Category Archives: Views on News

Half Girlfriend: Chetan Bhagat’s book or Mohit Suri’s film, which one is worse?

Some questions are truly critical. For instance: “Why did Kattappa kill Bahubali?” Now that we have the answer to that particular question, there is another burning question for the pop-culture-obsessed mind, and that question is this: Does Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend retain that line, immortalised by Chetan Bhagat. Deti hai toh de, varna kat le. The answer? In a bit.

First, we must address the elephant in the room. Why are people casting Arjun Kapoor in roles that demand complexity, nuance, skill and an overall understanding of context and milieu? Say what you will about Chetan Bhagat and his writing, but his books are fodder for the kind of films that can strike gold at the box office, if they’re made and positioned smartly. 3 Idiots and 2 States have proven that.

Shraddha Kapoor as Riya Somani in 'Half Girlfriend'

In fact, Half Girlfriend — despite being a mostly-unimpressive and sometimes-revolting book — has the kind of story that would have been a smash hit as a film in the ’90s. And treated with the right amount of texture and sensitivity, it had the potential to make for an intriguing watch even for today’s audience. One of the key aspects of the story – the protagonist Madhav Jha’s struggle and conflict with the English language, can come through strongly only with a medium like cinema; because in the book, everything is in English, including the bits where the character is actually speaking in Hindi.

However, the film falls flat on its face, largely because rather than seeming like an under-confident but rugged, attractive, athletic and intelligent fellow — what Madhav is supposed to be like — Arjun’s Madhav comes across looking like an overgrown oaf (pardon my language, but it’s true). His supposed-Bihari accent is not only terrible, but also inconsistent. In one scene, he says ‘loojer’ and ‘loser’ within a few seconds of each other, without irony. (What’s surprising is that Arjun played country bumpkin so much better in his first film, Ishaqzaade.)

About the only not-bad thing one can say about Arjun Kapoor in Half Girlfriend is that the film version of Madhav Jha comes across as less of a sexist creep than the book version. But that’s because Arjun Kapoor completely lacks the chops to pull off the character the way it was written. The character in the book is your average horny Indian male bred on a staple diet of entitlement, who shows a semblance of evolution through the story. (Sample this: At one point, when the girl covers her exposed legs, Madhav in the book reacts with, ‘Damn, I just lost my view’.) The character in the film, though, is just a brawny bumbling buffoon, his facial hair standing in for actual expressions.

Mohit Suri also takes the best thing about the book — the character of Riya Somani — and makes her a brooding bore, with spurts of being a slightly improved version of the high-on-life-or-cocaine character Shraddha Kapoor played in his own Ek Villain. While she was insufferable there, she’s quite, well, sufferable here.

Riya was an enigma in the book, the reasons for her demeanour, stoic personality and her actions through the story being a mystery all through, revealed only in the third act. (Yes, the book is actually split into ‘acts’. Bhagat knew right then that he was writing a script, not a book.) Like the book, in the film the narration itself is forcibly non-linear. However, the story unfolds quite linearly, cutting to the present once in a while. The result is a dumbed-down film with virtually no peaks or hooks, preferring to spend its time wallowing in shallow emotions, accompanied by a thoroughly unmemorable soundtrack.

In fact, the ‘village area’ scene from the trailer, which has already become a mildly funny meme, actually has ‘rural area’ in the book. That’s how little the makers of the film think of or trust the audience, and that’s the level they decided they must stick to all through. In another scene, we see Shraddha Kapoor put a bottle of water to her mouth to take a sip, but clearly not sipping or even wetting her lips. That’s how little the director cares.

What we’re left with, then, is that burning question from the start of this column. (Spoiler ahead!) In the book, Madhav attempts to get intimate with Riya, is rebuffed and becomes violent, before he utters that most infamous and reviled line, which created a stir when the book came out. Deti hai toh de, varna kat le. (‘F**k me or f**k off’ is how Chetan Bhagat translates that line in the book.)

We’ll never quite know whose call it was, but the scene in the film ends up a cop-out, simply by virtue of one changed syllable. It could have played out exactly in the disgusting manner it appears in the book, after which Madhav could have gotten his comeuppance through the story. Instead, quite like the book and the film, its most (in)glorious moment is also a half-damp squib. Who would have thought that one day Chetan Bhagat will get to hear these golden words: The book was better.

