All posts by jimmy

How Dilip Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan’s camaraderie goes way beyond photo opportunities

Shah Rukh Khan’s recent visit to check on the health of the 94-year old Dilip Kumar, upon the latter’s return after spending a few days in the hospital for some kidney related problem, brought to mind the sweet bond that the two have shared over the years.

The thespian and his wife, Saira Banu, have publicly expressed their love for Shah Rukh Khan on numerous occasions and in fact, have even said that SRK is the child that they would have loved to have.

Besides having a few things in common with the younger Khan — including the same number of Filmfare awards for the Best Actor, eight to be exact, and both playing Devdas at some point in their careers — Dilip sahab’s fondness for Shah Rukh Khan also mirrors the manner in which he has interacted with some of the superstars who followed him.

Dilip Kumar’s influence on Indian cinema is peerless and this influence extends beyond acting prowess. It was Dilip Kumar’s persona that inspired more than a few generation of actors such as Manoj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan, and almost every single one of them famously modelled certain aspects of their craft on Dilip Kumar.

In Manoj Kumar’s case, he even took his screen name ‘Manoj’ after a character that Dilip Kumar portrayed in one of his films, Shabnam (1949). Dharmendra often mentions that even though he came to (then) Bombay to try his hand at acting, meeting Dilip Kumar was perhaps a bigger draw for him. During the shooting of one of his initial films in the late 1950s, Dharmendra met Dilip Kumar’s sister, and thanks to her ended up spending an evening at Dilip Kumar’s residence. Late in the night when Dharam ji was leaving, Dilip Kumar gave him a sweater as it had been raining, and to this day, the sweater is a prized possession for the former.

Later the emergence of Rajesh Khanna as the new superstar coincided with the period where Dilip Kumar had considerably reduced his output, but even then the public interaction between Dilip Kumar and other leading men, such as Khanna and later Amitabh Bachchan, was the same. It’s not just Hindi films where Dilip Kumar’s impact, both as an actor and an elder, was felt. His friendship with the iconic Sivaji Ganesan, and later his influence on a Kamal Haasan, is also well documented.

Bareilly Ki Barfi: Bitti’s dilemma plays on a familiar film trope — the deceptive love triangle

In a particularly hilarious moment in Bareilly Ki Barfi (among all its hilarious moments), Bitti’s mother asks her friend Chirag Dubey to be “Hanuman” and set her daughter up with Pritam Vidrohi, since their jodi is that of Ram-Sita. Chirag (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) is the actual Ram here and the friend he’s bullied into pretending to be the writer Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao in his most comical role yet), was supposed to be his Hanuman.

Still from Bareilly Ki Barfi

This confusion — Girl thinks she is in love with charmer Boy B but it’s actually behind-the-scenes Boy A — is the underlying theme of this film. It’s a variation of the Cyrano de Bergerac/Hitch theme that has been played out and perfected in lots of Indian movies. From Saajan where Madhuri Dixit thinks she is in love with the dashing Salman Khan for his poetry, but the poems have been written by the poor orphan with a disability, Sanjay Dutt. Or the ‘90s Tamil movie Duet where an effervescent Meenakshi Seshadri falls in love with who she thinks is Ramesh Arvind, his poems and his beautiful saxophone playing when it’s actually the fat and awkward Prabhu who is the talented musician keeping her up at night. In Minnale, Madhavan pretends to be Reema Sen’s fiancée (who’s actually played by Abbas) and successfully lands the girl. Sapney (Minsaara Kanavu) had a thread of this theme where Aravind Swamy hires Prabhu Dheva to make Kajol fall in love with him. Or even Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi which takes it to #peakdrama where a dull SRK is married to Anushka Sharma and adopts a secret, glamorous identity to woo his own wife.

In Bareilly Ki Barfi, Bitti (Kriti Sanon) searches for the writer Pritam Vidrohi thinking he’s the one who’s written a novel that describes her to a T. A restless young woman, she thinks the man who’s authored the book and who really gets her, will fix her life. Except it’s her friend Chirag (Ayushmann Khurana) who’s actually written the book, is in love with her and gets her.

Rebellious Bitti, who asks random men on motorbikes to drop her off at her destination, who shares her cigarettes with her daddy, who break dances at whim, who runs away from home and comes back, who tells a prospective groom that no, she isn’t a virgin, is at odds with the small town she lives in. And when she comes across a book (also titled Bareilly Ki Barfi) where the protagonist resembles her so much, she’s determined to track him down and see where it goes. (Sidenote: I’ve been collecting unusual professions writers have given heroines in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films, Bitti’s is by far my favourite; prosaic, yet not: She works at the electricity board.)

Chirag doesn’t tell her the truth (for if he did, would we have the movie?) and instead says he knows the writer. Bitti, persuades a smitten Chirag to find Pritam who agrees, because he wants to eliminate the competition. Chirag and his friend go to Lucknow to meet and convince the mild-mannered, stammering, shy and hesitant sari salesman Pritam to turn into a paan chewing tharki. Pritam goes overboard with his transformation and brings fear into Chirag’s heart, especially when Bitti and family fall for him. This forcing Boy A to act as Boy B is a theme seen in Saajan as well.

Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi

In Saajan, after Sanjay Dutt’s character Aman’s poems get published (under a pseudonym) and he becomes famous, Madhuri Dixit’s Pooja corresponds with him. But Aman’s brother Akash (Salman Khan), falls in love with Pooja. And because Aman was a disabled orphan who was adopted by Akash’s parents, and because he thinks a woman would never love someone with a disability, he helps Akash pose as Sagar to win Pooja. It reminds me of a line Chirag spouts while drunk: “Pyar kiya hai, qurbani toh deni padegi“. The same qurbani is shown by Aman. And in the end, Pooja has to choose between the person she fell in love with and the poet she was entranced by.

Duet’s Guna and Siva — two brothers who run an orchestra — too fall in love with the same girl, Anjali, their choreographer-neighbour who cannot resist the saxophone music playing out of their house. Guna, played by Prabhu, is fat and awkward and doesn’t have the courage to confess his love for her, while the younger Siva makes a beeline for her and impresses her. The twist? Anjali thinks it’s Siva who is a skilled saxophone player, when it’s actually Guna. But here, there’s no qurbani, there’s no meetha barfi. Siva simply uses his brother’s insecurity to his advantage until Anjali comes to know of the truth — many arguments, some convincing and a fight late, Siva dies. Guna and Anjali unite.

What is so irresistible about the shell games of these movies? It’s partly because the heroine’s conflict becomes our own, and we’re suddenly taking sides. In Saajan, Sapney and Duet (and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, if dancer SRK was played by someone else), the heroines picked the underdogs, the nice boys, the ones who usually get left behind. In Minnale too Madhavan’s character is the underdog, but he doesn’t let us sympathise with him one minute, because the very next, he’s impersonating his loved one’s fiancée, especially one who happened to be his ‘enemy’ in college. Here, the heroine doesn’t have any real choosing to do; her dilemma is why should she pick him even after he lied to her. Each of the men on opposite sides usually represent a particular life, a way of fulfilling bigger dreams, especially when marriage = life as in the case of Bitti of Bareilly, who has been turned down  by many, many men because of her carefree but somewhat claustrophobic existence.

The pleasures of the Hitch version of the love triangle are manifold — there’s the tension of the unfolding drama even if you do know who will end up with whom, there’s that rush you get when you’re rooting for the loser and then there’s the unabashed mounting competition.

As I said before, the two men on opposite sides represent particularly different lives and Bitti picks Chirag, the one who didn’t quite sweep her off her feet, but one who offers her companionship, one she can share her small-town idiosyncrasies with. But what would’ve happened if she picked the other? On the face of it, the other is not an attractive choice: He’s a gullible, affable timid soul who’s been harangued by his mother all his life, resulting in the hopeless case that he is. Here’s a guy who has been bullied by Chirag tirelessly, whether it’s posing as him for the author photograph or getting doused in water for making a mistake. It’s hard to imagine Bitti with Pritam but boy Pritam does look like he needed a true vidrohi (rebel) like Bitti in his life to save him. Luckily for Bitti, she doesn’t share my soft spot for the real underdog in this story. She gets the last laugh and the last barfi.

Bareilly Ki Barfi: Ayushmann, Rajkummar are perfect foils for Kriti Sanon’s career-best act

Bareilly Ki Barfi starts with what has been its USP as seen in the trailer and songs so far – small town charm.

bkb social

The worn out yet cozy bylanes of Bareilly, a small town in Uttar Pradesh is introduced by the articulate voice of Javed Akhtar. His narrative takes you to the Mishra family – the patriarch (Pankaj Tripathi), matriarch (Seema Pahwa) and their daughter Bitti (Kriti Sanon), whom they have raised ‘as a son’.

She smokes, break dances, asserts her will on her neighbours and spreads out her legs while sitting on a bike.

While she has never been treated like a small town girl by her family, she gets disgusted by the misogyny that comes with every prospective groom, while she’s looking for prospective men to be married to. Dejected, she finds refuge in a book titled Bareilly Ki Barfi that she wantonly picks from a book stall.

The book that she grabs is ghost written by Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana). It seems like he takes off right where he left in his last film Meri Pyaari Bindu. He writes a book in memory of his unrequited love Babli. However, Bitti finds the character of Babli a carbon copy of herself and approaches the publisher of the book to get in touch with the author. The publisher turns out to be Khurrana who gets smitten by Bitti as he sees shades of Babli in her.

The hurdle however is the picture of the author on the book, which is that of Pritam (Rajkummar Rao), a gullible friend of Chirag who he had convinced to masquerade as the author in order to hide his love for Babli, as she’s now happily married.

While Chirag serves as the postman of Bitti and delivers her letters to the author, he realises that Bitti has actually fallen for the author, and not the publisher.

Chirag convinces Pritam to do him a favour yet again and sets up his meeting with Bitti. But he trains Pritam to project himself as an embodiment of everything that Bitti hates – all her misogynistic prospective grooms rolled into one.

Cue love triangle.

Kriti Sanon delivers arguably her best performance of the career. She fits the bill as the girl next door and gets everything right from the accent to the styling. While her small town girl act is pale in comparison to say, a Swara Bhaskar from Nil Battey Sannata but her author-backed role gives her ample scope to perform.

Ayushmann is endearing as the unrequited lover; his smitten expressions clearly project the butterflies in his stomach which makes one wonder why Bitti is not able to decode his boundless love for her.

