Thursday, June 27, 2013

Indie.Genius: Bollywood’s New ‘New Wave’

Apart from the trivia about the stars, I wrote the following piece for the Brunch Collector's Edition on Bollywood - on the new age filmmakers. The ones who are going from Toronto to Tardeo, from Cannes to Cinemax. 
Did I tell you that the issue is a steal at hundred bucks? Well, I will just repeat myself then. The issue is a steal at hundred bucks. Buy it yesterday. 
And do take a look at the cover. What can I say except the issue is a steal... 

In 1997, Ram Gopal Verma started work on a gangster movie and hired a twenty-five year old novice to co-write the script with Saurabh Shukla. After shooting the first scene, RGV realized ‘this is not what my film is about’ and trashed the script. He canceled the schedule and packed off his writers to do the script all over again.  
For all my attempts at suspense, all of you know the movie was Satya and the novice writer was Anurag Kashyap. And this partnership with Ram Gopal Verma probably sowed the seeds of the low-budget, different-with-a-vengeance, quasi-indie revolution we are seeing today.

Ram Gopal Verma used the success of Rangeela and Satya to dictate terms to producers and green-lighted a slew of unusual scripts helmed by some very talented directors. He called his production company The Factory and his assembly line included Chandan Arora (Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon), Sriram Raghavan (Ek Hasina Thi) and Shimit Amin (Ab Tak Chhappan) among others. Some of these films suffered from the obvious haste in which they were made while some were ahead of their times.

A decade later, Anurag Kashyap replicated the model. After the success of Dev D and Gangs Of Wasseypur, he has backed directors like Vikramaditya Motwane (Udaan and the forthcoming Lootera), Bejoy Nambiar (Shaitan), Raj Kumar Gupta (Aamir) and Sameer Sharma (Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana). Not all of his ventures have been successful (Aiyya, for example) but most of these directors have scaled greater heights. Both Raj Kumar Gupta and Bejoy Nambiar made much bigger second films (No One Killed Jessica and David, respectively) while the rest are looking good for more.

Ram Gopal Verma’s dichotomy of creative energy and financial doldrums taught the next generation of filmmakers to be a lot savvier in their quest to make different films. By keeping production costs low, marketing films innovatively and co-opting the support of big production companies, the financial success has become much more achievable. Adopting a guerilla way of shooting, charming themselves into locations instead of building expensive sets and choosing talented actors instead of stars, these directors have taken cognizance of their still-limited audience and scaled down their budgets, not their ambition. 
Anurag Kashyap’s made Gangs of Wasseypur was made for Rs 18 crores, less than Salman Khan’s fees for one film. Sujoy Ghosh made Kahaani for about Rs 8 crores while Tigmanshu Dhulia and Shoojit Sircar made their magnum opii for Rs 5 crores or less. None of their bootstrapping was visible in the films, all of which made big money at the box-office even by Bollywood’s ten-digit standards.  

What these makers lack in financial muscle, they more than make up for in innovation. The marketing of their films have gone off traditional media and used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube instead.
@RamadhirSingh appeared on Twitter. Vidya Bagchi looked for her husband on Mumbai local trains. The Shanghai cast went to college campuses instead of malls. With ‘making of’ videos and by engaging in real-time conversations with fans, these filmmakers have fully understood the need for marketing their niche products and have done so with panache.

To woo the musically inclined Indian audience, these films have gone beyond the item number.
For Gangs Of Wasseypur, composer Sneha Khanwalkar took off on research trips to Bihar and Trinidad (!) which ended with her picking up novices who sang for the final soundtrack, which was authentic and eminently hummable. Amit Trivedi has become the acknowledged master of real sounds. His Kai Po Che score evoked Gujarati energy while Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana was as smooth as Punjabi butter. Be it the edgy Dev D or the dulcet Wake Up Sid, Trivedi’s music for these films have busted the charts and added one more reason to watch them.

