Saturday, August 31, 2013

Nostradamus By Night

This is a plea for someone else, disguised as self-promotion. (Wait. Shouldn't it be the other way round? Anyway...)

Yesterday, I tweeted this:

These are today’s reviews.
Anupama Chopra (Hindustan Times): “Though Bachchan and Bajpayee have played the upright patriarch and heinous politician for Jha before, both give striking performances. But the impact is diluted by a plot that lurches from one event to the next without giving us anything new.”

Rajeev Masand (IBN Live): “There are, however, some strengths in this endeavour, notably in the way Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai approach their roles. Bachchan infuses Dadu with righteous anger and heart-wrenching pathos, while Bajpai, saddled with the part of a caricaturish politician, evokes the required contempt.”

Pratim D. Gupta (The Telegraph): "Even in this schmaltzy slush, Bachchan’s solid. There is never a stare that is out of tune. So many films over the years have failed him, but he’s hardly failed a film. It’s his presence here –– as the face of the revolution –– that stops you from crushing candy on your phone."

Vinayak Chakravorty (India Today): “Finally, Big B. It is a performance that virtually dominates every twist of mood in the narrative. After two and half hours of a performance finely-nuanced, Jha gives an unbelievably filmy end to Dwarka's fate. If you still find yourself marvelling at the man's screen presence, that's Amitabh Bachchan for you.”

Sarita Tanwar (DNA): Watch it for Big B's performance. It would be a shame to miss that.

Saibal Chatterjee (NDTV): “Satyagraha has a clutch of fine performances with Bachchan, not surprisingly, leading the way with a measured interpretation of a character that sparks a revolt that threatens to spiral out of his grasp... Parts of Satyagraha make perfect sense but, on the whole, it never comes close to clicking into top gear. It leaves you more disappointed than angry.”

Piyasree Dasgupta (Firstpost): “Why Amitabh Bachchan can’t save the deadly bore fest” (This is the title of the review.)

Rummana Ahmed (Yahoo!): “While the script falters, Amitabh Bachchan’s performance never does. He is brilliant...”

Viewers' verdict ( “Satyagraha is a charged and intense drama guaranteed to move you as it's based on real events. Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpayee's performances make up for a weak script and execution. A solid watch, given its message.”

Somebody give the man a good script. Please. PLEASE. PLEASE!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Filmi Fridays: City City Bang Bang

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As John Abraham navigates protest groups to start his battle against Sri Lanka-based terrorist groups, a Café named after an erstwhile Indian city seems to be the epicentre of it all. It is, therefore, opportune for us to look at other Indian cities which have made it to titles of movies.

The capital of Bollywood has several notable films named after it – the latest one having a rather curious history. Love In Bombay was directed and produced by Joy Mukherjee in 1971 – at a time when his value as a romantic hero was seriously undermined by Rajesh Khanna – to bring back the glory of his Love In Tokyo and Love In Shimla. The Bombay episode never found a release when it was made but Joy’s sons managed to release it in 2013. The film had some of the frothy charm that made the 1970s romantic musicals famous but it was quite dated and did not get a wide viewership.  
Also starring Waheeda Rehman and Kishore Kumar, the film had a convoluted plot involving a shipwreck and a deserted island before landing up on Marine Drive.

Long before Mr India graced our screens, we had an invisibility caper – Mr X In Bombay. Starring Kishore Kumar, it was about a scientist discovering an invisibility potion and the jilted Kishore drinking it to ‘commit suicide’. He became invisible while people (especially his lady love) heard him and thought it was his bhaTakti aatma which was singing Mere mehboob qayamat hogi.
By the way, the above hit song was supposed to be his swansong as he sang it while mournfully walking around Taj Hotel and Gateway of India.   

Mumbai Express was Kamal Hassan. Before you think that Kamal put on prosthetic makeup and played a train (which, I am sure, he is capable of) – I have to divulge that Mumbai Express was merely his nickname and he was a deaf bike stuntman in the movie.
Made in both Tamil and Hindi, it was the story of the stuntman kidnapping a wrong boy and getting chased by all and sundry. Starting from the slums of Dharavi, it made the usual twists and turns (and some unusual ones as well) in anonymous parts of the city before settling down to become a flop.

Four of India’s most successful filmmakers – Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap – came together to make a portmanteau of short films, all celebrating the impact of Hindi movies on our lives. And the film couldn’t have been set anywhere except Bombay. And it couldn’t have been called anything except Bombay Talkies.
An executive out of love with his wife but in love with Madan Mohan. An out-of-work chawl-dweller finding meaning in a bit part. A boy who wants to be a dream girl. A small-town boy who wants to meet Amitabh Bachchan. Bombay was a bewitching, bewildering, heartless, heartbreaking presence in all four stories.

