Category Archives: Review

The Three Vijays of Gully Boy

The Three Vijays behind the success of ‘Gully Boy’

Enough has been said about Gully Boy and its many merits.

However, most Indian reviewers merely skim the surface by sticking to the same format – reveal the story, talk about the performances, and give it some stars. So ingrained is that style of reviewing in our systems, that product reviews on Amazon.in resemble Rajeev Masand’s opinions.

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When I first heard of Gully Boy, I was sceptical.

I am sceptical everytime Bollywood claims to have ‘discovered’ something. With Rock On, they claimed to discover Indian Rock music. Ten years later, we find most rock bands in India playing Bollywood covers and Farhan Akhtar gracing the cover of Rolling Stone.

Bollywood did the same with Indipop too – bought all the artists and made them sing songs in movies, resulting in the death of a vibrant, thriving independent music industry. It did the same with rap too – an underground movement transformed into a shitfest of booze, boobz and babez. It is the same with nationalism too. I am wary of anything that Bollywood touches, for it has the opposite of the Midas touch on that industry.

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One person who isn’t getting enough praise is cinematographer Jay Oza.

His shots of Mumbai at night are stunning. He chooses to zoom into Mumbai’s filth, and zoom out into her beauty at will. The characters are shown constricted in their houses, and thus, in their heads too. He captures the frustration of living in a small space – both physically and in the mind – with great skill.

Then there’s the fantastic casting, done with such care that leading man Ranveer Singh appears the weakest performer in the film. While the entire cast has won accolades, there’s not enough said about Vijay Varma who plays Moeen.

It is impossible to understand Murad without looking at Moeen. While most of us begin as Murads, we end up becoming Moeens. While Murad means desire, Moeen means a supporter, a provider of refuge. We all have a fire burning inside us – of varying colour and intensity – but we usually never get there. Circumstances, choices, or not chasing hard enough.

Vijay Varma’s Moeen is the reason Murad stands out. Without Moeen, Murad would be any other underdog who rises from the dust. It is through Moeen that we see how easy it is to slip, to go astray. To reach a point where employing kids to sell drugs can be justified, and even seems fair. Vijay Varma plays Moeen while walking a tightrope. Neither is he a complete tapori, nor is he the friend who sacrifices for the hero. He is both, and yet – neither.

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The second Vijay in the film is Vijay Maurya – who plays Murad’s uncle, and has also written the dialogues of the film.

Vijay Maurya has existed in the film industry for a long, long time. He won a National Award for Best Original Screenplay for Chillar Party. He has also been on the screen since the 90s, most memorably as the chilling Dawood Ibrahim in Black Friday, and the station head in Tumhari Sulu. Playing Murad’s uncle, Vijay Maurya is caring but condescending. He wants to help Murad fly, while firmly welding a cage around him.

But it is through his dialogues that Vijay Maurya creates the soul of the film. Zoya Akhtar’s films have always had sharp dialogue – but they were always urbane, laced with English. Even in Luck By Chance – her most non-urban film so far – the dialogues were written by Javed Akthar. Choosing Vijay Maurya as the dialogue writer is a masterstroke. Having written plays and acted for decades, he has a grasp over the linguistic milieu that the film resides in.

Take the scene where Murad is speaking to Kalki Koechlin (who reprises her role as the Rich Bitch). Murad asks her ‘Hindi nahi aata?’. To which she replies, ‘Aati hai’. It is the obsession of the rich over perfect grammar, even if the meaning is the same. When MC Sher inspires Murad, he doesn’t sound like a translated version of a Paulo Coelho book. No ‘shikhar pe pahunchna’, no ‘aasmaan ko chhoona’. The words Maurya chooses are ‘Tere andar ke lava ko fattne de’.

The dialogues of the film ensure that the film doesn’t appear condescending, or preachy.

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And finally, Vijay Raaz. Man!

I have been watching him act since the early 2000s, and every time I see him perform, I think to myself – ‘Ah! This guy has arrived’. And yet, he is constantly given half-baked roles to perform.

