Monday, December 31, 2018

The Film Awards of Hindostan: A 2018 Roundup

Right now, the jungles of Bollywood are lying in wait. All muscles tensed, all breaths held, not a leaf moving. As soon as the clocks turn 2019, the award ceremony panthers will leap out from their lairs and chew up the last grain of self-confidence left in every performer who cannot dance or doesn’t have a gym-scuplted body.
Wanted an award, did you? You dud? Chew cud! Grrr… snarl… chomp… and the best actor goes to Salman Khan for Race 3 and critic’s choice goes to Shah Rukh Khan for Zero and the lifetime achievement goes to Aamir Khan (which will be presented to him by Amitabh Bachchan as cameras focus on Fatima Sana Sheikh Kiran Rao).
But of course, I am kidding. Ranbir Kapoor (Sanju) and Ranveer Singh (Padmaavat) have set up a battle royale for the male acting prizes while in a delightfully romantic pairing, Alia Bhatt (Raazi) and Deepika Padukone (Padmaavat) are in the running for the female category. The stars are backed by awards-darlings like Rajkumar Hirani and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and I wouldn’t like to bet this time!

What I’d like to bet is the following awards not being part of any ceremony!

Best Performance in a Leading Role to be Overlooked in Absence of Commercial Success
Vineet Singh trained in Mumbai, trained in Patiala, developed boxer-like reflexes at an age when most boxers retire. He trained for 700 days straight among real boxers. He trained while being treated for a broken rib. He trained so well that national level boxing coaches couldn’t make out he was an actor, not a professional boxer. He now has a gym-sculpted body as well. But Mukkabaaz made less than what Race 3 made in the first hour of its release so…

Most Prolific Performer (Theatrical Releases)
This is the category where just when the camera focuses on Radhika Apte (buoyed by Netflix’s active promotion of its star actress), the announcer calls out Taapsee Pannu as the winner who managed to pull off four theatrical releases including two solid critical successes (Manmarziyaan and Mulk), one reasonably known number (Soorma) and one Bermuda Triangle (Dil Juunglee).
Radhika Apte had three theatrical releases (Pad Man, Andhadhun, Bazaar) and three Netflix releases (Lust Stories, Ghoul, Sacred Games), taking her into the league of Govinda and Mithun of the 1990s.
UPDATED TO ADD: Anushka Sharma also had four releases this year including the year's top grosser (Sanju), one massive star vehicle (Zero), one well-acclaimed big studio release (Sui Dhaaga) and one self-produced horror film (Pari) but somehow 2018 doesn't feel like Anushka's year as much as it does for Taapsee or Radhika!

Most Egregious Accent Award by a Lead Actor
Akshay Kumar and Mouni Roy of Gold deserve the Wills Made for Each Other awards for producing the most atrocious Bengali pronunciations since Johnny Lever in the late 1990s. Punjabi Akshay Kumar can take refuge in his starry reluctance to get an authentic accent though Mouni Roy – a Bengali by birth – also seemed to have forgotten her mother tongue.  

Best Relaunch
Anil Dhawan said Tere galiyon mein na rakkhenge kadam and walked off into the sunset after a moderate and maudlin career as a hero in the 1970s. He kept returning as inconsequential elder brothers and fathers in the 1990s and 2000s, which we did our best to ignore. Nobody had bargained for the “Surprise” with which he leaped on to the screen in Andhadhun. A Pune property dealer with a sexy and shady wife didn’t need to have a Bollywood backstory but it did. And what a backstabbing backstory it was!

Best Newcomer Pair
Gajraj Rao has been around for two and a half decades, if IMDb is to be believed. (It lists Bandit Queen as his first screen appearance.) Neena Gupta has been around for three and we all believe her. But no other newcomer – beneficiary of nepotism or otherwise – managed to inject so much charm into their roles as they did in Badhai Ho. In fact, their romantic chemistry and comic timing are something newcomers should aspire for and not feel bad if they get only halfway there.

Best Dialogue
Race 3. Race 3. Race 3.
“Our business is our business, none of your business”, drawled Daisy Shah. “Har kahani ke do pehlu hote hai. Two pehlus”, deadpanned Salman Khan holding two fingers up. “I am sick of this Sikku”, snarled Saqib Saleem. Race 3 put the ult in cult, with the dialogues of Shiraz Ahmed and Kiran Kotrial (both veterans of the Race franchise) who had more cheese in the lines and more holes in the plot than a Swiss cheese factory!

