Tag Archives: Irrfan Khan

‘The Lunchbox’ is an ode to loneliness

In the last one year, a strange practice has taken over my film-viewing habits.

Instead of hunting for new movies to watch, new stories to trip on – I have been revisiting films that struck a chord with me in the last few years. I like to rewatch them, go back to my review and opinions of the film, and see if anything has changed. If I still feel the same way about the film.

I found that I’m kinder to Imtiaz Ali’s films (Tamasha, Highway), and find myself having been overtly kind to a few other films (Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola).

However, the experience of watching a film without the urgent, binding pressure to review it, to pronounce a verdict; is a much better way to watch the film.

It was in this journey of re-reviewing films that I came across The Lunchbox a few days back.

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The overwhelming emotion that the film evokes, is that of loneliness. The entire film is an ode to loneliness – not the sudden, crushing loneliness of losing a loved one. But the slow, corroding loneliness that gets deeper and darker. Like the rods of old trains that have gotten rusted with time.

The look and feel of the film carries a minimalistic tone. The name, the trailer, and even the sets of the film evoke a feeling of overwhelming loneliness.

On the surface, the film is the story of Ila and Sajan. But scratch this fragile surface, and you’ll find that each and every character in the film is lonely. Each of them distinct from the other, and yet; each of them lonely in a distinct, different way.

There’s Nawazuddin Siddiqui. A man rooted in no family or home, a man who carries his kitchen with him in his briefcase. Who makes up an imaginary mother and feeds her memorable quotes. Who latches on to his superior in the office, bearing insults and jibes – striking up conversations from the limited matchsticks in his armoury. Nawazuddin is probably the happiest person in the film, finally pleading with another lonely man to join him on the happiest day of his life.

There is Ila – dressed in  sepia toned chudidars. A husband who doesn’t care, a father on his deathbed. She’s a housewife, a non-economic entity in the City of Dreams, surrounded by lonely people.

The aunty upstairs is lonely, having spent 15 years tending to a paralysed man who has been staring at the ceiling fan for a decade and a half. Ila’s daughter is lonely too – her large, round eyes lack the boisterous exuberance of a child. She plays by herself, with a doll that he mother used to play with. Ila’s mother is lonely too, a wife with no tears to spare for her dead husband. Her husband is pursuing an extramarital affair at work. So disconnected is he to life that even though he’s been eating the same curry for weeks at stretch, it evokes a mere complaint to his wife. Her brother has committed suicide, his death hanging over them like a family ghost.

Which is why Ila clings on to that little connection when it comes her way. Which is why she checks if her daughter is around before opening his letters. Why she giggles when she reads them, and lies to Aunty about the brinjals she bought. She clings on to it, even if the feeble, gossamer of a connection is with Sajan Fernandes.

A man who doesn’t just look old, he smells old. A man who has resigned to life, and by extension, to death. Who discusses vertical coffins like it was an item in his grocery list. A man who gets his food from nearby hotels, who religiously performs his duties, and has nobody else in the entire world. As a child, when we would play cricket in the bylanes of my colony in Bhubaneswar, I used to wonder what sort of people didn’t return the ball when it fell into their compound. Perhaps there are Sajan Fernandes-es all around us.

Which is why Sajan grasps onto the gossamer too. The secret is a window of indulgence in the pale grey room that is his life. The terror in his eyes when the ceiling fan above him stops moving; the pride he feels when Sheikh praises his food. Sajan is a man who would meticulously cling on to a thread in a storm.

And when the two leads begin to connect, they do not discuss the bright, colourful joys of life. They do not connect over dreams of tomorrow, but over morbid themes – lung cancer, a woman who jumped off a building with her daughter, and the distance between two people who live together.

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Which is why when the film ends on a cliffhanger, you as a viewer feel neither ecstatic, or crushed, or moved, or elated. The last shot of the film is a group of dabbawalas, singing bhajans, carrying empty tiffin boxes back. It will be another day tomorrow.

Perhaps the two will meet. Perhaps they won’t.  

 

*****

Hindi-Medium-Trailer-1

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

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

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

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

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Hindi Medium drives home a topic that we are all aware of. English prejudice.

The Britishers took away not only our resources, but also our pride in native languages. This thought pains me for two reasons.

