedly smile, like he’s itching to get back to his studio and call Hariharan about a new song idea.

Mohenjo Mohenjo leaves you gasping for more, just as the second track, titled Sindhu Ma takes off.

 

Track 2: Sindhu Ma

Undoubtedly the track of the album, Sindhu Ma begins with Sanah Moidutty’s sensuous overtones, and truly kicks off when Rahman comes into the picture. This is the song that plays in the trailer (though that doesn’t seem like a very bright idea in hindsight!).

Rahman makes even gibberish sound magical, and performs a ‘scat-aalap’ that only he could have. Every Rahman album has that one song that gives you goosebumps, Sindhu Ma is that track in Mohenjo Daro.  

The sound doesn’t sound completely original. There are shades of ‘Tum Ho’ (Rockstar) and ‘Kaise Mujhe’ (Ghajini). The track doesn’t bother with staying true to the time period the film is set in, using violins and synthesisers, but all that’s forgiven since it’s Rahman.

Javed Akhtar’s lyrics continue to disappoint, with lines like Paas aake bhi maun hai tu, Yeh toh bata kaun hai tu. The kind of lyrics Sameer used to churn out in the 90s – Tu hai jeevan mera, Tu hai jaaneman mera.     

The song ends in classic 90s boy-band love-track manner, opting to shift to a higher scale at the end. I felt a tinge of sadness as the song came to an end, perhaps as a premonition about the rest of the album.

 

Track 3: Sarsariya

Crooned by newcomers Shashwat Singh and Shashaa Tirupati, Sarsariya begins on exotic footing – gibberish, flute, and drums. And yet, it has the half-hearted feel of the tracks of Asoka. I have a feeling this track will be used as the heroine’s entry song. Javed Akhtar continues to dish out lazy lyrics with lines that go – Sab hai mere sapne, rang hai sab apne.

Shashwat Singh has an interesting voice, but the track switches tracks too quickly for you to invest in it. In fact, the track is quite annoying and I couldn’t wait for it to end.

 

Track 4: Tu Hai

This is a rehash of Sindhu Ma, but a more sanitised version of the song. It lacks the magical beginning of the Sindhu Ma, and if the trailers are anything to go by, will be sung by the leads when they find love in each other.

There are traces of Rahman’s beauty in the track, but having heard the earlier version, this seems like yesterday’s Chicken Biriyani that’s been refrigerated and reheated. It’s Rahman nonetheless, and I gave it a full listen out of respect for the man.

 

Tracks 5, 6, 7 : Whispers of the Wind, The Shimmer of Sindhu and Lakh Lakh Thora

What sets Rahman apart from his contemporaries are his stunning background tracks. While most music directors lazily employ pieces from songs in the film as background music, Rahman actually composes stunning pieces of music.

Listen to Slumdog Millionaire’s Latika’s Theme, or the haunting Bombay theme, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Which is why I wanted to listen to the three tracks that come with the album.

However, these are mere rehashes of the songs on the album, and nothing to write home about. You might enjoy Whispers of the Wind if you’re smoking a joint alone in the night. The Shimmer of Sindhu is a rehash of Tu Hai, and Lakh Lakh Thora is the last track of the album.

 

VERDICT:

Mohenjo Daro fails to stir up the kind of emotions that Rahman is used to when collaborating with Ashutosh Gowariker.

If my theory – Rahman Knows – is anything to go by, the album and the impending film might be headed for a disaster. But one can never be sure about these things. The soundtrack of Mohenjo Daro is strictly ordinary, and only for die-hard Rahman fans (which is probably half the nation anyway!).

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(If you’re a Rahman fan, you should check out other articles on the man – Rahman on Coke Studio, and How I Knew Jab Tak Hai Jaan Would Be Crap)

salman-khan-sultan-820

‘Sultan’ is Shawshank Redemption for poor people

While drafting this piece, I spent considerable time working on the title. Should I use the word ‘poor’?

I’d initially gone for ‘Dumb’, but that’s a broad generalisation. Who am I to determine if those watching the film are dumb? May be they’ve grown up with sad friends, or difficult circumstances. Maybe they got dragged along grudgingly with their friends.

I am not a rich man myself. It’s not Rober Vadra, typing away on a jet while three Congress Pradesh Committee members polish my shoes. But the word ‘poor’ is more encompassing than ‘dumb’. One be financially poor, or even aesthetically.

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In Sultan, we see Bhai as the Robin Hood of cinematic aesthetics. Stealing from the riches of the West, only to distribute it to the poor here in India. For, how can a youngster in India have access to cinematic gems like Shawshank Redemption?

How does one take time out from gymming to watch sporting wonders like Raging Bull? How can one expect them to watch Rocky – 4, when life throws you Zayed Khan’s Rocky – The Rebel?

Not for sale in Netherlands cos their govt. didn't want citizens to suffer brain damage en masse.

Not for sale in Netherlands cos their govt. didn’t want citizens to suffer brain damage en masse.

How does one take time out from shopping for Being Human T-shirts, when one is merely Lucky – No Time for Love – to survive in today’s times? One needs to carry one’s Garv – Pride and Honour – where’s the time or resources to watch Shawshank Redemption? Or even read the book by Stephen King? By the time one finishes shopping for blue bracelets, one has become Baaghi – A Rebel for Love.

Bhai understands all this.

Precisely why Bhai brought all those films, thrashed them to pulp, squeezed the metal handle of the juicer with his enormous arms, and handed it to his fans.

Which is why the film shows Bhai as a 30 year-old-vagabond who decides to learn wrestling to impress a girl. In a month, he has won the District Wrestling Championship. In a few months, he has won Gold at Asian Games, followed by the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, and (please don’t hold your breath), the London 2012 Olympics. By this time, Bhai is so tired of winning Gold that he actually bites the medal and waves at his fans. I wonder how wrestlers feel about that.

As I watched the scenes and heard the hoots and applause, I felt strangely benevolent. Let them enjoy this, the poor people, I thought, feeling like a kurta-wearing History major from Jadavpur University. Let them enjoy the monsoons, I thought, for they have no access to hot showers and jacuzzis.

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Irrespective of what I think of the film, Sultan firmly establishes the fact that Salman Khan is truly the biggest superstar in Hindi cinema. When every scene, every line, every shot is created to elicit whistles and applause, it is futile to analyse the film.

We’ve seen this earlier with Rajini Kanth and Chiranjeevi films, but never in Hindi cinema. Bhai is present in each and every scene, his star-status towering over the story, script, director, and the whole point of the film. This can only mean two things.

1. The next few years will be a golden run for Bhai as the biggest superstar. His films will mock film critics to the faces, and run to packed houses irrespective of cinematic techniques.

2. Every film, however, will truly suck. There’s no other way to put it. If one looks at Rajinikanth’s films, they’re all huge hits, but when observed objectively, they’re well and truly shitty films, that do nothing but further elevate a god-man into a god.

Salman Khan is the Dharmendra of our generation. Many years down the line, our children will watch Salman Khan’s films on Zee Cinema, which I have no doubt, will continue to exist. Zee Cinema is the cockroach among Indian TV channels.

Our next generation will wait for us to leave the house, light up joints, watch Sultan win the Olympic Gold, and giggle.

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