Best Soundtrack to be lamented by Oldtimers as the Death of Film Music as they knew it
Amit Trivedi put the amrit back in Amritsar with the soundtrack of Manmarziyaan that took some getting used to. And Shelle’s Punjabi-infused lyrics needed a Reddit thread or two to unravel. While reviews found the soundtrack “to be so lit that we’re listening on loop” (Indiatimes) and called it a “riveting follow-up to Udta Punjab” (Milliblog), it was a DevDja-vu for fans of classic Bollywood!  

Orissa Presents Bollywood Sport of the Year
Hockey tumse pyara kaun? An unlikely hockey star returns to the field after fighting lower-body paralysis (Soorma). A Bengali manager puts together India’s first post-Independence team to prove all the Olympics golds weren’t flukes, after all (Gold). And a Punjabi sports-shop owner can’t decide between pyaar and fyaar as the soundtrack mocks her (Dhyan kitthe, Dhyan Chand? in Manmarziyaan).  

Best Prequel
In 2018, Bollywood sent in a just-out-of-teens spy on a cover operation deep inside Pakistan to ensure that their 2017 film had the plot point it needed. In a way, **azi was the prequel of **azi as the plans of an attack were smuggled out of an Army officer’s house in the former (but later) film to help the soldiers in the later (but earlier) film.  
** censored to avoid spoilers and challenge quizzers

Yash Chopra Special Award for Promotion of European Destination
Given to T-Series for promoting Sweden by getting embroiled in a battle for the title of the ‘most subscribed YouTube channel’ with PewDiePie, an indy creator of video memes that seemed to go on for the better part of the year. And sees no sign of abating even now. Sigh.
In between, Bangladesh folks backed PewDiePie. PewDiePie mistook them to be Indians “working from the inside”. PewDiePie called T-Series “bitch lasagne”. And Aamir Khan walked out of a biopic of T-Series founder, Gulshan Kumar.

Twitter Presents Best CSR Campaign on Social Media
Thugs of Hindostan inspired a thousand memes among election followers, embracers, dog lovers and carpet lovers but wasn’t able to stop the stampede of people who started running away from theatres from Thursday afternoon. What was intended to be a cashfest of a long weekend ended up with the YRF social media team RTing every single complimentary tweet that came their way. By Friday morning, they were done with the RTs and ended up creating GIFs of the really effusive ones. Once those fifteen were done, they spent the rest of the weekend wiping tears off their keyboards and waiting for #DeepVeer wedding pics.

Ministry of Information & Broadcasting Special Award for Best Censorship Fiasco
Till a year back, Pahlaj Nihalani was throwing sanskari naseehat towards – who he thought were – truant filmmakers. This year, this film Rangeela Raja – starring his original favourite Govinda – got slapped with 20 cuts and Pahlaj suddenly saw the second pehlu!
(About a week or so out of his CBFC term, Pahlaj Nihalani hit the headlines when he ‘presented’ Julie 2 – a film billed as a “clean adult film”. That film got passed without a single cut!)  

Most Marvellous Merchandise
Easily the celeb with the highest paparazzi per year of living ratio, Taimur Ali Khan broke the internet (again) with the launch of a doll modelled on him. The doll pretty much hijacked stepsister Sara Ali Khan’s Bollywood debut as she ended up having to hug the doll on the sets of reality shows. #truestory
The doll beat Anushka Sharma’s Madame Tussaud debut and Katrina Kaif’s performance in Thugs of Hindostan in the Best Likeness to a Human That’s Not Coincidental category.  

Ching’s Secret Hindi Cheeni Bhai Behen Award for Best Diplomatic Relations
Rani Mukherjee’s well-intentioned but not-really-blockbuster Hichki got an almost-unexpected fillip in China as its sub-50 Cr domestic gross got quadrupled, thanks to it becoming the fifth highest grossing Hindi film in China. It also become a Top 5 grosser of the year and – BOOM – we have the announcement of Mardaani 2 and Rani Mukerji talking about self-defence in actor roundtables.

Best Hidden Easter Egg
Even before Sriram Raghavan fanboys could start counting the Tabu and Anil Dhawan references in Andhadhun, the Amrita Pritam curveball had been unleashed around Manmarziyaan.
Film dedicated to the poet – check.
Free-spirited heroine torn between two heroes – check.
Poetry quoted – check.
And yet, it took a perceptive Twitter user to point out the love triangle of the film seemed very similar to the one Pritam encountered in her real life.