Dobaara’s real life siblings, Huma Qureshi-Saqib Saleem on their spooky Oculus remake

After making her debut in a supporting role in the two-part crime drama Gangs of Wasseypur (2102), followed by a raft of award nominations, Huma Qureshi went on to do films in several different genres. That same year, she played the lead female role in the romance Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, and followed it with a role in the supernatural thriller, Ek Th Daayan.

Further, the actress was seen in the black comedy Dedh Ishqiya (2014), the revenge drama Badlapur (2015) and most recently, in a comic role opposite Akshay Kumar in Jolly LLB 2.  Huma — a history graduate, found herself in the international space with Gurinder Chadha’s British-Indian historical drama Viceroy’s House. 

Huma is now looking forward to the release of Dobaara: See Your Evil, which happens to be a remake of the supernatural/psychological horror Hollywood flick, Oculus — rated as one of the scariest of films ever. Besides Adil Hussain, Lisa Ray, Rhea Chakraborty and Madalina Bellariu Ion, the film also stars Huma’s brother, Saqib Saleem.

The brother-sister duo is working together for the first time, and while Huma says, that she couldn’t disconnect from being an actor and a sister, Saqib tried maintaining a balance between their “professional and personal relationship” on the sets.

Siblings on screen, and off: Saqib Saleem and Huma Qureshi. Photos via Facebook

“First of all, we never thought that we would do a film together, but it happened…then we started shooting together. I had to stay away from the fact that we are siblings or else it would have been difficult, and once we moved past that, it was a lot of fun. But we share an awkward sibling relationship in the film, totally different from how we are in real life.  In the film, our characters detest each other, even though there is a lot of love between the two,” says Saqib.

Says Huma, “It can get very irritating working with your brother. Just imagine, what you have to go through at home, the same follows at the work place [laughs]! Actually I was more irritating on the sets as compared to Saqib. I could never disconnect from being an actor and being a sister. I was always a sister on the sets, watching out for him, what is he doing, why is he doing it, who is he getting friendly with, why is he helping out so and so, whether or not he has eaten his food. Saqib wouldn’t like it, and he was like, ‘Back off man, give me my space’. So I was the more irritating (one) in this sibling equation. But there was definitely a comfort level. You can say anything, you can trust him, you know each other’s reactions. Saqeeb and I don’t look very similar but there is a kind of similarity in our reactions if you speak to both of us.”

Saqib further says, “It is because of the fact that we are family, sometimes the lines tend to get blurred while working together, but then you enjoy that also. At times, I would speak to Huma as an actor and at others, as a brother,” he said.  However, Saqib found the balance very interesting. “It made us understand each other as actors more. We got to know each other’s process of working. For that, I think this film was a great exercise and we had great fun shooting,” he says, adding, “We both wanted the film to become better, that was our endeavour, and I think both of us gelled on the set. I was surprised. We bonded really well. It was a very nice equation we shared. I thought we won’t gel on the set because we are two different kinds of people, but I think we somehow managed. I think we brought different energies. As actors, we have different energies and that kind of helped while shooting the film.”

Posters of Dobaara: See Your Evil

Oculus, which released in 2013, was a thriller mystery about the relationship of two adult siblings who lose their parents very early on. While the girl believes that an antique mirror is the reason for the death of her family, her brother is trying to rebuild their lives. The two of them together try to find the truth. So, how well did being real life siblings work out for Huma and Saqib in Dobaara? “I was really amazed at Huma’s performing skills. She did not have a very conventional debut and I have always admired her as an actress. She is very alive in this film and in every scene. She is extremely spontaneous and can be seen playing with the dialogues,” says Saqib about Huma.