Delhi is fast replacing Bombay as the city of choice for filmmakers to set their stories in.
Kishore Kumar acted in a film called New Delhi in 1956, known for the Nakhrewali song.
Jeetendra also acted in a film called New Delhi in 1987, known for having no songs. Jeetendra played the editor of a newspaper who used an undercover journalist to get back at his enemies with devastating effect.
While on the subject of newspapers, we can also count Ramesh Sharma’s New Delhi Times, written by Gulzar and acted in by Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore. Shashi played the editor of the newspaper, who starts investigating a series of hooch deaths and ends up unravelling a lot more.   

Diamonds and shit made a lethal combination as three Delhi boys went about covering their asses in Delhi Belly. Imran Khan, Kunal Roy Kapur and Vir Das navigated through typical Delhi settings like Gurgaon high-rises, Daryaganj jewellery shops and boisterous farmhouse parties.
While you can argue the story could have been set in any other city, the director made the Delhi connection abundantly clear when a seemingly cool dude pulled out a gun at the slightest provocation and chased our hero’s Santro in a SUV. All this while Sweety sweety sweety tera pyaar chahida blared on the soundtrack! 

While on the topic of high-rises, we have Delhii Heights – a movie about the residents of a posh apartment block called Sea Rock. (Sigh. Of course not, yaar!) Marking Rabbi Shergill’s debut as a Bollywood music director, it had another Shergill – Jimmy – as the male lead opposite Neha Dhupia. They were a DINK couple who worked for ‘rival companies’ and grappled with all the attendant tension that brought about. Add to that a boisterous Sardarji (is there any other kind?), a cricket bookie and a flirtatious husband suffered by a long-suffering wife – and you pretty much have all the Delhi stereotypes all stitched up.

Delhi’s oldest and most distinctive quarters were immortalised in the title of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Delhi 6. A foreign-returned offspring of an old-timer clashed with the residents as the history of the serpentine alleys clashed with the modernity of the Delhi Metro snaking underneath them. Abhishek Bachchan was very good as the outsider while Sonam Kapoor was very good as the insider waiting to get out. The show was taken away by the character artistes who populated the grimy yet sweet scenery of Chandni Chowk.

While Calcutta has been the setting of many Bollywood movies, not many have named the city in the title. Except for Calcutta Mail, I am hard pressed to think of another one (unless you count Howrah Bridge). Sudhir Mishra directed Calcutta Mail, a thriller in which Anil Kapoor played a harried dad looking for his son in Calcutta before actions of his past life catch up and force him to escape. The seamy underbelly of Calcutta was photographed brilliantly even though the initial tensions dissipated somewhat towards the end.
Timetable Alert: There cannot be any train called Calcutta Mail because there is no station by the name. The metropolis is serviced by two large stations – Howrah and Sealdah.

In Bhopal Express, Kay Kay Menon played an auto driver, plying his three-wheeler in 1980s Bhopal as the world’s worst industrial accident ticked like a time-bomb in the background. His life, his love for his wife, his grudging liking for his city were brought about nicely in ad filmmaker Mahesh Mathai’s debut film – an offbeat effort of the late 1990s.
Illustrious Crew Alert: Noted adman Piyush Pandey and his brother Prasoon Pandey wrote the film while Zoya Akhtar did the casting of the junior artistes. Homi Adjania (of Cocktail and Being Cyrus fame) was the Assistant Director.

Strictly speaking, it is not a town. It was a suburb of Dhanbad town in Jharkhand, which has now come to become a part of the town itself. Zeishan Qadri, a boy who grew up in the suburb, went to Mumbai to try his luck in films and in the free time between auditions, he wrote a story about his hometown. As luck would have it, his story got heard and then picked up by Anurag Kashyap. That’s how, we got to know about the Gangs of Wasseypur

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Filmi Fridays: Do the Do!

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As we return to Mumbaai (note the spelling!) Dobaara and people are gushing over Akki’s mouche, it might be a good time to take a second look at Dobaara. That is, movies movies that that have have Do Do in in their their titles titles.
Agar do shabdon mein kahoon toh – Let’s Do the Do!

Dev Anand and Dev Anand were Hum Dono.
They were two armymen who got into a mistaken identity twist when one went missing in action and the other went to convey the bad news to the former’s family. Given their similarities, this was clearly NOT the thing to do as the ‘dead’ man’s family obviously mistook him for their own and he couldn’t say no. Thus, he left behind his girlfriend and life to become somebody else. So how did it get resolved? Well, I did put inverted commas around ‘dead’, didn’t I? 

