Sunday, May 19, 2013

Filmi Fridays: Mughal Gardens

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As Aurangzeb jumps out of the underworld and into our lives today, it would be a worthwhile exercise to look at his ancestors. Mughal emperors – with their pomp and grandeur – have been a big favourite of Bollywood directors. Here are some of them, in reverse chronological order.

The first name in the list enters somewhat slyly. Because the film never got made!
Aakhri Mughal was supposed to be Abhishek Bachchan’s launch vehicle. Directed by J.P. Dutta, it was the tale of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s relationship with his son. Apparently, the rights were with Kamal Amrohi once upon a time and he had wanted to make the film with Amitabh Bachchan, after
seeing him in Zanjeer. It did not happen then. It did not happen with the son.
With all star sons getting launched in all-singing-alldancing-all-muscle-flexing roles, a debut like this would have been very different (to the point of being risky). But then, so was Abhishek’s actual debut film—Refugee—with the same director.

A monument as timeless as the Taj Mahal has been accorded not one, but two movies named after it. Quite unfortunately, neither of Shah Jahans evoked much excitement.
In the 1960s version, Pradeep Kumar played Shah Jahan and the movie was famous for excellent music composed by Roshan. The soundtrack included the superhit Jo vaada kiya woh nibhana padega which the hero sang soulfully for the benefit of Bina Rai.
Emperor Trivia: Pradeep Kumar has the distinction of playing Shah Jahan in this movie and Jahangir in another movie called Anarkali.

Akbar Khan made Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story with a lavish budget and not much commercial success. Zulfi Sayed played the young Shah Jahan while Kabir Bedi donned white tresses to play the old version. Pakistani actress Sonya Jehan played the object of affection and devotion. The romance of Prince Khurram and Arjumand Bano Begum reached its culmination in the white mausoleum – a symbol of eternal love as well as a place where a king’s dreams lay buried.

Jahangir was immortalised by his birth name – Prince Salim – where one of India’s greatest actors played him in Mughal-e-Azam. K Asif directed Dilip Kumar in the magnificent saga of a prince rebelling against his father the emperor for the love of a woman. Before he became the ‘conqueror of the world’, Salim was just a man in love and frustrated by his class-conscious father. In some of the largest battle scenes filmed in Bollywood, Prince Salim took on Emperor Akbar and lost spectacularly. Prithviraj Kapoor played the baritone voiced emperor whose kingship forced him to take up arms against his rebellious son.
And there was Madhubala, who was worth every war fought in the history of India.

Emperor Trivia: In Anand, Johnny Walker also played Salim in a theatre production and uttered the immortal lines that Anand would make his death speech. Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath mein hai, jahanpanah...
More Emperor Trivia: In an absolutely obscure film Angaar, Kader Khan played a Robin Hoodesque Mafia don – Jahangir Khan – who ruled Bombay with an iron hand and velvet gloves. His (and his sons’) run-ins with hero Jackie Shroff formed the crux of this eminently forgettable movie.   

In Jodha Akbar – a film which was historically before and chronologically after Mughal-e-Azam – Akbar was no longer the spoilsport but a rather flamboyant lover. Hrithik Roshan – he of the sculpted body and chiselled looks – romanced Aishwarya Rai – she of the dulcet voice and mesmerising eyes – in the grand film.
Ashutosh Gowariker invented several new historical ‘events’ to concoct this tale of love and honour between the Muslim ruler of India and his Hindu wife. When Akbar acquiesced to each of Jodha’s demands in order to marry her, who knew he would soon be haranguing his son for marrying a girl of his choice?

The final name in the list in Babar or – more accurately – Baabarr, a crime drama set in the ganglands of Uttar Pradesh where one Baabarr Qureshi ruled the underworld with aggressive help from the police and politicians. It traced his rise from a poor little boy to a dreaded gangster and pitted him against two charismatic actors as police officers – Om Puri and Mithun Chakraborty. The movie’s tagline ominously declared “I was... I am... I will be... Baabarr” which did nothing to improve the collections and Baabarr collapsed at the box office.
Historical Alert: The last time Om and Mithun formed a team was when the former was the latter’s manager in Disco Dancer and you could say Mithun was the Emperor of Disco!  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Filmi Fridays: Go Goa!

My weekly column for Yahoo! Movies, first published here.

This week, Saif plays a blond, wannabe-Russian, zombie-hunter operating in India’s Party Capital – Goa. Be it a band of comrades fighting for independence or be it a trio of friend living it up in a Merc convertible, Goa has been a big hit with moviegoers. Here’s a look at ten of those movies.

Saat Hindustani went on a mission – ahead of Indian troops – to destabilize the Portugese rule through a symbolic protest of raising the Indian flag atop seven buildings in occupied Goa. Hailing from different parts of India and following different religions, these seven Indians were symbols of unity in diversity. Even the actors who played the roles had their actual identities and characters criss-crossed. Bengali actor Utpal Dutt played a Punjabi while Malayalam actor Madhu played a Bengali. Actor Anwar Ali (brother of comedian Mehmood) played a Hindu while a new actor called Amitabh Bachchan played a Muslim character (called Anwar Ali)!
KA Abbas directed this patriotic drama that wasn’t about idyllic Goa but more about the mission to free it.

Amitabh Bachchan returned to the Goan liberation movement in Pukar as Ramdas a.k.a. Ronnie. He was the good guy (and freedom fighter’s son) who crossed over to the dark side (due to a misunderstanding with this father’s comrades). He sported a mean moustache and wooed a Goan girl – Julie (Zeenat Aman) – with what was probably the most famous ‘sea song’ in Bollywood. Samandar mein nahake could have only been set in Goa – if not for the beach setting, then certainly for Amitabh’s flashy blue-yellow-striped jacket.
(And to restrict the number of Amitabh Bachchan movies, I am skipping Bombay To Goa since it is more about the trip and less about the place!)

