Category Archives: Review

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.

Sachin A Billion Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This post first appeared on Huffington Post.

Hindi-Medium-Trailer-1

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

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

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

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

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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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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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pellichoopulu-poster

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. 

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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A lazy, laidback review of ‘Udta Punjab’

In my earlier post, I explained my problem with instant movie reviews. There is no time to think and analyse, and the entire exercise feels like a Social Studies exam where you try to write a certain length (with a handwriting for some grace marks!). Having decided to refrain from the rat race, here’s my opinion of Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab.

The film starts off like most of Chaubey’s work – two minutes and you know you’re in safe hands. While the opening scene evoked a gasp from the audience, if you’re acquainted with Chaubey’s work, you’ll find it is typical Chaubey. His films contain maverick plots, run by hedonistic characters, where the dialogue is heavy and the lives cheap.

Even as the promos came out, I was a little sceptical about the film. The plot of the angry, angsty singer is not new to Bollywood. Whether it is Amitabh Bachchan and his wife crooning songs for, and directed at each other. Or Mithunda’s iconic Jimmy shimmying on the dance floor. Or Aashiqui where Kumar Sanu tried to find his way to your heart, through his nose. Or the second installment of the franchise which made absolutely no sense to me at all. Or the poster-boy of ‘singer movies’ – Rockstar – which I always felt was a mediocre film that began the hype of Imtiaz Ali.

It's been 5 years. And nobody knows why he was angry in the film!

It’s been 5 years. And nobody knows why he was angry in the film!

Bollywood has a knack of portraying singers in a particular fashion – they are all either troubled/crazy/emotional wrecks. We want Kishore Kumars and Michael Jacksons. There’s no place for Mohd. Rafi, who records his songs, buys vegetables for the family, and goes home.

And yet, Chaubey manages to keep Tommy/Gabru fresh. There is a certain craziness that he brings into the role, and yet it is not awe that we feel. It’s a bit of pity, mixed with sadness. Shahid Kapoor’s Tommy is a mix of the craziness of Christian Bale, combined with the cockiness of Zlatan Abramovic, and the IQ of Honey Singh.

And yet, he’s not the most interesting subject of the film. Carefully avoiding yet another spiral down a failed rockstar’s abyss, Udta Punjab sets a veritable trampoline, frequently jumping out of contrived situations with stellar effect.

With all the pre-release hype of the drug problem, I was curious about its depiction in the film. Watching the film after going through the suggested cuts gives you an actual idea about what a gigantic douchebag Pahlaj Nihalani really is. The scenes/lines that were suggested had nothing to do really with drugs, but with swear-words. Because honestly, who uses swear words in really life, behenchod!

The depiction of drugs in Bollywood isn’t new either, and each depiction makes me want to snort a line of coke and go on a rampage. Drugs are always shown as an ambiguous white line, a nameless syringe that infuses crazed emotions in the actor. Or makes them stoop down to unearthly lows. Like Priyanka Chopra in Fashion, who is happily leading a hippie lifestyle, and finds transformation after sleeping with a black man after a drug-filled frenzy. Trust Madhur Bhandarkar to offend both Blacks and Drugs with one scene!

The drugs in Udta Punjab are not a rich man’s pleasure, they are the routine of every strata of society. If there are dudes sniffing before a concert, there are kids looking for a fix while bunking school. Combining the tropes of Punjab with the ease of a master storyteller, Abhishek Chaubey manages to depict the drug problem for what it is – a truly grassroots movement in a state blessed with five rivers, fertile land, loads of money, and a crazy neighbour in Pakistan.

Another Thumbs Up to the lowly, unpaid intern who did the subtitling of the film. Most films spend crores in production, and yet skimp money on subtitles. Subtitles in most Indian films range from the

brutally honest…

Courtesy the hilarious Tumblr page - http://paagalsubtitle.tumblr.com/

Courtesy the hilarious Tumblr page – http://paagalsubtitle.tumblr.com/

to the absurd…

Picture Courtesy

                                                          Picture Courtesy

to silli spelling mistakes…

to hirsute imaginations!

