Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Mine by Arnab Ray: A Review

I attended the Delhi launch of The Mine yesterday and had a good time. Arnab (a.k.a Greatbong) read Jaal's back-story from the book and ended the reading with the disconcerting revelation that every incident mentioned in the section (which described a riot situation) was true and had happened in India. During the reading, my wife was quite amused because of the rather colourful language that Arnab read out in the presence of his in-laws! 
After the reading, Arnab and Jai Arjun Singh discussed the lack of too many horror novels in India (probably because horror - made popular by Bollywood - in India isn't supposed to scary but quasi-funny), Arnab's influences (Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe and even Mukesh Bhatt) and the cinematic quality of the book. 

I finished the book in one breathless burst and had tweeted my first reaction - "A mind-slashing thriller that grabs your balls and doesn't let go. Even after you finish it." And a few days on, that remains exactly my reaction.
The plot is about five shady characters being brought to a hi-tech mining facility ostensibly for expert advice and confronting their past in unimaginably gory ways. The book is written almost like a screenplay and instead of chapters, there are shorter 'scenes'. There are impressive 'dialogues' in true Bollywood style. The blurb ("The greatest evil lies deep inside.") is one such line. Another favourite of mine went something like this - "Necessity is the mother of invention. Cruelty is the father." The screenwriter's work is almost done here as the action moves breathtakingly fast and almost every 'scene' ends with a line conveying a deep sense of foreboding. 
Arnab opens up different strands of stories - sometimes innocuously - that get resolved so smartly that sometimes you have to go back to the earlier pages to confirm the sly detail he had slipped in. And the ones that he keeps unresolved are more of open strands, open to different kinds of interpretation rather than being merely loose ends.    

I also enjoyed how Arnab slipped in several references to popular culture and our growing-up years, which stood for something of a relief in the relentless bloodiness of the Mine.
A doctor named Anaida. Caligula, in the context of mass bestiality. Randeep Kalra, a film star who stood accused of rape by his maid. The concept of losing a talisman bringing about misfortune, made famous by the billa number 786 of Deewaar. The concept of ancient punishments being given a modern, wicked twist - made famous by South Indian director Shankar. 
Two acknowledged influences on the book are Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None as well as Mahabharat. One story is about a group of ten being meted out justice for their past sins. In the latter, the Mahaprasthan scene is all about the five brothers and their wife meeting their ends in a quest to go from darkness to light.  

The real horror of the story is - quite devastatingly - taken from our daily lives. Our day-to-day fears, paranoia, insecurities are exaggerated manifold to create a yarn that keeps coming back to you. Taking the visceral emotions of blood relationships (a father-daughter one, for example), Arnab twists them into a macabre tale and forces you to ask "what would I do in a situation like this?" 
And the horror is that the truth is not the answer you would like to hear. 

After I read the book, I had a reaction similar to the one demonstrated by Mr Krishnan Iyer MA in Agneepath (1990). Taking Vijay Chavan's son, he went around proudly proclaiming "mere family ka bachcha...". Coming from an earlier batch of Arnab's college, I also wanted to prance around saying the same. 
The bestselling novelist from Jadavpur University took a while to come but completely steamrolled the output from the IITs, now that it had! By the way, we of the Jadu bansha are no pushovers. Kunal Basu is also from our college, in fact from my department!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dear Karan,

I am told that a production of yours that released today (and getting great reviews & collections) is a remake of the 1990 film, Agneepath. The media and people of this country are making this assumption because the names of the two films are same. But then, you produced a film called Dostana a few years back that had no resemblance to the story of the 1980 film of the same name.

I haven’t seen the latest Agneepath yet (and I don’t think I will, either). But the reviews – or more importantly in today’s Bollywood – the buzz seems to be quite positive. People, especially of the female persuasion, seem to have loved Hrithik Roshan’s ‘uber hot’ screen presence. The biggest praises are, however, reserved for Sanjay Dutt (playing Kancha Cheena) and Rishi Kapoor (playing Rauf Lala, who seems to be a new character). Nobody seems to have noticed Priyanka Chopra or missed Krishnan Iyer MA yet.

Which brings me to the question I want to ask you – why the hell are you calling this film a remake? Though to be fair, it is being said that Agneepath is not a ‘remake’ but a ‘tribute’… whatever that means. In that case, I must point out what – at least, what I feel – was the crux of the original Agneepath and what needed to be paid a tribute to.

When you pay tribute to an ‘angry’ film and the biggest pre-release buzz is about an item song, then one can safely say you’ve failed.
When the tribute is to a film with some of the most accomplished ‘dialogues’ in Bollywood and not a jot of the post-release chatter is about the lines the hero speaks, then you’ve failed.
When most people end up discussing Kancha Cheena’s unholy, hairless looks after the film and they don’t remember anything about the hero except the biceps, then you’ve failed spectacularly.
In paying a tribute, that is. I am sure that the film will succeed in every other way.