You can tell when actors shirk away from a role that isn’t meaty enough. Anupam Kher spent decades hamming his way through shoddy characters. The great Om Puri sleepwalked through his last few roles. The same goes for Naseeruddin Shah – who plays Naseeruddin Shah in every single movie. And yet, there is a certain honesty to every role Vijay Raaz plays, no matter how small, how forgettable.

What makes Gully Boy stand out from Zoya Akhtar’s other films is the presence of an actual, breathing nemesis. Zoya’s films usually have no real antagonist. In Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara, the strains of friendship are tested. In Dil Dhadakne Do, it is the pressure of being a family – there is no real villain in her films.

But Vijay Raaz, (named Shakir – someone who provides, who fulfils his responsibility) gives Murad’s nemesis a face, a shape. He is everything Murad wants to break out of. He is the reason Murad smokes joints on the terrace, and sheds silent tears. Shakir might be one of Zoya Akhtar’s greatest roles written, simply because of how earthy, how believable he is – a carefully constructed amalgam of all our fathers.

When Vijay Raaz slaps, it is not a filmy slap – it lands right on the cheek, with the fist flicking for best results. When he asks Murad to wear his shirt, it is the insecurity of a man married to a much younger woman. When he pleads, it is the desperate pleading of a father to his son. When he sheds tears in the last scene, it is Murad’s greatest victory.

If the film ended with Murad in front of screaming fans – it would have felt nice, but incomplete. It is when we see Vijay Raaz wiping his tears and bowing his head that we know that Murad has truly won. Vijay Raaz plays the oldest role in Indian stories – the strict father – with the most humane of touches – it is a master at work!

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The success of Gully Boy should also be speaking about Reema Kagti. Perennially in the shadows of her friend Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti has one of the most impressive CVs in the industry. Just have a look at her filmography, and tell me it doesn’t make you jealous!

Reema Kagti filmography

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Gully Boy’s greatest victory lies in it humanising the underdog story.

Our underdog stories are always loaded with machismo. They are about physical transformations, about blood and sweat, men punching their way out of misery, or slogging their way to the top. It is a hyper-masculine narrative that is all muscle, all brawn.

Perhaps it needed two women to dissect the more humane side of things. In Gully Boy, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti dissect the underdog. They lay him on a table, strip him of the muscles and brawn, and dig deep into his soul.

Gully Boy is not life-changing, or path-breaking. But it is effective cinema. It is a story where characters feel like real people. Where the writers put in efforts to ensure the roll numbers of students in the exam hall are consistent. Where the bouncer who first denies Murad entry guides him in. Where Muslim characters do not say ‘Ya Allah’ once every seven minutes. Where characters have arcs that are completed.

Gully Boy is effective storytelling. And in times like ours, an effective film seems like a blessing from heaven.

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URI-Manikarnika-Thackeray-BO-FI

Thoughts on Uri and Manikarnia

It’s been a month since 2019 shone on us, and I find it extremely disturbing that all the prominent releases were somehow related to India, patriotism, or the idea of India.

There was The Accidental Prime Minister, a terrible film that was as successful in hiding its intentions as in hiding Akshaye Khanna’s receding hairline. There was Uri – The Surgical Strike – which was about Indian forces attacking the evil people in PoK.

Then there was Thackeray – a film so ironic that it would have made the late leader choke on his beer. That Nawazuddin Siddiqui – a Muslim from UP – would play him in a biopic would make even the gods chuckle. Then there was ‘Cheat India’ whose title, in a stroke of Vedic genius, was changed to ‘Why Cheat India’. It’s like the Censor Board is run by four children deciding the annual play for an apartment complex. The only saving grace amidst this barrage of patriotism was Govinda’s Rangeela Raja – a throwback to the days when it was okay to pinch a woman’s bottom on screen.

Personally, I also had the misfortune of watching NTR: Kathanayakudu – a film so bad, it made me want to go back to my 10th standard, study well, choose Science, become an engineer, and avoid journalism altogether. (Read my review of the film here).

Among the films that released this month, I got to watch Uri and Manikarnika, I liked them both for completely different, extremely selfish reasons.

URI

I actually like Uri more than the other releases this month. Most reviews lambasted the film for being a jingoistic exercise and that was the mindset I’d walked in with.

