Saturday, September 28, 2013

Filmi Fridays: Thoda Khao, Thoda Dekho

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As Irrfan opens a lunchbox packed by a woman he has never met and Nawazuddin gets completely taken in by the fragrance, it is just the right time to unpack Bollywood’s adventures in food.

In Bawarchi, Rajesh Khanna was the – well – bawarchi of a constantly squabbling household. Immediately after joining, he made a deliciously exotic Kachche kele ka Dum Pukht. After that, he made some egg kachori to go as snacks with tea and offered to cook a Bengali dish – Shukto, a mix of bitter vegetables cooked in traditional style.
Net result? The two ladies of the house were discussing the weight they had put on.

The most passionate ode to food was paid by Amitabh Bachchan in Cheeni Kum, as the owner-chef of ‘London’s finest Indian restaurant’ (Spice 6). His belated love story began when a customer (Tabu) returned a plate of Hyderabadi Zafrani Pulaoand then returned with a perfect version of the dish. He ate humble pie. And the love story began.

Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) worked with his Dada (Mithun Chakraborty) at their paratha joint in Parathewali gali of Old Delhi. His days were spent in chopping potatoes and onions, kneading the dough and frying the parathas (‘shudh desi ghee se nirmit’). His machine-like movements were preparing him for fighting Chinese villains, which started when he moved from Chandni Chowk To China.

Before he turned a Mafia don in Vaastav, Sanjay Dutt started a pav bhaji stall.
He borrowed from his dad to put up the roadside cart. He trumped his competition by picking up his stock from cheaper markets and by pricing his plate lower than his competition. And his Jai Maharashtra Pav Bhaji Wala stall kicked off with a bang (a song, actually).  

Shah Rukh Khan did his food act in Duplicate. When he was not the manic murderer Mannu Dada, he was the bumbling chef Babloo Chaudhry.
Babloo got himself a job with a hotel. The hotel’s Banquet Manager (Juhi Chawla) dispensed with an interview and asked him to prepare a Japanese dish for a delegation scheduled to arrive in the next twenty minutes. Which he did, on a song.

In Kal Ho Naa Ho, Saif Ali Khan’s father was said to have made his fortune in the takeaway food business. The name of their business? Dial-A-Dhokla!
And then Jaya Bachchan was shown to be running a restaurant that was on the verge of shutting down. It was a nondescript American-style diner (called New York). With some help from SRK and her neighbours, she transformed it into a traditional Indian restaurant with an ethnic décor and – eventually – a never-ending queue. The name? New Delhi.

When Omi (Kunal Kapoor) returned from London to Lalton village in Punjab, he realized the secret ingredient of his grandpa’s chicken recipe was worth its weight in pounds sterling. As he interviewed almost the entire village for the secret, everyone ended up having a point of view – Heeng? Kali mirch? Jeera? Imli? What?
During the search for the recipe, he had to contend with his own greed, an annoyed chacha, a madcap mama, a TV sadhvi, a sentimental cousin and a lover he had abandoned. And in between all these people, he eventually found Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana.

The central premise of The Lunchbox is the fact that the largest amount of food in India gets consumed out of a dabba. And it is not only the office dabba.

Stanley Ka Dabba paid an affectionate ode to the humble school tiffin-box through a little boy (Partho Gupte) and his run-ins with a khadoos teacher (played by the film’s director, Amol Gupte who is also Partho’s father). The teacher demanded a share from every student’s dabba and Stanley not getting one was the reason for the run-in. The reason for the lack of Stanley’s dabba formed the crux of the story. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Filmi Fridays: Sisters

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As two PCs face off in today’s box-office battle, it might be a good idea to look at sisters in Bollywood. Priyanka and Parineeti are cousins but Hindi cinema is full of sisters who have been anything from wildly to moderately to not-at-all successful.

