Category Archives: Review

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How ‘Pellichoopulu’ is bending the rules of Telugu cinema

In spite of having lived for 16 years of my life in Andhra Pradesh, and having reviewed movies for nine years now, I have never reviewed a Telugu film.

Partly because it took me a few years to understand the nuances of Telugu cinema, and partly because there’s nothing really to review. You could take the script of any Telugu blockbuster and replace it with another; replace any hero with another. The heroine barely has any role to play in the film apart from acting coquettish and seducing the hero. The laughs are generated when the hero bashes up a ‘comedian’ – it’s all absurd to a point where you wonder if the entire unit was smoking pot while the film was being made.

Telugu Cinema is a rather cruel place for an aspiring filmmaker. Dynasticism runs through every film industry but nowhere else is caste a determinant of a star’s pull. Actors, directors, distributors – they’re all gauged through their caste, and yet there is a deafening silence about it everywhere you look.

The hero is expected to fight and dance and mouth long-winding dialogues, even if he’s supposed to have grown up in a chawl. The heroine dances around him and is objectified, stalked, and is nothing more than a doormat. And even if you break into the scene, there’s the oligopoly of distributors who control the release of films across the two Telugu speaking states.

Of course, there are filmmakers who have attempted to break the mould, and yet they’ve sold out – there’s an item number here, an unwanted song there. Every time I have walked out of a Telugu film, I have looked for the nearest bar to get sloshed and drown my memories of the film.

In my frustration, I stopped watching Telugu films, except when they’re played on buses and I have no other option. If you are unacquainted with Telugu cinema, may I kindly lead you to this blog – A Script for Chiranjeevi’s 150th film.

I went to watch Pellichoopulu in a single screen theatre, and was doubly curious to see how people would react. If you’ve watched the trailer, you’d have guessed the tone of the film is urbane and yuppy. Pleasantly surprised that the film had a 93% approval on BookMyShow, and that the popcorn cost a mere 20 Rupees, I walked into the hall.

Single Screen Theatre issues.

A post shared by Hriday Ranjan (@heartranjan) on

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Pelli Choopulu contains the  most non-glamorous introduction to a hero that I’ve seen in Telugu cinema. There are no songs, no shots panning upwards from boots to biceps – just a regular dude waking up to a life that has fallen asleep.

It takes but a few minutes to get woven into the plot, driven as it is by sharp dialogue and genuine characterisation. We meet the leads as if by chance, just as they stumble into each other. They aren’t heroic, or loud, or driven by any motive. It is a refreshing change, and in minutes, the entire hall sat in hushed silence.

Director Tharun Bhascker uses sharp writing to prove his point, doing away with the bells and whistles one would associate with Telugu cinema. Prashant hops from one incident in his life to another in the slow, careless manner of a water buffalo. Chitra fights every obstacle in her life with the fearsome resolve of a bison. There couldn’t have been a more un-Tollywood like couple!

Pellichoopulu benefits from realism. The characters seem real, and the dialogues hilarious. The humour in the film comes from Priyadarshi Pullikonda’s impeccable comic timing. As the hero’s equally useless buddy, every second he comes on screen is gold, and the audience were giggling in anticipation even before he delivered his lines. And yet, the director never punches below the belt.

In an industry that makes sex-kittens out of talented actresses (check out Ileana D’Cruz in Barfi, and compare it with her Telugu roles), Chitra is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Ritu Verma and Vijay Devarakonda seem so much at ease in their roles, you begin to wonder if they’re acting in the first place.

Pellichoopulu gets a lot of things right, but mostly, it carries balls of steel. The film doesn’t sell out even for a moment, even though it has its weaknesses. The film refuses to bend down to market demands, staying true to its character through every single shot.

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Tamil, Malayalam and to an extent Hindi cinema enjoy a thriving parallel cinema. For every Sultan and Kabali, there are smaller, sharper films competing in the same arena. Sadly, Telugu cinema never had a parallel movement. Probably because nobody went full-on, and partly because of how demanding and unforgiving the average Telugu film viewer is.

