Sept Shorts05: Bollywood Taste

Another romance. I’m just starting to warm up to the genre and as with all fiction writing, I start with what’s closest to me. So I’m writing the kind of love stories I’d like to be in, the sort of romance that feels romantic to me.

I’ve always tried to write for a gender-neutral audience so I hope the men reading this will not be put off by what may seem to be a ‘girly’ direction my writing is taking. Love happens to both the sexes so I want to write stories that entertain and touch both men and women. Tell me if I’m succeeding.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

It’s not that Arunima had poor taste. She couldn’t, possibly! With an English lecturer for a mother and publishing mogul for a father, refinement was a given. But she did like things apart from Dostoyevsky and fine wine. A culture gypsy, is how she liked to think of herself. Gypsies go wherever their fancy takes them. Her father would probably argue about the overpriveleged reference that, that was but never mind all that.

She yawned and closed her cupboard. Today, especially she’d like to go crazy with that egg yolk yellow stole with pink peacocks border, draped over her purple skirt and mismatched earrings. Instead, she put on the maroon silk salwar kameez she had taken out and pulled on silver bangles. The Baneerjees would like that, as would her parents. Dinner would be one overcaloried dish after another worn-thin Amar Sonar Bangla reference.

“So what are you doing these days, Arunima?”

came Debjani aunty’s voice, even though Arunima had answered that question every single time they’d met in the past four years. Which was all too often, she thought to herself, gritting her teeth.

“Answer, Runi!”

her mother nudged her from the side, while expertly continuing a conversation about the recent banned book, with Ratin uncle.

Arunima cringed but she obeyed nevertheless. She needn’t have bothered, though. Debjani aunty had already launched into a glowing description of her son, how early he got his wisdom teeth and so on. The dental references are probably what made Arunima tune out completely so she was taken by surprise when the molar giant was presented.

Nilanjan was really more a beanbag than a giant, Arunima surmised. And he looked every bit his over-degreed, well-employed self. No sign of said wisdom, though, Arunima was tempted to point out. But again, she held her reserve and eventually made her way to the kitchen for a drink.

All there was, was cold drinks and water on the counter, of course. She looked out of the window, enjoying the brief break from the cacophonous intelligence in the hall. Outside the window, she spotted a wisp of smoke and realized that there was an unmistakable whiff of tobacco in the kitchen too. She turned, looking for the source.

Next to the fridge was a door, which she had taken for a cupboard earlier. She pushed it open and found a little passageway going into the balcony. A guy was standing at the end of it, leaning almost all the way out. It was his cigarette that was puffing smoke into the kitchen. Idiot. He’d be spotted in a minute.

Arunima turned just in time to see a flash of Debjani aunty’s saree border kick into the kitchen. She was speaking on her phone though, facing the window so she didn’t see Arunima.

“Hain. Yes, she’s here. She doesn’t look very confident, but. Minu was saying she’s self-composed but I think she’s just unfriendly.”

That was all Arunima needed to hear. There could only be one reason Minu (her mother), the traitor, was building her up to Debjani aunty. That coupled with the molar giant – oh the very thought!

Suddenly a hand slipped over her mouth and she was pulled into the alcove. The smoker held up his other hand up and raised a finger to his lips. He let her go and gently shut the door. Then he turned and strolled back to the window.

The alcove widened into a passage that curved around the room and ended in a little balcony. Probably for drying clothes, Arunima realized, spotting the glint of a metal frame in the corner.

Arunima whispered,

“You’re hiding?”

He pulled in a long drag and exhaled before replying.

“Rescuing you. You’re welcome.”

“Rescuing??! You mean kidnapping.”

“So you do speak after all….RUNI?”

Arunima narrowed her eyes at him, though she realized later he probably couldn’t see that as she was standing in the shadows.

“Didn’t look like you knew how to when pishi was interrogating you. ”

Arunima snorted and joined him on the balcony.

“Pishi…who’s going to discover you any second now. You’re blowing smoke right into the kitchen. Why don’t you stand there and smoke comfortably? Or are you scared?”

That got him. He stubbed out the cigarette immediately.

“You’re that Sudhanshu, aren’t you? The molar giant’s cousin.”