He continues, “My character is very rational and practical person, whereas in real life I get swayed by emotions. I am the frivolous kind but I play an intense person in the film. I am not a trained actor. I take time to get into the character. My character here is sent to a juvenile home where I spend 12 years. I am a complete loner. I stationed myself in Delhi for some time to attend workshops to get into the skin of the character. I also visited juvenile homes in the city to bring authenticity to my performance. Then, I spent some time all alone in a room. I locked myself in a room with no access to the outside world…absolutely no communication…no phone, no television…nothing at all, and it was so very difficult. While in my character, my silence talks about my angst, I don’t verbalise emotions, but post-pack up I was a different person…”

Shraddha Kapoor on Saina Nehwal biopic: ‘I can’t wait to learn (badminton) from her

The actress with the girl next door image, is thrilled to have bagged the ace badminton player Saina Nehwal biopic while she is in the midst of completing the other one, Haseena: The Queen of Mumbai, based on Dawood Ibrahim’s sister Haseena Parkar.

Gearing up for the release of Half Girlfriend (12 May), adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s novel, Shraddha talks to Firstpost on the exciting phase of her career her love for cinema, and her closest rival, Alia Bhatt. Excerpts from the interview:

half girlfriend 825

You have upped the glamour quotient for Half Girlfriend.

My character, Riya Somani comes from an affluent background from Delhi. She’s one of those girls who blow dries her hair, wears designer clothes and travels in big cars to college. She is the most popular girl in college with every guy wanting to date her. While everybody thinks that she is happy and has everything in life, she is not. She gets happiness with simple things like getting wet in the rains, for example. She meets Arjun’s character Madhav Jha and likes that simplicity in him.

Your character is a basketball player, and you are seen shooting hoops in the film. Was it fun?

It was both, fun as well as challenging. In school, I used to play basketball but I was a substitute player so I was called only if someone was injured or tired or unwell. That was the fun part in the movie, and now I can say that I have become a decent basket ball player. Training for that was really hard, I trained for almost a month.

And what about badminton since you will be soon doing a biopic on Saina Nehwal?

I loved badminton. I am sure most of us have played the sport in our residential complex, in our building compound. However good or bad, and I have some amazing memories of playing the sport in my building compound.

It is really very strange how I will be playing the former world number one badminton champion.

So what kind of prep you will be doing to play Saina Nehwal?

Basketball is just part of Half Girlfriend, but here the entire film will revolve around badminton as that is the crux of Saina’s biopic. I will have to train for a while. It is not going to be just for a month but for at least few months. The preparation for this film is going to be very, very challenging. It’s probably going to be my most difficult film till date. I can’t wait to learn from Saina herself. She is going to teach me the sport.

Have you met her?

I have spoken to her, we have exchanged messages but I am looking forward to spending time with her.

With films like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mary Kom, MS Dhoni…the standards for sports biopics has been rising.  Do expectations make you anxious?

Absolutely. That’s why it is so important for me to give good time before the shoot of the film so that I can prepare well. I will have to train a lot. I am scared and excited at the same time.

Shraddha Kapoor, not Deepika Padukone, has been confirmed to play Saina Nehwal in a biopic based on the badminton ace

Some time back you were juggling between the two characters  – Haseena Parkar and Riya Somani. How difficult was that?

That was quite tough. While I was shooting for the Haseena biopic I had to do the dubbing and promotions of Half Girlfriend. Haseena and Riya Somani are two very different characters. It was definitely challenging in its own way to juggle back and forth from both the characters and to get in and out of two worlds, especially since it is for the first time that I am playing a grey character (in Haseena).

The reaction to the first poster was quite overwhelming and I hope people react to the teaser the same way. When you watch the film, you will know what Haseena went through in her life: losing her loved ones, her son, her brother dying right in front of her. It was quite difficult for me to feel those emotions.

It must have been tough shooting with those prosthetics for Haseena?

Yes, it was, but eventually it became a part of Haseena. But I had tried to gain weight for this film, and I did gain but everything went to one area (points towards her stomach). I have to get rid of it now for the Saina biopic. I was trying to gain weight on my arms but it didn’t happen. I was hoping that I gain weight on my face little more but I couldn’t get the desired results. Prosthetics helped and it gradually became part of my character.  It was needed when my character is in her late 30s and 40s.

Shraddha Kapoor in the first look of 'Haseena'

Do you believe in half girlfriend relationship?

Yes, I do feel that it exists. Now there is a movie been made on it, but my friends and I have experienced the situation when something is holding us back to commit to a relationship; I like this guy but I have to focus on my career; I want to be with him but I can’t. It is something halfway. But in certain situations, it is really sad that two people who like each other are not able to spend their lives together.