After the pop-patriotism, came Shyam Benegal’s brooding family drama – Trikal – where a Portugese family struggled to come to terms with the Indian Army’s takeover of Goa. With superb art direction and lush depiction of Goa, the film was vintage arthouse fare that made Benegal famous. Naseeruddin Shah was the narrator who told the story in flashback and a wonderful ensemble cast populated the story.
Trivia Alert: Three playback singers – Lucky Ali, Remo Fernandes and Alisha Chinai – made screen appearances in this film.

The moment Goa got free, drug peddlers came and settled down. One of their first victims was Cyrus Broacha (WHAT?) who made his cinematic debut in Jalwa as heroine Archana Puran Singh’s drug-addicted younger brother. The battle against drugs was led by Naseeruddin Shah who threw aside his ‘art film’ subtlety and put on some serious muscle for this role. Archana Puran Singh made her name with the Yeh hai jalwaaaaaaaa song with the sea in the background as Remo did his brand of vocal calisthenics.
Trivia Alert: Farah Khan was a backup dancer in one of the songs.

Shah Rukh Khan countered his villainous turn in Baazigar with a super-cute role in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na, where he played the forever-flunking, musically inclined Sunil in Goa. While the beaches and fishermen remained only as props, the laidback attitude, the music and the Portugese priests were all there. Add to that a band of musicians, a Mafia Don called Anthony Gomes, a restaurant called China Town and you had the perfect picture of Goa. Wait… why a Chinese restaurant in Goa? Arre, just!

“Welcome to Goa, Singham!”
Villain Prakash Raj made this ominous invitation to Ajay Devgn and that was pretty much the only Goa in the movie. The sea food and siesta got replaced by flying kicks and revolving SUVs. Playing the title role of Singham, Devgn got down and dirty with the goons of Goa and the fabled susegad didn’t have a chance. Not venturing anywhere near the beaches and shacks, he was content tearing lamp posts off promenades. Clearly, a philistine!

A champion con-man came to Goa, followed by three women whom he had cheated earlier. And the game was afoot.
Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl chose Goa as the venue of the final showdown between Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma as they scouted idyllic locations for the perfect restaurant she wanted to start. That restaurant was part of an elaborate con the ladies were playing to recoup their money but Goa’s languid pace and verdant surroundings play the strangest of tricks on the most hardened people. And somebody fell in love with somebody. As I said, the game was afoot.

In the new wave of low-budget, off-beat films, we had Love Wrinkle Free. It was a comedy set in Goa where a salesman (Ash Chandler) planned to start his own business of – hold your breath – edible underwear. The obsession with soccer and siesta was brought out beautifully as our protagonist bumbled around his new business, his old wife and his mid-life crisis. Apart from the nostalgic favourites, the movie touched upon the new problems of Goa too.

Talking of Goa’s new problems, Dum Maaro Dum – as the title indicated – looked at the drug smuggling and mess that it has created among the young people. Abhishek Bachchan was the dour ACP chasing drug heists as a pretty airhostess (Bipasha Basu) and a confused youngster (Rana Daggubati) flitted in and out of love and jail. And finally, we had a movie that touched the Holy Grail of Goa entertainment – the rave party! (Complete with Deepika Padukone sporting a sexy tattoo. Beat that, God’s own country!)

The final name of the list has to be that film that made Goa ‘cool’. It is my contention that Goa’s ascension of the top holiday destination in India was largely brought about by Dil Chahta Hai.
Farhan Akhtar’s tale about three Bombay dudes doing cool things in Goa (even though it was for a short while in the film) was super-aspirational and was almost like an ad film for the destination. The montage of places in Goa – as part of the title song – playing incessantly on TV probably did more for Goa than any tourism development initiative. Of course, we didn’t have Merc convertibles to zip off in but Akash, Sameer and Siddharth’s capers in Goa would have prompted many a trio to get into their rickety cars and take off. After all, Goa is a place jo dil chahta hai… 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

A Star Is Born

My family has a thing for - what we call - 'gaalbhora' (literally, a mouthful) names though they got shortened by well-meaning friends. I am Diptakirti going around as Dipta while my sister is Debanjana, now known as Debbie. (Not Debi, unfortunately. Sigh.)
Probably scarred by our efforts in explaining these long names to less evolved people, my sister and I decided to give simple names to our children. (Dyujoy is a simple name, okay?) While I had Joy and Deeti, my sister came up with Tara. (She lives in a civilised place where they let you know the child's gender beforehand.) My mother murmured some desire for a 'gaalbhora naam' but then, my sister has never listened to anybody in her entire life.

I was quite tickled to because
(a) My sister's nickname is Moon. And now there is a Star.
(b) The second part of Phoolon ka, taaron ka arrived before the first part. (Page 114 of Kitnay Aadmi Thay, dudes!)

* * * * * *
As I have mentioned twice before, I strongly believe in birthdays passing on traits. We already have a Roger Waters in the family and an International Woman of Mystery.
When I first heard my sister was due for delivery in the first week of May, my first thought was to wish for a May 2nd date. No other date (not even October 11) holds so much meaning for me as this one and if I could choose a date for any of my kids, I would have chosen this one without a shade of doubt.
When QSQT turned 25 earlier this week, I slyly thought my sister probably deserves her daughter to be born on that day. I know she herself wanted it when she messaged me - somewhat resignedly - after a checkup.
So thankfully, the little girl decided to come today and ensure her Mamu will forget everything else in the world but not her birthday.

Welcome, Miss Tara Nair. May you grow up to be a Ray heroine.