The subtitles in Udta Punjab are smartly done, and I even found a Lucy in the Sky reference. Whoever you are, dear unpaid intern, keep smoking them joints, and please show Kashyap this blog and ask for a raise!

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The characters of Udta Punjab stand out from the clutter of drug-ridden films, simply because of the life pumped into them by the writers. Irrespective of who they were essayed by, each character possessed character.

Kareena Kapoor’s Preet is probably the worst-written character in the film, and yet she puts in all her experience to play. For brief moments, her eyes light up like they did in Jab We Met, but we’re cruelly brought back to the grim reality of our subject matter, and her eyes sink back into emptiness.

Diljit Dosanjh as the cop does away with regular Punjabi histrionics, and is clearly the one person set to benefit the most from this venture. Shahid Kapoor as Gabru must have had a tough time after playing Hamlet in Haider, incidentally the only Vishal Bharadwaj film that Abhishek Chaubey didn’t assist for.

The role demands not a spectacular performance, but a jittery fidgetiness of a racoon. Shahid Kapoor is predictable in a few scenes, but it is when the scenes are tightly written that he truly shines. Over the years, Chaubey has specialised in creating moments where you’re laughing along, and suddenly feel like a pig for laughing. Like Saurav Ganguly in his final years, Shahid Kapoor waits for these moments, smashing them out of the park.

Rising beyond the film, and the rest of the cast, is Alia Bhat. For someone who began with a prudent film like Prudent of The Year, she has shown great courage in her choice of roles. Udta Punjab does for Alia what Highway couldn’t. As the Bihari migrant, she holds an iron grip over her scenes, not once can you take your eyes off her.

You’ve seen the cast in similar fashion earlier. Kareena’s character looks and talks like she did in Dev, Shahid Kapoor in his Ishq Vishk – Fida days. Alia Bhat looks like she’s still in a hangover from Highway. And yet, the fact that they make the film work is testimony to razor-sharp writing.

The biggest hero of the film, however, is Abhishek Chaubey. Having followed his career for years now, it was sad to see his overshadowed by his mentor Vishal Bharadwaj at every step. Even his two earlier films, the spectacular Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya are often wrongly credited to Bharadwaj. With Udta Punjab, he is no more playing under the shadow of Bharadwaj and Gulzar, and truly shines on his own merit.

Udta Punjab is engaging. Is it worth going to a cinema hall when you could download all of it for free on the Internet? That’s a choice you’ll have to make, my friend!

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A More Sober Take on ‘Sairat’

 

2016 marks the tenth year of me reviewing movies, and I realize in hindsight the transient nature of film reviews. Most often, the reviews are written in haste, having to ward off competition from other reviewers, and thus emotions are running high. At times, I’m still dazed by the film, and the dark hall, the music, the visuals – they leave a buzz not completely different to a weekend party where you consider a stranger as your closest friend.

As a result, I have decided to review films after a few days of watching the film. It’s my own Litmus Test, to see if the film still resonates with me after a few days. Fan, for example, got near universal good reviews, is really an aging star masturbating furiously for attention. And Housefull 3 which got panned, isn’t very different from the loony films that Salman Khan churns out. And so, like Rahul Dravid in his final years, I have decided to pull out from the quicker format, choosing instead to take some time off to analyse my feelings about a film, and only then pen them down.

The other peeve against film reviews in India, is that most of them are outright dumb. Very rarely will you find a review that doesn’t mention spoilers. Some of Sairat’s reviews contained the headline – ‘A tragic love story’. You moron, the director worked his ass off for three years to make the movie, and it took all of three words and a pea-brained critic to give it all away. I have consistently worked on reviewing films without spoiling them, though I don’t know how good I’ve gotten at that.

