Tag Archives: Naseeruddin Shah

Naseeruddin Shah in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Naseeruddin Shah and the Art of Not Giving a Fuck

The debate regarding Rajesh Khanna’s histrionic abilities has been as dramatic as a 70s potboiler. Twinkle Khanna responding in true Bharatiya Beti style, Naseeruddin Shah not giving a flying fuck, tons of comments on social media about the nature of the debate.

But as an actor, one can sympathise with Naseeruddin Shah’s frustration. Whether you admit it or not, most Bollywood films do not seem to follow any semblance of logic. Proof of this lies in the recent film Sultan where the hero undergoes a month of training and wins the Olympic Gold. Most of our films are more concerned with glorifying our stars than stay true to the reason a film is made – to tell a story.

But here one begs to ask the question – is the story really the motive? Most blockbusters seem to have made their very purpose the glorification of superstars, so one can’t really tell. Since Cinema is an art form, any opinion on it is subjective. It is not scientific research that can be held up to universally accepted standards. One can only have opinions, but I must admit I share Naseeruddin Shah’s opinion.

Bollywood has a knack of squeezing out success from its fraternity. If something works, you’ll do the same thing for decades at stretch. Rajesh Khanna broke through the scene as a charming man with a slightly awkward dancing style. And he did it till he looked seven months pregnant. Shah Rukh Khan played the sweet chocolate boy when he was in his early 30s, and was caught in his avatars of Rahul, Raj and Regina till a few years ago. Amitabh Bachchan played the Angry Young Man right up to the time he was an Angry Old Man.

And these are the biggest guys around. Look beyond them, and you’re left with cardboard caricatures. Shatrughan Sinha played an array of loud, embarrassing roles for much of his career, Sunil Dutt played Daaku Cringe Singh for more than 20 films. Many a talented actor have been sacrificed at this altar of Lakhsmi – Satish Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Navin Nischol and Asrani are a few that come to mind. The only mainstream hero who avoided being typecast in my opinion was Sanjeev Kumar. The man played a wide vista of diverse roles throughout his career, and yet is caricatured as Thakur.

So Naseeruddin Shah is not really off the mark. His autobiography And Then One Day is a brilliant, crackling account of his life and opinions of the industry. In an industry that is perennially bending over backwards to suck each other off, his opinions are refreshing, honest and unforgiving.

Like the time the whole nation was orgasming over Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a completely mediocre piece of work. Shah, the eternal Thug Life, made a rather unflattering statement about how growing one’s hair and getting a sculpted body doesn’t make you an actor. Or the time he took Aamir Khan’s case for spreading fear psychosis among Muslims of the country. Or how he keeps needling Anupam Kher for his statements. Or when he called Sholay out as the greatest con job, for having directly lifted scenes and shots from Spaghetti Westerns (which is actually 100% true. Ramesh Sippy was a youngster who was exposed to Western cinema, and the characters, scenes, and shots of the film are basically a rip-off of Sergio Leone’s pathbreaking work. Sadly, we in India had no such knowledge and Sholay, which reads, looks and plays like a Spaghetti Western has become the most iconic film – it’s hilariously unfortunate). Or the time when Shah was asked what sort of a legacy he’d like to leave behind, and his answer quite simply was – I don’t give a shit.

Naseeruddin Shah is one actor who doesn’t suck up to the industry, or its so-called superstars. His opinions have been honest, cynical, and hilarious. In fact, if I could choose a personality that best speaks the language of my blog, I’d be choose Naseeruddin Shah.  And Jackie Shroff. Because Jackie.

But this is where things get a little queasy. For you see, Naseeruddin Shah hasn’t exactly been the epitome of versatility in his career spanning thirty years. I chanced upon this while talking to a roommate of mine, who happens to be a Masters in Theatre Arts. It was he who pointed out the fact that Naseeruddin Shah rarely steps out of his comfort zone. And it’s true!