I wanted to watch a film with army men who were efficient, effective, incisive. I am tired of films portraying Indian men in uniform as emotionally charged, jingoistic men who will hug a bomb for their nation. If you watched Border, for example, you’d think Indians won the war not not on the basis of military superiority, but because they loved their motherland more than the Pakistanis.

However, the critics were doing the film a disservice by painting it in jingoistic colours. If jingoism is really the issue, one needs to look at American war films and how embarrassingly jingoistic they can get – think of the US President flying in a warcraft to fight off aliens!

Raazi which released last year was praised for showing Pakistanis as human beings – something is commendable, but also quite easy. In Uri, Pakistanis are all shown as evil buffoons, but probably I was expecting too much. When was the last time you saw a sensitive Russian man in a Hollywood film?

The film is slickly shot, and succeeds while operating within the parameters of the Hindi film.

We Indians do not just want an action film. We need some maa ka pyar, behen ko vaada, bhai ka badla. We are not content with the hero shooting the baddies, we need him to wield his arms and smash them to pulp. We also need a plot-hook that allows us to return to the movie post interval – once we have gorged on samosas and Coca-Cola.

MANIKARNIKA

Manikarnika was the worse of the two movies.

In fact, strike that out. It was quite terrible. I have always maintained that I’d rather watch an average film that’s trying something different, rather than a successful film that plays safe.

Manikarnika has every trope in Bollywood – including the Amitabh Bachchan voiceover. Ever since Lagaan, Bollywood has used the Amitabh Bachchan voiceover for historicals to such an extent that if Amitabh Bachchan doesn’t give a voiceover, it probably didn’t happen.

We are so used to Zeeshan Ayub getting shoddy characters that you don’t really expect too much from him, and he doesn’t disappoint. Then there are the foreigners! Like most Bollywood Britishers, they are permanently evil, spouting lines in broken Hindi, and planning one saazissh after the other.

Manikarnika is one of those movies in which you can predict everything – if there’s a sword-fighting contest, you know Kangana is going to win it. If there’s an elephant, you know she’s going to get on top of it.

The real problem with the movie though, is that you know the story. You know that the British army is larger, more technologically advanced, and that Rani Lakshmi Bai will finally die in battle. With that in mind, the film fails as a narrative – it is basically Border with Kangana playing both Sunny Deol and Suneil Shetty.

 

TRAILERS

One common problem with both the films is that I knew exactly what would happen well into the intervals of both the movies.

There is a fundamental problem in the way we cut our trailers in Indian cinema. Our trailers reveal the entire plot, leaving only the final conflict for viewers to watch in the cinema halls. In recent times, only Andhadhun managed to cut a trailer that kept its cards close to its chest.

I liked Uri more than I liked Manikarnika – but I liked both of them for two completely different reasons.

I wanted Uri to succeed so that filmmakers realise it is possible to make an action film that isn’t overtly jingoistic. That we can move beyond the Maa Tujhe Salaam and LoC template of army films.

I want Manikarnika to break box-office records because it is helmed by Kangana Ranaut. In this cesspool of nepotism, it is an outsider who is starring in, directing and carrying the entire film on her own shoulders. It is commendable, and if this encourages more women to helm their own projects, we could get to see lesser and lesser of zombie-hippopotamuses like Arjun Kapoor and Sooraj Pancholi.

 

PATRIOTISM

The only real worry though, is the rising nationalism in our films.

There is a film on Modi coming up, apart from films on Manmohan Singh and Bal Thackeray. Down south, there are films on NTR and YSR releasing in the coming months. The stupid trend of playing the National Anthem before a movie begins still continues unabated, even though the Supreme Court has ruled it unnecessary.

Films have always exploited the emotions running through the masses. Amitabh Bachchan’s blockbusters from the 70s did the same, as did Manoj Kumar’s films in the 1960s.

But to have nearly each and every film releasing in a month talking about India, how great India is, and what it means to be Indian – is a bit too much to stomach.

I won’t be surprised if in the coming years we have films like Golmaal Tujhe Salaam, Sacred Patriotic Games, and Sonu Ke Titty Ki Freedom Fighter!