I would stick my neck out and call Tanuja and Nutan the most successful pair of sisters in Bollywood history. In terms of sheer durability and histrionic range, they have no parallels.
Nutan did sensitive, heroine-driven roles like Bandini, Seema, Sujata and Saudagar. She also donned a swimsuit in a madcap comedy like Dilli Ka Thug. She was the romantic lead in superhits like Tere Ghar Ke Samne and Paying Guest. She ended with strong mother roles like Karma, Meri Jung and Naam. In short, she was a superb actress. In fact, she has won five Filmfare awards for Best Actress – a record she shares with her niece, Kajol.  
Tanuja was the spunkier of the two sisters. She acted in some huge hits like Jewel Thief, Haathi Mere Sathi and Mere Jeevan Sathi though her box-office potential was not fully realised. She had a strong career in Bengali cinema and she followed up her leading lady days with a great stint as ‘mother’ – in films as diverse as Love 86, Aatish and Khakee.

Commercially, there is nobody to beat the Kapoor sisters. 
Karisma started off in horrendous – yet hugely successful – films with Govinda and David Dhawan. Raja Babu, Coolie No. 1 and Hero No. 1 were massive hits though she was looked at with considerable derision for doing these. She changed all that when she did the second lead in a Yash Chopra film – Dil To Paagal Hai – and held her own against Madhuri Dixit. Her clothes and image saw a dramatic makeover as she not only became a Manish Malhotra muse but also acted in critically acclaimed roles like Fiza and Zubeidaa. She quit films after her marriage but looks all set to make a comeback after her divorce.  
It is ironic that despite having a string of memorable films, Kareena is mostly discussed for her Size Zero figure and her love life. She has acted in massive hits (3 Idiots, Bodyguard, Jab We Met) as well as arthouse, performance-oriented films (Chameli, Dev, Omkara). She has been subdued (Kurbaan) as well as over the top (Golmaal 3). In short, she is the quintessential Bollywood heroine.
Karisma and Kareena are the only two siblings to have been nominated for the Filmfare Best Actress award in the same year (2002). They were beaten by another sister, Kajol.

Tanuja’s daughter came to Bollywood with a similar mix of talent and chutzpah. While Tanuja was often seen to be too much of a rebel, Kajol fitted right in with the modern times.
She overcame her not-classical looks with some great acting in iconic films – the most memorable one being Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Indian cinema’s longest running blockbuster. Her acting and charm landed her meaty roles and she played them with aplomb right from her first hit (Baazigar) to one-off parts after marriage (My Name Is Khan). In between, she delivered a string of hits that make her one of the most popular Bollywood actresses of all time.  
To use a cricketing term, sister Tanisha did not bother the scorers too much. Her filmography is dubious, to put it mildly, as her best known film seems to be Neal ‘n’ Nikki (which she co-starred with the other under-performing sibling of Bollywood – Uday Chopra). She has also acted in a few South Indian films but never managed to reach even an infinitesimal part of her sister’s success.

While on the subject of Uday Chopra, it might be opportune to bring up Shamita Shetty who made her debut opposite the Yash Raj scion in Mohabbatein. Shamita had an uneven run at the box office and her only (if you insist) memorable role was in Fareb – where she co-starred with her sister, Shilpa competing with her for the affections of Manoj Bajpayee. (Yes, I know. Poor Manoj!)
Shilpa Shetty, of course, fended off far stronger competition than her sister to be the totally hot diva who was a shoo-in for roles that needed svelte figures, dancing and big smiles. Her debut was with the other Big Sister – Kajol – in Baazigar and she followed it up with blockbusters like Main Khiladi Tu Anari and Dhadkan. She even slipped in a couple of ‘award’ roles like Life In A Metro and Phir Milenge before finding international stardom in Celebrity Big Boss and IPL.