Not only music but in all departments – editing that paces the film right, totally real casting and gritty, pulse-pounding action – these films have managed to take elements of the masala blockbuster and imbue them with realism. Without sacrificing the entertainment.

While these films have made their mark, their impact seems bigger on Twitter than in the real world. For all its cult status, Gangs Of Wasseypur collected in the region of Rs 50 crores (both parts put together), still some distance away from Bollywood’s Rs 100 crores Holy Grail. Another critics’ darling – Paan Singh Tomar – made just Rs 20 crores. But as Vidya Balan proved with Kahaani’s blockbuster success, one major star in the mix multiplies the mass appeal.

As these films slowly take root in a country obsessed with pretty things, we see a director like Anurag Kashyap become a star in the truest sense of the word. When he is not attending international film festivals, he appears in advertisements for Cadbury chocolates. What better sign do you need of these films becoming an idea whose time has come? 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Filmy Fridays: UP-wala Thumka

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.
Have been tardy with the earlier columns. Will publish everything punctually from now on. God promise.

As Dhanush flamboyantly woos Sonam Kapoor on the galis and ghats of Banaras, it might be a good idea to see why Uttar Pradesh has become a favourite locale for Bollywood.
(Director of Raanjhanaa, Aanand L Rai, seems to be in love with the state. His earlier film, Tanu Weds Manu, was set in Kanpur.)

Much before Raanjhanaa, Banaras came into limelight with a song. 
Amitabh Bachchan is a Ganga kinare wala chhora in real life and he celebrated it with gay abandon in Don, making Paan Banaras wala deliriously famous. The song, originally written for Dev Anand’s Banarasi Babu, has been the anthem of UPites ever since.  

In Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Rani Mukherjee’s impoverished family was based in Banaras before she became a ‘high-society call-girl’ in Mumbai. The ancient ghats and dilapidated havelis made an interesting backdrop to the story as an entire song was affectionately devoted to the quirks and idiosyncrasies of being a Banarasi (Hum toh aise hain, bhaiyya).

Apart from the paan of Banaras, the jhumka of Bareilly gained nationwide (if not worldwide) fame because of another classic song performed – on and off screen – by legendary stars.
In Mera Saaya, Sadhana popped up as a street performer in a crowded marketplace and complained she had dropped her ear ornament in a Bareilly market. Asha Bhosle’s spirited rendition of Jhumka gira re went on immortalize the Western UP town.   

A girl brought to Lucknow. She was trained in the fine arts of music and seduction. And she became Umrao Jaan. The legendary courtesan has been portrayed by two of Bollywood’s biggest stars. Rekha’s legendary enigma was superbly exploited by Muzaffar Ali and it was buoyed by Khayyam’s music.
JP Dutta’s version with Aishwarya Rai fell flat, though.

Bollywood’s paid homage to Kanpur through Tashan – in ballistic, bombastic style. Akshay Kumar was a Kanpur toughie who made his name playing as Raavan in a Ramlila play. His style found an admirer in city slicker Saif Ali Khan who paid the ultimate tribute to Kanpur by saying he had to become one to stay alive: Ab zinda rehne ke liye mujhe kuch aur banna hoga, khatarnaak banna hoga, chaalaak banna hoga, Kanpuriya banna hoga…

Two absconding criminals – Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi – went all across UP before finding sanctuary in Gorakhpur. The don, whom they had come for, was already dead and his widow (Vidya Balan) became their unlikely partner. Ishqiya was a tale of love and lust garnished with the colourful language of eastern UP and the cottage industry of Gorakhpur – kidnapping.

Whenever the students of the elite Rajput and the pajama chhaap Model locked horns on a race track and beyond, we got so caught up in their rivalry that we forgot where they were located. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar opened with a commentary about pahadiyon ke beech mein ek khubsoorat jannat – Dehradun, a ‘heaven-on-earth’ which also had some of the best schools and colleges in the country.
Dehradun’s academic creds haven’t dimmed in the last twenty years as St Teresa of Student Of The Year was also located there.