Rajkummar Rao nails both his acts – the reserved saree-seller and the brash gali ka gunda, who he pretends to be to imitate Ayushmann. His arrogant avatar is overplayed in order to draw contrast from his restrained avatar, which he excels in organically.

Special mention to Pankaj Tripathi and Seema Pahwa who are brilliant with their comic chemistry. They have some of the best scenes in the film that are sure to leave everyone in splits. Pankaj Tripathi is as restrained as his last dark character in Gurgaon but still manages to make you laugh because of the lines that Nitesh Tiwari writes for him.

The story so far is predicated given the trailer of the film spelt it all. How it shapes up now will determine the graph of the film.

The rest of the story revolves around this typical love triangle. The edges are sharpened by Nitesh Tiwari’s crisp writing and his wife Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s tight direction.

Just like he did in Dangal, Nitesh gets all the local nuances right; Ashwini brings back the honesty and warmth of Nil Battey Sannata along with the street smartness and competitiveness she brought fore so aptly in that film. Also, the highlight of the music is ‘Sweety Tera Drama’ which is both irresistible and situational.

The editing, particularly the tug of war between Ayushmann and Rajkummar, is as sharp-edged as the writing.

Overall, Bareilly Ki Barfi is a character-driven as all the characters are pivotal to the plot and backed by substantial writing. The three lead actors drive most of the narrative – Ayushmann’s endearing expressions, Kriti’s livewire presence and Rajkummar’s unpredictable dialogue delivery provide the perfect ingrediendts for a sweet rom com that has its share of masala.

That masala surprisingly adds to the overall taste. While the film lacks the heartfelt moments of Nil Battey Sannata, it never gets pungent. It’s like a typical desi dessert that serves your sweet tooth but may result in adding a few pounds that you would certainly not mind.

Bareilly Ki Barfi review: Ayushmann, Kriti and Rajkummar bring small town charm to life

Bareilly Ki Barfi starts with what has been its USP as seen in the trailer and songs so far – small town charm.

bkb social

The worn out yet cozy bylanes of Bareilly, a small town in Uttar Pradesh is introduced by the articulate voice of Javed Akhtar. His narrative takes you to the Mishra family – the patriarch (Pankaj Tripathi), matriarch (Seema Pahwa) and their daughter Bitti (Kriti Sanon), whom they have raised ‘as a son’.

She smokes, break dances, asserts her will on her neighbours and spreads out her legs while sitting on a bike.

While she has never been treated like a small town girl by he family, she gets disgusted by the misogyny that comes with every prospective groom, while is looking for prospective men to be married to. Dejected, she finds refuge in a book titled Bareilly Ki Barfi that she wantonly picks from a book stall.

The book that she grabs is ghost written by Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana). It seems like he takes off right where he left in his last film Meri Pyaari Bindu. He writes a book in memory of his unrequited love Babli. However, Bitti finds the character of Babli a carbon copy of herself and approaches the publisher of the book to get in touch with the author. The publisher turns out to be Khurrana who gets smitten by Bitti as he sees shades of Babli in her.

The hurdle however is the picture of the author on the book, which is that of Pritam (Rajkummar Rao), a gullible friend of Chirag who he had convinced to masquerade as the author in order to hide his love for Babli, as she’s now happily married.

While Chirag serves as the postman of Bitti and delivers her letters to the author, he realises that Bitti has actually fallen for the author, and not the publisher.

Chirag convinces Pritam to do him a favour yet again and sets up his meeting with Bitti. But he trains Pritam to project himself as an embodiment of everything that Bitti hates – all her misogynistic prospective grooms rolled into one.

Cue love triangle.

Kriti Sanon delivers arguably her best performance of the career. She fits the bill as the girl next door and gets everything right from the accent to the styling. While her small town girl act is pale in comparison to say, a Swara Bhaskar from Nil Battey Sannata but her author-backed role gives her ample scope to perform.

Ayushmann is endearing as the unrequited lover; his smitten expressions clearly project the butterflies in his stomach which makes one wonder why Bitti is not able to decode his boundless love for her.

Rajkummar Rao nails both his acts – the reserved saree-seller and the brash gali ka gunda, who he pretends to be to imitate Ayushmann. His arrogant avatar is overplayed in order to draw contrast from his restrained avatar, which he excels in organically

Special mention to Pankaj Tripathi and Seema Pahwa who are brilliant with their comic chemistry. They have some of the best scenes in the film that are sure to leave everyone in splits. Pankaj Tripathi is as restrained as his last dark character in Gurgaon but still manages to make you laugh because of the lines that Nitesh Tiwari writes for him.

The story so far is predicated given the trailer of the film spelt it all. How it shapes up now will determine the graph of the film.

The rest of the story revolves around this typical love triangle. The edges are sharpened by Nitesh Tiwari’s crisp writing and his wife Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s tight direction.

Just like he did in Dangal, Nitesh gets all the local nuances right; Ashwini brings back the honesty and warmth of Nil Battey Sannata along with the street smartness and competitiveness she brought fore so aptly in that film. Also, the highlight of the music is ‘Sweety Tera Drama’ which is both irresistible and situational.

The editing, particularly the tug of war between Ayushmann and Rajkummar is as sharp-edged as the writing.

Overall, Bareilly Ki Barfi is a character-driven as all the characters are pivotal to the plot and backed by substantial writing. The three lead actors drive most of the narrative – Ayushmann’s endearing expressions, Kriti’s livewire presence and Rajkummar’s unpredictable dialogue delivery provide the perfect ingrediendts for a sweet rom com that has its share of masala.

