originally published: Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 07, Dated February 20, 2010.
THOUGH MOST HINDI films are shot in Mumbai's northern suburbs, very few are set there. Chandan Arora’s Striker, narrated by the film’s protagonist Surya (Siddharth), traces 15 years in a pre-communalised Malwani.
Beginning with his journey as a young carrom champion, the film expertly captures a time in Mumbai when conversations in recreational spaces across Mumbai would revolve around the only two options for the youth — a job in the plastic, gold and stock market, or Dubai.
When he gets cheated out of his Dubai dream, losing a large sum in the process, Surya is told by the scammers to hustle it back as a carrom player. In exploring this interesting sub-culture, Arora eschews the conventions of a sports movie and approaches it as a gangster film to explore how gangsters are invariably groomed in these holes.
Essentially a coming-ofage tale, Striker is imbued with interesting sub-plots, all of which are novel and seem inevitable when abruptly moved on to the next one. Striker sounds authentic using many English expressions that are an integral part of the non-English speaking populace in the city; which is precisely why Anushka Manchanda crooning English lyrics in a song doesn’t sound remixed at all. One of the best soundtracks in recent times, Chandan Arora employs the music judiciously in the film. He also masterfully directs the film. The way he sets up his scenes, and cuts them innovatively, is a sheer pleasure. For instance, when Surya is playing a high-stakes game of carrom, his cocaine-addict friend Zaid (Ankur Vikal) plays spectator, and the gangster Jaleel (Aditya Pancholi) observes and distracts them both, before all hell breaks loose.
Siddharth is impressive as Surya. Padmapriya excels in her brief but challenging role as a Koli barkeeper raped by Surya, who she was secretly in love with and had sheltered. As do Vidya Malavade as Surya’s elder sister, and Anupam Kher as the moral voice in an increasingly communalised police force. The performaces that stand-out, though, are Vikal and Pancholi.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Monday, July 13, 2009
Befitting the preposterously loony & delightful characters he’s unleashed upon us, Pankaj Advani walked into the cinema-hall Friday night, veiled in a, yes, Burqa. Not surprisingly, the self-aggrandizing ploy didn’t work, at all; as the only straight-faced soul in a hall-full of hysterical communal film savouring, the maker of the film, playing the voyeur that his true calling indirectly is, was a dead give-away.
It is to Pankaj’s credit that we have a true-blue genre Picchur (in this case, Revisionist Noir, I proffer), completely with re-imagined characters and a setting evoked with unusual realism.
For me, personally, Sankat City has been a difficult viewing experience, in its playing-out, and, the consequence, and on both the occasions.
A lil’ explaining – first time around on Sankat night July 8th, I was busy trippin’ on a space, in my mind, the film occupies & operates from. I got over-enthusiastic to the point of taking great pleasure in spotting genre conventions that Pankaj relentlessly kept heaping on me, to the extent that I was scared for him if he can really keep-up with all the brandishing. Inadvertently, am sure I annoyed my neighbours in the cinema aplenty, a drunk fuck behaving like he’s already watched the film (which I hadn’t) & playing spoiler (répetition: inadvertent).
My 2nd viewing was kinda spoilt by the presence of the director couple of seats away from me – damn, why don’t people get it, that I want to deal with the screen by myself, like EXCLUSIVELY, not having to bother with the judgments that comes with boisterous appreciation of a work of art.
The space am talking about are that of a most graceful policier, Claude Sautet’s Max et Les Férrailleurs , and that of a prized possession of mine which happens to be an Interactive Video of a Raymond Chandler novel called The Little Sister.
The former is about a Police Detective (Michel Piccoli) going undercover into the ‘belly of a gang of car thieves/scrap-dealers to lure them into robbing a bank, so he could catch ‘em in the act.
The latter is the only toy I grew up with, a perverse pleasure in a video-gamization of a master’s poorest-written novel, and maan, you should play the book, ‘coz the game is practically a training school in the celebratory bread-breaking in the conventions of our this beloved genre. Owing to the Video’s interactive nature, I have never, like really NEVER EVER, reached its end, in effect having never read the novel, ‘coz there’re numerous ways to ride the ride, relishing its enchantment in what initially sounds like a pastiche of cheesy one-liners, but soon-enough confirms the wisdom of evolution & taste.