While Bunty Aur Babli carried out their capers all over UP, they were not from any real town. And yet from every town. As residents of Phursatganj and Pankhinagar, they inhabited the world of railway colonies, river ghats, crowded bazaars, seedy hotels, upright parents and the lure of success that is part of the fabric of every town in UP. 

The bloody rivalry of the Qureishi and Chauhan clans were played out in a typical small town called Almore. The details of the fictional small town were alarmingly real as shady political goons, petty hooligans and flamboyant local heroes held centre-stage with country-made revolvers and disarming smiles. This was the deadly location for the violent love story of Ishaqzaade

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Orebaba! Aur 40 Stars?

Brunch, the Sunday magazine of Hindustan Times (with whom I have a passing connection), has come up with a glossy Collector's Edition on Bollywood. The Editor of Brunch - Poonam Saxena - is a big movie fan who sneaks in a cinema-connected cover story every now and then. With this special issue, they have completely outdone themselves in terms of the photos, design and the content. They have got fifty stars writing about fifty stars.
Pick up the issue. At 100 bucks, it is a steal! 

I ended up writing a piece on Bollywood's New 'New Wave' and looked at how the 'indie' (which is not actually indie in India) movement is taking shape and gaining momentum. Will post that piece later.  
I was also co-opted to write some Short Takes on the fifty stars - some small snippets of trivia - to go with the profiles, a sort of light counterpoint to the 'tribute' / 'appraisal' that was the main thing. I wrote more than 250 snippets of trivia - about five per star. Posting the whole thing would probably crash Blogger. So, I am choosing forty of those - the ones I really liked and/or discovered during the 'research'. 

The forty stars have been divided into four logic-less sections.  