   *****

Tumbad-min

What Tumbad does with horror

In the age of Netflix and other online streaming apps, amidst entertainment that can be slipped into your back pocket, in the age of stream, download, and watch – what really is the role of a horror film?

We have seen the spooky, the creepy, the horrific, and the Satanic. We have had horror movies involving men, ghosts, monsters and creatures. In water, in the air, and from beyond the earth. Jump-scares and screeching doors and ghosts slamming their ghostly faces into the camera to startle us. All of that is done.

Which is why one wants more from a horror film. We look for more than a ghost chasing a human. We need the film to have more soul – atma – if you please!

Tumbad achieves what horror films in the 21st century are supposed to. To leave you with a feeling you can take back home – beyond the scares and twists and blood. A slight unsettling feeling, a tinge of memory that hits a dark space deep inside you.

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We Indians might make the most number of movies on the planet, but we are terrible at one particular genre – horror.

Indian cinema has gone through a number of horror tropes – the lady who was wronged and is looking to avenge her death. The pus and blood in lonely buildings era with Ramsay brothers. Followed by the Trishul and Yagna era where a Baba dressed in black directs the ghost to do things – acting as a veritable HR professional for spirits.

This is not to say that I don’t watch them. I have a fetish for bad films, and will usually sit through a bad horror film on television. People like me are partly responsible for these films being made. And once I realise this truth, I feel guilty if I don’t watch them.

It’s only natural therefore, that I have my favourites in the genre. There was Hawaa, with Tabu starring opposite a bad script. Where the ghost is a BA student from Gurgaon who molests Tabu in her sleep. The CGI in the film is pathbreaking  nightie-entering, a sight that could trigger guilt cold-hearted ghosts.

There is horror, there is titillation, and then there’s this video.

Then there’s 1920 – one of those films that were ripped off from a number of English films featuring churches, priests and Christian ghosts. Of course, the legendary brains of Vikram Bhatt decided to adapt the film to Indian context.

So instead of Biblical phrases, the actors start chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. But wait. One can’t just show a few lines of Hanuman Chalisa because VHP. It is a crime to recite a prayer halfway through – and so the actor chants the entire Hanuman Chalisa – from start to finish. For 3 and a half minutes!

And guess what! Tulsidas was right. Bhoot pishaach nikat nahi aave. Mahaveer jab naam sunaave.

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Indian ghosts have back-stories, character arcs, motives, evidence, and exhibits in court. I won’t be surprised if they turn up in suits and fight legal cases too.

Which is probably why Tumbad doesn’t wish to remain in that space of Indian horror. It takes comfort in the oldest of formats – one that is strictly Indian. Those involving grandmothers, ghosts, palaces, greed and treasures.

The kind of stories that had no motion capture, or CGI, or Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The kind of stories that were narrated by grandparents, or cousins on terraces.

Tumbad is as much about the story, as its atmospherics. The cinematography of the film makes you forget that it is in an independent film. If you ever felt frustrated at the huge budgets commercial Indian films have at their disposal, and yet the mediocre tripe they churn out – watch Tumbad for its efficacy and its indulgences. The cinematography meets the background score and makes deep, passionate love on the screen.

Tumbad succeeds because it isn’t trying to scare you. It’s like a magician asking you to pick a card, and then after a while showing you a completely different card. It isn’t trying to shock you, or trick you, or show you how smart it is.

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As I write this, Tumbad is limping out of the last few theaters in cities around the country. If you manage to find a show on BookMyShow, do bookyoushow.

The World of Kancharapalem

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

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

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

SPOILER–FILLED VERSION:
SCARE OF KANCHARAPALEM

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

 

DARE OF KANCHARAPALEM

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

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

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

 

GLARE OF KANCHARAPALAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLARE OF KANCHARAPALEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Sanju

The Real Problem with Sanju

Reviewing a film is a tricky matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The second time left me even more pissed off.

Here’s why.

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*****

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Movie Review: Jaani Dushman aur Mani ki Khoj

Allow me to say at the very outset that I did not enjoy the film at all. Not one bit.