1) As a comic, most English stand-up in India is limited to elite, urban spaces. In most shows, half the jokes are on poor English – we are so comfortable with our privilege that we mock those without it.

2) As someone who grew up in a lower middle class household, English helped me enter social circles that my economic status wouldn’t. It’s a guilt I am guilty of.

I walked into the hall with this baggage, only to have Irrfan Khan blow my mind in the first few minutes. There is a gentle casualness about Irrfan’s acting. Unlike most of our stars, he is not loud, striking, or garish. He does not require the showmanship of a lion or the exhibitionism of a tiger. Irrfan has the lazy elegance of a cheetah. He does not roar, or leap at you through introduction shots. He waits and he purrs, and he traps you and then snarls. Such is his conviction in the role, that he mutters his punchlines, sometimes whispers them – and still has the audience laughing hysterically. What a joy it is to see this man on screen!

Director Saket Chaudhary and writer Zeenath Lakhani give him the best lines, and the field to play his shots. It helps that Irrfan is surrounded by a stellar cast of actors. My perennial crush Tillotama Shome plays an education consultant with such aplomb, Irrfan himself takes a backseat.

Deepak Dobriyal, who appears on the screen to hoots and whistles, walks a tightrope on a role that could so easily slip into caricature. And yet, he steers his role so well, you cheer him on as he takes sharp turns on the bend.

And finally, Pakistani actress Saba Qamar who brings from across the border an unbridled feistiness to her role. She is petty and high-strung and lovely and strong and vulnerable at the same time, and is an absolute joy to watch. It’s a good thing they didn’t cast an Indian actress, for most Indian heroines have stock expressions to scenes.

When they come together, this fantastic ensemble of actors elevate this story into an immensely watchable film, even if the writers let the story run wild.

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If there is any grouse against the film, it is that the director and writer allow the film to meander about like a drunk cow in the second half. The plot points shift without giving the audience any notice, and it is up to the actors to amp up their performance in reaction. This could partly be due to the fact that the film has been earlier made in Bengali and Malayalam, and perhaps the writers were staying true to the original story.

Hindi Medium also left me wondering if the Indian practice of adding an interval in the film is the reason our films are so bad. Imagine the plight of the writers – they have to create an engaging story, only to have a 20 minute break where people buy cola and popcorn, and children run to the toilet, and ads of Vicco Vajradanti play on the screen!

The writers then have to draw the audience back into the story, and this is where most Indian films falter. People walk out of the theatre mouthing brilliant lines like – ‘First half mast hai. Second half tatti hai’. But they will not let go of popcorn and coca cola for 15 minutes in the film!

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Be that as it may, the actors of Hindi Medium elevate the story with their honest performances. Go watch the film to see Hindi cinema’s finest leading man paint a canvas for you. Watch him play audacious shots, touch risky notes.

Also, watch the film for Saba Qamar’s terrific performance.

But mostly, watch Hindi Medium because as you read this, the film is losing out to Half Girlfriend, a film that stars a privileged ox and a porcelain bimbo.

*****

Movie Review – Piku

Personally, I have never been a huge fan of Amitabh Bachchan.

I couldn’t connect with his 70s ‘Angry Young Man’ image. I have watched Zanjeer, Kaalia, Deewar, and Don, and thought he was terrific in them. But ever since I have started actively following films, Amitabh Bachchan was just a caricature.

He would do the same role – the powerful patriarch with the powerful voice – over and over again. Every single director who signed him would give him a different version of the same role.

Black was a shitty film with terrible acting. Sarkar was just RGV fusing his AB and Godfather fetishes into one dimly lit movie. Baghban made me want to pull my hair out in frustration, and then reach for my neighbour’s.

Piku, surprisingly, does away with the AB frills.

In a film that stars tall actors, Amitabh Bachchan towers over the others in every way possible. Given a role by director Shoojit Sircar that lets him stretch his hands out and have fun, Amitabh Bachchan slips into his character and stubbornly refuses to step out of it.

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piku

Piku talks about parents, but chooses a path that no other film earlier has dealt with.

We have been shown films where parents are sacrificing, idealistic, loving and caring. But no film has ever touched upon one important aspect of Indian parents – that they are stubborn. That they refuse to budge from their standpoint, even if times around them have changed, even if their children are a different generation.