That masala surprisingly adds to the overall taste. While the film lacks the heartfelt moments of Nil Battey Sannata, it never gets pungent. It’s like a typical desi dessert that serves your sweet tooth but may result in adding a few pounds that you would certainly not mind.

Idea for Bareilly Ki Barfi came immediately after Nil Battey Sannata, reveals Ashwini Iyer Tiwari

The attire and persona of Ashwini Iyer Tiwari gives out an air of an artistic presence.

Sophomore director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari, whose debut film Nil Battey Sannata was a whiff of fresh air, is back again with Bareilly Ki Barfi and this time too her story is rooted in a small town.

The fascination for India’s small towns for this commercial arts graduate from Mumbai’s Sophia Polytechnic is apparent. “It also happens because of my experience in advertising. When you are working in advertising, you have to do a lot of research and a lot of time is spent with planners. All those experiences with the passage of time get engraved in your mind,” she says.

Her interest in the study of personality and interests of an individual compelled Ashwini to start her own page on Facebook titled No Makeup Story. On her page, the director makes effort to read and write her observations about random people from various strata of society. “The entire aspect of my page is to know who these people are,” says Ashwini.

Born and brought up in the metropolis of Mumbai, Ashwini harbors the mindset of a small town girl. At the slightest opportunity, she runs away to the serene surroundings of Chembur where her parents live.  It’s evident that her mind is still trapped in an era when the Internet was not the buzzword. “I would say I am trapped in the whole idea of simplicity and in the idea of slow living,” she says.

It was sheer luck that the day she finished her debut film was also the day she got the germ for Bareilly Ki Barfi. “I was returning back to Mumbai after finishing the last schedule of Nil Battey Sannata. I was at the Delhi airport and picked up The Ingredients of Love by French author Nicolas Barreau. I started reading the book when I boarded the flight and there was a paragraph that really appealed to me, which later on became the core idea of Bareilly Ki Barfi.”

But when she reached home that day and sounded off the idea to her filmmaker husband Nitesh Tiwari, the conversation was not a pleasant one, recalls Ashwini.

“Nitesh said to me that you have just finished a film and have just come back home, that too with an idea for your next film. He told me that I was crazy,” she laughs. The hook line for her next film was so strongly now etched in the director’s mind that that when the couple set off for their annual vacation the next day, the book too found a place in her handbag. “I took the book along for my holiday and Nitesh had no option but to read that book. I told him to see what can be done with the plot line. We later on discussed about the possible plot and eventually figured out how to go about it.”

Ashwini believes that her filmmaking sensibility is rooted in the films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee and Sai Paranjape.  “I love the films of Sai and Hrishi Da. Their filmmaking sensibility stemmed from their own simplicity. The characters, which we encounter in their films, inspire me a lot,” she informs.

Becoming another Sai Paranjape is one ambition that Ashwini often thinks about and thus relentlessly works for it. “It’s my wish that in next few years people say this country has found a new Sai Paranjapem” she says.

After the critical acclaim that Nil Battey Sannata gathered last year, and the subsequent mega success of Dangal, one term which the duo might get to hear a lot in the coming days would be that of the ‘power couple’ of the film industry. When asked about the same, Ashwini cringes in the beginning but goes ahead to give a plausible explanation. “People might say so because we are two individuals and we both happen to be film directors. Something similar happened when we were part of the advertising fraternity too. We both managed awards at Cannes in the same year. While he got his for a radio ad, I got mine for a print campaign. We are only doing our respective work and trying to put in our best foot forward.”

Ashwini’s two films have featured only actors and not stars. “I have never thought about the fact that I work with actors, while Nitesh works only with stars. I come from a very different school of thought. It’s the actors who have to become characters and not vice versa. Tomorrow if I get a script and if I want Aamir Khan for that film, I will definitely approach him. The access factor has now become better,” says Ashwini, laughing.

Jab Harry Met Sejal: Imtiaz Ali’s film should rightly have been called Jab Sejal Met Dude

 

You get a similar feeling about Jab Harry Met Sejal, except you feel it about Shah Rukh Khan.

Now, of course, this is a pretty weird feeling to have about a ‘SRK movie’. Imtiaz Ali has done everything he can to stop you from feeling this. SRK’s Harry — despite having no discernible problem in life but being attracted so much to women that it scares (only) him — is supposed to be deep. You’re told again and again, mostly by Harry himself, that he’s a bad guy. He’s weary. He’s got trauma. One flashback early in the movie leads you to believe there’s some mysterious backstory from India that’s left Harry the tour guide scarred in Europe. Turns out nope, there isn’t.

Anushka Sharma and Shah Ruh Khan in Jab Harry Met Sejal. Image via Facebook

Because despite all the drama that the film tries to create around Harry, he’s fine. Nothing wrong with him. No trauma. No backstory. He’s just a dude, single in his forties. And that’s okay.

Jab Harry Met Sejal almost belonged to Sejal (Anushka Sharma). The movie is about her, after all – about the ring she lost and the things that happen to her as she goes from city to European city looking for it. Sejal moves the plot along: in fact, you often get the feeling that she was supposed to be the plot. Sharma’s deliberate Gujju accent may have been a bit much sometimes, but she makes up for it with her spectacular comic timing. Sejal is a lawyer, plays a role in her family’s business, is clear and decisive about what she wants, kicks the shit out of numerous bad guys and breaks off her own marriage. Harry is mostly just…there, a consequence more than a character, along for the ride Ali is taking us all on.