Naseeruddin Shah’s career can be clearly demarcated into three distinct phases. The first phase was in the 70s and early 80s, the truly golden era of Hindi cinema. While India was discovering its first batch of superstars in Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, a motley crew of filmmakers was challenging notions of caste, religion, prejudice and conventions. Shyam Benegal, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Basu Chatterjee, Govind Nihalani, Gulzar – directors who wrote and shot stories that sought not to merely entertain the audience, but to provoke, agitate, soothe, and calm. These filmmakers were supported by stellar performers like Shah himself, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Deepti Naval, Kulbhushan Kharbandha and Shabana Azmi. The fact that this second crop of films ran parallel to the Deewars and Sholays of the time prove that it was a diverse time, a good time to be alive (also, rock music, hippies, and LSD in general).

Such was the impact of this era that even mainstream actors like Hema Malini and Rekha worked with these filmmakers. Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna acted in movies by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Probably because it was an era where every film wasn’t compared on collections, opening day earnings, total earnings, NRI box office and other statistical vagaries. The films of the time continue to be my second favourite decade of cinema (after the 90s, for purely biased, nostalgic reasons).

The second phase in Naseeruddin Shah’s career was when he dabbled in commercial cinema, from the late 80s to mid-90s. Naseeruddin Shah stepped down from his leading man status and played second, third and sometimes fourth fiddle to brawny stars with no brains. Films like Zulm Ko Jala Doonga, Vishwatma, Mohra, and Tridev are examples of this phase. The films were trashy, the plots always the same – a bunch of good guys gang up to uproot an evil dictator/drug lord.

These films followed the basic rules of 90s action hits. Like the rule that says,

‘The number of heroes must equal the number of heroines in the film, even if one of them has the screen time of a stray cow on a busy street’.

Or the other rule that states –

If there are more than two heroes in the film, they must sacrifice their lives in the final climax, or die valiantly in the end, as it is impossible to feature more than two pairs in the final ‘The End’ snapshot.

These films are trash-gold if you like watching trashy movies (May I kindly direct you to the wonderful Facebook page – I love trashy Hindi films), but if you aren’t, they are an eye, ear and soul sore.

Perhaps the experience of acting in these films hardened his soul so much, that with the 2000s, Naseeruddin Shah stepped into the third phase, the Don’t Giva Fuck phase.

For the last 15 years, Naseeruddin Shah don’t giva fuck. He has essentially been playing himself in every film.

He is always the old, wisened, wise-crack cracking smart alec. He employs a limited array of expressions, uses his gravelled voice to effect – not too much effort, just a miniscule amount that would make the Salman-crazy crowd to wet their pants.

I can’t remember a single film in the last fifteen years where Naseeruddin Shah didn’t play himself. Here’s a look at his roles in the last fifteen years.

Naseeruddin Shah in Mohra 1994
Naseeruddin Shah in Sarfarosh 1999

Naseeruddin Shah in Iqbal 2005

Naseeruddin Shah in A Wednesday 2011

Naseeruddin Shah in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

Naseeruddin Shah in Ishqiya 2010

Naseeruddin Shah in DIrty Picture 2011

Naseeruddin Shah in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Naseeruddin Shah in tHE BLUEBERRY HUNT

The comedy show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge threw up a number of interesting comedians. Their impersonations of popular stars have become a trope, and one finds that the same mannerisms, actions, voices are still being used today to mimic that star.

The winner (albeit completely undeserving) of the show was Sunil Pal, whose set on Veerappan kidnapping Madhuri Dixit acquired a cult viewership. One of the voices in his set was Naseeruddin Shah’s.

Sunil Pal perfectly nails the Shah voice. The voice of Shah in the 90s – when he stepped into the murky world of bad 90s cinema. Unfortunately, that voice remained in the minds of the people. For all his diversity, all the stellar choices he has made as an actor, and the immense repertoire of skills that he possesses, that voice today is the trope that associates itself to Naseeruddin Shah.

For in a country like India, you know you’ve been doing something for far too long when a mimicry artist picks up your nuances.