Sankat City, whose plot I refuse to dwell here on a hyperlinked PFC, made me want the film to never end, simply because the film’s team was walking the tightrope very deftly, with the confidence of allowing its purveyors the luxury to return to the Home Page, so to speak, whenever they tired of an (non-existent) exhaustion.
Kay Kay Menon’s and Anupam Kher’s posts had upped my expectations of the Long Takes in the film. I like my Long Takes to play like Long Takes, which for some inexplicable reason Sankat City’s numerous ones didn’t for me.
Nor could I fathom why Kay Kay’s Guru was called Guru, of all names, when the rest of thems in the film were so very colorfully designated, more so since Kay Kay was made to play-it so very un-Guru-straight-like, but did play goofy more like the colored ones. I also do have a quaint preference for a non-broad-like play a broad-like femme fatale, and vice-versa etc.
Curiously, I found myself (my neighbor’s fault totally) walking out of the film’s End Credits, and also overheard few other audience members, having thoroughly enjoyed Sankat City while, inadvertently again, humming Kaminey’s scorcher Dhan Te Nan. I suspect the same to have transpired while entering the hall too. what I did though is go find the first bar out of the cinema, get back home, play Ghoom Ghoom loopwise. Intoxicicatory!
I would’ve also, for whatever loserly reasons, liked some melancholy, grim worldview of noir, but Sankat City refuses any. But again, it’s Pankaj’s film. And don’t we want more of thems!!
Am most thrilled with the film, when looking back, that though the writing must’ve been structured in a requisite 3 act nature (that a couple of our film critics oft use as a ‘problematic 2nd act’ stick), the film plays-out, in its first half, as a very charmingly elaborate unfolding of the events (Set-up, if you will), and in the second, as a wickedly-smart paying-off of every single damn thing that ever came-up in the first half. One must’ve really had a hard time with the Repo Man, to have honed Paying-off skills to such effortless heights. Brilliant!
I say this ‘coz if we were to look at all the blockbuster fucks in Bollywood, the only solitary chose they get right are the pay-offs, however sloppy, amateurish, shameless, non-existent soul selling-out, plain whoring, but they do the paying-off, come what may, you & I notwithstanding, celebrated by the film’s audience, like, wholeheartedly.
my Pvt Eye. Exe CD had adorable utterances asking me such beautiful existential questions as “Where to next, Bud?”, and allowed me to choose wherever the fuck I wanted to venture, based on my own perception of self-worth.
Dear dear Kamal Swarup, whose Om Dar-B-Dar is THE greatest Indian film ever made, generously taught me about something called one’s perception of their inherent intelligence, and what its allowances consequate into, and more crucially their lack-ofs.
Pankaj seems to have tirelessly answered all those “Where to Bud?” questions to destinate into a sweet sweet spot he’s carved for himself in our hemisphere, a place called Sankat City.
Thanks Pankaj, for a wonderful experience at the cinemas. As a thank you note, I’ve taken a Shanghai Nights-like subversive dig aimed at you, whence opening this piece.
Great going Bro, keep ‘em on, and of course, keep ‘em cumming.
Strangely, Sankat City plays much better when viewed sober. Take my word, I should know.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The present decade has been the best for Hindi cinema in a long while. Nandita Das' Firaaq joins the list of outstanding débuts of the period.
Firaaq is a day in the life of Ahmedabad in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage of 2002. An ensemble narrative, Firaaq is peopled with stories that happen to converge on a particular day, of the ones who return from what they presumed was an escape from the violence, and of the ones who prepare to forsake a city that has become unbearably persecutory.
An exploration of a sub-culture of survivors, and a prescribed indictment, Firaaq weaves intertwining tales of victims, mostly, and of their perpetrators;
A young Muslim couple, Muneera (Shahana Goswami) and Hanif (Nawazuddin) returning to their ransacked home obsesses itself with attaching faces to a mob that might’ve gutted their home.
A 6 yrs old boy sheltered in a refugee camp desperately searches for his father.
A Gujarati housewife (Deepti Naval) atoning an all-consuming guilt of having refused sanctuary to a pleading Muslim woman, her husband (Paresh Rawal) who has participated in the pillage, and is now protecting his rapist younger brother.