What is more challenging for you, fictional or real life characters like Haseena and Saina?

With Saina, because she is a living legend and youth icon, I will have to speak exactly like her, my body language will have to match hers and I will have to try to look like her. To be true to the real life person is challenging in its own way. While playing a fictional character, you can interpret it in your own way and add your imagination and thoughts.

Have you read Chetan Bhagat’s book?

I had started reading the book and I told Mohit (Suri, director) but he stopped me from reading any further and told me to read and connect with the script instead because he had made some changes. I have read just about 50 pages.

This is your third film with Mohit. Both of you have given big hits like Aashiqui 2 and Ek Villain. How was your experience this time round?

Mohit knows me a little too well but it was his wife Udita who pointed out few things that set us thinking. One day when I went to his house, Udita said that we have done two films together in which I had played the girl next door coming from a middle class family, from humble beginnings, so how will I play Riya Somani? How will the audience accept me?

He told me to incorporate the body language of high society girls from Delhi and made me meet some of those girls.

A still from the song. Image via Youtube.

I was supposed to observe them and adopt their style and mannerisms, how they speak and stuff.  And while I was talking to them, slowly my body language changed and I was sitting cross-legged, lady-like just like those girls. I found that whole process very interesting.

You began your career with films like Teen Patti and Luv Ka The End which were complete failures at the box office.  How do you look at your journey and career now?

Fridays can change an actor’s life and similarly Aashiqui 2 changed my life overnight.

From Aashiqui 2 till now I have had back- to- back releases. I feel grateful that I started off with failures because it teaches you, whereas with success everything moves smoothly and then we don’t strive hard to make efforts. You learn the most when something is not going right. I went through a tough time but it taught me a lot.

Saina had once said that she would want Deepika Padukone to do her biopic if it’s ever made. She had said that Deepika’s father has been a badminton player, that she had seen her playing badminton, and she played well. She would do justice to the role. What would you say to that?

I am not aware of that.  But I think Saina is quite happy with me too (laughs). I hope not to disappoint her. When I was offered Saina, I was very scared and I had asked the makers if they were sure about casting me. It is a massive effort to put and huge expectations to live up to. I will do my best. I hope people like my interpretation and effort as Saina.


You are one of those actors who have created a space in singing as well. Off late there’s been a debate with certain singers having a problem with actors turning to singing. As someone who has been on the other side as well, what do you think?

Whether it is singers, actors, directors, lyricists, or the media…we are all interconnected. We are all part of a creative medium. We have a large responsibility to support each other and help each other grow. If an artist has a dream to become singer, actor or dancer, then nobody has the right to object. It is better to be in a supportive environment

Your contemporary, Alia Bhatt is a big draw, and she has a huge fan following. Is she a threat to you?

I get inspired from her because she is doing such good work. It is very important to not only support each other but it is also important to celebrate the other person’s success.

Tomorrow, if I am offered a film with Alia, I would love to do.


How is Arjun Kapoor as a co-star?

He is very eloquent and an expressive guy. He’s got this inherent innocence which is heart-warming.

So where do you see yourself five years from now?

I don’t know beyond Saina. I’m going with the flow. But at present I am really excited about the Saina biopic.

Bahubali 2: Will Telugu cinema capitalise on crossover success of Rajamouli’s epic?

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (also spelt as Bahubali 2) is a game changer. Bahubali 2 is India’s Star Wars. Bahubali 2 has brought in a paradigm shift in Indian cinema. Bahubali 2 has changed the way we understand Indian movies. All this, and a lot more has been said by many while talking about the success of Bahubali 2 across India. More than anything, the film has brought back crowd in droves to theatres and when you hear reports that people, some of whom haven’t watched films on a big screen for over 20 years, are flocking to theatres, you know why distributors and theatre owners in particular are so thrilled with the Baahubali phenomenon.

In the past few days leading up to Bahubali 2‘s release, there’s been a lot of buzz about how filmmakers in Hyderabad and Chennai are pushing the envelope, and that the real action is happening down South. While the excitement about an epic drama like Bahubali 2 is quite evident, the buzz surrounding the film has put the spotlight on Telugu cinema.