But Pellichoopulu is akin to the smart guy who joins your section in Class 8. He doesn’t bother about the bullies and is smart enough to tackle the 1st ranker in class. The film is running to packed houses, but on a limited release.

If you watch Telugu films, or like me, stopped watching them long ago, please do yourself a favour and watch Pellichoopulu. 

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‘Sultan’ is Shawshank Redemption for poor people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bhai understands all this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A lazy, laidback review of ‘Udta Punjab’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brutally honest…

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

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

to the absurd…

Picture Courtesy

                                                          Picture Courtesy

to silli spelling mistakes…

to hirsute imaginations!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A More Sober Take on ‘Sairat’

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

What do we find funny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHO KILLED ARCHIE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matru Moron Bhava. Pitru Petty Bhava.

And that is what killed Archie.

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

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Sairat – A completely hungover review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sairat is a story waiting to be heard.

Sea of poppies

Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies’ – A Completely Biased Review

I am sorry for disturbing you at Lunch Break with a seemingly profound question. But if I were to tell you that I recently came to possess an electronic device that has changed my life, would you believe me?

Perhaps not. It is the trap of using the words ‘life’ and ‘change’ in the same sentence, and that comes with its own baggage.

But how about this? How about if I told you that the electronic device has turned my life topsy turvy, if only in the most blissful of ways? May be that would be a more digestible sentence. The device in question is the Kindle eBook reader, and I’d require an entire blog to recount in great detail the many ways I’m completely obsessed with it. It has fragmented my life into three parts, and I find myself either reading, writing or doing stand up comedy. So lost am I in this Bermuda Triangle of sinful pleasure, that I have been able to finish a book every two days.

I am aware of the desensitisation of reading too much, too soon. That if you switch from one book to the other, you’re robbing yourself of the true experience of reading a book. You aren’t giving yourself time to savour and relish the essence of the book. You’re robbing yourself of the experience of sitting back and contemplating and concreting your thoughts on the book. That it gets reduced to a mechanical process.

These are all wonderfully valid points. But I’d have to disagree with them. I hope I’m able to make my point clear at the end of this post, but without much ado, let us dive in to the review for the book. I have never reviewed a book, except to recommend them to friends, when I adorn the avatar of an Amway salesman.

If you’re the literary sort, this review might not be what you’re expecting. I’m unaware of the literary nuances of a book review, but like Himesh Reshammiya might say, ‘Chuck it, Jai Mata Di, Let’s Rock!’.

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My first exposure to an Amitav Ghosh book was a rather strange occurrence.

We had congregated at Bakul Children’s Library – a voluntary organisation that also happens to be the noisiest, and my most favourite library in the entire world. There was a talk by an inspirational and spiritual talker.

I am not a fan of the tribe, but I’d tagged along anyway. The speaker, a pretty young woman, was speaking in the language that motivational speakers do – Vaguelish – a bunch of vague quotations and philosophical musings strung together for a bunch of impressionable minds.

One particular exercise in the entire routine was to ‘find answers’ for our ‘deepest questions’. For this, we were to pick up a random book, close our eyes, and think of a number, and the question that was most disturbing us. We were then to open to the page number that the universe had conspired to whisper in our ears, and lo and behold! – we would find the answer to the questions that were gnawing at our less-evolved minds.

I walked up to the rack of books and scanned through them. Suddenly, it was an audition. These great writers across lands and ages, vying for my attention for a few moments. I wasn’t going to spend time with them, read and ruminate over their thoughts – No. I was merely going to use them for a few moments for an utterly selfish motive. I remember smiling throughout, at how beautifully absurd the entire exercise was.

I had read merely two authors in the entire rack – RK Narayan and JK Rowling – but I chose to ignore them. I didn’t want my greatest question in life to be answered thus –

‘When will become of me in a few years?’

‘Adava Kedavra!’ he shrieked, and all that remained of the body was smoke and dust.

So I took my time running through the books till I chose Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace, probably due to its intriguingly beautiful cover. Dressed in a pretentious white kurta, blue jeans and thick-rimmed glasses, I chose to find my answers by judging a book by its cover.

I don’t remember what my question was, or what reply the universe chose to bestow upon me that hot afternoon. But I never touched an Amitav Ghosh book again.