Padmini Kolhapure had a successful acting career that started as a child artiste (in films like Satyam Shivam Sundaram and Insaaf Ka Tarazu) and transitioned to an actress. She was always the slightly conservative girl waiting for a breath of fresh air from the hero and her most successful roles were all in this mould – Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai, Prem Rog and Woh 7 Din, for example. She got married and took a break but has come back in bhabhi roles in the recent past.
Padmini’s younger sister, Tejaswaini, debuted in Anurag Kashyap’s ill-fated Paanch which was banned before release and her strong performance went unnoticed. She has acted in a few offbeat ventures and is likely to be seen in Anurag Kashyap’s forthcoming film, Ugly.
Their older sister – Shivangi – is married to Shakti Kapoor.

Farha was part of the assembly line of heroines who starred in near-identical films in the late 80s and 90s. From Love 86 to Rakhwala to Yateem, Farha was moderately successful in tomboyish roles with husky voice and tough-cookie act. She graduated to bhabhi roles towards the later part of her careers (in Hulchul, for example).
Her sister Tabassum a.k.a. Tabu made a child debut in Dev Anand’s Hum Naujawan and then acted in brain-dead hits like Vijaypath, Jeet and Saajan Chale Sasural. Just when we thought she was becoming a clone of her sister, she found her acting groove in Gulzar’s Maachis and followed it up with powerhouse performances in Virasat, Hu Tu Tu, Chandni Bar and Maqbool. Her talents have got her into quite a few international productions with Indian connections – The Life of Pi and The Namesake, for example.

Dimple Kapadia had a dream debut in Bobby and an even dreamier wedding to Rajesh Khanna. When the marriage ended, she became back and proceeded to do several memorable films which were either hugely successful (Saagar, Arjun, Ram Lakhan, Krantiveer) or highly acclaimed (Rudaali, Drishti, Lekin) or hot (Jaanbaaz). Even after growing older, she did some very interesting roles that went beyond the ghisa-pita mother-aunty template. Pyar Mein Twist, Dil Chahta Hai, Luck By Chance all had an edge in her roles that made them memorable.
Simple – on the other hand – came into films probably only because producers wanted her sister and she was the nearest they could get. Just one letter changed, you see! Her debut was opposite brother-in-law Rajesh in Anurodh. That film and the subsequent ones did not demonstrate any major acting talent. She eventually went on to become a costume designer in Bollywood.

Dimple’s two daughters followed their mother and aunt too.
Twinkle Khanna debuted opposite Bobby Deol in the latter’s home production and debut vehicle, Barsaat. She was paired opposite nearly every major star of the time – Aamir, SRK, Govinda, Sunny Deol, Saif Ali Khan and of course, Akshay Kumar – though not in their best films. In any case, she found love and left Bollywood for happy matrimony and interior designing.
Twinkle’s sister was named Rinkle though she dropped the L when she entered Bollywood. (Don’t ask me why!) She did some interesting films like Jhankaar Beats and Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi. She did not win the Filmfare for the Best Female Debut. If she did, they would have been the only pair of sisters to have done so. (Incidentally, Priyanka and Parineeti have won this debut award double.)

Riya and Raima Sen – daughters of Moonmoon and granddaughters of Suchitra Sen – have toggled between Bengali and Hindi cinema but their Hindi roles have largely been extended cameos. Raima’s has been in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, Ekalavya and Manorama Six Feet Under among others while Riya played her mother’s daughter in Vishkanya (as a child artiste) and had somewhat visible roles in Jhankaar Beats and Style.
Incidentally, the Sen sisters acted with Sharman Joshi in a film called 3 Bachelors – which was made in early 2000s but had a limited and litigious release in 2012.

Going back to the 1970s and 1980s, we have Vijeta and Sulakshana Pandit whose playback singing and acting careers were intertwined. Their brothers were popular music composers Jatin-Lalit, which probably helped them make the transition. Vijeta had a dream debut opposite Kumar Gaurav in Love Story but couldn’t sustain the momentum. Sulakshana Pandit had an even more undistinguished acting career.