While I am critical of most films in general, I give some leeway to superhero movies. Probably due to a childhood spent reading comics (Indrajal, Raj and Diamond Comics). Or probably because it is a Herculean task to make an engrossing superhero movie when the audience could slip into their phones in seconds.

Avengers: Infinity War was disappointing on several levels. The shocks were not shocking enough, the jokes weren’t funny enough, and the twists weren’t twisted enough. The film was predictable and unnecessarily long, making the entire experience highly uncomfortable.

 

Too Many Heroes

How many heroes is too many heroes?

I guess the folks at Marvel didn’t bother asking themselves this question. One fails to understand Marvel’s need to constantly up and better their earlier movies. To make explosions larger, the stakes higher, their heroes funnier. Every explosion in the film makes the film’s soul smaller.

In the end, it feels like a moral values lesson from the pantheon of Hindu gods, each of them meeting each other in a number of stories; a three-dimensional Amar Chitra Katha if you may. Throw an infinity stone, and it will land on a superhero. With so many heroes, the film feels like it’s forcing itself to be taken seriously.

What Marvel movies did so wonderfully along the years, was to be self-aware. They mixed the supernatural with the real-worldly in a magical blend. These were heroes using cutting edge technology, while popping pop-culture references. Heroes who were saving the world while facing high-school bullying issues. It was a marvel that would have won the nod of Marquez.

Sadly, Avengers Infinity War takes itself too seriously. With stakes stacked up so high, it really has no other option.

And in doing so, it is not ‘self-aware’ enough, the very factor that made MCU movies so enjoyable in the first place. There are too few lines distributed among too many people, and by the first one hour, you feel like pulling your hair out in frustration with the change in locations and characters.

 

Graphics hi graphics

The other problem with the film is too many tacky graphics. There is the pink planet, the blue planet, and the brown planet. Then there are the powers of the heroes – the woman with the red rays, the men with the golden circles, the ones with green strings. The makers went about the VFX like a kid who just discovered WordArt on MS Paint.

It begins to feel like a mythological Doordarshan TV show. Which is why when the battle reaches the lush greens of Wakanda, your eyes breathe a Sai of relief.

 

The Deaths

By the time the laborious film draws to a close, you feel nothing. The deaths feel limp, lazy and poorly written. You don’t care too much about these dudes – you watched their films years ago, and they had too little screen time for you to make a connection.

Perhaps this movie is pralaya for superhero movies in general. The Armageddon that ushers in a new era of superhero films. And while we are at it, could somebody do something about the 3D technology as well?

What was supposed to be a cutting-edge technological revolution has over the years become a tacky, lazy tool. Everything in the 3D world looks small, idiotic and too silly to be taken seriously. And no filmmaker seems to truly exploit the medium for what it can do.

*

As a teenager, a friend and me would crash weddings in the government college that we studied in. His father was a professor, and the weddings would mostly be organised by the non-teaching staff, so we walked in with confidence.

We would put on our best shirts, swagger in, and begin hogging the food. Since the aim was to eat as much as possible, we would begin by doing the rounds of the stalls. And then filling the plate with the good stuff – chicken and sweets and butter naans and momos and rasmalai and pani puri and biriyani and dahi vada and…you get the idea.

We stacked our plates with these items because we had enjoyed them as individual dishes. But in our greed, we consumed them all at once, unaware of the summer blockbuster that would play out in our stomachs a few hours later.

The original Avengers movie is still my favourite among all of Marvel films. It had the scale, the banter, the cheekiness. This one is a greedy plate of buffet. Too much of too many good things, till you are left with a bad aftertaste.

*****

 

Imperfect Sanjay Manjrekar

Book Review: ‘Imperfect’ by Sanjay Manjrekar

I have always felt that great cricketers make poor writers.

Writing requires the discipline and sage-like patience of the first session of a Test match. And I believe most great players have run out of their patience and hence choose to either steal cheeky singles or go for the almighty slog while writing their books.

