Category Archives: Review

Sanju

The Real Problem with Sanju

Reviewing a film is a tricky matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The second time left me even more pissed off.

Here’s why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

https_blogs-images.forbes.comcurtissilverfiles201804avengers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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

 

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

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

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

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

‘Dhooooooop!’.

*****

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!

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Rani should have ended up with Vijayalakshmi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Tiger Zinda Hai

This Tiger Needs to be Endangered.

We Indians have a knack for knock-offs.

The heroes of our start-up revolution are essentially knock-offs of international giants – Flipkart, Ola and Campa Cola. Our films aren’t too different either. We like our own knock-offs of international heroes.

Which is why projects such as Tiger Zinda Hai get bankrolled. In the film, Bhai is Indiana Jones cum James Bond zyada Jason Bourne. Tiger Zinda Hai is yet another film made with a process to target a specific audience – Bhai’s fans.

Whatever their quality, Salman Khan’s films possess a truly unique quality. They are a throwback to unabashed fandom. To a time when you hooted and whooped and whistled when your star came on screen. Salman Khan is able to bring out single-screen reactions from a multiplex audience. It is a strange sight, one that I realised I’d secretly missed.

Bhai’s films are essentially college plays. Where the most popular, most-loved dude of the college plays the lead. What he does, and the story – are secondary to their best friend mouthing his lines and playing the role.

*

If this were an article on The New Yorker, the Editor would have rejected it without a second thought. Ethically, I’m not qualified to write a review, as I was asleep for about an hour of the film’s runtime.

I’m not saying the film was solely responsible. I had spent the entire day chilling, and as Chunkey Pandey will tell you, chilling can get tiring too. I walked from Gachibowli to Indiranagar to eat keema pav. And then a friend graciously agreed to share some herb, and I walked into the hall happy and stuffed.

But the film played a substantial role in me falling asleep. Salman Khan’s movies might be a lot of things, but surprising is not one of them. You know that Salman Khan will charm his way into the heroine’s heart. You know that Bhai will win in the end, no matter how complicated or powerful the enemy is. Bhai will defeat entire armies with Katrina Kaif on his side. He can solve corruption by introducing some sort of 3-member Amway membership. Solve global warming while having sex with a polar bear.

I find that kind of predictability boring. But like all pieces of art, Bhai’s films are subjective and dopey.

*

Having dealt with the problem of Pakistani terrorism in the earlier episode of Strangest Things, Bhai is now happily married in a secluded European country and has a son. Like all Bollywood children, this kid is so sweet that you want to strangle him. Kids in Bollywood are wise beyond Yoda’s ears, dish out life-advice on love and belonging to their parents, and exist in a permanent limbo of cuteness. Their primary reason for living is to invoke giggles from the audience in their attempt to make the hero appear wholesome.

Bhai is going about his daily life fighting wolves and chopping wood outside his house, when he gets a call from RAW – Bhai needs to save the day. The only problem? Bhai doesn’t look like a top military agent anymore. He looks like the marwari businessman who owns the sweet-shop down the lane.

Bhai used to be fit at one point.

Salman Khan’s contribution to Indian cinema might not be of the cinematic nature. But if there’s one thing he has contributed to, it is in drawing attention to the fact that our heroes need to look fit. Before Bhai came on to the scene, it was okay to be frail and limp. Like Dev Anand, who like the answer, was always blowing in the wind.

Bhai in a still from the 1998 superhit - 'Body banaaya toh Acting Karna Kya?'

Bhai in a still from the 1998 superhit – ‘Body banaaya toh Acting Kya?’

At one point, the whole purpose of Bhai’s films was to show off his body. It was one of the primary tasks of filmmaking – Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Salmanbodyshower. But abhi Bhai ka paet nikal gaya hai. Also, he hasn’t wielded a gun for eight years, and has computers at home that track every single development taking place in RAW. Instead of being tried for espionage, his senior dismisses it with a pat on the back. Bhai smiles. RAW ne mujhe bhula diya, par main unhein bhoola nahi. The director comes in his pants.

This is a secret agent who is called ‘Tiger’ by everybody around him. His boss, his wife, his son. Even the friendly neighbourhood tigers call him tiger. He eats Tiger biscuits and applies Tiger Balm.

His team consists of Angad Bedi, who when he delivers a dialogue – is scarier than ISIS terrorists. There’s a hacker who uploads a virus using a program that says ‘Uploading Virus’ in big, green letters. After uploading the virus, he says ‘Yayyyy! Ho gaya!’ and pumps his fists. The secret code used by RAW is – hold your breath – ‘Tu tu tu…tu tu taara. Aa gaya dost humaara’. Right below ‘Dulhan ki bidaai ka waqt ho gaya’.  The villain of the film looks like the illegitimate child of Osama and Gaddafi. He speaks Hindi in a manner that could bring about Javed Akhtar’s early demise.

Be that as it may, the RAW likes its agents raw, and hire him to get back into action. The enemy is bigger this time. How big? Well, think of the biggest terrorist organisation in the world. ISIS, you say? Done!

Bhai enters the most dreaded terror organisation with a few friends and agents. His plan is to blow up the place, kill the leader of the organisation, bring a group of Indian and Pakistani nurses to safety. And show body.

What follows is truly mind-blowing. Bhai smiles and simpers his way to the desert to take on the most dreaded terror organisation. With tactical missiles and weaponry, through intricate search and rescue operations? Nope.

By using neend ki dawayi and paet kharaab hone ka dawa.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters. Film is stranger than truth is stranger than fiction.