It slipped out before she could catch herself.

His eyes turned into slits and he laughed, a deep chuckle.

“She told you about the tooth fairy’s gifts too? Poor Nilu. He’s never going to get laid this way. But maybe you’ll like a man with strong teeth, Runi?”

“Don’t call me that. My name is Sim.”

“Sim?? What, you’re actually a two-dimensional virtual avatar online?”

Arunima rolled her eyes.

“It’s short for Simran. Do not ask.”

The smile never faded from his face as he turned to the balcony again and said,

“Call me Vijay.”

“Vijay? That’s got nothing to do with Sudhanshu.”

“I suppose Simran is a good abbreviation of Arunima.”

She laughed, inspite of herself, but also because she had a retort to that.

“Big Agneepath fan, are you?”

Like anybody at this party would even know that reference.

“Haan. Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. Aaj maut ke saath apna apinment hain. Haainn.

He droned, much to her surprise. She grinned, this time a real one.

He turned, his voice back to normal.

“But you probably think stammering Shah Rukh Khan is da God. S-S-S-Simran.”

And he turned and walked away. She followed him as he checked the kitchen and stepped out. In the hall, Ratin uncle was pouring out a glass of whiskey. The argument had moved from banned books to the degradation of lyrical expression.

Sudhanshu (a.k.a. Vijay Dinanath Chauhan) audibly sighed. Arunima paused behind him and began singing in a very faint voice.

Main to tandoori murgi hoon yaar
Gatkale saiyan alcohol se.

The short couplet done, she moved back to her mother’s side. Across the room Vijay Dinanath Chauhan raised his glass to her, and popped a chicken tikka into his mouth.

OUATIM2

Bombay Talkies: 100 Years Well Worth Celebrating & Watching

If you’re a cricket-agnostic in India, then IPL season is slow torture. Every television in the world is hogged by cricket fanatics. Restaurants, malls, even shops are playing matches and everybody’s looking over your head to catch the score. Even the bloody internet bandwidth is clogged by those in office, desperate to know Sachin’s stats. And if you do manage to get online, Twitter is waiting for you, hashtags bared. A movie would be a nice place to lose oneself from this mania but the multiplexes and theatres all throw up their collective hands and screen the bottom-of-barrel movies only. I guess somebody up there took pity on the minority that is me and tossed me a tasty titbit in the form of Bombay Talkies.

Released as a centennial tribute to the 100 years of cinema, Bombay Talkies is Bombay_Talkies_2013_Filma collection of four short films, one each by a prominent Bollywood director. The shorts-format has always intrigued me and I wonder why Bollywood doesn’t do more of these. The only short film collections I’ve seen Bollywood release into mainstream are Darna Mana Hain, Darna Zaroori Hain and Dus Kahaniyan. Considering the burgeoning costs and risks in making a film, might it not be a better idea businesswise and creatively speaking, to spread that across multiple smaller buckets? I do hope the powers-that-be are considering this and that the brilliance of Bombay Talkies paves the way for more.

The first story, directed by Karan Johar, brings the expected star value by way of Rani Mukherjee and Randeep Hooda. This film is really more about gay angst than about cinema. It’s not too bad, all things considered. Unfortunately, as part of a bouquet that has the other offerings, this one is the weakest, both in terms of interpretation of the theme and the story delivery. Randeep Hooda is his versatile self but Rani (doing a Vidya Balan a la The Dirty Picture, if Silk were an affluent South Bombayite) come through the way HD made the raving beauties of the last decade look – plastic and grotesque. The one and only sweet note in this film – and it’s a beauty at that – is the street urchin’s rendition of Ajeeb daastan hain yeh. The child’s voice brings all the mood and has that component of art that reaches out from its canvas/celluloid/paper and wrings the audience’s heart.

Story two, by Dibakar Banerjee, takes us through the mundane day of a chawl-dweller and the one special event of his day. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is nothing short of superlative in his depiction of a nondescript everyday man turned magician, full of wonder and glory and big dreams, if only in his own mind. This one showed real class in such subtleties as Purandhar’s monologue with his alter ego and a surreal emu walking around in disparate scenes.