This Is The Beginning
  1. Shah Rukh Khan’s first movie appearance was in a Doordarshan-produced telefilm, co-scripted by Arundhati Roy. It was called In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones and he played a ‘gay-ish’ character.
  2. Anil Kapoor’s first screen appearance was in a movie called Tu Payal Main Geet, in which he played the young Shashi Kapoor.
  3. Farooq Shaikh’s film debut was in Garam Hawa, an acclaimed film made by MS Sathyu. After this, he was noticed by Satyajit Ray and played a small but significant role in Shatranj Ke Khiladi
  4. Vidya Balan’s first film to release was a Bengali one called Bhalo Theko (as three films in Tamil and Malayalam she was signed for, were either shelved or Vidya was dropped).
  5. A struggler for a very long time, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s first screen appearance was in Sarfarosh. He played a petty criminal being interrogated by Aamir Khan and Mukesh Rishi in a police lockup. He has played the role of a washerman in a Pepsi ad with Sachin Tendulkar. He hid himself behind the clothes whenever the camera turned to him since he didn’t want to seen in the ad.  
  6. Malaika Arora Khan met her husband Arbaaz, while shooting a steamy ad for MR Coffee.
  7. Shilpa Shetty started her modeling career at the age of 16 with an advertising campaign for Limca.
  8. One of Paresh Rawal’s earliest film roles was in a telefilm Holi, directed by Ketan Mehta. In this film (made in a FTII workshop for graduating students), many future stars contributed – including one Aamir Hussain who later became famous as Aamir Khan.
  9. One of the few Indian actors who have regularly appeared in big-ticket Hollywood productions, Irrfan Khan made his film debut in an international production – Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay.
  10. Farhan Akhtar was an apprentice on Yash Chopra’s Lamhe and an assistant director on Himalay Putra, which was Akshaye Khanna’s debut film. Maybe he pitched the idea of Dil Chahta Hai to him then?
  11. When Ranbir Kapoor passed his Class X Boards (with 53% marks), Neetu Singh cried with joy as he was the first Kapoor to have passed school without failing a single year.
What's In A Name? 
  1. In Pyar To Hona Hi Tha, Ajay Devgn played a conman who stole a credit card to cover his expenses. The name on the credit card was Kumar Mangat, his then-secretary and executive producer of his productions.
  2. Hrithik’s nickname is Duggu, which is a reverse of father Rakesh Roshan’s nickname – Guddu.
  3. Parineeti Chopra’s parents named her after seeing a Prakash Jha film called Parinati (starring Nandita Das among others).
  4. In Raakh (which released just after QSQT), Aamir’s character was called Aamir Hussain – which is actually his real name and the only time Aamir has been called Aamir on screen.
  5. Salman’s full name is Abdul Rashid Salim Salman Khan. In Sanam Bewafa, Salman Khan played a character called Salman Khan.
  6. Arshad Warsi’s son is called Zeke Zidane. He appeared in a cameo in Salaam Namaste along with mother, Maria Goretti. If you thought his son’s name wasn’t weird enough, Arshad named his daughter Zene Zoe.
  7. Om Puri’s full name Om Prakash Puri wasn’t considered ‘smart’ enough for the movies. So he tried names like Vilom Puri and Azdak Puri before falling back on Om!
  8. John Abraham played the lead role in Anurag Kashyap’s surreal No Smoking. His friend’s role in the film was supposed to be played by writer-director Abbas Tyrewala, who dropped out and Ranvir Shorey played the role. That’s why Ranvir’s character was called Abbas Tyrewala.
  9. In Agent Vinod, Saif Ali Khan played a RAW agent with multiple identities. He used names like Kapil Dev, Vinod Khanna, Freddie Khambatta and Mahendra Sandhu. The last one was the name of the actor who played Agent Vinod in the 1977 film.
  10. Kareena Kapoor’s name is derived from Anna Karenina, which her mother was reading while she was pregnant and was very impressed with the iconic heroine.
You Only Know Half The Story
  1. In a much-publicised poll conducted by BBC, Amitabh Bachchan was voted the Star of the Millennium beating Sir Lawrence Olivier and Sir Alec Guinness. In the same poll, Homer Simpson came 5th and Govinda came 10th.
  2. Sonakshi’s father is the youngest four brothers – Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan. And in a next-gen extension, she has two brothers – Luv and Kussh. By the way, their house in Mumbai is called Ramayana.