I had read Allan Donald’s White Lightning – but the book tells us a lot about the man, his thinking, and his motivations – but reveals little about apartheid, and the colourful days of South Africa’s return to cricket. Shoaib Akhtar’s Controversially Yours suffered from the author ‘performing’ too much. In his effort to present a colourful story, Shoaib sacrifices narrative for histrionics.

And then, the most boring book I’ve ever read in my life – Sachin Tendulkar’s Playing It My Way – written in collaboration with Bore-ya Mazumdar. Sachin’s book – like his track record in Rajya Sabha – is devoid of any excitement. It has been stripped of any human emotion like fear, envy or resentment.

Which brings me to Sanjay Manjrekar.

*

My earliest memories of Sanjay Manjrekar are of confusing him with Sachin Tendulkar. They were both openers, and around the same height. They both batted with impeccable technique, but for a few key differences – Sanjay wore a white helmet and played a lot slower than Sachin did.

He was however, a terrific fielder – and has pulled off some amazing catches in his playing days. I also recall that he retired sometime around 1997 and then went on to sing songs, before finding his voice in the commentary box.

*

Now, the problem with writing a book in India is the classic India question – Tune Kya Kiya Hai, bhai?

It is a problem people like Sanjay Manjrekar and Murali Karthik face in the commentary box. Every time they make a comment on a player’s game, the first thing trolls ask on social media is ‘What right do YOU have to talk about a player like Kohli’? Unfortunately, in our pea-brained understanding of critique, you have to achieve something equal or greater than the person you are critiquing to be able to say anything about the person.

Sanjay Manjrekar – a well read and erudite cricketer – knows the importance of an impactful first chapter. And he takes a leg stump guard from the very first ball. In fact, the very first line in the book talks about how the author has never touched a bat since the day he retired. That his idea of a perfect day is to sit in the darkness of a theater and watch a movie. That if his father wasn’t Vijay Manjrekar, he probably would have been something else in life.

Sanjay Manjrekar understands the importance that cynicism plays in the life of an Indian, and rests those fears from the first over. Having forced the reader to change his line and length, Sanjay Manjrekar goes on to play the steady, assured innings that he had built a reputation for.

What Manjrekar does differently – and thank god for that! – is refusing to rabble in numbers and statistics. I find most Indian autobiographies to be detailed statistical sheets. What he does instead, is to make it an engaging personal story. The name ‘Imperfect’ makes a lot of sense as you go on to read about the man, his obsession with technique, and the constant, looming fear of a perfectionist.

Instead of cramming the book with chronological numbers and statistics, Manjrekar takes a path of his own. The first chapter is dedicated to his father – the legendary Vijay Manjrekar – and yet, he does not adopt a reverential tone. Chucking a chronological narrative, the author has divided the chapters as ‘Pakistan’, ‘West Indies’, ‘Australia’ – and my favourite – Mumbai school of batting.

Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Having read Arvind Adiga’s Selection Day, I have been fascinated with Mumbai, and the constant churning out of batting geniuses who arrive from the jagged shorelines of Mumbai. In the chapter ‘Mumbai school of batting’, Manjrekar lays bare the grind, grime and grit that makes Mumbai kids bat for days at stretch. There are wonderful snippets – like the ‘mantra’ Mumbai kids tell themselves before every ball – ‘I am not going to get out this ball’.

The book also changed my opinion on a few characters – Ravi Shastri and Gavaskar, for example. I generally find the duo overbearing and omnipresent. But reading the book, I was able to see Shastri in new light. A man who could have chilled out, joined politics, run a business – and earned millions. But the fact that he has been involved with cricket since the day he retired – is proof of his love for the game. Similarly too, with Gavaskar. There are heart-warming stories of Gavaskar being Sanjay’s senior at Nirlep (cricketers in those days worked desk jobs during off-seasons), and how Gavaskar would give him advice to tackle bouncy pitches from his cabin.

There is also my personal favourite – the much-maligned Manoj Prabhakar. Stories of his humanity, his jest, and how he was the first Indian bowler to learn the art of reverse swing from the Pakistanis. One of my pet-goals in life is to redeem Manoj Prabhakar in Indian media, and Manjrekar’s book paints a warm picture of the man who bore the brunt for match-fixing.