Still from Bahubali 2/Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

Bahubali 2 was Tollywood’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moment. In 2000, when Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon released in theatres, it renewed Hollywood’s interest in Asian cinema and propelled Ang Lee’s career to new heights. Something similar could happen with Bahubali 2‘s success for Telugu cinema.

Until Baahubali: The Beginning released, there were reasonable doubts about the reach for dubbed films in North India, even though TV channels like SET MAX had been making the most out of dubbed content for a while now. Most of the Telugu and Tamil actors are quite familiar in the hinterlands of North India, thanks to these dubbed films, but nobody knew the extent to which a Telugu film dubbed in Hindi might work at the box-office. Now that all those doubts have been vanquished without a shadow of doubt, several Telugu filmmakers would want to leapfrog into new territories, just like Bahubali 2 did, with renewed interest.

Already, rumours are abuzz that Mahesh Babu starrer Spyder, directed by AR Murugadoss, has got a good price for the theatrical rights in North India, and it’s said to be one of the best deals in recent times. Then, there’s Prabhas’ next film Saaho, a spy drama to be directed by Sujeeth, which will be released in Hindi in 2018. This could be just tip of the iceberg, if this interest in Telugu films sustains for a while.

Language has always been one of the biggest barriers for filmmakers in South India and despite several attempts in the past, the reach for dubbed content in Hindi market has been limited. A case in point being Shankar-Rajinikanth’s heavyweight Robo (Enthiran) which released in 2010. The film earned Rs 22 crores nett at the box-office and that was a record for nearly five years, until Baahubali: The Beginning landed in theatres.

So far, SS Rajamouli has been an exception among Telugu filmmakers, who have found universal acceptance across the country. But there are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the success of the epic drama. Rajamouli’s success lies in his ability to deliver an engaging film, irrespective of the genre, and the universal appeal of his films is the icing on the cake.

Perhaps, there might not be another Telugu film which will reach the bar, at the box-office, set by Bahubali 2 in near future, but it has already shattered the myth that dubbed film won’t give Hindi films a run for their money. By bridging the North-South divide, the film has cleared the way for other directors and top stars to venture into the Hindi market, which has been a mystery for a long time now. Although Tollywood’s recent attempts to crack the Hindi market with films like Sardaar Gabbar Singh and Ghazi, which collected Rs 16 crores nett in Hindi, haven’t been fruitful, there’s no reason why Telugu filmmakers should give up. “Every filmmaker dreams of reaching out to a wider audience through his films and I’m no different,” SS Rajamouli said recently.

While actors like Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar have been part of remakes, which were originally made in Telugu and Tamil, the recent success of South Indian films, with subtitles, in key cities like Mumbai, Pune and Delhi has come as a ray of hope that a good film will reach out to a wider audience. On top of it, the demand for the remake rights of Telugu films has been steady with films like Kshanam and Pellichoopulu hogging the limelight last year.
The influx of new talent, especially actresses, musicians and other technicians, from Bollywood to Telugu cinema has become a norm. Perhaps, it’s time to look at the other side and take Telugu cinema to Bollywood. You might fail few times, but it doesn’t hurt to dream big.

Sonakshi Sinha may not perform with Justin Bieber, but Bollywood’s limelight-hogging is an issue

A secure artist would always encourage another artist to grow their skills and follow their dreams. Art in any form should not be suppressed.”

Sonakshi Sinha, actor-singer and Bollywood’s latest offering to the world of music, recently schooled young singer Armaan Malik on Twitter on how artistes must encourage each other instead of being a case of sour grapes, as Bollywood actors go about getting plum singing assignments.

Sonakshi Sinha-Armaan Malik feud on Twitter; actress clarifies she isn’t performing at Justin Bieber gig

Obviously, any counterpoint stems from insecurity, be it from Kailash Kher or even a rookie like Armaan Malik. Sonakshi was not opening for major Indian draws like Arijit Singh, Honey Singh, Mika or Shaan. She was getting a platform to perform ahead of Justin Bieber on 10 May, only one of the world’s best-selling music artists, who has sold an estimated 100 million records.