Nana Patekar and Rishi Kapoor were Hum Dono, too.
They were two brothers – the legitimate and illegitimate sons of a millionaire, who decreed that both must come together to get their inheritance. So, the legitimate goes in search of the illegitimate and get into the customary scraps filmi brothers get into before uniting to fight the millions of flies a millionaire’s inheritance attracts.

Ashok Kumar and Jeetendra were Do Bhai. (Hilarious Note: The adventures of two underworld dons in UAE can be made into Do Bhai in Dubai. Har har de har.)
Okay, serious now.
Ashok Kumar was a judge while Jeetendra was the Superintendent of Police (and no, he didn’t wear white shoes with his uniform). They were living as happily as two dudes without women can manage till Ashok Kumar hired a governess for his child (Mala Sinha) who fell in love with Jeetu. Add to that a child born out of wedlock, a murder and an inconvenient witness to the murder and we had a cracker of a story – the ones that rocked the 1960s!

Raj Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar were Do Jasoos.
After a senti-romantic pairing in Sangam, they came together in this slapstick comedy – which has been a template for many similar outing (before and after). Two bumbling out-of-work detectives are employed to trace the missing daughter of a millionaire and the movie promptly becomes a series of gags.
And what happened to the missing daughter? Look – firstly, they had the wrong photo of the girl. Secondly, the name of the film is not Khoyi Ladki – no? Why you bother then?
Future TV Series Alert: Rajendra Kumar’s name in the movie was Karamchand, which went on to become the name of one of television’s most famous detectives (played by Pankaj Kapur). 

Dharmendra and Tanuja were Do Chor.
Dharmendra was the known con who was suspected when things went missing from rich people’s homes. To clear his name, he went looking and came across Tanuja who was behind the thefts. Obviously, she had a honourable motive – revenge for her father’s death – behind the crimes. Even more obviously, she soon found a lover and accomplice in Dharam. And most obviously, the two thieves stole each other’s hearts and there was a happy ending. 

Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz were NOT Do Raaste.
She sang Bindiya chamkegi as he looked all dashing and handsome in a tale of a joint family full of step brothers and sisters. Will the rich girl fall in love the poor boy or not? Will the hero do well in his exams or not? Will he take the path of selfishness or selflessness? If you think about Hindi movies, then none of these two raastas really pose any dilemmas.
The doosra bit about Do Raaste was that it started Rajesh Khanna off on a sequence of about ten superhits that was quite unprecedented in Bollywood history and set him up as Hindi cinema’s first superstar.

Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor were not Do Aur Do Paanch but they specialised in it.
They were two thieves out to kidnap a millionaire’s son by posing as teachers in the boy’s school. Released at the height of Amitabh’s stardom and the peak of the Amitabh-Shashi partnership, the movie was a series of hilarious pranks they played on each other to take control of the poor boy.

Mithun Chakraborti was Do Numbri.
Mithun acted in fourteen movies (yes, fourteen) in 1998 and this was one of them. It has been argued that all these movies made decent money (in terms of recovery of the costs) despite being identical in terms of storyline (Mithun is a heart-of-gold criminal who turns badass when his sister is raped and/or killed), location (the Mithun-owned Hotel Monarch in Oooty) and cast (Johnny Lever and/or Shakti Kapoor and/or unknown heroine from South).
If that doesn’t make Mithun Ek Numbri, I don’t know what will.   

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Filmy Fridays: Southern Discomfort

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As SRK and Deepika board Chennai Express this week, I anticipate an avalanche of stereotypes (and bad accents) thus perpetuating a strong Bollywood tradition of depicting South India in racist light. Here is a look at some of the South Indian stereotypes from down the ages.
[Knowledegable Chennai crowd, please excuse as this is an academic treatise.]

Mehmood is the easily the first and worst offender, who imprinted the South Indian stereotype in Bollywood with an exaggerated accent and dark makeup in Padosan. In Manna Dey’s classically trained voice, he belted out a Carnatic version of ‘Ek chatur naar’ and created comic mayhem before being defeated by Sunil Dutt and Kishore Kumar in the musical battle.

Mehmood returned as yet another Southern denizen in Gumnaam – this time as a Hyderabadi bawarchi in a deserted mansion where people were dying one by one. The lungi and accent firmly in place, he chose to sing an entire hit song around his dark skin and big heart (Hum kale hain toh kya hua dilwale hain).

The Hyderabadi accent returned once again in Hero Hiralal but this time, it was far more authentic as it was Naseeruddin Shah who was playing the auto driver in Hyderabad out to help a film crew in his city and fall in love with the heroine. You could say this was one of the few times a Southern character did not become a spoof in Bollywood.  