An inter-faith couple (Sanjay Suri and Tisca Chopra) that is embarking on a move away from an Ahmedabad that is threatening their fragile co-existence.
An aged musician (Naseeruddin Shah) who’s defeated in his search for strength to endure inevitable hatred for the other, and his man-Friday (Raghuvir Yadav) who’s shielding the musician from the same.
Amongst its accomplishments, Firaaq is an example of superior direction of an inspired cast of performers. Special mention must be made of the youngest members hobnobbing with the stalwarts in the film – Shahana Goswami, Nawazuddin, and Sanjay Suri.
While all these few stories, culled from innumerable other scars, could’ve been independent of each other, Nandita Das and her co-writer Shuchi Kothari make them succinctly inter-dependent, and resultant on each other, in ways that are cathartic and poignant. Collaborative writing is known to be tricky; Firaaq's writing seems to be as novel as the end result is rewarding – the film was collabo-written by the writers over the Internet Telephony Service Skype. If that’s what sires enlightening cinema, so be it.
As far as the relevance of the film is concerned, I personally feel, as many cinematic articulations of the Gujarat carnage and its aftermath is welcome; to invoke the Mitscherlichs, “there is no moving beyond loss without some experience of mourning.”
Let there be healing, instead of an inability to mourn.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Every filmmaker seems to have a Devdas in him. Emir Kusturica has made two Devdases back to back, in 1989 (Time of the Gypsies) and 1993 (Arizona Dream). While Time of the GypsiesArizona Dream is a full-blooded recasting of the Devdas affezione, where Johnny Depp is torn between his love for Faye Dunaway’s Paro and Lili Taylor’s Chanda. What’s even more interesting is that Paro and Chanda live-out their loves under the same roof, as mother & step-daughter respectively. could be described as a (sort of) Devdas sans Chanda,
Films conjure their own reviews, unbearably enslaved, by default, to the reviewer’s viewing experience. Dev.D seems to have proved the influence it’s had on its reviewers, and more importantly, on its audience. With the choice of this present film, Anurag Kashyap has liberated film reviewing from having to be about recounting what the plot of the film is, as much as he engrossed himself in higher pursuits other than mere plot. In what is an unique situation for an Indian film, Dev.D’s audience already has a fair idea of what the film is about. It’s the re-imagining of Devdas that’s being looked-forward-to, and Anurag provides a heady load of imagination.
It’s amazing how we’ve been tricked to consider monogamy only in terms of sex and marriage. What about love? Can love be monogamous?
Anurag Kashyap’s 2nd greatest triumph with his Dev.D is the successful exploration of an idea of love itself; in what’s till recently considered an oxymoron, a love that could be non-monogamous. It’s not even in the proferring of a satisfactory reply to the question that the film’s triumph lies, but in the juxtaposition of love in terms of monogamy, or otherwise. In Dev.D, the protagonists Dev, Paro, and Chanda trade accusations of being a slut. At different times in their lives the characters are sluts of the accidental and aspirational types. But mostly, an entirely new category – love sluts.
We all have a Paro in our lives. Some of us, stupidly, make the mistake of marrying her/him, thus contradicting the existence of Paro, pitting Paro vs Paro. Let her be.
Who’s interested in a Chanda that’s already a Chanda? You want her/him to become Chanda for you. Kalki makes you fall in love with her Chanda, when she looks at you with delight, having picked a name & destiny for herself.
A Dev who knows he is a Dev is as boring as paid sex, and its myriad derivatives.That’s where Abhay Deol’s graceful internalised performance towers over all the superstar Devdases and their child-actor avatars, who seem to know from the opening of the film that they are embodying an apparition called Devdas. [PC Barua’s 1935 Bengali rendition is an exception. In the paraphrased words of dear Ashis Nandy, PC Barua is a filmmaker who shot 20 tigers and about 30 films]
Kamal Swarup’s Om-Dar-B-Dar has a Devdas prototype at its centre, who hasn’t even had the benefit of a Chanda experience, when he comes back to find his Paro having moved emotionally to a very far-off place from his life. But it is at the beginning of the film, when he’s just managed to tell his Paro of his L.O.V.E for her that the original Emosional Attyachar plays, in a surreal trance-like circumstance in flourescent-lit Ajmer. And what a tribute Anurag pays to grandmaster Kamal Swarup, choosing to set the nation’s current anthem whilst Paro is duping herself into marital bliss and her Dev deluding his stimuli drowned in vodka.