Amrita Arora has acted in a few films here and there, bolstered by many guest appearances in films by friends and family.
Her elder sister, Malaika Arora, has been the greatest exponent of that Bollywood art-form – the Item Number. From Dil Se to Dabangg, she has been a sinewy, sensuous presence in several iconic songs and hasn’t bothered to ‘act’. In Kaante, she was supposed to be a character (who was also a pole dancer) but her few lines of dialogue got missed.

The three Reddy sisters – Sameera, Sushma and Meghna – have a mix of film, music and modelling careers and it is never clear who is more famous for what. If we try to isolate their films, we will find Meghna hasn’t done any Bollywood while Sushma did two blink-and-still-there roles in Chocolate and Chup Chupke.
Sameera has a bigger list of credits though not many have stood the test of time. She has been in Race, Musafir and Darna Mana Hai among others, though her most inexplicable role must have been in acclaimed director Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Bengali film, Kaalpurush.

'Real' Women in Bollywood

Continuing a discussion on @genderlogindia after this post of mine, there was a discussion on the 'real women' in Bollywood - who seem to be in short supply. I immediately indulged in my favourite pastime - Bollywood research - and looked at the top 10 grossers for each year, going back about forty years. In about 400 films, I found about twenty films in which the lead actress was 'real' and yet a 'heroine'. That is to say, I did not consider Rohini Hattangadi in Saaransh or Rani Mukherji in Talaash. They were – of course – very real but not really heroines. I also avoided characters who were differently abled or suffering from a disease (Priyanka Chopra in Barfi, for example).
Then, I sat and cribbed about my favourite ‘real women’ who are from very successful films even though they are not among the top 10 blockbusters of a given year. To solve this dilemma, I fell back on the usual awards night trick. I created two lists – one popular and one critic’s choice.  
And here they come...

Popular Choice Real Women
Deepika Padukone (Love Aaj Kal) – She was indecisive. She was impulsive. She was career focused. She had a heart of gold. She was also selfish. She was completely real, except for her legs. They seemed to have come from some mythical land of milk and honey.  

Priyanka Chopra (Kaminey) – A gangster’s sister, she was the regular Maharashtrian girl with a silly name (Sweety) and a sillier boyfriend (Shahid Kapoor). She danced at her own wedding like a filmy heroine but her steps weren’t choreographed and had a charm of their own. She got her boyfriend to take condoms on an overnight trip but abandoned them when the going got too hot.

16 Heroines (Chak De India) – Hailing from different parts of India, these girls brought the smell of sweat and dirt with them. They wore no makeup. They got angry when their careers were ignored. They got determined when their honour was at stake. They were jealous, naughty, defiant, combative, strong-willed and – when you look carefully – breathtakingly beautiful.  

Aishwarya Rai (Guru) – The Gujarati village girl transformed with her husband. She was his business partner and calmly stepped forward to take responsibilities when a crisis arose. She was there at parties, shareholder meetings and courtrooms. She was his force whether he was out fighting corporate battles or medical ones. In other words, she was his Shakti.

Manisha Koirala (Company) – I haven’t seen a gangster’s moll. Then how do I know Manisha was realistic? I saw her as the busy boss’ wife in a corporate wife. She had nothing to do. She was bored. She was into mild substance abuse. And he suffered the minions politely and with a smile. She liked some of them and tried to patch up when differences arose but had to give up, since she was always on the periphery.

Preity Zinta (Dil Chahta Hai) – An orphan caught in a near-abusive relationship looked for companionship and found a cocky lout instead. But she didn’t let his smart-alecky burst her dreamy notions of romantic love nor did she lose her dignity with her boorish boyfriend. She handled both relationships maturely – like real women do.

Juhi Chawla (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak) – In an unreal world of death before dishonour, she was the breath of fresh air. She was a college girl who went on picnics, got lost in forests while trekking, took pictures of handsome strangers and was bashfully forthright about her feelings for handsome strangers.