'Awards' are done... so what are my favourite films of the year?
Here goes.
5. Mukkabaaz – Anurag Kashyap
4. Manmarziyaan – Anurag Kashyap
3. Raazi – Meghna Gulzar  
2. Mulk – Anurag Sinha
1. Andhadhun – Sriram Raghavan
Andhadhun will be that delicious bar of chocolate that I have saved in my Netflix watchlist and will keep going back to again and again, heart skipping a beat when a blind piano player ‘sees’ a pool of blood for the first time.

Wish you a blinder of a year in 2019!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Hero to Zero: The Phases of Shah Rukh Khan

This post was written for FirstPost and published here. It was somewhat edited, hence sharing the long piece on the 'site which doesn't edit'. 

When Shah Rukh Khan zoomed on to the big screen riding a motorcycle and singing a hit song in Deewana, he was challenging a hegemony that was created nearly twenty years back. He would become a ‘lover’ – arguably Hindi cinema’s most successful lover, breaking the formula of the ‘Angry Young Man’ created by Salim-Javed and Amitabh Bachchan in the early 1970s. It is to this trio’s credit that the Angry Young Man image transcended Salim-Javed’s partnership and Bachchan’s superstardom. All of 1980s and a big part of 1990s had heroes – Sanjay Dutt, Jackie Shroff, Sunny Deol, Anil Kapoor and even the ageing Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna – playing versions of Bachchan’s original act, the vigilante taking revenge for father’s death and/or sister’s dishonour.
Shah Rukh Khan changed that. He was the lover boy who turned the tide against the action hero. Of course, it can be said that Aamir Khan and Salman Khan came before him as chocolate boy heroes but neither of them matched SRK’s early successes or his virtuosity in playing a wide range of lovers. And his career can be neatly divided into segments where a certain kind of lover type has dominated, and each kind has brought him great success. Almost always.

His opening act was that of a ‘cute and (sometimes) bumbling lover’ – the type with a disarming charm with a raw edge. The Deewana character was a bit of a Hindi film stereotype – rebelling against parents for a quasi-forbidden love – but Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman was a guy who was knocking glasses off tables and creating minor messes that women found irresistible. Be it the less successful Chamatkar or the super-successful Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, the early SRK was tripping over himself and tumbling into women’s hearts. In Maya Memsaab, he was the charming youngster the older woman took on as a lover and the lovemaking had an energetic childishness that the character was displaying otherwise as well.

Almost intertwined with the bumbling lover was his ‘crazed lover’ phase – a character not seen before or since. Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam formed the trilogy that catapulted into stardom and audience reaction went from gasping surprise to starry-eyed adulation to eye-covering disgust! Much has been said about these roles but it is interesting to see how well SRK positioned them in his career to wrest the spotlight away from star sons, actors backed by bigger production houses or those considered more talented. This had an implication on the next set of films he did, all of which were with biggest directors of Hindi cinema. Rakesh Roshan, Ramesh Sippy, Subhash Ghai and Mahesh Bhatt all worked with him in the year after these films.

And that gave him the launchpad for his next phase – where he was the quintessential ‘lover boy’. The one known for his signature pose with extended arms, dimpled smile and tilted head. This phase officially kicked off with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, an iconic film that married sanskar with subdued sexuality and pretty much broke the cash registers at multiplexes abroad. He perfected this with Dil To Pagal Hai, Pardes and Dil Se… before hitting the partnership that would establish SRK as one of the greatest heroes of Hindi cinema. Karan Johar and SRK did Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kal Ho Naa Ho in a five-year period, films which – along with Mohabbatein in the same period – made him the face of the modern romantic hero. His clothes, his mannerisms, his songs, his style were all imprinted on the Indian – in India and abroad.
(While I mentioned only a few films here, his other films in the period after DDLJ were mostly in the ‘lover boy’ mould except for a couple of action films.)

Kal Ho Naa Ho was an interesting transition point because this is the point where SRK turned into his next persona – the ‘mature lover’. While he had played the older sibling in even K3G, Kal Ho Naa Ho had him in a role where he was lover and a philosopher rolled into one, dispensing advice and murmuring sweet nothings at the same time. Be it the older brother in Main Hoon Na (which also had shades of his bumbling hero phase) or the suave scientist of Swades and old convict of Veer Zaara, we had a ‘mature lover’ that we continue to see even today. If we keep aside the two Don films and Ra.One (the action hero outings), every other film of his from the mid-2000s has shown him with a mature or jaded side.
Fan’s Gaurav Chandna was a youngster but he was really a fan of the much older Aryan Khanna, nearly a SRK alter-ego. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’s ritzy Raj had a sedate Surinder while SRK’s character in Chennai Express declared himself to be 40+. 
(And fans have pointed out already that it is a bit of a travesty to put Kal Ho Naa Ho in the same bucket as Chennai Express or Happy New Year!)