This movie should have been called Jab Sejal Met Dude.

In the run-up to this movie there was some talk of Imtiaz Ali’s repetitiveness: that most of his films feature people who go off on a journey in which they find themselves, and find love. This is true of Jab Sejal Met Dude too. It is practically the only thing that happens: the pair travel to different cities in search of a lost ring, get into really mild adventures in each city, find the ring and get together. You get the feeling that travel didn’t really need to be so central to the plot but was blackmailed into it, since everything travel was supposed to invoke could have been done without having gone on a journey at all. They could have found similar adventures just chasing each other around Mumbai – getting into fights in clubs, meeting spurned ex lovers, taking train rides, fighting thugs, throwing wedding parties for friends and singing impromptu songs.

Somebody somewhere convinced Imtiaz Ali early on that a journey is an integral part of films, so he feels the need to make all his movies fit that formula. The idea of a journey in Ali’s movies always leads to one person finding themselves. And barring few exceptions, that one person is usually a boy — from Jab We Met to Tamasha to Jab Sejal Met Dude.

Somebody somewhere convinced Imtiaz Ali early on that a journey is an integral part of films, so he feels the need to make all his movies fit that formula. The idea of a journey in Ali’s movies always leads to one person finding themselves. And barring few exceptions, that one person is usually a boy — from Jab We Met to Tamasha to Jab Sejal Met Dude.

Even more repetitive than the theme of travel are Ali’s precious male leads and all the bhaav they get from him. You get the feeling that men in Imtiaz Ali’s movies are a lot like Gayatri Jayaraman’s ‘urban millennial poor’ — whether it’s Shahid Kapoor’s man-child who couldn’t deal with his mother’s romantic relationship in Jab We Met, or Ranbir Kapoor whose biggest problem in Tamasha was that he couldn’t figure out if he’s a fun or boring guy to hang out with, or Kapoor in Rockstar where he can’t write songs until he feels sad about something, and now SRK’s spectacularly unremarkable Harry convincing himself he’s the blandest devil incarnate. Ali’s men break into sobs over their bad dating records and boring at-home personalities, probably to add some ‘darkness’ that’s supposed to add glamour to their souls in the filmmaker’s formula. I feel like telling the men in his movies to suck it up and go do their homework when they complain about how sad they are.

It isn’t like Ali doesn’t know how to give characters real problems. Part of the reason why Alia Bhatt’s Veera in Highway gets so chilled out about being kidnapped is that she’s dealing with the trauma of being sexually abused by her uncle as a child. Deepika Padukone’s Veronica in Cocktail is so traumatised by her breakup with Saif Ali Khan that she turns to excessive drinking and gets into a terrible road accident. Will someone please ask Ali, why do women need to go through so much trauma while the men get to just worry about themselves?

I found it strange that before the release of Jab Sejal Met Dude, Anushka Sharma claimed in an interview that her character was very superficial and had no depth. The trailer made it seem like she had plenty going on for her. But now, having watched the movie, I think I understand what she meant. It isn’t that Sejal has no depth, but that her role doesn’t allow her to show it no matter how much the plot depends on her. How can Sejal unfold all of her own complexity and depth when so much space is being taken up by SRK unnecessarily crying over his tour-guide status and imagined evilness towards women?

Ali won’t give us the satisfaction of a truly evil SRK, and he won’t give us the satisfaction of a truly realised Anushka. He just wants to hit the road again with a Dude.

 

Akshay Kumar – ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a romantic comedy, not a documentary’

Akshay Kumar, is, by far the fittest man in Bollywood, and leads an extremely disciplined life by waking up at the crack of dawn and winding up his day by 6 pm. In fact, it has been a standing joke in the industry that when Akshay wraps up his work on the sets and gets ready to leave for home, certain actors turn up on the sets!

When we asked him how he has only two or three releases this year as opposed to his usual record of five to six films, he first corrects us by saying, “Two-and-a-half”,  referring to Baby‘s spin-off Naam Shabana, in which he had an extended cameo, and he further asks, “Are you trying to say that I am slowing down? Or are you trying to say that I’m lazy?” He explains, “I have completed Padman, 2.0 (the sequel to 2010 blockbuster Robot, with Rajinikanth), and half of Gold is completed. We have not been able to announce a release date for Padman yet. There is no date available, because we have so many releases,” says Akshay.

Akshay Kumar. Image from Facebook

However, the actor is happy about the fact that the clash between his upcoming film Toilet Ek Prem Katha and Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Harry Met Sejal was averted, when the latter’s release was changed to one week before the previously chosen date. “Everybody is happy when films don’t clash, but unfortunately there are only 52 weeks and  180 releases, so some clashes are bound to happen. And then, we also have films from Hollywood and the South,” he says. This brings us to the humongous success of Baahubali 2: The Conclusionand the disappointing year that has been for Bollywood with just couple of super hit films like Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Hindi Medium so far. Akshay’s immediate query is, “How much was spent on Baahubali 2’s making? Over 400 crore? Toilet Ek Prem Katha has been made in Rs 18 crore. Obviously, the returns will be different.”