Shabana Azmi (Arth) – She left her adulterous husband and forged an identity of her own. She struggled to find a job. She found love but was unsure about it. She supported her maid’s daughter’s education. In short, she was the woman next door till her husband wanted to come back to her. Would you have taken me back if I had done the same thing, she asked. And gently shut the door in his face.

Raakhee (Trishul) – Her boss’ son called her ‘computer’. In the 1970s, a computer was a machine “jo har sawaal ka sahi jawaab deti hai”. She was a no-nonsense working woman, who was honest and hardworking. She even remembered cement quotas from long-forgotten files and never complained about working hours.  

Parveen Babi (Deewaar) – She was the first Hindi film prostitute who did not sell her body for her mother’s medicine or her brother’s education. She was a victim of circumstances but she did not let it show. She wanted to get married and settle down but she did not impose that wish on the man she loved. She solicited customers in high-end bars but she fell in love with a stranger.

Critic’s Choice Real Women
Vidya Sinha (Chhoti Si Baat, Rajanigandha) – The working woman getting wooed by colleagues or co-passengers on bus stops and Samovar restaurant must have been quite common in 1970s Bombay. What’s so heroic about her? Her boyfriends were the ones jumping through the hoops. Yaar, kuch to baat hogi ki ladkon ko itna paagal kar de!

Urmila Matondkar (Ek Hasina Thi) – She was a regular girl working at a travel agency when a smooth charmer walked in and shattered her life. Her gullibility was ruthlessly exposed but she made an even more ruthless plan for retribution and got her vengeance. And not for a second did she look anything but the girl next door.  

Chitrangada Singh (Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi) – The whole world and their cousins fell in love with Geeta. She was in love with a Naxal sympathiser. She married an IAS officer. She was wooed by a wheeler-dealer. Eventually, she did something nobody expected her to do. And you fell in love with her, her casual top knot, her wistful eyes, her handloom saree.  

Konkona Sen Sharma (Wake Up Sid) – She did not like jazz and said so without any pretensions. She wanted to write but was willing to bide her time. She was wary of spoilt brats but was loyal to them if they became friends. She was talented but slightly embarrassed to make that claim. She was new to a city and fell slowly - but surely - in with it and its people.     

Anushka Sharma (Band Baajaa Baraat) – Even before she graduated, she had a business plan. She knew where she would get trained. She knew how to keep business and personal relations separate. She knew what to spend and what to invest. And she knew she was not about to marry just yet. She was your regular Janakpuri girl, just the right mix of silk and steel.

Yami Gautam (Vicky Donor) – She started off superbly as the Bengali bank manager having to suffer the Punjabi alpha male. She ended brilliantly as the young wife coming to terms with her inability to conceive. You could say she was yummy and a mummy.

Vidya Balan (Kahaani) – A pregnant woman looking for her husband in a city about to celebrate its most boisterous, crowded festival. A wife totally in love with her husband whom nobody has seen. A patriot who was willing to take on corrupt officials and homicidal insurance agents. Vidya Bagchi, you sexy thing.

The Critic’s list is shorter because three entries got consumed in the Popular list.
By all accounts, Shudh Desi Romance looks like the film that will contribute an entry or two to either of these two lists. Will update after I watch it. 

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The World's Most Obvious Quiz

Easy peasy quiz. All of them 'workoutable'. 
Don't Google. It would insult your own intelligence. 
Submit answers in comments. Will give out answers by Tuesday.  

1. Complete this quote: “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin...”

2. Complete this quote: "Our destinies are decided by a cosmic roll of the dice, the winds of the stars, the vagrant breezes of fortune that blow from the..."

3. What are the next two lines of this nursery rhyme?
"Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock..."

4. Fill in the blanks: “I am but mad ________: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Who wrote these lines?

5. Complete the second line of this poem:
Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to ________________
Or, when the grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying
From summer dying.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Filmi Fridays: Govinda Ala Carte!

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As dahi handis and four-storey structures take centrestage, it might be a fantastic idea to look at movies where Janmashtami and Sri Krishna have been the centre-stage of the story, scene or song.