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Cut to 2015, and as part of my MPhil in Diaspora Studies, a professor mentions Amitav Ghosh and his work. Much of our course deals with the times of indentured labour, when the British steered the first intercontinental exoduses to feed their farms and plantations across the world.

Perhaps there is a time for everything. Just as I was flirting with the idea of a historical novel, I chanced upon Sea of Poppies. One glance at the number of pages (the other way that I often judge a book), and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish the book in two days. It would take longer than that, and might require a little more investment than the ones I’d read so far on my newly purchased, life-changing, electronic device.

I clicked on the cover, and set sail on the journey.

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The year is 1938, and many parts of the Ganga basin have been consumed by poppy cultivation. Funded and regulated by the East India Company, Opium has become the magic potion that keeps the East India Company robust.

Deeti is married to an opium-addicted former sepoy who isn’t going to last too long. His brother has his eyes on Deeti, and she has to choose between agreeing to his conditions, or setting herself alight in the funeral pyre of her husband.

Raja Neel Ruttan is a zamindar who owns lands, people, and runs their lives, blissfully cocooned from the rest of the world. He spends his time collecting books, discussing the affairs of the world, making love to his concubine, and flying kites with his little son. But the picture is too perfect in a world that is beginning to witness tectonic shifts, and he is stripped of everything he prided himself upon.

Zachary is a sailor from America who set sail with a ship – Ibis, and plans to spend the rest of his life on it. He is young, indispensable, and seems to be liked by each and every person he meets. Is he just a large-hearted American sailor? Or is he the avatar of Lord Krishna?

But Amitav Ghosh uses the characters as mere garnishing – to sprinkle over the already simmering pot of conflict. There is the British Empire that is working on attacking China in what would be known as the Opium Wars. There is the sea itself, calm and serene like a mother’s lap one moment, and vicious and unforgiving the next. There is the ship Ibis – the mothership that carries in its womb these fragmented lives that have come together under bizarre circumstances. Travelling to an unknown land where it is rumoured that they will be friend and eaten. Or made to work like slaves without care or comfort.

Then there is the language that Ghosh chooses to stir everything together with. Using folk songs from Bhojpuri, swearwords in Hindusthani, afflictions from Britain, and the sycophantic ‘Indian-English’, the author concocts a wonderful language that could only be spoken by men who live on waters all their lives. The language is representative of the people on the ship – strung together from all parts, forced to live together.

Sea of Poppies is the first real epic Indian English novel that I’ve read. It was a question that would trouble me often in the last few years, when I decided to read books with more seriousness. I would wonder why no Indian author chose to write a sweeping epic based on people from our wonderfully diverse country, surely it must be a goldmine for a writer!

This book turned out to be the answer to my questions. The book made me experience the thrill of going back to it book after a short break, like being reunited with your partner after a few days. I spent the last four days lying on my back, chewing on tasteless vadas, and sipping on phony pineapple juice, all the while traveling with the characters on a journey that was going to alter their lives forever. I finished the book a few hours ago, and all I wanted to do was write about it.

Not a flashy, snarky blog where I make snide remarks at people. But a piece where I could revel in converting my thoughts into words, just watching the black letters form words and ideas on the white paper.

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Going back to the question I had raised at the beginning of the post, on why I am reading with a mad frenzy, without break or pause.

All through my life, I have gravitated towards people who possessed two defining qualities. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but they were all women who loved animals; and were able to express their thoughts in the most beautiful manner. None of them want to be writers today (which is rather unfortunate), but if I try to put my head around what attracted me to them, it is perhaps this very quality. The ability to string together words in a manner that they could light up the insides of the other person’s head. It is a superpower that even superheroes do not possess.

I would often wonder how they did it. How were they able to convey their deepest thoughts in such a flowing, lucid style? Why did I have to struggle to mask my thoughts with humour, or lace them with abuse and sarcasm?

As I finished Sea of Poppies, it struck me why they were all better at expressing their thoughts. It was because they had grown up reading beautiful books. Those books had influenced the manner in which they thought, spoke, and reacted.