Mind you, this is the most dreaded terror organisation in the world. These are the dudes who assembled a team of fearless fighters from across the globe,set up a state-nation of their own, and even produced nuclear missiles. But in their quest for perfection, the insipid fools had overlooked the disastrous effects of paet ka dard.

Many years ago, Gandhi countered the might of the largest army in the world using non-violence. Much like Bapu, the Brother of the Nation goes about his mission armed with Angad Bedi and Dabur Hajmola.

He also rides a horse and fires a rocket. While riding the horse. He shuts down a rabid wolf by saying ‘Sshhh. Bas. Bahut ho gaya’. And the wolf falls asleep.

You know a film well and truly sucks donkey-balls when Katrina Kaif is the best actor in it. In spite of her Neptunian accent, she manages to look like the only professional in this film (apart from the VFX guys who created Bhai’s abs, of course – those guys worked extremely hard in every film!).

*

By the end of the film, the enemy has been vanquished, and Aman ki Asha has also been restored. Having killed two blackbucks with one stone, Bhai returns home, ready to be called for the next mission.

I’m told in the next film, Bhai will solve climate change by masturbating in the Great Barrier Reef. Or he could solve water scarcity in Mars. Mangalyaan se aage Mangal hai.

It’s a good thing that ISIS has been defeated by the Iraqi forces. That they will not be able to watch Tiger Zinda Hai. For even terrorists are human beings, and can only tolerate so much humiliation.

Bhai is bhai, man. Critics and reviews and dopehead bloggers don’t make a difference. Go ahead and watch the film if you have to. Or don’t if you don’t want to. Bhai is sniffling and grimacing and grinning his way to the bank.

Oh, wait. It’s his driver.

*****

‘The Last Jedi’ is Chandrakanta in Outer Space

When it comes to books and movies, I’m a bit of a cultural parasite. If something is popular, I’ll watch it even if I haven’t been seeped in its cult. On most occasions, this has paid off. I happily dived into the GoT cult, and now spend every single day cursing and blessing George RR Martin. I had read the Harry Potter books because of the hype around them, slowly passing on the virus to my friends like a sexually transmitted disease.

And yet, in spite of all my urges and tendencies, I have never been able to warm up to the Star Wars franchise. I know, I know!

I know that when the films came out, they were revolutionary and cutting-edge. I understand that the films changed the way we look at space films, and created a genre called ‘space opera’. I understand that the film gave us legendary characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

And yet, I’m sorry. I have never been able to invest in the series. I have watched all the films in the series, and I have found them tacky. The graphics don’t hold up after all these years (kindly have a look at 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)), and for someone who grew up in India amidst dramatic family sagas, the entire ‘soap opera in space’ doesn’t do it for me.

In spite of this, I have watched the movies. Right from fighting off sleep through the tepid Episodes I, II, III in the 2000s, I have tried my best to invest in the films, and yet, I couldn’t. I understand it isn’t fair to assume that my choice is the definite word on the films. And yet, how can not one of the films impress me? Not one in the list of nine films? Really??

But as humans, we survive on hope. And I decided to go ahead and watch the latest episode of the space opera.

 

*

It was the worst film of the year, and I say this after watching the suicide-inducing Munna Michael and Raabta.

It’s difficult to point out a single flaw in a film that has flaws the size of black holes (I’m trying to use space terms to fit into the gigantic cult that the film commands!). The actors have the screen presence of boiled potatoes. Their lines are delivered like stoned high-schoolers rehearsing for the annual play. The young actors who have been entrusted with carrying the legacy of the movies are (and there’s no nice way to say this) severely incompetent.

In fact, they’re so bad that the film has to fall back on a 66 year old Mark Hamill and a 60 Carrie Fisher to deliver the acting chops. You know an action film is doomed when sexagenarians have more sex-appeal that 20 year olds!

Since the film knows it commands a loyal legion of movies, it gives two shits about logic or common sense. When Leia gets blasted away, she flies for a while in outer space and hops back to life. Clearly, usne script ko mooh mein leia.

The villain of the film is killed abruptly with more than an hour to spare. Two of the characters connect to each other through some sort of tantric-space healing technique.

What annoys me the most is 20 year old Indians claiming to be a die-hard fan of the series. Really? How bad is your Fear Of Missing out?? And can we spend a minute to talk about Chewbacca? How the fuck is that red pubic hair costumed creature supposed to be cute? As if looking at that abomination is not good enough, Disney went ahead and added some cute animals for cheap giggles.

Chewbacca: Putting the 'Chew' in 'Chewtiyapa'.

Chewbacca: Putting the ‘Chew’ in ‘Chewtiyapa’.

*

Out of curiosity, I checked out the reviews of the film and was shocked to found that it has been rated 93% fresh. That shook me a little. Perhaps there was something about the films I didn’t understand. May be my tastes, my cinematic aesthetics weren’t the same as most people in the world.

And yet, this is what I will say. The film is Chandrakanta in outer space. Naugarh-Vijaygarh mein thi takraar…and nobody gives a shit, yaar. If the same film was made in Hindi, it would be lambasted to outer space. But it’s a Hollywood film, so our heads will automatically twist and stuff itself into our asses.

The latest Star Wars movie is a nostalgia whore of a movie that counts on people trying to fit into a cult that was created long before they were born. In many ways, the Star Wars cult like religion.

You try your best to fit in. Logic and reason do not matter. And if you tell people you hated the movie, people will look at you like like there’s something wrong with you.

*****

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

‘Newton’ Review: Rajkumar Rao is a frikking chameleon

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

***

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.