Referring to the poor rate of success of Bollywood movies, he further says, “Maybe it has got to do with our content which is not right. Also, they are very systematic in the South. They don’t spend more than Rs 2 crore on publicity. They don’t do reality shows or too many press meets. But like us, they too release big films during Diwali and Pongal. They do reserve those dates. It is not threatening for us, but we can see some new things in cinema. Even our films release in the South, and they have never said that it is a threat. It is just that good films work.”  So have the expectations from Shankar’s sci-fi action drama 2.0, in which Akshay plays an antagonist, gone up?  “Are you stating that I have started taking stress? Well, I can’t say anything more about the film, because I’m bound by my contract,” he says.

Akshay Kumar in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. Image from Facebook

Akshay recently revealed that the script of Toilet Ek Prem Katha was doing the rounds for four years and was offered to several stars who rejected it before it landed on his plate. “I found it very intriguing. I liked the fact that it was a real story. I wondered how these women actually told their spouses that they wanted a divorce because there’s no toilet at home. It was a big step for these women from villages; even women from the city wouldn’t take this extreme step,” says the actor, adding, “I don’t know how many people will watch the film, but even if five per cent out of the 54 per cent [who don’t have toilets in their homes] are able to install toilets, I will feel my movie is successful. I am not bothered about the box office collections, I am more concerned about the eye-balls it will get. If my producer-distributor can reduce the ticket price, I will be very happy.”

The National Award-winning actor, popularly known as Bollywood’s khiladi, was the go-to actor for action films in the initial years of his career. Later, he was also applauded for his comedies, and off-late, he is being touted as the flag-bearer of patriotism and supporter of diverse social causes, through his movies and otherwise. In fact, he continues to take maximum risks when it comes to playing across genres. If with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which will be released on the Independence Day weekend, he takes on the sanitation crisis in India and the need for toilets within homes for women, director R Balki’s Padman is an attempt to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene in rural India. Up next is Gold, a sports drama on the historic first Olympic medal that India won as a free nation. In the last two years, Akshay has acted in Neeraj Pandey’s spy thriller Baby, vigilante action movie Gabbar Is Back, historical drama Airlift and crime thriller Rustom, the last of which won him the National Award for best actor for 2016.

Akshay Kumar in Rustom. image from Twitter

“I want to help people with the help of media and government. Even if you don’t want to write about the film, it is fine, but certainly write about the issue and what women have to go through. They have to walk three kilometres to relieve themselves. They wait for sunset and leave in a group, with the fear of rape. It is a huge issue and I am doing my bit with this film,” says Akshay.  However, the actor clarifies that Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a romantic comedy and not a documentary. “I am not giving any message, it is only towards the end that it gets a bit serious. It has got loads of masala and action besides four to five songs. Toilet humour is also shown in a different way and along with that there is a true story,” he says.

However, Akshay is clear that he doesn’t want to be typecast again. “I would love to do a khiladi. Just last year I did a complete MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) film, Brothers, then I did Housefull 3 as well. It’s not that I don’t want to do other films besides the realistic ones,” he says.

And one can’t help but ask him about the fate of the his Battle of Saragarhi which was announced with much fanfare; he plays the lead in this film.  There have been speculations that Salman Khan, who is supposed to be co-producing the film with Karan Johar, has opted out and that the film has been shelved.  Says Akshay, “The film is still happening; it is not shelved, but whether Salman is still producing it or not, we will know with time. Talks are on. It’s not yet decided.

Indu Sarkar: Madhur Bhandarkar uses a plethora of stereotypes; of women, politics and morality

Of all the things wrong about Madhur Bhandarkar’s vapid movie Indu Sarkar, two things stand out the most — the unbearably forced writing and the intolerable rigidity of its characters.

We’re told there is good and there is bad — the sarkar (government) is bad and those fighting against it are good. It can’t be ignored that the Congress government in 1975 did many gruesome things, the best known of which is, 42 years later, the Emergency and Sanjay Gandhi’s forced mass-sterilisation campaign.

But Indu Sarkar’s almost definitive portrayal of everyone in the government as evil and the rest of the world as innocuous makes you feel like you are watching a cartoon: Despicable Me: The Emergency Edition. (With apologies to Despicable Me which is rather great at exploring villainy) Political nuances be damned. Acuity in narrative be damned even more. Because, it isn’t about getting a nuance right as much as it is about having any nuance at all. (Bhandarkar fails to highlight why Emergency came about or the economic crisis in India during Emergency, thanks to the 1971 war with Pakistan.  Everything is equally sketchy. Bhandarkar fleetingly mentions Jayaprakash Narayan with no context whatsoever.)

All this to say that in Indu Sarkar, Bhandarkar relapses in his addiction for black and white characters. Plus a sepia filter.

The protagonist Indu (played by Kirti Kulhari), is a woman who only wants to be an “acchi biwi” (good wife). Except, the acchi biwi goes on to become an acchi krantikari (good activist) during the Emergency of 1975. Indu fights the Emergency against another Indu — Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (played by Supriya Vinod). ‘While one daughter of the nation is destroying it, another one can redeem it’ is the central idea. It’s good Indu v/s bad Indu. Good Indu empowered, and no cookies for bad Indu.