Music director Amit Trivedi elevates Anurag Kashyap-Rajeev Ravi duo’s psychedelia with as much swagger as Clint Mansell, Goran Bregovic, Shigeru Umebayashi lent for the films of Aronovski, Kusturica and Kar-Wai respectively. The completely slo-mo feat Nayan Tarse is the closest Indian cinema has come to the high poetry of Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love (Tony Leung-Maggie Cheung’s melancholy swaying set to Yumeji’s theme by Shigeru Umebayashi).
A young PC Barua embarked on a journey that was to pioneer early Indian cinema. Armoured with a letter of recommendation by the Nobel winner Rabindranath Tagore, PC Barua apprenticed at the Cinecitta Studios in Italy in the 1920s. Returning to Calcutta PC Barua directed himself as Saratbabu’s Devdas in 1935, before casting KL Saigal in the film’s hindi version (where PC Barua played Paro’s stepson).
Bang in the film’s beginning, a grown-up Paro tells Devdas of his being earmarked by his father to go away for further studies. Devdas promises his Paro that he shall Not Leave. Quick wipes reveal Devdas repeating his resolve to his mother, father & brother, but every member insisting on his having to leave. Devdas promises Paro that he’s staying back, come what may, when the film’s soundtrack plays ‘Pardesi Tuje Jaana Hi Padega’ (or was it Musafir Tuje Jaana Hi Padega). Incredible that a film made in 1935 employed as much restraint and invention when the rest of the studios in India at the time were busy with their mythologicals, recreating theatre on screen, and learning the musical ropes.
Subsequent versions of Devdases seem to emanate directly from the present version, maintaining an unbroken chain for decades. Bimal Roy who was the cinematographer of PC Barua’s Devdases went on to make his own version 20 years later. Similarly, Dev.D’s screenwriter Vikramaditya Motwane served as the award winning sound recordist of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. Between PC Barua’s Pardesi Tuje Jaana Hi Padega to Anurag Kashyap’s Mahi Mennu Nahin Karna Pyar & Chanda’s prophetic choosing of her own kismat, Devdas has come a long meaningful way.
It takes supreme confidence in the screenplay’s writing for a director to even dream a structure such as the one used in Dev.D. Anurag Kashyap’s greatest triumph with Dev.D is his smuggling a world cinema vibe and sensibility into a mainstream Hindi film, and delivering Indian cinema to where it was originally intended by the early pioneers, before a small detour (of several decades) derailed the process.
Every film mentioned here are my absolute all-time favorites. Of course, Bhansali’s Devdas, and to a lesser degree Bimal Roy’s, disqualify themselves.
As luscious filmmaking as Dev.D could’ve easily turned into yet another opportunity lost to oblivion, but for the efforts of the film’s producers UTV SpotBoy (Vikas Behl, Rucha Pathak, Manish Hariprasad), who’re fast turning to be the place to go to with scripts that might not want its vision diluted.
Watch Dev.D however you want, much like the service Chanda offers her customers, and makes them pay accordingly. You watch the film sober, you want to get smashed in exhilaration after the film. You watch the film with a buzz, you experience a film that was made for you in any case. Either ways you’re fucked, nicely. A loveless, a sexless, intoxication-less life is a cursed one, really, very violent. Suit your own fix, be it smoke or booze or spliff or snow, or all of the above alongwith dollops of love & sex.
As far as our audience goes, I can’t be sure of adulthood, but India definitely achieves its puberty with Dev.D. Thank you Mr. K, i always knew you to be a pusher. You seem to carry too many envelopes around, what do you have for breakfast?
Friday, January 30, 2009
WHEN THE VENERABLE Roger Ebert visits India, he will imagine he knows the name of almost every Indian woman — Latika;
if Danny Boyle is to be believed, there are 26,283 Latikas in Mumbai alone.