Also on a different level, the real Agneepath was about a producer’s courage.
Yash Johar took an ageing leading man and an insignificant heroine to lead his film. The leading man was known for his voice but for this film, but it replaced with a rasping, new voice. The hero was said to be nearly 37 years in the old. And the hero died a bloody death at his mother’s feet when all of Bollywood was singing ‘saanson ki zaroorat hain jaise…’ and riding into the sunset.
You pay a tribute to this risk by taking on Bollywood’s most conventional leading man and the No. 2 heroine. You then take on Bollywood’s No. 1 heroine to dance to one sizzling number, for good measure. And you promote the hell out of the song, using the money you’ve saved from not having to hire a dialogue writer.  

You could’ve made exactly the same film and called it Inteqaam or some such. I think the film would have been just as successful and the old fogeys (we, 35+ year old viewers and the producer of the original) wouldn’t have felt so restless.

Wishing you great success in all your films –

(My earlier post on Agneepath - here.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

'Bad' Films

This post is that obvious publicity gimmick in today's Bollywood - the sequel (or the remake).
Even if you make a film that has a passing resemblance to an earlier classic, it is cool (and probably profitable) to call it a 'remake'. So, you have a remake of Agneepath - a film on the world's most articulate, angry, not-so-young man - that features only an item number (and a fleeting bedroom scene) in its promos.
For me, Agneepath (remake) is a bad film.
And this post is a genuine sequel of an earlier post on Bad Songs.

I define a bad film as one that fraudulently creates expectations contrary to its content. (I wrote about it some time back. For me, Aakarshan is a bad film because it bored me to death and tried to sneak in a story while only promising sizzling 'hot scenes'. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna pretended to be a 'serious look' at marital infidelity while it was a comic-book on the topic.)
There is, however, another kind of films.. the So Bad Its Good (SoBig) genre. Just as one man's Kurosawa is another man's Kanti Shah, one woman's Bad is another woman's SoBig. Actually, one man's Good might be another man's Bad and yet another man's SoBig. While most people would puke in their own shirt pocket rather than watch Benaam Badshah, some people actually watch it willingly and even like it.

Whatever the label the film might be saddled with, there are increasingly large number of people who are willing to come out and say out aloud how much they love Mohan Bhakri. As I noted in an earlier post on Kanti Shah, it was not possible earlier. The ease of finding like-minded people on the great World Wide Web makes it possible for us to confess our guilty pleasures with confidence.

This post (and the long-winded introduction) was prompted by the latest issue of Open magazine, which contains a treatise on - what they call - C-grade cinema, profiling purveyors of this genre and their reasons for liking them.And I thought this is as good a reason as any to list down some of my favourite articles on good films, bad films and ugly films. Only the same film can be classified in each of the three categories by three different people.
So, here are five of my favourite articles on personal choices in Bollywood.

The first one is by Suketu Mehta, who wrote in The New York Times on why Indians loved movies. It had some of the pithy generalisations that become inevitable when explaining the concept of an ichhadhari nagin to an American audience but overall, the happiness and pride of seeing a second-grade school production in Brooklyn set to the music of Lagaan!

Anupama Chopra claims that having to review all films every week is a dirty job but somebody has to do it. She retains her sanity by remembering the really bad ones. And laughing out loud at Dunno Y Na Jaane Kyun. She - in a moment of possible blasphemy - laughs at Jimmy as well, possibly causing deep anguish to the devotees of Prabhuji.
Bonus Article: Her undying love affair, for the treasure trove of stories that abound around Bollywood.

Sandipan Deb recounts his love affair with Hindi cinema - which began with almost suicidal passion but had to meander and end because it remained one-sided for the most part of it. All of us would have given our all to the cause of Bollywood and only a few are lucky enough to have something to show for it.

One of the few people who do indeed have something to show for their childhood passion is Dibakar Banerjee. If a skinny Bong from Karol Bagh had to hold the attention of the likes of Conan the Barbarian of East Patel Nagar, he had to commandeer his entire learning gleaned from cinema shows at Liberty. The greatest screenwriter of our times honed his skills on Bus C2 and told us all about it.

And finally, you have Bollywood's hottest young Turk telling us about his guilty pleasures that made him the director that he is today. Anurag Kashyap is our Quentin Tarantino - who not only walks the far edges of creativity but eggs (and even funds) proteges to do the same. He should have named his article Tarantino Dhishum Dhishum!

Lovely, no?