And as I think back to myself at that age, I was a coward. I did not have the courage to even consider studying Literature, choosing instead to spend five years pursuing the one course chosen by people who have no clue what they want to become – B.Com.

Now, I feel like I am permanently playing catch-up. For some reason, people assume I’ve read a lot of books, and everytime the conversation steers towards books and authors, I end up making long mental notes of books and authors. Sometimes, I didn’t have the time. Other times, I didn’t have the resources.

But now that I have the greatest electronic device invented by man in my hands, I do not want to stop. I can probably live without the introspection and the savouring. May be it is a luxury I robbed myself of. But that’s alright.

There’s a lot of catching up to do, and my Kindle tells me there are 3 hours 22 minutes left in the next book I’m reading!

premratan6

A very late review of ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’

I often think of myself as a timid man. One without the guts to go watch some of the movies that get released in our country. I know what most people say – ‘It’s just entertainment, leave your brains/kidney/urinary tract at home and watch them’ .  But I often back out of such ventures, my pusillanimous sense of aesthetics afraid to venture further than my comfort zone.

But last night, as I was waiting for sleep to seduce me, I discovered the film on Hotstar. Perhaps some things are destined. May be I was supposed to watch the film on a Sunday night, after two good joints and a day of fulfilling work.

Here is a very late review of ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’. If you have watched the film, good for you. If you haven’t, don’t fucking bother. It’s only interesting if you like Trash movies.

And Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is top quality trash. Top draw, big budget, operatic trash that you can sit back and relish after a good dinner and some sweets. If you don’t like Trash, you might feel like cutting your stomach open and eating your liver.

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When the iconic 21st Century Fox logo flashes with its iconic tune and trumpets, you realise Bhai is going to piss over all the childhood memories attached to it.

In the Opening Credits, you realise who the film is going to be about. One frame in the Credits reads: ‘Salman Khan’s Costume – XYZ, Salman Khan’s Legal Counsel – XYZ, Salman Khan’s Service Tax Counsel – XYZ’.

Within 5 minutes, our man is dancing with men dressed as women in a song called Prem Leela. I turned around on my bed to lie down on my front, and pulled up my blanket, this was going to be a Trashfest of glorious proportions!
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Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is vintage Salman Khan.

It is Salman Khan not giving a fuck about you, himself, the cosmos, and Einstein’s Gravitational Waves.

This is Salman Khan in and as Salman KhanWhether it is waltzing from bone-crunching action to a song named

‘Meena ho Rajjo ho, ya ho Sheela…

(wait for it) …Prem Leela…Prem Leela

Or dancing in the middle of a dialogue, sending you back to painful memories of Hello Brother and Yeh Hai Jalwa. Or using random English words in the middle of a sentence even though he plays a village simpleton.

And in a glorious bit of Troll-casting, Bhai is joined by none other than Sonam Kapoor. That woman with such an enigmatic voice that when she talks, you’re unsure if she’s saying something/asking you a question/suffering due to a scarcity of Hajmola.

Sonam Kapoor and Salman Khan share the same initials, and acting abilities. In this film, Sonam Kapoor runs an NGO, flies in a chopper, and does ‘nice’ stuff, like distributing clothes and food to poor children. Salman Khan wants to thank her for her good nature and begins to behave like an 8 year old on cocaine – making faces at the camera, smiling, twitching, doing Prabhudeva steps in the middle of a monologue. Uski marzi.

After a while, the entire enterprise seems like a school’s Annual Day drama, where the Principal’s son is the hero, and the rest of the school is playing along. You think you are set for a regular Salman Khan film.

BUT
(Dhan Dhan Dhan…)
There is another Salman Khan. A sophisticated prince who speaks English.

In order to pull off the highly complex task of portraying another character, the makers resort to the classic Bollywood trick – giving the ‘other guy’ a moustache. This other Salman Khan is calm and composed. For eg, after a fencing match with Neil Nitin Mukesh, he says, ‘That was close, Ajay. Good job’.

This prince uses words like ‘Ranjishein’, and visits people on a horse drawn carriage, fully aware of man’s developments in the domain of automobile cars. Because, Salman Khan.