Good Indu protects children who lost their homes and stands up to her government-employed husband, Naveen Sarkar. Bad Indu is razing down homes and stifling voices. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, makes a short but significant appearance.  Even in the limited screen time provided to her, she is forced into the bad-girl stereotype by providing shots of her looking haughty and throwing in a sinister smile. Bhandarkar even tries to portray the 90s TV serial antagonist metaphor of ‘only villainous women wear sunglasses’ in a scene where Gandhi puts on her sunglasses while driving away to a rally.

“I am the flag-bearer of women-centric empowerment,” filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar has. But his movies usually focus on one type of woman — the seemingly strong innocent waiting to be misled and led astray. In Indu Sarkar too, his protagonist goes through a struggle of being misled by her husband before she finds her voice.

Bhandarkar’s female antagonists who actually do have power are also cruel and heartless. Like Kitu Gidwani’s character Anisha Roy, who runs a large modelling firm, in his largely successful if much giggled about film Fashion (2008). He failed to highlight any of Roy’s struggles or achievements, but what he did highlight was her outright selfishness and cruelty. Not that powerful women can’t be selfish or cruel. But are they only those? The only trope Bhandarkar uses to present his female antagonists (oh, and they’re almost always female) is evil with a side-dose of eyerolling and manic laughter.

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This can be observed in Page 3 (2005) as well. Konkana Sen Sharma’s journalist character is the epitome of morality in a dark world, while the women she mingles with at parties are terrible. They walk through the disco-dimmed world of celebrities with ‘shadeless morals’ (to quote Atul Kulkarni in Page 3) and no colour, but that of well, evil. A la Cruel Intentions but with less sexual frisson.

I really hoped he’d abandon this unrealistic masala in his ‘realistic’ films with Heroine (2012). Just for a change, you know. Just for fashion. Because Heroine did have a protagonist with a little bit grey. Mahi (played by Kareena Kapoor) was headstrong, fierce and above all, ambitious to the point of madness. She would do anything to achieve her dreams and had no damns to give about the damage she caused on the way.

But what does Bhandarkar make her do in the end? Abandon her ambitions. Because even driven, headstrong and ambitious women at the end of the day, are still women — which means they can’t be trusted because they’ll do anything to win. If a woman seeks power, it comes across as disgusting and contemptuous. It’s Hillary Clinton all over again.

Bhandarkar seems to have a formula-generator for most of his films: Put a good-lead-woman and a bad-antagonist-woman, add some misconstrued representation and a sprinkling of chemical sex.

Although he’s skipped the misrepresented gay man out of Indu Sarkar (unlike his other movies — the male sex worker in Traffic Signal, the gay fashion designer in Fashion, or Konkona Sen Sharma’s friend, a make-up artist, in Page 3), he has plenty of other stereotypes to reinforce in this movie.

There’s the power-hungry government officer, Naveen, who overlooks ethics in pursuit of his dreams, and commits suicide when he realises his folly (perhaps for the first time, Bhandarkar shows that bad, ambitious men give up too). Another staple ingredient of the Bhandarkar stereotype is the constant and unnatural use of the term ‘activist log’ to describe activists fighting the Emergency. The usage is so forced, it almost incites a collective groan from the audience.

There’s also Farhana, a ‘bitchy’ political confidante of Chief AKA Sanjay Gandhi, played by Neil Nitin Mukesh. Of course, in the Bhandarkar world, any woman who is a political aspirant has to be portrayed with shades of cruelty? Not that she’s spared from some mockery herself. Chief remarks how she knows his government’s policies better than a Member of Parliament, ‘in spite of being a woman’. Eh?

Indu Sarkar, like many movies in Bhandarkar’s past, is trying to empower ladies log, using the ‘Madhur Bhandarkar Beti Bachao’ formula.

Except, only the goody-two-shoes protagonist qualifies for empowerment, the antagonists and secondary characters be damned. If his idea of ‘realistic’ is restrictive to an inflexible portrayal of women’s characters, then he is in need of a reality check.

As Bhandarkar abandons hopes for ladies log (again!) I’ve abandoned hope for him. Again.

Mubarakan, Judwaa 2, A Gentleman: Bollywood’s age-old formula of double roles is back

With Arjun Kapoor in Mubarakan, Varun Dhawan in Judwaa 2 and Sidharth Malhotra in A Gentleman: Sundar, Shsheel, Risky, the fabled concept of double-roles — which was once a near rite of passage in popular Hindi cinema — is back as the as the flavour of the season.

The thing with trends is that they invariably make a come back, and the manner in which everything new in Hindi cinema seems to be a throwback to the good old days, it was only a matter of time before the younger lot relived the double-role.

Reminds me of few of the earliest Indian films, such as Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchancra (1913), which used to feature an all-male cast, as no woman was available for playing female leads. Many times actors would end up playing more than one role in a film. But back then this was more out of necessity than anything else.

Perhaps the first time the novelty factor of an actor playing two distinctive characters on the screen was celebrated would be in Kismet (1943). The Gyan Mukherjee directed blockbuster had many firsts attached to it that included an anti-hero as the protagonist, a narrative that portrayed the criminal in a good light, an unmarried girl getting pregnant out of wedlock or the lost-and-found formula. While the film is recalled for a host of elements it was the double-role factor that went on to become a calling card of a star.