Our scriptures expect us to respect our parents just because they are parents. Matru Devo Bhava, Pitru Devo Bhava – we are told. I have always been baffled by this idea. Anybody can marry and have kids. It requires no special skills. How then does the simple act of reproducing elevate you to the level of a God?

There is no nice way to put this. But Indian parents are selfish.

And Piku brings this point out beautifully.

I will leave out the details so that you can go watch it (if you haven’t already), but let it suffice to say that director Shoojit Sircar finally paints a realistic picture of Indian households. And the transitional pains we face on a daily basis. The wide chasm between age old morals and the hustle-bustle of the modern world and its demands.

Deepika Padukone barely puts a foot wrong. Surprisingly, Irrfan Khan seems like the weak link in the film. His newly found English accent is a little difficult to come to terms with, especially since he speaks his Hindi lines in the same old Vodafone Chhota Recharge kar lo voice. And his English lines (A’right) seem a little forced.

Minor hiccups if you aren’t a picky viewer, because Irrfan Khan does more with his eyes than his voice. Moushumi Chatterjee is spot on as the party-popping Bengali aunt, as are Raghubir Yadav as the doctor who attends to AB’s idiosyncrasies.

But finally, Piku belongs to a 70 year old man. A 70 year old man who has finally found a reason to stretch his hands out and have fun.

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irrfan-khan in lunchbox

The Lunchbox: Worth a Second Helping

While writing an article on genres in Bollywood recently, I realised that the only genres that work consistently are rom-coms and action.

The biggest hits have both, with only the concentration of the two making a difference.

The last two years have been promising, with smaller, smarter films being able to hold their own against big-budget brain rapists.

But while the new wave has mostly been moving, quirky, edgy films, there haven’t been many that have actually made an attack on the romantic genre itself.

The Lunchbox, by writer director Ritesh Batra is a romance that spins the genre on its head.

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Thanks to all the awesome critics in the country, you probably already know the story of the film, so I won’t delve into the plot. It’s annoying to read all about the film before watching it, because you know what is going to be good about it, and what would disappoint.

However, allow me to rave about the performances, while trying to reveal as little as possible of the story.

What The Lunchbox does absolutely right is the casting. With Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Irrfan Khan in a frame, you have to be a Rahul Gandhi to mess up a film.

What Ritesh Batra does, however, is to extract much more from them than previously thought possible. And what a delight it is to see the two men together!

nawaz irrfan

It was heartening to hear whispers, and see people pointing at the screen when Nawazuddin’s name appeared in the credits. There is a certain arresting presence he has on screen, bringing in dignity to his role, in spite of playing any character that he does. It is the subtle things he does with his face, that elevate his performance to a sublime level.

In spite of all our stars gloating about Hollywood roles where elephants and cars have larger roles than them, it has been Irrfan Khan who has built any semblance of a body of work outside India.

irrfan khan

His films in India however, haven’t been totally fulfilling since in spite of his role, there is the usual Bollywood crap that goes with every film. Dramatic sequences, loud backgrounds scores, emotions that seem as real as Rakhi Sawant’s boobs.

In The Lunchbox, he is batting on home pitch. Through grins, glances, and grimaces, he expresses more than all our superstars, in an entire calendar year.

But the real star of the film (yes, in spite of the two men) is Nimrat Kaur.

The first time I had seen her was in the Dairy Milk commercial, as she licks chocolate off her lips.

nimrat kaur

 

Here, it is sensuality of the kitchen sink variety. The sweat on her forehead, the way her honeymoon dress fits her around the edges, the manner in which she plans and cooks her food – with the teasing touch of an undressing scene. It is a smoldering performance!

Without putting a foot wrong, Nimrat stands up to the men in the film with a riveting performance, thanks to the other fringe characters who make up her everyday life – an aunty living upstairs we never see, the dabbawalah who is proud of Harvard’s accreditation of his organisation, or a smoking cup of tea.

nimrat

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The Lunchbox is a beautiful film. Without the loud overarching techniques our filmmakers use. It does not rain when there is a touching scene. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan doesn’t belt out an Urdu number when the director wants us to empathise.

It is more Lost in Translation than DDLJ, if you know what I mean.

So while Bollywood is trying to tickle your funny boner with Grand Masti, or trying too hard to entertain you with Chennai Shitfest, please go watch The Lunchbox.

And then treat yourself to a second helping.