Instead of talking down to the reader, Sanjay peppers the book with wonderful anecdotes

*

But more than anything, the book is an honest portrayal of the man himself. For someone who sounds unabashedly biased towards India in the commentary box, Sanjay Manjrekar displays tremendous maturity as a writer. He is comfortable talking about his slide, his lack of form, or the need for fame.

He has no qualms admitting that he wanted the ‘fame’ that came with Indian cricket. He admits to shouting at Mumbai bowlers while he was the state captain. He also admits that he was not the most talented and used hard-work and OCD-levels of preparation in his technique. He bares his heart out in the portions where he was dropped from the national side, and on playing in the domestic league after tasting the giddying heights of being a national player.

Sanjay Manjrekar comes across as a logical, rational, disciplined man. A man obsessed with his craft, a man who clamoured for fame, but also realised when he saw Rahul Dravid, ‘that his time was up’.

*

The last cricket book I read – Sachin’s Playing it my way – reads like a Sanjay Manjrekar innings of the 90s – slow, safe, steady. Sanjay’s book reads like a Sachin Tendulkar innings in the late 2000s. He starts a little shakily, takes time to settle in, and then pulls out glorious drives, completely at ease.

Sanjay Manjrekar’s Imperfect could not have been better named. It is humane, witty, and a thoroughly satisfying read. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best cricket-based book that I’ve read.

*****

Why Indians cannot connect to Shape of Water

Why Indians Cannot Connect to ‘The Shape of Water’

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

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

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

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

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

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

What image does this description flash in your mind?

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

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

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

 

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

*

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

 

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

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

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

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

‘Dhooooooop!’.

*****

Weird Nipples

Movie Review – Padmavat(i) – Kaafi Tatt(i)

I have refrained from talking about the Padmavat-Karni Sena issue because it is embarrassing to think of.

That a fictional character would be exalted to the status of a goddess, misplaced pride would lead to death threats being issued in the open.

I find the issue of pride laughable. How can you be proud of being a Rajput?

‘Pride’ is to be felt when you belong to a world champion sporting side, or if you discover a new metal, invent a new technology – that is pride. What the fuck is Rajput pride?

How can you feel ‘pride’ about being born in a particular clan, when you have no choice in the matter? You did no work to be born in a particular clan. Your parents had sex, and sperms were transferred from the male organ to the female organ.

At that time, there was no viva voce conducted – Hello, Mr. Proud Sperm, which clan would you want to be born in? Aryan? Dravidian? IITian?? Nothing of that sort happened. So what the fuck is this pride that people keep harping about?

I have seen educated urban friends of mine put up statuses expressing pride in their clan, caste, religion, creed and blood group. I do not know what to make of it. After entering my 30s, I have reconciled to the fact that some things in life are twisted, and there’s nothing one can do about it.

But I digress.

This is about Padmavat, the movie.

Even though I have been panning Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films for ten years now, I have a secret admiration for the guy. He has a vision of his own (even if they are hallucinogenic visions) and he goes ahead and executes his projects.

In spite of all his awards and recognition, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s greatest achievement in cinema has been to get Salman Khan to emote, a task that amounts to getting a rabbit to attend a 21 day workshop on Hatha Yoga. But Bhansali’s films suffer from a key problem.

You always know the ending of a Bhansali film. Whether it is Rasleela, Devdas, Guzaarish, Bajirao Mastani. It is the same with this film too – you know exactly how the film will end. Especially since the director has clarified to Karni Sena morons that there is no dialogue between the two stars, that they do not share even a single scene, and there’s absolutely no interaction between them.

In fact, you get a sense of this when the many disclaimers come on, before the movie begins.

This is based on a poem from the 16th century poem – Padmavat. There is no intent to harm anybody’s feelings.

So you know there’s going to be masturbatory dialogues to glorify Rajputs.

The film does not intend to glorify Sati

So you know there’s going to be a ten minute, slow-mo, climactic shot of Sati, a money-shot involving yellow, gold and red – Bhansali’s own RGY colour format.

No animals were harmed in the making of this film.