  3. After an affair with Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika tattooed RK on the nape of her neck. After they broke up, she redesigned the tattoo to make it (sort of) look like TMK. For all her troubles, she was chosen ‘Tattoo Queen’ by India’s first Tattoo Convention.
  4. Konkona Sen Sharma’s father, Mukul Sharma, is a science writer and author (who used to write a popular puzzle column in The Times Of India called MindSport). He acted as the male lead of Parama, directed by Aparna Sen. He also wrote the short story on which Ek Thi Daayan is loosely based on.
  5. Ayushmann Khurana’s first job after completing studies was a radio jockey for Big FM in Delhi, where he hosted a show called Maan Na Maan, Main Tera Ayushmann. RJing runs in the family as his brother – Apaarshakti – is also a RJ in Delhi. Going by both their names, their parents’ hobby seems to be generating tongue-twisters.
  6. To mark the 10th anniversary of Ranu Mukerji’s first superhit Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, an animated version of the movie was made starring dogs in the three lead roles (and other animals for the remaining characters). It was called Koochie Koochie Hota Hai and Rani did the voice-over for her original character, Tina.
  7. Naseeruddin Shah is an enthusiastic photographer. He has been credited with ‘Still Photography’ for Khamosh. Even in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, the camera he used in the film was his own. 
  8. In the award-winning Life of Pi, Irrfan played a character called Pi. In the movie Chocolate, he played a character called Pipi.
  9. Rishi Kapoor and his sweetheart Neetu Singh got married in a grand ceremony, which was the first time Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan performed in India.
The Connections 
  1. Abhishek Bachchan has appeared with Amitabh Bachchan playing the latter’s grandson (Delhi 6), son (Sarkar), father (Paa) and unrelated (Bunty Aur Babli).
  2. Akshay Kumar has acted in nine Khiladi films. Eight of them - KhiladiMain Khiladi Tu AnariSabse Bada KhiladiKhiladiyon Ka KhiladiMr & Mrs KhiladiInternational KhiladiKhiladi 420 and Khiladi 786 - are in real life. The ninth is when he appeared as a star of a film called Return Of Khiladi for his guest appearance in Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om.
  3. Kajol and her aunt Nutan have won the highest number of Filmfare Awards for Best Actress (five each). In addition to that, Kajol has also won a Filmfare Award for Best Performance in a Negative Role. I should not tell you which film it is for as that would give away the ending!
  4. Sonam Kapor and Ranveer Singh are cousins (from their mother’s side). In Sonam’s second film (Delhi 6) and Ranveer’s first (Band Baaja Baaraat), they played characters with the same name – Bittoo Sharma.
  5. Anushka Sharma and Deepika Padukone (along with other notables like Margaret Alva, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Nirupama Rao) have been students of Bangalore’s Mount Carmel College (though it is not clear if they completed their courses).
  6. Abhay Deol seems to love working with debutant directors. His first five films – Socha Na ThaAhista AhistaHoneymoon Travels Pvt LtdEk Chalis Ka Last LocalManorama Six Feet Under – were the directors’ first films.
  7. Shabana Azmi has the highest number of National Awards for Best Actress – five – including a hattrick for ArthKhandhar and Paar (1982-84). She created a record at the Filmfare Awards when she won four nominations in a single year (1984) for ArthAvtaarMandi and Masoom. (The only other nominee was Sridevi for Sadma.)
  8. In quick succession, Bipasha Basu appeared in two ‘Billo’ films. In Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, she performed a hit song called Billo Rani while in Omkara, her name was Billo Chamanbahar.
  9. Apart from ‘serial kisser’, Emraan Hashmi can also be called a ‘sequel king’ as he has acted in five sequels till date (Murder 2Murder 3Jannat 2Raaz 2Raaz 3) – the highest among lead actors of the day.
  10. In 2002, both Karisma and Kareena Kapoor were nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Actress – for Zubeidaa and Asoka respectively. This is the only time siblings have been nominated in the same year.
  11. In three of her films, Katrina Kaif came close to marrying a foreigner before turning to the hero – Partner (Peter), Namaste London (Charlie Brown) and Jab Tak Hai Jaan (Roger).
So, how many of these really surprised you? Oh come on, tell me the truth!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The YJHD Anachronisms