Post interval, the film didn’t disappoint either. The next story, by Zoya Akhtar dips into the LGBT bucket again, but this time with finer strokes and the rawer talent of a child. A little boy dreams of shiny baubles and dancing, instead of football and cricket. Mostly alone in a world of ambitious and gender-role rigid parents, he takes comfort and inspiration from Katrina Kaif. The climax of this film made me want to stand up and clap and just keep on clapping. Naman Jain shows talent beyond his years as he manages to depict a cross-dressing child without parody. He makes you want to laugh with him, rush to protect him from judgements that will destroy his innocence and applaud him for the star he is. This was my favorite film in the entire movie.

The last story is by Anurag Kashyap and to my surprise, not dark or gritty. It’s a fairly standard story of the God-level idolization of filmstars across India. A young man comes to Mumbai with just one burning purpose – to meet Amitabh Bachchan and ask him to bite into his mother’s homemade murabba so his ailing father can eat the other half, having felt like he shared a meal with the superstar. But the story carries you through Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh)’s adventures and right through the twist in the end. Maybe I’d have enjoyed this film more if it had been number two or three. Placed last, it felt slightly predictable, probably because the two preceding it were so unexpected and diverse. At the start, I also had a The Terminal flashback with Tom Hanks soldiering on to get an autograph of his father’s favorite jazz player. Still, this was a very good film with the unmistakably Kashyap style of extreme highs and lows.

The movie ends with a song that fails to impress in any way. The medley through the years has been done so often in Bollywood recently, you already know how the music and even the backup dancers hips will swing. And it closes in a tacky family-photograph style ensemble of all the current actors. I was glad to walk out by this time.

In all, I’d have thought this would be a ‘festival’ kind of film, meant only for niche audiences that lived and breathed the technical language of cinema. What I found instead was a damn fine movie, that even I, a regular member of the audience, could relate to and enjoy.

If Bollywood made ‘The Avengers’

I caught the movie that’s been big on comicbook fans’s minds for over two years now and that everyone on my timeline is talking about – The Avengers. I’m a borderline viewer, which is to say that I enjoy the comics medium and know a bit about the characters, but I’m not a fangirl. This means I get to enjoy a good summer blockbuster movie but I’m not so tied in to it that I can’t let my mind stray.

During the fight sequences (admittedly awesome, especially at the Imax former dome theatre), here’s what ran through my head. The Hulk was SMASSSSHING his fists on the ground before launching into his attack and I murmured,

Yeh dhaai kilo ka haath!

That launched me off into a curious daydream of a Bollywood Avengers movie, which kept me sufficiently occupied during the more extended action sequences. The Hindi dubbed version of The Avengers is called ‘Vinashak‘, which translates to The Destroyers, not the Avengers. I’m yet to think up a good name for the film since ‘Badlewaale‘ doesn’t pack the same punch as Avengers. More on that later.

What’s the cast to be?

The Hulk/ Bruce Banner

With the 2.5kilo reference, the big, green ‘other guy’ Hulk cannot be anybody but Sunny Deol. Sunny paaji also has an equally sunny smile but it’s also accompanied by a raw, earthy force. I rather liked Mark Ruffalo in this role, even over Edward Norton because he essays the mild, affable, slightly hesitant character of Bruce Banner much better. Norton, in comparison looks too collected and in control, a look that suited Fight Club but not the ‘I’m a wreck inside’ alter ego of The Hulk. To come back to Bollywood, Bruce Batten needs a subtler, milder look so how about the more polished, ‘civilised’ member of the same family? He even looks a little like Mark Ruffalo. I’m thinking Abhay Deol in his wry, slightly sardonic avatar as the mild-mannered scientist turning into a roaring Sunny Deol (remember Gadar?) when he’s angry and well, green. Hee, that ought to satisfy the intellectuals and the salt-of-the-earth alike!

Iron Man/ Tony Stark

Genius, billionaire, philanthropic playboy. Read flashy, irreverent, flirtatious showman? That can’t be anybody but Salman Khan. Nuff’ said. Well, he might have something to say about the metallic armour that covers up the torso. For a desi version, he could have the electromagnet embedded in his bare chest and flashing cool lights. (If this were the 80s, that electromagnet would be in the shape of an ‘Om’ or perhaps ‘Ma’).