Govinda ala re, ala... the signature song of Janmashtami, which is still the first song in the playlist was kicked off by Shammi Kapoor in Manmohan Desai’s Bluffmaster. The story of the fibber who turns honest (only to have no one believe him) was punctuated by a Janmashtami song where Shammi Kapoor did his trademark gyrations as crowds gathered, human pyramids were scaled and pots of milk were burst. And the Kalyanji-Anandji tune is still as popular as it was fifty years ago.

Every Indian festival has an Amitabh Bachchan song associated with it. – Old Bollywood Saying.
Just when the Shammi Kapoor song was becoming old, Amitabh Bachchan jumped into the fray with a
hit song from Khud-daar. The energy of the matki phod, the chemistry with the womenfolk, the chaos, the mayhem were brought out beautifully to a tune composed by Rajesh Roshan. Parveen Babi was the ideal foil in a nauvari saree.

Every generation has a superstar reprising the Janmashtami sequence. After Shammi and the Big B, it was the turn of the Salman Khan who pulled off a similar sequence in Hello Brother. With Rani Mukherji for company, he donned pink trousers (don’t even ask!) and netted vests to sing a Janmashtami song. BTW, it also included a joke about his – ahem – not-so-substantial height.       

Sanjay Dutt played the typical Mumbai tapori with a pav-bhaji tapdi in Vaastav. Before he became an underworld don, he was a simple kid running his business by the week and running towards his matka by the weekend. A tale of misguided anger was kicked off by a song where his mandli went from matka to matka, bursting them and earning prize money. Not that he needed it. He was sponsoring his locality’s Govinda but the matki phod had a special charm.

Hrithil Roshan is the final name in the list of Janmashtami songs. He played the deadpan hero of Agneepath but when it came to breaking the matki of Govinda, Hrithik came running with all muscles rippling and eyebrows quivering. In the film, this was the introduction sequence of the hero – Vijay Dinanath Chavan. Egged on by his cheering cohorts and supported by his loyal army, Vijay Chavan was the perfect candidate for bursting the matki.

Not all the Govinda sequences are about song and dance. Especially when Sunny Deol is involved.
In Narsimha, Sunny Deol was the hired goon who was out to kill a witness for the state on the orders his villainous leader. In an elaborate sequence, Sunny Deol used the grandeur and chaos of the multi-storied matki-phod of Janmashtami to polish off his quarry.
The tune of the song played during the sequence – like so many others – was the same as the original Bluffmaster song!

Go go go Govinda!
The latest Govinda hit is from the Akshay Kumar starrer – OMG Oh My God – though the song was performed – not by God Akshay but – by lesser mortals like Prabhu Deva and Sonakshi Sinha. With skimpily clad backup dancers in support, the song was less about Janmashtami but more about the energy of the Govinda song.
Oh – but the matki does get phodoed. By Sonakshi.

Krishna is not only about Janmashtami.
In Satyam Shivam Sundaram, a Krishna bhajan was performed by a child (the young version of Zeenat Aman, played by a child Padmini Kolhapure) and alludes to the racist complaint about Radha’s fairness and Krishna’s darkness. The song went on to become one of the biggest hits of the times.

Krishna is not about love. Krishna is not about Vishnu’s avatar. Krishna is not about makhan chori.
Krishna is about disco. One sec... what?
In Disco Dancer, Mithun performed this absolute priceless gem of a song where he wore sequined costumes, gyrated to pulsating beats and requested Lord Krishna to appear on Earth (and teach us love). The stage props included one oversized flute and crown as Mithun made his request, seconded manifold by the backup dancers.

The T-Series juggernaut of the 90s churned out a devotional epic (complete with jhankaar beats) called Meera Ka Mohan, which – true to its name – supported devotional music. Starring the indomitable Avinash Wadhwan, the song was disco number, explaining our love for Krishna as the ‘greatest musician of this world’ and the message of love he passed on. We got away with murder in 90s, I tell you.