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I had written a passionate review of Sairat, the film of the year for me so far. And yet, I fell into the trap of a conventional review – Introduction, Main Body, Performances, Final verdict. But it’s to the film’s credit that I still watch a few clips from the film, and play the songs after a good joint. And here are a few thoughts that stayed with me.

Kindly tread into the rest of the review carefully. There are spoilers, but the film has been playing for two months now, and I assume you’ve made your decision about whether to watch it or not. If you still nurture any desire to watch it, it’s still playing in theatres.

 

What do we find funny?

Sairat got the ‘look and feel’ spot-on. Most big-budget commercial films resort to cheap imitations of villages. Most times, you can see that the entire set up is merely a set, and it gets rather difficult to believe the film from there on.

Sairat also got the casting spot on. So good, in fact, that is makes Omkara seem like a cheap, high-school play. While the leads are very efficient in their task, I am surprised nobody is talking about the hero’s two friends – Tanaji Galgunde as Pradeep and Arbaj Shaikh as Salya. While Hindi films usually use disability to squeeze out cheap emotions to hide bad writing (Bhansali) or for cheap laughs (Sajid Khan), for the first time, there was an actual fletched out character with a disability.

It is difficult to view a character without the prism of disability, since we in India ensure that the person’s entire persona revolves around it. The actor was terrific and the scenes well-written, and yet the audience laughed every time he walked, every time he was called Langda.

There’s a stirring scene in which Pradeep believes a girl has thrown him a letter, only to break down later – the audience was laughing throughout. Another beautiful scene is the one where Archie asks them to call him by his name – Pradeep – whose face lights up.

I was filled with shame and embarrassment, of sitting in a dark room with hundreds of people whose idea of humour is a man limping, of him being called Langda. Which took me back to Omkara and Saif Ali Khan’s depiction of a limp man. Nobody laughed at Saif Ali Khan, for we all knew he wasn’t really disabled. When Saif Ali Khan essayed the role, people went Wah! Kya acting hai. But here, when the director chose to cast a disabled person, we realized it’s OK to laugh at him.

I thought it was the initial shock value, and yet, the audience continued to laugh. The final shot of the amazing actor is when he’s getting beaten up by the goons – the audience continued to laugh, right till the very end.

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WHO KILLED ARCHIE?

While I was expecting a tragic ending, thanks to the brilliance of our moronic film critics, when it came, it hit me hard.

The audience that had been giggling all along sat in stunned silence, unable to comprehend what had just happened. How could a director do this to them? A film that had small smiles and little tears, with the occasional lame joke thrown in, how could it take such a savage turn? And yet, I could imagine the director smiling in joy. It is that one scene that encapsulates the movie more than anything else. The director was not here to entertain you. He’s here to cajole and coax you into a joyful ride, much like a pedophile, only to deliver the slap right at the end.

And yet, the film left so many delectable loose threads that I have been thinking about it for weeks now. Who really killed Archie? The obvious finger points to her father and the goons. But is it really that simple?

Could it have been her own mother? We haven’t been shown much of the mother. She’s shown toeing the line, petrified of the patriarch, never once voicing an opinion of her own. Once Archie has run away, she’s shown as a shadow of her earlier ghost-self. Was she so ashamed of her daughter that she gave her away?

Or was it the Panchayat? When Parshya’s father requests them to ‘do anything’ that could make them atone for their sins, the elderly members of the Panchayat nod. Was it them that sent the killers to locate them?

Or perhaps it was Archie’s idea of a perfect home that took her life. The hope that her parents would turn a new leaf and accept them with love and joy. And that’s perhaps the mistake we all make.

We have been taught that our parents are amazing people. That they are good, noble, will stand up for you when the time comes. Which is not necessarily true. This unnecessary worshipping of parents in Hindu culture is responsible for half the problems in the first place. Issues like caste are carried over by families, not through friends. Most of our parents believe in caste, and yet think they’re harmless.