The Sonakshi Sinha-Justin Bieber concert row highlights the problem of VIP culture

In the time since, Sonakshi has said that she is not, in fact, opening for Bieber. “I am an actor who also loves music, loves to perform and sing. And if anyone has a problem with that, in the wise words of Bieber himself, they can go ‘love’ themselves,” she added,

On her part, Sona has sung a slew of soulful songs from her films, many of them duets with audio processing software. The latest number is from the newly-released Noor that opened four days ago. Secure in the knowledge that auto-tune and Bollywood’s overzealous PR machinery can make any actor a stadium-worthy singer, Sona is talking equal opportunities in a world where Bollywood actors are showstoppers at fashion weeks, where cricketers both Indian and international have to shake a leg to Bollywood tunes lest they be caught before, and where a Farhan Akhtar — Bollywood actor and director of repute for his craft — makes it to the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for the richness of his raspy vocals.

Honestly, these musicians must really stop complaining so much about how Bollywood is hogging their turf. Ask the supermodels whose runways are hijacked often by vertically-challenged svelte actresses in a profession where one’s height is a basic criterion. Ask the cricketers who have to endure the humiliation of draping a mundu and doing the lungi dance.

For Bollywood, every platform that is widely watched is an opportunity. TV shows with massive visibility like Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah or Koffee with Karan, have been the breeding ground for pre-release appearances of actors. In this light, to cry foul over Bollywood’s omnipresence seems like such a futile effort.

Even Ganpati and Durga idols have to jostle for space with Bollywood devotees who make sure to inform the media well in advance of the pandals they’ll be visiting. It is Bollywood songs that play during Ganpati processions most often than devotional music with pumped up bass. ‘Munni Badnaam Hui, hey bhagwan, tere liye‘. So if God isn’t complaining, who are these mere mortal singers to raise a ruckus?

John Lennon: The Beatles are more popular than Jesus.

Bollywood: Hold my drink.

Bollywood is to entertainment, lifestyle, arts and culture, and basically life in India, what Sachin Tendulkar has been to the world outside of cricket: An iconoclastic Parliamentarian who championed for major reforms within Indian sports, a winner of the highest civilian honour ahead of a host of luminaries who were pathbreaking in the truest sense, brand endorser par excellence still known for memorable lines like “Aila, plane”, and a willing taxpayer for gifted Ferraris.

Sure, the crossover between professions is what makes things so dynamic. Bollywood has had its fair share of model influx, with some of the most exciting item songs being given to pretty faces with no acting or dancing chops. Nobody remembers the movie, everyone remembers Yana Gupta riding a bull while telling a Babuji to go slow. Pageant winners joining Bollywood after espousing world peace is a necessary rite of passage. Cricketers too have dabbled with acting, none with the success rate of say a Salil Ankola, on television though. A lot of it originates from being popular in one field, almost nepotistically giving them free access to an alternate field of their choice. Sorry Bollywood, and those who fought like Sonakshi Sinha through failed auditions and rampant rejection, to make a name for herself. Nepotism is a real thing. Ask Ananya Birla. The daughter of industrialist and philanthropist Kumarmangalam Birla, Ananya made her singing debut one week before she performed at the Global Citizen Festival, popularly called the “Coldplay concert and other unmentionables”.

Let’s, however, not overanalyse this phenomenon and dignify it by giving reasons as lofty as nepotism, or talent in another field or even mass popularity. Event organisers and marketing-PR mavens are together in this situation where actors — and not immensely talented professional singers — are given singing opportunities at major platforms. A lot of the actors who get to perform are not major award-winning actors either. They’re pretty faces with some semblance of holding a note, and who’ll look good while gyrating on stage. Who cares how they sing live? This is a country where Remo Fernandes played bass along with Queen’s Roger Taylor on drums while Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page lip-synced in India in 1995.

It was never about the singing or the A-list popularity. It’s about who can rock a bustier or garter while holding a mic. Sure we have some immensely talented singers who can look absolutely ravishing on stage, but are they popular enough outside of BlueFrog to bring in people for their performance?