Slumdog Millionaire opens with a multiple-choice question: “Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it? A: He cheated. B: He’s lucky. C: He’s genius. D: It is written.” With a device as smart as this — a set-up whose inevitable answer will turn out to be ‘written’ (or destined) — the film could well go on to be about pretty much anything before circling back in its finale to remind us that everything was predestined. A choice left out of the prologue could have been ‘Option A answers all questions’. Well, mostly.
A story the whole world already knows, Slumdog is, not unlike its Oscar co-contender Benjamin Button, a film deftly constructed with a series of flashbacks intercut with one of only two events that are played out in the present — the interrogation after which the film hurtles to the 20-millionrupee question and the lovers’ reunion.
I wonder why, though, this present is set in 2006, as the title card indicates?
Although there have been numerous documentaries and oriental exotica woven before, Slumdog is the first Bollywood film by a foreign filmmaker. Scant criticism for the film in the West and copious amounts in India has accused it of being ‘typical Hollywood tripe’ and ‘nothing more than Bollywood masala’ respectively. How does Boyle manage to get accused of making both a Hollywood and a Bollywood film at the same time?
A clever conceit, Slumdog is a cinematic tour-de-force that employs a realistic portrayal of what is essentially an uplifting fantasy (Hollywood likes uplifting, and Bollywood thrives on fantasy fare). And the secret? ‘It is written’.
Whether we like it or not, films need to be written. And when they aren’t, more often than not they become fodder for the next generation’s spoofs.
Danny Boyle is enjoying a Jamal-like fortune with his film; a billion Indians are rooting for Slumdog to sweep the Oscars. Come February 22, India’s rejoicing billion may insist that the next season of Kaun Banega Crorepati be played live — it’s much more fun the Slumdog way, with its attendant opportunities to scam the show. And also demand that the brilliant Anil Kapoor reprise the Amitabh-Shahrukh role. Jai Ho.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
A Punjabi film with an English title, ‘Singh is Kinng’ is Akshay Kumar’s coronation film as Bollywood’s king. Or so is the overt attempt.
Akshay Kumar plays Happy Singh, a bumbling trouble-maker for the denizens of his village in Punjab. As much as everybody in director Anees Bazmee-land is a caricature, be it the villages in Punjab, Mumbai, South Africa (‘Welcome’), Egypt or Australia, they are smart-enough to make decisions to propel the film forward, thenceforth existing for the sole purpose of showcasing stars’ talents for comedy, romance, dance & action.
The villagers expressly banish a pranky Happy Singh off to Australia (to bring back a mafia King) ridding themselves of his antics while they don’t seem to mind substituting another deaded villager (the mafia king) in his place who Happy Singh is entrusted with bringing back to the village.
Sure enough, Akshay Kumar’s Happy Singh reforms the desi mafia in Australia, pontificates the worth of family & do-gooding, finds a mother in Kiron Kher, dances with mother’s daughter (Katrina Kaif), woos her, & ultimately wins her for himself joining Snoop Dogg in the film’s end credits for a reiteration of being ‘The Kinng’.
It is difficult to distinguish the comedians in the film as every single character seems to have been asked to resort to comedy whenever they deem fit, and/or when their co-actors’ comedy isn’t working well-enough.
Akshay Kumar definitely is the star of the moment having delivered more consecutive hits than any other in the last couple of years. But in all his career, evidently, Akshay Kumar hasn’t dabbled with a rare entity (in Bollywood) called Good Cinema (or just Cinema, as opposed to pickture), where the canvas is as big as his stardom deems he deserve but at the same time entirely plausible, written (not gags invented on sets), aesthetic, & tasteful.
Rajinikanth's stardom is built on Modesty - the more he's modest on screen (about his achievements) bigger is the audience's reaction insisting his greatness. Akshay Kumar sems to be treading a similar path; he doesn't feature in any of the action sequences, because he doesn't have to - people's memory of him as an action star is enough to fill-in, and enjoy the modest darling as lovable, desirable, touching, oh-so-cute!
Am reminded of the Golda Meir quote, "Don't be modest. You aren't that great." Akshay Kumar, with his obvious magical powers on screen, proves modesty to be the preserve of 'The Arrived'. He also proves that the films of the incumbent kings of Bollywood are as good or as bad as the ones he’s anointed his kingdom on, depending on one’s nostalgia-quotient.