Thor

This Viking demigod wasn’t too hard to place either. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the mythology that inspired the character and the comic/film version doesn’t seem to do justice. But I’m convinced that Thor is the token pretty boy of this group, the oldest but curiously enough the winner of ‘Most Likely To Go Metrosexual’ award. Golden flowing locks, not too quick on the uptake (especiall with Batten & Stark around)…give it up for Hrithik Roshan!

Now, let me explain. Like any female Indian who was at a hormonal stage when Kaho Na Pyaar Hain was released, I greatly enjoyed the Golden God on the silver screen. But Agneepath put that to paid when I found every man in the movie laughing at being beaten up, except the hero who took the opportunity to bawl. These muscles are for flexing, not wielding and the God is for show only. Besides, he’s the only one who can carry off that bare-chested/skirted warrior suit.

Nick Fury

This gets tricky since according to my informed sources, this character was drawn keeping in mind Samuel L. Jackson (who plays him in the movie). How do you compete with THAT? The clichedness of it pains me but it’s time to call in the senior Bachchan.

I am rather tired of seeing him play the ‘I’m older but kicking more ass than you’ role but who else? Irrfan Khan? Nah, that’s a good actor but not one who owns the screen the way Jackson does. This role needs the kind of screen charisma that doesn’t rely on good looks or acting talent. I’m drawing a blank. If you think of an alternative to Amitabh Bachchan, say it in the comments.

Black Widow/ Natasha Romanoff

This one had me stumped for awhile. It’s appalling how cookie cutter, the current crop of Bollywood actresses are. No Kareena or Katrina for me. Rani has the sensuality but not the menace of Black Widow. Deepika Padukone has the perfect body type but her face conveys no more emotion (never mind menace or guile) than the Iron Man costume. Anushka Sharma was a contender. My only problem is that she seems too sunny, too chirpy to essay a dark character like Black Widow. If she were one of Charlie’s Angels, she’d be Drew Barrymore whereas we’re looking for Lucy Liu. I don’t think Scarlette Johansson is a very good actress but she has just the right look for Black Widow. The body is right on of course but the face really nails it. When she looks at you (or into the camera), you get the feeling you don’t know all there is to know and that you should be uneasy around her. Who then, can essay that?

The boy thought Mahi Gill would be a good choice. But personally I think she’s too earthy, too ‘heavy’ (not in a body mass way but in a body language way). This Black Widow needs a certain lightness of the sort that makes words like ‘lithe’ and ‘sinous’ make sense.

Much thought & discussion flowed before the image of another very beautiful and slit-eyed lady popped into my head. Remember the striking Chitrangada Singh (from Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi)? Perfect.

Captain America/ Steve Rogers

Capt. America is a squeaky clean, whitewashed character. Who is the squeakiest clean man in Bollywood (umm, to the point of boring? Imran Khan. But a superhero? Noooo. His uncle wasn’t bad at all balancing chocolate boy looks with tough machismo. So Aamir Khan it is.

Hawkeye/ Clint Barton

This one didn’t have a major role in the film but since he is an important character (and because I could think of someone who fit), he’s on this list. A sleek, lithe guy who starts off loyal, goes over to the dark side and then switches back again? It’s all in the eyes and that’s for Bollywood’s master brooder, Ajay Devgan.

Agent Phil Coulson

That covers the superheros, leaving just one notable good guy who was also responsible for some comic relief (in a wry way). I think Irrfan Khan wouldn’t be wasted on the role of Agent Phil Coulson.

Loki

Who’s left? Just a manic, boyish, seedy villian who is also a Viking demigod-gone-wrong. Loki, like all villians is an interesting character, both in folklore and the movie. I’d really like to see Ranbir Kapoor in this role. He’s got the looks (chocolate boy-turned-menacing), the talent and the body structure to carry it off.

* Images via Wikipedia, Funrocker & Entertainment Wallpaper

If you liked this post, drop me a comment telling me which other pop culture reference you’d like ‘Bollywoodized’. And do read this post about iconic Bollywood characters blogging.