After Ashok Kumar played the double roles of Shekhar and Madan in Kismet, Dev Anand played two roles in Hum Dono (1962) but here it was more about two men looking the same as opposed to twins separated at birth. A few years later it was probably Dilip Kumar’s dual outing in Ram Aur Shyam (1967) that established the double-role as an announcement of the arrival of a star.

The remake of the Telugu film, Ramudu Bheemudu that had N. T. Rama Rao in the lead roles, Ram Aur Shyam was also inspired by the original’s Tamil version Enga Veettu Pillai (1965) with MG Ramachandran reprising the double role. It is said that when audiences saw MGR as Ramu being beaten by his brother-in-law played by MN Nambiar, they created a ruckus in the cinema hall. It was only after someone from the film unit placated them to wait for the other character played by MGR, Ilango, to appear that they relented.

In the Hindi version, Pran played Nambiar’s role and similarly, audiences were shocked to see thespian Dilip Kumar being whipped by him.

Almost every big star since Ashok Kumar has featured in a double role at some point in their career.

Rajesh Khanna’s first big hit, Aradhana (1969) had him play two roles and later in the caper Sachaa-Jhutha (1970), he played two characters that were unrelated but looked alike. The 1970s were filled with stars playing two, three or at times nine roles – Dilip Kumar played three roles in Bairaag (1976), Sanjeev Kumar portrayed nine roles in the A. Bhimsingh directed Naya Din Nai Raat (1974) that was originally made in Tamil as Navarathri (1964) with Sivaji Ganesan and later also remade with the same title in Telugu in 1966 with A. Nageswara Rao.

It was also the decade where the Ram Aur Shyam template was rehashed as Seeta Aur Geeta and featured a woman, Hema Malini, as the protagonist and besides establishing as the numero uno star, the film featured one of the biggest stars of the era, Dharmendra in a supporting role.

But no one came close to Amitabh Bachchan in the 1970s when it came to the double-role and he featured him in five films – Bandhe Haath (1973), Adalat (1977), Kasme Vaade (1978), Don (1978), The Great Gambler (1979) – and would go on to play two roles, or more in a single film 9 more times.

When it comes to Hindi films the double role is nothing less than a genre unto itself. Yet there are only a handful of templates that it follows and it’s extremely rare that the narrative deviates from the parameters.

We usually see the lost sibling’s template that is re-visited across the decades be it Chaalbaaz (1989) with Sridevi or Kishen Kanhiya (1990) with Anil Kapoor, Gopi Kishan (1994) with Sunil Shetty, or Judwaa (1997) with Salman Khan.

This concept was experimented with in Angoor (1982) where Gulzar adapted Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and directed both Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma in double roles. This was the second time that Gulzar attempted reworking The Comedy of Errors and had previously adapted the same as Do Dooni Char (1968) before Angoor. The 1990s briefly saw the doppelganger trying to make a comeback with Akshay Kumar in Aflatoon (1997) and Shah Rukh Khan in Duplicate (1998) but by then the double-role had become jaded and even run of freshness.

Considering the success and the popularity of the concept, there ought to more to the double role than sheer novelty or idiosyncrasy.

There was a sense of renewed interest in the double-role with Shahid Kapoor in Kaminey (2009) but true experimenting with the genre did not take off as expected.

From the looks of it both Mubarakan and A Gentleman: Sundar, Susheel, Risky seem to indulge in the mistaken identity concept and along with Judwaa 2, which is a remake of the Salman Khan original that had lost twins at its core, there might not be much that these films would attempt to change when it comes to the double role.

Globally as well, the genre is experiencing a revival in the last decade with Moon (2009) The Social Network (2010), The Devil’s Double (2011), The Double (2013), Enemy (2013) and Legend (2015) where the double-role was the mainstay of the narrative. Perhaps it’s time that someone came up with a fresh set of eyes in Hindi films to look at the double role.

Kangana Ranaut, Karan Johar’s debate on nepotism in Bollywood is hitting (wrong) headlines

With the nepotism debate taking new turns everyday, everyone seems to have an opinion on it. The Kangana Ranaut-Karan Johar row began on the latter’s talk-show, Koffee With Karan.

Ranaut had called him “the flagbearer of nepotism” in Bollywood, referring to the filmmaker’s preference for star kids. Johar brought up the debate again while hosting IIFA awards 2017 along with Saif Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan. The trio made a nepotism joke, aimed at the actress on stage.

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Since then, a lot has transpired – apologieshave been issued and sides have been chosen and open letters have been written.

However this one takes the cake. ScoopWhoop recently wrote a satirical response on behalf of Ranaut. The spoof piece had the actress apologising for speaking her mind. “I want to sincerely apologise to Karanji and tell him that I will never utter the

word nepotism again,” read a few lines from the piece.

The piece was clearly meant to not be taken literally. However, some people and media houses could not detect the sarcasm and passed it off as Ranaut’s actual response to the fiasco.

There is no doubt that this row has been fodder for a lot of news organisations because it involves some of Bollywood’s most influential celebrities and the favourism that exists in the industry.

Although the post was shared by organisations which deemed it as the Queen actress’ official statement, Ranaut had no involvement in the fabrication process of the piece. This highlights weak judgement and hasty decisions, all of which lead to fake news.

Fake news is as important an issue as nepotism and needs to be tackled. Therefore, not being misled by such information is imperative for uninterrupted, healthy discourse. A little fact-checking could save one from having an uninformed opinion.