What follows is a classic case of dual identity, with Salman Khan playing both the roles with such nuance that you can’t tell who’s who. You can’t even tell who you are, after a point. In an effortless performance, Salman Khan skilfully walks the middle line between four lines of coke and six lines of coke.

There are other actors thrown in so that Prem doesn’t feel lonely on the sets.
There is Anupam Kher playing a desi Alfred, offering sagely advice to Batman Khan. I wasn’t surprised to see Anupam Kher essay the role, because honestly, I have only seen Anupam Kher essay ridiculously asinine characters all my life.

And it is surprising that he won a Padma recently even though there are SO many actors who have achieved much more. You’d think that only Congress and Communists did stuff like this – rewarding their Yes-men with rewards. And giving Anupam Kher a Padma doesn’t stink of sycophancy at all.

But let us not besmirch a Salman Khan film by looking at it through a socio-political lens.

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is more than that. Watching the film reminded me of the time I had gone to a circus for the first time. I had never been to a circus, but I had read stories, and watched Mera Naam Joker across its runtime of four centuries, so I was excited. I wasn’t a kid or anything – must’ve been around 23, and there was this girl who I thought was cute, and she for some reason wanted to go watch the circus, so I tagged along.

It was a very self-aware experience. I was amazed that they still do stuff like that – elephants balancing on cycles, and clowns whose pants slip off and dwarfs on unicycles on ropes. After a little while, I was transfixed. I had let go of my self-aware, I’mGoingToBlogAboutThis avatar, and enjoyed the entire show.

Watching Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is a bit like that.

At one level, it is a film that has Salman Khan in it. But at a deeper subliminal level, it is also Salman Khan educating the nation about the various varied effects of psychotropic substances. When he is listening to other people talk, for example, it is the perfect expression of a person who has smoked one too many of Shiva’s Regals. When he is fighting, it is a perfect demonstration of coke-rage. When he is singing songs, it is to display the wonderful effects of Ecstasy. When he is being romantic, he smiles with the glee of a sublime blot of Amsterdam acid. It’s a layered performance in the truest sense.

Bhai is showing us as a nation how to handle life’s complexities. He has chosen the largest mass-medium in the country to spread the message.

Bhai is, after all, being human.

A very high human.

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Baahubali Movie Review

If there is one thing that I absolutely hate in a cinema hall – it is kids.

They wail, and cry, or decide to take a walk between the seats and touch your hair, and expect you to turn around and pet them. Every time I notice there are kids around me in a hall, I pray that they die before the film starts.

Which was why, when I arrived in the hall for Baahubali, and found there were two kids near my seat, I prayed that they die. When the movie began, I had to double-check if they actually died, because they were silent all through. It is a testimony to how engrossing the film’s beginning is, that even those stupid kids kept shut. (But of course, they are kids, so they decided to cry later on in the movie!).

For a little context, Rajamouli is huge in Telugu cinema. For more than a decade, he has been churning out classic Good vs Evil, Prodigal Son stories that have all been hits – not even one of his films have been average grossers.

Rajamouli’s films more or less maintain similar themes – reincarnation, retribution, and a grand climax. He has perfected the archetype of the hero, villain, and most importantly, the Mother.

When I first saw the trailers of Baahubali, I was sceptical. The graphics didn’t look all that impressive, and I was worried it might just be another Telugu film that had ambitiously bitten off more than it could chew – like his earlier outing Eega.

I am not a huge fan of the ‘Big Budget’ theory. I fail to understand why people rave about terms like ‘Biggest Budget’, ‘Most expensive film’. Having a large budget doesn’t mean anything.

This scepticism comes from having watched earlier ‘most expensive’ films – Blue, starring a pregnant Sanjay Dutt and coke-glazed Zayed Khan, or Ra.One, which was so bad, they should have released a sequel called Tut.Two.

 

Clearly, having a huge budget is not a big deal. If you get a funder, you can make a film on as large a budget as you want, but it’s what you do with the budget that really makes a difference.

Rajamouli has painstakingly invested most of the money on his vision – lavish sets, the epic war scene. He doesn’t let you take your eyes off the screen even for a single moment.