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I watched Monsoon Wedding a few days back and was shocked by the Naseeruddin Shah in the film. He seemed to enjoy every single moment on screen. He was affectionate, and vulnerable, and clumsy, and when it mattered the most – strong as steel.

I remember going to sleep that night wondering what happened to that Naseeruddin Shah. And if that guy had been buried long ago.

Today, Naseeruddin Shah essentially plays himself. In that sense, he isn’t vastly different from Salman Khan who plays himself, or Rajesh Khanna who played himself for two straight decades.

And I’m still waiting to watch a film by Naseeruddin Shah in the theatres. Still waiting for him to blow my mind.

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Reviewing Fanny

I always thought Indians would connect to Finding Fanny. The men, at least.

Since the time we turn 18, much of our energies, talents and thoughts are expended on chasing pussy.

Now that I have made the customary first joke so that you open the link, here’s the review.

I have been mostly ambivalent towards Homi Adajania’s films. Being Cyrus was mildly interesting, but it didn’t blow my mind or anything. Just about tickled it with a feather, probably. Cocktail was problematic on different levels.

Finding Fanny, right from the first scene, makes it clear that it isn’t going to pander to you. You have to sit through the man sitting three rows behind you slurp on his Coke and say ‘Slow hai, behenchod’.

The film takes its time picking itself up, which could either pique your interest, or leave you bored. At the risk of doing a Rajeev Masand, who has a spectacular knack for revealing important plot points, let me try to summarise the plot.

Or wait, fuck it. Why should I?

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Finding Fanny Movie Cast Poster Wallpaper

One look at the trailer, and you know there are interesting things in store for you. A cast of Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur is a coup on any given day. The others – Dimple Kapadia, Deepika Padukone, and Arjun Kapoor – are merely playing catch up with the senior pro bros.

Watching Finding Fanny is a reflection of the difference between great and moderate actors. You see Dimple Kapadia act out a scene, just managing to walk the tightrope, in a laborious, onerous manner. And then Pankaj Kapur turns to her, smiles, and waltzes through his scene.

Deepika Padukone is skating on thin ice throughout the film. There are scenes where she spins around in a beautiful routine. And then there are others where her shoe is stuck in a soft patch of ice. But that could also be because I watched the Hindi version and when there is no link between lips moving and sound coming, I feel ill at ease.

What Padukone manages spot on, however, is to look smashingly pretty throughout. Which also makes you wonder, when someone is so naturally pretty, why do other directors paint her face till she looks like an Anime vamp ?

Arjun Kapoor, the actor who last gave us the heartwarming 2 States – The Story of My Two Expressions, puts in an honest effort. But there isn’t much you can do when your face doesn’t emote too much. He looks stoned all through, which might not be such a bad thing since he is [random Goan generalisation about Goa, hash, hippie, peace yo, cool brother, Boom Shiva].

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Most of the reviews I hear from people said that the film didn’t move them enough. Which makes me wonder – are we constantly looking for films to move us? For films to shake the foundations of our emotional core in three hours? Look at our biggest hits, and most of them are epic, grandiose, larger than wife.

Finding Fanny might have its problems, but just the fact that the casting team did their work right, should give you enough reason to watch the film.

Don’t go in looking for the film to transform your life. One, it’s stupid. Two, if a three hour film can transform your life, you shouldn’t be walking into theatres. What with Arbaaz Khan directing Salman Khan in an Sohail Khan production, you might be a threat to society around you.

Finding Fanny is bold, and it is cheeky, and it expects a friend of you, not a devotee.

In a way, the film is like ordering food in a Goan shack. The cook steps out every half an hour, smokes a cigarette, and then walks back to the kitchen. When you ask him how long, he smiles.

The food finally arrives, slowly, swinging from this side to that.

How much you enjoy it depends on how hungry you are.

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Dedh Ishqiya : One and a half times more fun

Most times when I’m sitting down to watch a cricket match, the first two balls do it for me.