So you know that all the animals shown will be whipped up by underpaid Indian animation artists. Which is why when Alauddin Khilji turns up with an exotic ostrich, it resembles a bird from Chhota Bheem.

After eight movies, the Indian viewer has gotten used to the opulence and grandeur. The viewer is looking for nuance and story, and Bhansali offers none of that. The film begin with Deepika Padukone, who is introduced as the warrior princess who lives in the kingdom of Bahubali Sets. She’s fierce and strong and independent and all that, but you know she’s going to end up as the second wife of the king, the noble Raja Moron Singh.

On the other side, there is Alauddin Khilji, essayed by an earnest performance by Ranveer Singh. A role so earnest that he does everything the director asks him to do. If this was a Muslim majority state, Bhansali would have been stoned to death for depicting Muslims in bad light. To uphold the fragile prestige of one group, Bhansali demonises the other.

His Alauddin Khilji does everything one can to appear evil.

Evil Ruler Things

Quite naturally, he hears of Padmavati, and decides to attack Chittor.

Which then brings us to the other king in the story:

Raja Ratan Sen.

King of Chittor,

Works at Pouter @Pouting.

Owner of weird nipples.

Weird Nipples

If he just ran to Khilji and showed him his nipples, Khilji would have given up the war and turned Buddhist.

Shahid Kapoor’s interpretation of an upright king is to play him stiff and uptight. Not only does Raja Dishaheen Singh look like Padmavati’s younger brother, their love scenes look like a kinky Rakshabandhan fetish video.

This is where Bhansali slips. To massage the fragile ego of Karni Sena, he makes Shahid’s character mouth absurd Rajput-praising lines every few minutes.

While wearing his clothes: Jo samundar paar karey, woh Rajput.

While eating food: Rajput ghee lagaake khate hain, Dalda nahi.

While bathing: Raput Nivia Mens Body Wash use karte hain, Lifebuoy nahi.

On and on and on, till you actually wish for Khilji to attack and fucking kill the guy. Drive a sword right through him and then get him trampled by elephants.

Ironically, after mouthing all the bravado, Raja Pout Singh goes on to commit the most moronic mistakes a 13th century ruler could.

He invites an oppressor who openly threatened to take his wife away (Khilji was a one man Karni Sena), and then has lunch and plays chess with him. As Khilji camps outside his fort and supplies have been cut off, he hides the fact from his people, instead choosing to celebrate a grand Diwali and Holi.  

He goes to Khilji’s camp all alone, without a weapon. What were you thinking? That is Alauddin Khilji, not Raju the Postman. If there were memes in the 13th century India, Raja Bawaal Singh would be one.

There are so many Rajput-appeasing dialogues in the movie, that you begin to laugh at the irony when Shahid Kapoor jumps from one faux pas to another. If anything, Karni Sena should be offended by how stupid Raja Wierd Nipple Singh is shown.

He escapes from Khilji’s captivity, only to walk up to him and mouth some garbage dialogues; resulting in the death of 800 soldiers, including the Chief Commander, who loses his head because his king never chose to use his own.

In analysing the movie, I may have inadvertently found the solution to the Karni Sena backlash. Bhansali needs to employ those jobless Karni Sena activists as interns in his Editing Department. He badly needs an editor of his movies – Padmavat lags and jags and drags and sags.

By the end, you want Khilji to get it done with, and Rani Padmavati to jump into the fire. You don’t even get that, because there’s a slow-mo, jerk-off Johar scene. For some reason, you are treated to a shot of women of all ages and sections of the society jump into a large flame. That this is a source of any pride is honestly revolting!

*

Decades later, Padmavat will feature in a Bhansali Kalaeidoscope in film festivals around the world. While introducing the movie, it will be remembered as the film that raked up a storm because a bunch of morons decided to milk it for political mileage.

It will be remembered as the film for which he got death threats, a film that whipped up a frenzy in a nation already crippled with a number of other problems.

But as I walked out of the movie, stuffed with soft drinks and popcorn, and stepped out of the mall on to the cold, winter night, I was looking for bonfires to jump into, and end my life.

*****

queen lisa haydon kangana ranaut

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


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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Rani should have ended up with Vijayalakshmi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****