Why I Love Twitter Reason #352
A tweeter who goes by the cryptic screen name of Inspector and handle of @angrykopite came up with this brilliant analysis of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. When I was watching the movie, I did get an inkling if the cricket match was correctly placed in history but then I thought what I think nowadays - "Theek hi hoga...". But Inspector, of course, had a keener grip on these tiny details.

I posted the picture on Facebook. And needless to say, people had points of view. Most importantly, Abhishek Mukherjee a.k.a. Oh Yes Abhi a.k.a. Ovshake.
2013 is an assumption here. Given the heavy costumes of the wedding in Udaipur, it can be safely assumed that the wedding took place in winter, which means it was the winter of 2012-13.
This means that the "8 years earlier" incidents happened at least before the 2004 Holi. The India-Pakistan series had started on March 13, 2004 - but unfortunately Holi was on March 6 that year.
What about 2003, then? The famous India-Pakistan World Cup match had taken place on March 1, 2003, while Holi fell on March 14. We can be happy with 2003, then.
The India-Pakistan match started at 2 PM IST. Didn't Kalki say something about getting up at 6 AM and making ham sandwiches?

This led me to wonder if we can conclusively establish the date of the match and the date of Holi of that year. As most of you are aware, Bollywood research takes inordinate amount of checks and cross-checks. But then, I went after Sharmila Tagore's book without Google or YouTube.

These are my observations and findings:

Normally, Abhishek has a much sharper mind and observation but a few weeks in Haryana may have blunted some of that sharpness. It does not need to be assumed that the wedding took place in December 2012. It was very clearly mentioned that the 'destination wedding' took place in Udaipur between 20th and 25th December. New Year's Eve was a few days later, remember?

Also, "8 years earlier" should mean anything between "7.50 - 8.49 years earlier". That can mean either a 2004 or a 2005 Holi.
Why not a little bit earlier, say 2003?
To answer that, we have to get back to the match. What do we know about it?
1. India lost the match.
2. Mohammed Kaif was batting and was out caught.
3. India's score was partially heard as "143 for..."
4. It was an "India-Pakistan series" and not a Champion's Trophy or World Cup.
[That's what I know about it. I am sure youngsters with sharper eyes and ears would have picked up more.]

So, now we go to Cricinfo.
Then, we go to Statsguru.
We search for ODIs between India and Pakistan played between 2002 and 2005, in which India lost.
And what do we see?
The first match India lost during this period was on 16 March 2004.
(India had a fantastic victory in the 2003 Centurion match and the way Sachin batted in that match, I don't think Bunny could have convinced Avi to move away from the TV and go on a vacation. Also, it was not a series.)
In these ten matches, there was only one occasion when there was a batting collapse AND Kaif was out caught. And when he got out, the score was 143-7.
And that match was in Jamshedpur on 9 April 2005.

However, that brings forward a second anachronism.
India batted second in that match and the part of the match we saw would have been happened in the afternoon. And Kalki's culinary adventure, Farooque Shaikh's late-night sermon, Deepika's early morning flight all pointed to an early morning departure.

If you notice, this research did not change anything from the original assertion by @angrykopite but the amount of fun I had while doing this useless thing (while watching a useless awards show and a useless movie) is something quite irrational.
And that, my friends, is why I love Bollywood Reason #31,41,592.
(Yes, it is an irrational love.)

Monday, June 03, 2013

Rituparno Ghosh: 10 Favourite Films

While writing my earlier post on Rituparno Ghosh, I was amazed to realise that nearly half of his twenty directorial ventures are right up there among my favourite films. That puts him second only to Ray in my list. Not even Ritwik Ghatak had made so many A++ films.
My reminisces continued for the better part of yesterday and today and I hadn’t bargained for how sad I would feel on hearing about his death. Apart from the subtle hold he had over me with his films, the unexpectedness of his death had a lot to do with it.
At forty-nine, a director is usually reaching his peak. As my friend Suhel Banerjee pointed out, (given his age) Rituparno’s death is a bigger loss to Bengali cinema than Ray’s. With this in mind, I decided to cling more to the memories and yield ten of my favourite Rituparno films.
There are no ‘Tagore films’ in this list. But then, each one of his films is steeped in Tagore – much like how a Bengali life usually is. We often forget how much The Bearded One is part of our lives. Rituparno Ghosh’s films are perfect antidotes for that oversight.

Unishey April
My mother and I watched it together and I remember both of us staring at each other for a few seconds when the last frame dissolved and then breaking into smiles. Without speaking, we knew this was the best ending the film could have got and the writer-director wasn’t an ordinary one. Of course, the film was almost perfect in every other way.  
 As many commentators noted in their tributes, Rituparno got the bhadralok Bengali audiences back to the theatre and Unishey April was a magical start.

As I just wrote, this is my favourite Rituparno Ghosh film. It took a very sensitive topic and gave the most well-balanced take possible. It was set in 1998 Calcutta. It could well be 2013 Delhi. Or 2020 Mumbai. More than the maturity (and sensitivity) with which he handled the topic, it was the writing which took my breath away. Having cut my cinema-appreciation teeth on Satyajit Ray, I remember feeling almost blasphemous when I thought that the writing – dialogues, screenplay – was almost like Ray’s.