The fact is Indian parents are not the greatest set of parents in the world. Constantly straddling the two worlds of tradition and modernity, they finally resort to what THEIR parents would have done.

Matru Moron Bhava. Pitru Petty Bhava.

And that is what killed Archie.

***

(Featured Image courtesy: Arbaj Shaikh’s Facebook page).

Sairat-Aattach-Baya-Ka-Baavarala-Song-Promo

Sairat – A completely hungover review

I have generally been wary of regional cinema for a variety of reasons.

Most regional films have subtitles that give you existential doubts, the nuances and references are lost in translation, and you end up experiencing a truncated version of the original work.

Sairat has been running in exactly one cinema hall in Hyderabad for the last two months. One show in one cinema hall, and yet, booking a ticket has proven a Herculean task. After a series of futile attempts, we managed to book tickets to the film.

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It didn’t help that Lady Luck had plans to sabotage the entire exercise. It happened to be Telangana formation day, and the entire city was decked up to celebrate their surprise independence. Traffic was diverted from normal roads to AnuragKashyapish lanes, and the mall we went to happened to be the worst mall in the history of human civilisation. A series of lifts with minds of their own, and a Tolkienish adventure later, we found ourselves 20 minutes late into the movie. Being a finicky cinema-goer, I usually resort to skipping the entire movie and stuffing my stomach instead.

But a voice told me that I must go watch the movie. And dragged me by the arm into a dark hall filled with giggling people. As I snuggled into my seat, it was as if I’d been present right from the beginning.

Director Nagraj Manjule takes his own sweet time establishing his characters, like a confident paan-wallah adding layers of delicacies for an indulgent customer. It’s a refreshing change from the usual tripe of Hindi cinema, where character is established with the help of an item number. He teases and reveals, and restricts and reveals even more, and before I knew it, I had begun caring for the leads. Even the interval in the film is strategically placed so as to retain the director’s iron grip over the audience’s attention.

Manjule gives a wonderful spin to the classic rural love story, flipping it on its head. Starring lead pair that seems born to do the film, Sairat benefits from the painstaking efforts the director takes to make you feel for the character. So they end up not mere characters, but breathing-walking people you’ve have met at some point in your life. When they smile, you smile with them. When they dance, you want to dance with them (but can’t, thanks to the fat uncle next to you who can’t stop being Louis CK for his family!).

Neither dumbing itself down for regional audiences, nor biting off more than it can eschew like Bengali art-house cinema, Sairat begins on solid footing and soars from there on. Within minutes, I sat back in my seat. This was pure, old-fashioned storytelling. No frills, no bullshit.

*

There are a number of reasons why Sairat works, but none as important as the casting of the film. In the performance of the year, Rinku Rajguru is a debutant with the swagger of a Meryl Streep. She straddles every scene and grabs it by the horns, making you want to scream, hoot and whistle for her. And yet, it is not ‘in-your-face’. She conveys more by her silences, a cocking of the head, a lilt in her voice. Such is her brilliance that she overshadows, nay completely eclipses an otherwise solid performance by the lead Akash Thosar.

To add to the glitz of the proceedings are Ajay-Atul the sibling duo who stir up a stunning soundtrack for the film. At once rousing and riveting and randy, the soundtrack acts like the nervous system of the film, infusing life, joy and drama into a glorious film by itself.

And yet, above all, Sairat is a gigantic bitch-slap to the face of our nation. A nation that believes it possesses ‘the greatest culture in the world’ even though nobody except ourselves told us so. A nation so blinded by imaginary fables that it refuses to notice that it follows the most regressive discriminatory system in the entire world. A society so caught up sucking up to their parents and living their lives through borrowed ideals, that we never stop to think that we are the only country that follows a system as cruel and outrageously horrifying as the Caste system.

Please watch Sairat. Brave the rains if you have to, brave the tyrannical distance of the only cinema hall that’s screening the film. It’s well worth it. Very rarely does a film thrill you, and shake you up at the same time.

Sairat is a story waiting to be heard.