Which brings us to the observation that this phase of his has lasted way too long. While the other phases – with very different characterisations – lasted less than five years each, we are seeing the ‘mature lover’ for more than a decade now. While there have been attempts to get in different shades, the SRK who pushed the envelope in characterisations is sorely missing. And so is the box-office fire. Or the gushing critical reception.
We were supposed to get a debauched older man in Jab Harry Met Sejal but the character turned out to be sweet and safe guy, befitting a superstar but not the edgy SRK we probably wanted.
Zero gives us hints of a craziness. A dwarf in love with a paraplegic scientist. How edgy will SRK get? How did the scientist become a paraplegic? Did someone throw her off a building? Did the dwarf?

Married Heroines and their Abandoned (?) Careers

I wrote this piece for a website but it didn't get accepted. Publishing it here. 

A top heroine gets married to the Indian cricket captain. She had acted opposite superstars in some of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema as well as some offbeat films.
A top heroine gets married to a top hero in a series of ceremonies, including one in her hometown. Among others, they had acted together in a high-profile historical film about a queen.

While these stories sound like they have been picked from 2018, they are actually from 1969 and 1979 respectively. Sharmila Tagore married Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi in one of the most high-profile weddings India had seen. Hema Malini tied the knot with Dharmendra in a secret ceremony in Madras (and their historical film together was Razia Sultan). And yes, we have grown up on high profile weddings of heroines!
When people discuss Bollywood’s patriarchal ways, heroines stopping work after getting married is usually cited as an example. The Kapoor family bahus are ‘not allowed to work’, the legend goes. The rest of Bollywood follow, they say. There’s another crazier view… married heroines lose their allure as a male fantasy and their box office drops, ‘industry insiders’ claim.

The point of heroines not ‘being allowed’ to work is not always based in fact. Top heroines have always got married to top heroes, often at the peak of their careers and it didn’t change anything.
Saira Banu had a dream debut (in the superhit Junglee), did some major films immediately afterwards and got married to the legendary Dilip Kumar within five years. And continued to deliver hits… Shagird, Padosan, Gopi, Purab Aur Paschim came within a few years of her marriage. She was a lead heroine till the mid-1970s and a major star all through. 
Sharmila Tagore too married within five years of her Hindi debut and her strike rate of hits improved. Some of her most memorable hits (Safar, Amar Prem, Daag, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Chupke Chupke) and critically acclaimed roles (Mausam, Namkeen) came after her marriage.
Rakhee debuted in Hindi films in 1970 and got married in 1973. That year, she did several high-profile films like Heera Panna, Daag, Blackmail and Joshila. All were not hits but the confidence of big banners in her indicated that her box office wasn’t likely to be spoiled by news of her marriage. Post marriage, she delivered major hits like Kabhi Kabhie, Trishul, Kasme Vaade and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar.
Like Rakhee, Hema Malini too acted in a slew of big-budget extravaganzas right after her wedding – Kranti, Naseeb, Kudrat – indicating that she was still top of the heap even after a decade in the industry.
While some heroines retired after their marriages – Nargis, Vyjayathimala, Jaya Bhaduri – there were many who continued to work, achieving commercial and critical success. It was only in the 1980s and 1990s that a number of top heroines – most notably Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi – left films after their marriage though Juhi Chawla did several big-budget entertainers like Daraar, Yes Boss and Duplicate after her marriage in 1995.

The longevity of Hindi film heroines is certainly a lot lesser than heroes (and reasons are a story for another day), which means most heroines exit leading roles in their mid-30s. This age barrier sometimes coincided with marriage but that was not necessarily a diktat from their families. Or the audience.
Even the Kapoor family – supposed originator of married-girls-don’t-work rule – had at least two exceptions to it in the 1960s. Shammi Kapoor married Geeta Bali, who continued to act in films till her untimely death. Shashi Kapoor’s wife, theatre actress Jennifer Kendall – after marriage – acted in a few memorable films with top directors like James Ivory, Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen and Satyajit Ray. It was only Neetu Singh and Babita who left films after their marriages to Rishi and Randhir Kapoor respectively.
If the grapevine is to be believed, Alia Bhatt will be marrying Ranbir Kapoor in 2019. Anyone betting that she will give up her career and become a homemaker?