Rituparno, I felt, loved uncomfortable situations – at least in his films. In Ashukh, he created a situation where a daughter had to speculate on her father’s possible sexual relations. A series of uncomfortable situations and tense relationships were explored masterfully in Utsab. The old decaying mansion of the film was – to me – a metaphor for the city of Calcutta and the talented but squabbling relatives its citizens. When I saw the film, I had already become a probashi and the helplessness at the imminent downfall of the family – examined during Durga Pujo – was a gut-wrenching experience.

Boy loves girl. Boy loses girl. Boy meets girl – again. Boy also meets girl’s daughter.
For me, Titli was Lamhe meets Kapurush. When you go to see a film that seems to be a hybrid of two earlier movies you love, you almost pre-decide to hate the movie. I did exactly the same but came back converted. The music – especially the title song – warmed my heart. The writing wowed me. And the performances of the three lead actors just blew me away.
(I think I had just seen Konkona’s debut – Ek Je Achhey Kanya – with considerable dismay. I became her fan with Titli. And Mithun. How can you not like Mithun when he plays a movie star?)

Shubho Maharat
Unlike some of his earlier films, I decided to like Shubho Maharat much before I saw it. Raakhee as a Bangali Miss Marple (with a name as endearing as Ranga pishima) was brilliant. And the best part of the movie was the smoothness with which she solved the crime, without ever going anywhere near the scene of crime and yet making it perfectly plausible.
After this one, I had hoped for a series of Miss Marple films (or at least a television series) but that never happened.

When Chetan Bhagat and Vinod Chopra were fighting over credits for 3 Idiots, I remembered an interview of Rituparno, where he stated that the credit to O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi was given at the end of the film only to retain the suspense but it was against his principle to not credit the original writer upfront. O’Henry received a Bangali makeover as we got to know that Aishwarya Rai could actually act and Ajay Devgn’s Zakhm wasn’t a flash in the pan.

He went back to an uncomfortable situation – with a vengeance. A wife learns of his husband’s infidelity after an accident which kills the husband’s lover and renders the husband critically injured. The wife’s family, the husband’s colleagues, the lover’s husband and an assortment of bloody real characters played out the aftermath of the accident. Konkona delivered an understated but powerhouse performance. Before the movie, I expected her to chew Prasenjit up and ‘expose’ him. I think it is Rituparno’s directorial baton that got Prasenjit to match her scene by scene.

The Last Lear
A long time back, I had imagined Amitabh Bachchan as an actor in the twilight of his career. The arrogance of having been the emperor once upon a time. The desperation of seeing it all slip away. The frustration of seeing midgets occupying centre-stage. The guilt of ignoring his family. The pain of them now ignoring him. The contempt for his contemporaries compromising to do character roles. The obsession of trying to get a final hurrah before the curtain falls. And the quest for a group of people who would be ready to gamble on this old war-horse…
Rituparno delivered this exact story of my dreams to me – with only a few small modifications. What’s there not to love in it?

A lot of people saw Satyajit Ray’s life story in this film. I didn’t. I just felt Dipankar Dey gave the performance of a lifetime in this film as an eccentric film director who gave up his family for fame and regretted it at the twilight of his life. Or did he regret it? They forgave him for that. Or did they? I remember being a little unimpressed with the film while watching it but ended thinking about the questions it asked for several days afterwards till I had to pull out the DVD and watch it once again. Rituparno did that sort of thing to you.  