Little do our Bollywood stars need be told that investing in well-crafted scripts and films would as surely account for the present generation's future nostalgia too.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
thani: “Kismat agar khud likh sakte, to usey kismat kyon kehte!”
Anurag Kashyap is India's most provocative filmmaker. With his filmmaking, he creates avenues for scores of cinephiles to dream their cinematic dreams, and when that's not satisfactorily accomplished he angers them enough to want to better his offending efforts. That is, when the said cinephile does not resort to the shortest possible route to his directorial debut - namely the remake.
It is to Rajkumar Gupta's credit, and to the film's superior craftmanship, that i refer to his debut feature Aamir as cinema. Nevertheless, a COUNTERFEIT one, if you know what i mean. The password is Cavite. I might as well review Cavite, and nobody would recognize the difference. To be fair to the nobody, in as many words, Aamir is a copy of Cavite [pronounced 'ka-vi-th-ey].
Of course, one could attempt to girdle-up BALLS to say, that the film you're remaking is infinitely topical to the culture & society that you're setting-it in, than the original source you've borrowed from. But you don't say it. What you do say, in its stead, is that it is indeed a film 'written and directed' by Rajkumar Gupta.
Actually, it need not be as traumatizing to be remaking a film that you thought makes good-enough fodder for your first feature. But the fuck-up in India is, owing to it's overbearing mediocrity, remaking a film, is a terminal disease, as worse as any that plagues our country. Because remakes have successfully rendered Indian filmmaking spineless, un-audacious, & impotent.
I want to watch a chase in a contemporary Indian film that doesn’t, with the exception of Black Friday, employ OST’s from either The Untouchables, Requiem for a Dream, or Kill Bill. Also, I do intend to invite a friend, Raja Sen, to subject him to a looped playing of the Summer, Winter & Hope Overture tracks from a Clint Mansell composed OST for Darren Aronovsky's Requiem for a Dream, for saying what he has about the Aamir Theme track that's resorted to to bail the makers out of the quagmire they ventured in remaking an indie-spirited film to a film that refuses to bother with the very reason the original film chose the protagonist as the victim.
In Cavite, a 2005 Philippines film written & directed by the film’s lead actor (Ian Gamazon) and it’s DOP (Neill Dela Llana), the protagonist Adam is terrorized into carrying-out a terror attack for a very specific reason. The makers of Aamir, probably to obfuscate the concentration of the counterfeiting, unwisely leave-out the mechanics that went into the choice-making of a victim. Watching Aamir one would wonder as to why Rajeev Khandelwal’s Aamir Ali was randomly chosen when any of the mastermind's cronies (who’re located ubiquitously close to Aamir’s constant re-location) could’ve carried-out, much more skillfully & efficiently, their desired outcome.
Rajeev Khandelwal’s feature debut, as the desperate Aamir Ali, deserves all the praise he’s receiving. It's a pleasure, and a filmmaker’s dream I’d imagine, to work with an actor who elicits the amount of honesty that Rajeev does. It’s a debut that dwarfs the other 5;
Rajkumar Gupta as Director,
Alphonse Roy as DOP,
Anurag Kashyap as Creative Producer,
Amit Trivedi as Music & Background Composer,
UTV’s indie wing UTV SPOTBOY as Producer.
It is not in the execution (that’s commendably impeccable) but in the choice of having to bear an un-repayable debt, in the Indian context, owed to Cavite that the latter’s (latter 5) debuts are a-tainted.
One small (thani) review seldom dents the vast multitude of raves that are pouring-in. I wouldn’t be surprised if Aamir’s post-opening-weekend-publicity screams a Black Fridayed tag line, from one of the erstwhile non-believers. For a film to be Black Fridayed is to have it's title successfully changed [Black Friday – Do Yourself a Favour (Taran Adarsh)]. Witnessing Post-Bheja Fry developments, remakes don’t seem to hurt any of the remakers. Unfairly, it’s the audience that gets dumbed-down into celebrating the next half-decent original fare that any bloke delivers, further lowering our cinematic aspirations.