Paa – The Self-Absorbedness Of Bachchanalia

HT Cafe’s summary of Paa goes as follows:

Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) is an intelligent, witty 13-year-old boy with an extremely rare genetic defect that causes accelerated ageing. Mentally he is 13, but physically he looks five times older. He lives with his mother Vidya (Vidya Balan), who is a gynaecologist. Amol Arte (Abhishek Bachchan), is a progressive politician. Paa is the story about a father-son.

I should have read that summary thoroughly. Or perhaps, by some inspired stroke of genius, read only the last line. Because the only thing that’s been on my mind, this past hour (I walked out of the hall roughly an hour ago), has been,

What was that movie about?

To be fair, I only focussed on the first two sentences of the description, which made me immediately think of another movie, more than a decade older – Robin Williams’ Jack. That was a movie about a genetic condition, one that was almost Daliesque in how surreal the patient’s life became. Robin Williams essayed the role of a ‘regular boy with a body 4 times its age’ to perfection.

That was the only thing that intrigued me about Paa. I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that ‘it’s Bollywood so leave your brains behind’. This is the industry that has given us Iqbal , Prem Rog, Taare Zameen Pe, Amar Prem and Khamoshi (the 1969 one as well as the 1996 one). If you’re wondering what the above have in common, they are all stories of people in difficult circumstances – social, mental and physical. All of these movies were mainstream cinema, they had commercial actors and they were portrayed realistically,boldly but also sensitively. And they all enjoyed varying degrees of commercial success as well.

I think it is quite fair to expect that the same industry provide good entertainment and if, a ‘serious’ topic is taken on, it be dealt with sensitivity, intelligence and maturity. Sadly I found none of the above in Paa.

To return to the story itself, was this a story about progeria? The introduction shows an lengthy description of the disease with some statistics thrown in and illustrated with photographs of victims to make the disease come alive, so to speak, for the audience. And then, abruptly there ceases to be any further mention of the problem, other than to provide convenient hiccups in the plot (a holiday on a whim, a 12-yr-old boy falling sick in the middle of the ground suddenly).

Meetu points out the over-simplification of various critical points in the movie:

Like the overall compassion with which people from all ages and backgrounds treat an abnormal child. Also, the social acceptance of an illegitimate child and his mother was a tad too uneasy to digest. It is obvious that these issues were intentionally left out of the equation to help focus on the characters and their relationships. But these issues are conspicuous by their absence.

Similarly, the whole comment on parents’ complete disregard to anything creative as a source of living was in bad taste. A wee bit exaggerated it was, in order to get those extra laughs. Also, the maturity that 12-13 year olds show seems a bit beyond their age. The climax too seems a little too melodramatic compared to the tone of the rest of the film.

I agree with WOGMA‘s analysis as far as this. But it stops right there.

If the story wasn’t supposed to be about the disease itself, then why bring it in? It seems contrived and hence insensitive to toss in a word like ‘progeria’ just to build up the intensity of the plot. Most of the movie revolves around Auro’s relationship with Amol.

If then, the movie was supposed to be about the father-son relationship, then why not a regular child actor to play Auro?

I came out of Paa feeling like I had been subjected to the extremely self-absorbed whim of Amitabh Bachchan to play a ‘different’ role. Just the way I felt forced by Sanjay Leela Bansali to believe that making Black made him a ‘sensitive’ story-teller. Or for that matter, Madhur Bhandarkar for making Jail.

All of these reek of people trying too hard. My tweet-review elicited an immediate response from Bolly-blogger Sakshi, who asks me,

Why not AB?

The point is because he is not a 12-year-old boy with progeria. And more importantly, he didn’t depict Auro to tell a story about the disease. It was an attempt at blatant self-glorification and it came off in bad taste.

Maybe, as Sakshi points out, he is a box-office success. But then so was Lata Mangeshkar. And it is also a fact that no other talent (not even her own sister Asha Bhosale) was permitted to flourish as long as Latatai ruled the roost. The distinction I’m making here is that there is no dearth of talent. But such self-promotional antics come across as crass and materialistic. Really, there’s no need to mask all that under the garb of artistic greatness.

At the end of the movie I’m left with a feeling that I wasted 300 bucks and three hours of my time watching an extremely self-centered old man trying to prove that he has talent. Like decades of showcasing it and all the adulation of this country haven’t been enough.

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