If there was a grudge I had, it was to do with the slight compromises he had to make, to fit in songs. Perhaps we are not hindered by budgets and stories, but our own cinematic sensibilities. The songs seemed force-fed, and were definite speed-breakers in a film that was cruising along smoothly.

Which then brings me to the second part of any huge action film – inspirations.

There have been talks of action scenes ‘inspired’ from LOTR, and 300.

I don’t invest too much thought in such discussions. Cinema, like any art, builds up on its ancestors. For example, for a decade after Matrix released, all action movies had the slow-mo bullet flying in air shot. Even today, most Chinese-Hong Kong action films build on the Bruce Lee style of quick, hand-to-hand combat mode.

So I wasn’t too picky about which scene was inspired from where.

For me, all that matters is if it hasn’t been shamelessly lifted (without any context, just to latch on to an idea). Yes, there are a few shots that remind you of other action films, but the war scene is much more than that. In a way, right from the beginning, you are waiting for the war. And when it does come, it stays on for a good 30 minutes.

The performances, as in most Rajamouli’s films, are consistent – probably because most characters in his movies are archetypes. Prabhas is consistent, and Rana is a shade better. But it is Ramyakrishna and Satyaraj who take larger chunks of meat than they were promised.

If there was one complaint, it was of Tamannah. To watch her walk like a warrior, or use her sword, were laughably amateurish. It’s probably a grave she dug for herself – if you keep playing dandy, simpering doormat roles, it’s going to be difficult to be taken seriously when you actually put in the effort. Tamannah (What’s with the name change? It sounds like an orgasm!) sticks out like a sore thumb in a film with otherwise consistent performances.

Unlike most other hyped movies, you don’t feel cheated with Baahubali.

The best scenes aren’t the ones already shown in the trailers. The film is over before you know it, and that is saying something for the largest budget film in the country.

Rajamouli has his work cut out for the sequel.

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Dil Dhadakne Do – First World Armageddon

Farhan and Zoya Akhtar make films about First World Problems.

Dil Chahta Hai dealt with three overgrown college-goers dealing with life. Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara dealt with three rich Mumbai kids discovering their true calling through a trip to Spain. Rock On! dealt with a bunch of guys whose problem in life is that their rock band couldn’t click.

Not that I have a problem with it. I have made peace with the fact that a filmmaker will mostly derive from his/her own upbringing in life.

Which is why the Akhtars make films about South Bombay dudes and Anurag Kashyap makes films about factories, slaughter-houses, and gangsters in Bihar. Which leads me to think – if I ever make a film, it’ll probably be about cats and masturbation.

But getting back to the topic at hand, I don’t really have a problem with first world problem films. The Akhtars have always ensured that their scripts are tightly written. The screenplay exploits the conflict through sharp lines, beautiful locations, and music accompanied to Javed Akhtar’s lofty, if slightly dopey, lyrics.

Dil-Dhadakne-Do1 (1)

Sadly, with Dil Dhadakne Do, there is a feeling of Been There, Done That. A multi-starrer depends heavily on its characters, and unfortunately, the characters in Dil Dhadakne Do seem jaded, un-fresh.

Ranveer Singh plays a soft, rich youngster. Now, Ranveer Singh essentially has two voices. One – the loud Gunday voice, the second the raspy, soft Lootera voice. He uses the Lootera voice, and yet slips every now and then.

Priyanka Chopra and Anushka Sharma play feisty independent characters, both of whom we have seen in umpteen movies. And frankly, after you see Sharma bashing goons with an iron rod, this is going to seem a bit tepid.

Farhan Akhtar, of course, plays what he always plays. The urban, non-conformist, liberal cool dude.

It’s like yesterday’s gajar halwa that was kept in the fridge overnight. It’s still gajar halwa, but there’s something amiss.

Interestingly, it’s the seniors of the film who salvage the movie.

Parmeet Sethi and Manoj Pahwa, saddled with bit-roles, put in their best.

Anil Kapoor, who seems to have let down his narcissistic guard after all these years, shines in every single frame. But the star of the show is Shefali Shah, playing Anil Kapoor’s wife. Watch her in the scene where she stuffs herself with cake, and you feel a yearning for what the film could have been.