When Kamal Haasan debuted in Hindi, he had a thick Tamil accent. This disadvantage was turned into the plot of Ek Duje Ke Liye—where south Indian Kamal and north Indian Rati Agnohotri fell in love despite being from different sides of the Great Indian Divide. Kamal Haasan’s character learnt Hindi during the course of two songs, of which the more innovative one was composed entirely of Hindi film names sung to tune.

In (classic) Agneepath, Krishnan Iyer, MA (pronounced Yem Yeah!) had a Master’s degree from Kerala University but sold coconuts on the streets of Bombay and spoke in some Tamil words and accented Hindi. When he wasn’t saving mafia dons from assassinations, he was guarding the don’s sister and sang the original ‘lungi song’ – mixing (what I suspect could be) Bharat Natyam with Disco, calling it Disco Nariyal. Sigh.
And Mithun Chakraborty got a Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role.

Pralaynath Gendaswamy was the villain of Tirangaa. Played by Deepak Shirke, he turned out to be the ideal foil to Raj Kumar and Nana Patekar’s bombat in the hyper-jingoistic movie. There could be a debate if the makers intended this character to be South Indian or if anything (apart from the Swamy at the end of his name) indicated him to be one. But I will take away the benefit of doubt and list this one as well.

Feroz Khan remade Mani Ratnam-Kamal Hasaan magnum opus, Nayakan in Hindi as Dayavan and the hero (Vinod Khanna) purportedly had a Tamil accent. He was Shakthi Velu who was the savior of all South Indian people living in the slums of Bombay. Vinod Khanna did not seem to have made any effort in getting the accent right and depended on his half-folded white veshti to communicate his

In Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Mr Iyer decreed that his daughter Vaijayanthi (Juhi Chawla) would marry a boy from the community (and he even found a classical dancing pansy to fit the bill). Vaijayanthi had other plans and ran off to become the governess of a handsome bachelor’s (Aamir Khan) nephews and nieces.
Carnatic music was said to be boring. The South Indians had thick accents and purveyed high-quality Tamil wisdom. When Mr Iyer was asked what was wrong with Aamir for marriage with his daughter, he said with all honesty—‘Buraai kuch nahin. Woh achha chhokra hai. But he’s not an Iyer.’

All stereotypes are not negative.
In Ram Gopal Verma’s Company, we had Commissioner Sreenivasan—played by Mohanlal. With a strong Malayali accent and seemingly slow movements, his roots were made quite clearly visible right from the outset. And yet, behind the calm demeanour was a steely resolve and sharp brain to counter the aggression of the Mumbai underworld. Said to be modelled on real-life Mumbai Police Commissioner D. Sivanandan, this character was a positive stereotype from India’s most literate state.

In recent times, Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal franchise has become amazingly and inexplicably successful.
The series has an avalanche of spoofs, where every character and every scene is designed around taking somebody’s trip. Thus, it seems almost normal when you have Celina Jaitley playing a south Indian woman by the name of Meera Nair (!) in Golmaal Returns. As Shreyas Talpade’s wife, she went around in heavy Kanjeevarams, spewing aiyo ramas. While the stereotypes were hackneyed, the choice of the name was quite inspired.

In Ra.One, SRK played a video game developer called Shekhar Subramaniam. who loved eating noodles with curd! By professing this love for curd-noodles and interspersing his dialogues with stray Tamil phrases (most notably, inge vaa), SRK managed to piss off almost everyone in the southern part of the country. He tried to make amends by getting Rajinikanth in a special appearance but that did not cut too much ice either.
Now please note: SRK (Shankar Subramaniam in Ra.One) + Rohit Shetty (Meera Nair in Golmaal Returns) = Chennai Express. All the best!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Filmi Fridays: Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb!

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As we brace ourselves for an intoxicating introduction to Poonam Pandey this week, it is just the right time to look back at sexy debuts. Every once in a while, we have had the privilege of meeting a sexy siren whose debut blew our minds. Sometimes, they made a mark. Sometimes, they went into oblivion.

Long before the breathless reporting of 24x7 news channels could glamourise Bollywood, we had a sexy siren called Rehana Sultana. She graduated from FTII and made a mark in her very first film, Dastak for which she won a National Award.
Her claim to fame (or notoriety) happened with her second film – the sexually explicit Chetna, where she played a prostitute. The film’s poster had hero Anil Dhawan framed between her legs, causing many a flutter in the society and the Censor Board. After Chetna, she acted in a few other movies – most of which ended up becoming ‘Adults Only’. She changed her surname to Sultan (from Sultana) and claimed that she had donated the A to the Censor Board to put on her films!