The way the batsman meets the first ball gives me a fair idea of how the match is going to go. It doesn’t work all the time, and I’m not going to say, ‘IF IT DOESN’T WORK, I WILL SHAVE MY HEAD. JAI MATA DI’ or anything like that. But the first few minutes generally show the way.

When Dedh Ishqiya begins, you know things have been set up nicely for you.

When I saw the trailers of Ishqiya a few years ago, I knew it would be a winner. The chemistry between Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi is such, that I wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly broke into a rain song and kissed each other.

 

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There is something about Naseeruddin Shah. He shines when there are good actors around him. It’s like ‘Good Acting’ auras are bouncing off the room when he’s with someone who can act. His iconic pairing with Om Puri is testimony to this theory. When there’s a partner at the other end, Shah mutates into a fabulous, other-worldly magician.

But when there is general morony happening, Naseeruddin Shah looks bored. Like in the last film I watched of his, John Day – there was something missing. It was like he had had three pegs and was frantically looking for the fourth, but someone was keeping it away from him.

In Dedh Ishqiya, he has his work cut out, and neatly placed in piles in front of him. Thanks primarily to Arshad Warsi. Playing the loud, rustic, vulgar Babban, Warsi begins the film like he had spent the last four years hanging around the sets, waiting for the sequel to come out.

The stuff of Tushar Kapoor's nightmares.

The stuff of Tushar Kapoor’s nightmares.

Not a foot wrong, not an expression astray, Warsi manages to steal some screen presence even with Naseeruddin Shah at the other end. There is an edginess to him – like he could shoot your balls off while telling you a joke. And Warsi manages to remain that edgy person, not once coming off as vapid.

 

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And just when you’ve settled into your seat, and you’re smelling the food that you’ve ordered, pleased with its fragrance and taste, you discover that the chef has a surprise for you.

By the name of Vijay Raaz.

 

There are few moments in Hindi cinema, that can rival Vijay Raaz going batshit crazy on screen. Having perfected the pursed lips – say-what-you-want-I’m-going-to-slap-you expression, Vijay Raaz is an absolute delight.

when vijay raaz goes crazy

His frustrations with shayari, his frustration with his henchmen, and his frustration with the entire universe in general – has been squeezed out, drop for delicious drop. One needs to watch his duels with Naseeruddin Shah in the most enjoyable swayamwar in recent years, to know what I’m talking about.

Which brings us to Madhuri Dixit.

Madhuri Dixit, who had retired from films after marriage, had made a comeback with Aaja Nachle in 2007, but the audiences said ‘Nay nay’. Inspired by Yousuf Youhana, she retired again and made a comeback with Dedh Ishqiya. 

She still can dance, as the makers of the films leave no stone unturned in making sure you acknowledge. But as for her performance – so compelling are Warsi and Shah’s performances, that Madhuri Dixit is reduced to playing third fiddle.

 

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The real champion of the film, however, is Vishal Bharadwaj. India’s only true auteur, Bharadwaj, who has produced, written, done the screenplay, music, and written the dialogues, is in splendid form.

The dialogues in the film crackle with life, lighting up what would otherwise have been ordinary moments. Unlike Bhansali’s films, where languages (English in Black, Gujurati in Raam Leela) seem to isolate you from the world being shown to you, the language in Dedh Ishqiya is inviting.

You don’t understand much of it in the beginning, but so earnest seems the endeavor, that you want to strain yourself, in order to catch every word. The pastel coloured world of nawaabs and begums, the fading green walls, the large kitches, the servants attending to masters in their lawns – the world lights up like magic in front of your eyes.

My only grudge with Dedh Ishqiya is that it plays itself out long enough to become a Dhai Ghantiya, but then we live in a country where a party comes to power, and people begin to criticise it within a week.

Keeping such pretty complaints aside, Dedh Ishqiya is a mighty enjoyable film.

If you watched Dhoom 3 and contributed to that shitfest that guzzled up 500 crores from our already fatigued economy, you owe this one to the institution of Cinema.

Make up for that blunder. Go watch Dedh Ishqiya.