Sadly, Dil Dhadakne Do never manages to cruise over its troubled, haphazard script. It’s just another First World Problem film that Farhan Akhtar stars in.

But that’s ok, because he’ll grow a moustache and play Veerappan, and win awards for it.

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A Very Late Review: Tanu Weds Manu Returns

tanu weds manu returns

Not to sound picky, but there’s something about grammatically wrong movie titles that gets my goat.

Like a Sohail Khan movie released a decade ago named ‘I Proud To Be Indian’. I understand that the story, the production, the budget – is yours. But how much does it cost to add an ‘am’ in the middle. Or may be a comma?

The makers of this film could have named it ‘Tanu Weds Manu Again’, or ‘Tanu Weds Manu After Returning’. ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ makes no sense.

Right. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here’s what I thought about the movie.

*

There are a few things Anand L. Rai gets bang-on in his films.

Casting, for one.  If one were to forget his first two forgettable films, director Anand L. Rai has a knack for casting people who fit the role, even though it might not seem right in the beginning.

Another thing he gets right, is the sharp dialogues. His films are laced with interesting lines, mouthed by interesting characters. Tanu Weds Manu is no exception.

After reading the universally rave reviews, I got to watch the film very late in the day. And I’m sorry to say, I wasn’t blown away by it or anything.

I know the usual argument. That it is better than your average Bollywood fare. But somehow, over the years of watching, analysing, and writing about cinema, that lame description doesn’t cut it for me any more.

Tanu Weds Manu does the classic Bollywood trick of raising your expectations and slamming it down on your head with a gigantic Thud! at the end. I had problems with Manu’s choices in the film, but I’ll get to that later.

Deepak Dobriyal is a fine, fine actor. But I’m tired of seeing him as the hero’s sidekick. He has done it in OmkaraTanu Weds Manu, and this one again. But if you’ve watched him in Teen They Bhai, or Shaurya, you’ll know he’s capable of much, much more.

Kangana Ranaut is undoubtedly the hero of the film. She reminds you of the time when Sridevi would make films with less famous actors and carry the film on her shoulders.

Having perfected the crazy-girl-with-big-heart role, Kangana nails the fiesty, if slightly cranky Tanu. As someone who has found her immensely watchable from her very first film, I am scared if it will get tiring after a point.

Which brings us to the second Kangana in the film – Kusum.

Tanu was probably an exaggerated stereotype on purpose. Because when Kusum comes on screen, she steals your heart. Ranaut puts so much into the role, that you forget it’s the same person at one point. Kusum is vulnerable, attractive, strong, and steals your breath away.

And when Manu (Madhavan playing the nice guy, a role he’s been playing since he was a sperm) has to choose between the two, is when my problems with the film really begin. Why would he choose the crazy, psycho, alcoholic Tanu when he has gone through the pains of getting married to another lovely girl?

I’m not trying to be Mohan Bhagwat here, but let’s do a comparison.

Tanu is moody, clearly dim-witted, critical and caustic, and uses men in her life because they are attracted to her. She also walks about the streets at night after getting drunk, and eats chow mein, which a Sanskari Indian girl shouldn’t do. 

Kusum on the other hand, is independent, caring and mature. She doesn’t shy away from fighting for her love, and most importantly – is superfantastico, smoldering hot. She’s so hot, she makes Tanu seem like a loud, insecure starlet in comparison. Then why would Manu choose Tanu over her?

I failed to put my head around this.

Ah! Because, love.

Love is supposed to be blind, and biased, and doesn’t need to follow logic or reasoning. I’m hardly an authority on love. Like Mahishasura, most of my decisions are driven by lust.

Love might be blind, and deaf, and HIV positive, but all that love bullshit is what ruins Tanu Weds Manu Returns as a finished product. If Manu chose Komal, I’d have been impressed. But with its present ending, the film is just about Meh!

I am waiting for the director to release a third part – Tanu Weds Manu and Returns with Komal. 

#Threesome

#SorryIKnowThatsATerribleThought

#KarnaPadtaHai

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