And yes, there are only nine films in the list. I am leaving one space for Satyanweshi, which will – I am hoping – overtake Ray’s Byomkesh film.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Rituparno Ghosh: A Few Random Thoughts

When I was studying business administration in Jamshedpur, I got up very early on a Sunday morning to attend a film festival, braving a terrible hangover, torrential rains and knee-deep water-logging. The film I wanted to see was (what I then thought) the director's second film, based on a novel by a favourite author of mine.
Having loved - and even more, been intrigued - by the director's earlier film, I was eagerly awaiting this one though I remember thinking (in the auto to the auditorium) that the film was bound to be a disappointment - something I grew accustomed to. Having seen Bengali (and Hindi also, come to think of it) cinema in an inexorable decline, I just knew it. Why was I being a masochist when I could have slept off my hangover, I thought.
As you would have guessed from the context, the author was Suchitra Bhattacharya. The film was Dahan - which still remains my favourite film by Rituparno Ghosh. It would be unfair if I called Dahan merely Rituparno's best film. Along with Mahanagar, it is one of the two most brilliant documents on women's rights in India.

Having not watched Bengali cinema - or more importantly, not thought about it too much either - in recent times, I often mentioned Srijit Mukherji, Sujoy Ghosh or Dibakar Banerjee as the best Bengali directors in the country today. In the last couple of days, I thought about Rituparno Ghosh's twenty films (soon to be twenty-one) and realised I was thinking of the others as directors who were Bengalis. As a director of Bengali films, Rituparno Ghosh stood unparalleled. Even when he made so-called Hindi films like Raincoat and The Last Lear, the Bangaliyana just engulfed you like a warm embrace.

Over the last two days, I have been reading up all the tributes to him and wondering what has got left out. There has been a succinctly comprehensive appraisal by Sohini Mitter on the Forbes India blogs - highlighting his portrayal of women characters and understanding of Tagore.
There has been an affectionate thought from Tanmay Mukherjee on how would They meet?
An extensive interview by Kaustav Bakshi looks at his relationships with Ray and Tagore, his handling of actors (including child actors, which was remarkably similar to Ray himself) and his sexuality.
Sandip Roy looked at the missionary zeal with which he brought forward his support of the sexual minority and cleverly connected it with a feature of the Bengali language.
By and large, they have been around his forte of depicting women, Tagore and - in the last phase of his career - alternate sexuality.
UPDATED TO ADD: After I published this post, I found Arnab written - as usual - a balanced and nuanced take on Rituparno's legacy - which, I think, is the best of all the tributes written for the director.
Apart from that, Trisha Gupta wrote a nice piece on Rituparno's many hats - as actor, director and agent provocateur.

I feel one of Rituparno's abiding contribution to parallel cinema - which has not been acknowledged in the obituaries - has been his effort to bring it to the mainstream by improving its commercial viability. He chose to do this by having superstars in his films, without compromising the content or the form.
I think it is a matter of huge confidence when a parallel filmmaker takes on a star - his mannerisms, his airs, his ego - and squeezes out a great performance from him. Rituparno did this with aplomb and in his films, a roll-call of stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Ajay Devgn, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal, Jackie Shroff, Bipasha Basu and Rituparna Sengupta wowed the festival circuit, while bringing their box-office clout to his offbeat themes.
In this respect, one must remember that the actor of Shanghai, Baishey Srabon, Autograph, Moner Manush, Aparajita Tumi and (the forthcoming) Kakababu was delivered to us by Rituparno. Prasenjit gave up his box-office occasionally and turned to meaningful cinema (and even brought his clout to support it). Theirs was the most enduring - and most endearing - commercial-artistic partnership. As my mother once said, "Rituparno turned Possenjit into Prasenjit".

I will end with a favourite sequence of mine - the last few scenes of Shubho Maharat. Rituparno took diverse strands of realistic dialogue, strong women characters and Rabindranath Tagore to create a mesmeric ending to an already brilliant film.
Of course, you have watched it many times. Do watch it again. If not for anything else, the lines sound even more prophetic right now.
Jiban maraner shimana chharaye
Bandhu hey amar royechho dnaraye...