When Raj Kapoor decided to make a film on the pollution of Ganges, his Ganga started off in pristine white in the mountains of Uttarakhand – unsullied and nearly uncovered. Mandakini made an explosive debut in Ram Teri Ganga Maili by playing the title role, which had a series of revealing scenes – all of which the director attributed to art and symbolism.
The front stalls certainly did not mind the waterfall dances and lovemaking scenes, making Ram Teri Ganga Maili the biggest hit of Raj Kapoor’s career. Imagine – bigger than Bobby, bigger than Sangam, bigger than Shri 420 was Mandakini in a see-through white saree!

Aashiqui had many debutants. The music directors – Nadeem-Shravan – were new. It was singer Kumar Sanu’s big break. He was singing for a new actor, Rahul Roy. And the actress was also new – Anu Agrawal. She came from a modelling background and unkind things were said about her acting talent. Aashiqui was a very successful debut, though not a sexy one. What she didn’t do in her first film, she more than made up in King Uncle and Khalnaaika immediately afterwards. A few explicit roles later, she vanished as suddenly as she had appeared.

Hemant Birje played the title role in Tarzan but show me one hot-blooded male who names him ahead of his heroine in the film and I will show you, well, a liar.
Kimi Katkar sang, danced, bathed, writhed, moaned, emoted and promoted in Tarzan – making her easily the most active Jane in the history of the franchise. The jungle and waterfalls provided ample opportunity for Kimi to display her ample assets and she did not miss a single chance.
Continuing from there, Kimi became something of a ‘bold’ heroine that continued till one of her last roles – Hum, where she was happily dispensing (or not) kisses to Amitabh Bachchan in a dockyard bar.  

If you think about it, Sonam was a Yash Chopra heroine in her debut film – Vijay. But instead of the trademark pastel chiffon saree, she was seen running on a beach in a shiny red bikini and the nation was agog. In a later interview, Yash Chopra regretted the scene as it was not necessary for the film. (At least he was honest enough to say so. Most directors and starlets seem to be believe bikini scenes are integral to the script!) Nevertheless, Sonam’s stardom was assured after this debut and in her short career, Sonam did a slew of bold-young-nymphet roles with much kissing and skin-show involved.

Flops are not rare in Bollywood. What is rare is the all-obliterating-not-a-shred-of-residue neutron-bomb-flop that destroys careers of pretty much everyone associated with it. Kaizad Gustad’s Boom was such a film.
Merging the story of an international crime syndicate with the Indian fashion industry, there were three supermodels at the heart of the story. The three actresses playing the leads were Madhu Sapre, Padma Lakshmi and – wait for it, oh damn you know it already – Katrina Kaif. Despite all the bare-and-dare acts and bejewelled bikinis, two of the three heroines never acted in another Bollywood movie. In fact, it was Madhu Sapre’s first and last movie. But what a booming debut it was!
Trivia Alert: The producer of Boom, Ayesha Shroff, also had a steamy debut in Bollywood as Mohnish Behl’s heroine in Teri Baahon Mein. Incidentally, that was her last film as well. 

Bipasha Basu, after being a supermodel for some time, entered Bollywood with the Abbas-Mustan thriller Ajnabee. Touching briefly on the potentially explosive topic of wife swapping, the film had Bipasha Basu as the ‘bad girl’ though it did not break too many taboos. What broke the ‘hot valve’ was Jism, which came about a year later and established Bips as the ISO-certified femme fatale of Bollywood. Her bare back, her lissom legs, her chemistry with co-star (and then boyfriend) John Abraham were stuff Bollywood legends are made of.
And to think, she is doing ads for juices that don’t make you fat nowadays.     

A few months after Bipasha came Reema Lamba. Reema who? Well, she changed her name to the more seductive (though this is debatable) Mallika Sherawat and promptly kissed her leading man seventeen times in Khwahish. Just when the nation had caught its collective breath, she reappeared in Murder opposite serial kisser Emraan Hashmi and broke the Hot-o-Meter. The smash hit song Bheege hont tere played on every music show multiple times as we were treated to Mallika’s bare-all acts near a swimming pool, on a skyscraper ledge, in a studio apartment and what not. 

One of the latest entrants to the Hot Club was Jiah Khan, who debuted opposite Amitabh Bachchan in Nishabd and played the teen nymphet who seduced the sixty-something, happily married man. Her white shirt-and-a-hose-pipe act raised quite a few eyebrows as it was probably the only time among all his movies that the Big B succumbed to pure lust.
Tragically, Jiah’s subsequent films and a turbulent personal life led to her suicide.