Shraddha Kapoor was one of the many weird choices for the Global Citizen Festival. She is actually quite a talented singer with a lineage that links to the Mangeshkar family. She even managed to hold her own while touring for Rock On 2 while Farhan Akhtar frayed our last auditory nerve. But why was she selected over genuine professional singers for an event that is inherently about the music? Why do the Sonas and the Shraddhas get a chance to sing at major events that usually have no problems in drawing their own audiences? Is it because Shraddha could counter the adverse impact of Farhan’s vocals depleting the ozone layer or is it because Sona apparently has star power enough to drag South Mumbai listeners to DY Patil Stadium in Nerul (where Bieber’s concert is scheduled)?

It’s not like people are averse to Bollywood stars dabbling with music, dance or art. Even major stars who shoot black bucks, run over pavement-dwellers and beat up their girlfriends have a fan following that laps up their every artistic stroke and humane marketing strategies. It is when they are given a platform to perform in a field that is outside of their own, trumping the chances of more talented and befitting candidates that this rankles even more.

It is our obsession for this celebrity/VIP culture that has brought us to this stage. Where a name or a brand is expected to command an audience, not talent. Where the promoters of talent still believe that it needs Bollywood to bail out all other events. Where Katrina Kaif dancing at a sporting event gets louder whistles than Usha Uthup with a booming stadium-esque voice covering Freddie Mercury at a similar event.

You would never find these actors dabbling with theatre. Not because theatre might not give them the same level of publicity or that it is still acting after all. But as actors, should they be underwhelming on stage, audiences would be hardly forgiving of that irony. It would expose them for who they really are: Talent-bereft marketing pawns, inhabiting an inherited industry while decisively encroaching on others’ turfs. That calls for some gall.


Begum Jaan shows how Vidya Balan has been pigeonholed into doing seemingly ‘serious’ roles

In a few years from now when someone sits down to write a book on Vidya Balan, it would automatically assume her place amongst the all-time greats of Indian cinema.

It is not Ms Balan’s acting prowess alone that would make her worthy of such benediction. If her talent were to be a criterion then she would fall short. No. It is the manner in which, in a relatively short span of time and only a handful of films she has become one of the very few stars that have the entire film pivot around the character they portray.

In fact, right from her debut in Parineeta (2005), she began to carve a space for herself where most films that came to her demanded a strong central character. Her performances notwithstanding, Balan’s mere presence in films Ishqiya (2010), No One Killed Jessica (2011), The Dirty Picture (2011) and Kahaani (2012) is enough to stamp any film that she features in, as ‘special’. But the trouble with good actors like Balan — whose presence is powerful enough to be considered a performance unto itself — is that on a bad day, they go from being the biggest boon to the greatest bane for a film, in the blink of an eye.

Vidya Balan in and as Begum Jaan

On paper, Begum Jaan had all the makings of a great film. Balan stars as the madam of a brothel through which the Radclife Line (dividing India from Pakistan in 1947) is expected to pass; she refuses to give up her property even after her benefactor (the local raja; played by Naseeruddin Shah) withdraws his protection. A remake of Srijit Mukherji’s own Bengali film, Rajkahini (2015), Begum Jaan is not only tailor-made for Balan but in many ways also god-sent, considering the lean patch her career has been going through. The film’s trailer crossed over 20 million views across various social media platforms in under a week — testimony that Vidya Balan and Begum Jaan were a match made in heaven. But when the film released the reaction was quite different. Most reviews were unanimous on two accounts – the film was a tad too loud and Vidya Balan’s performance appeared to be the weakest link.

Unique as it might have been in concept, Begum Jaan’s imagery and the style in which its narrative was executed makes it look rather familiar and to a great degree, predictable. Mukherji uses the character of Amma (Ila Arun) to tell stories of iconic women from India who stood up to injustice, and using Balan to portray Rani Lakshmi Bai and others sets up the platform for the film’s final act and how the climax would eventually play out. What this also does is spoon-feed the audience to be ready for Balan’s heroism as the film progresses, which considering the story as well as Balan’s talent, shouldn’t have been a difficult task. Although the film has nearly managed to recover its cost within the first few days of release, and in the longer run might even end up making a profit, it will be a while before Balan’s stature recovers. Irrespective of its shortcomings, could Begum Jaan have managed to strike the right chord had Balan not been lazy about her portrayal? There are only three reactions that she depicts through the course of the film — she is either doped out, lost in her own world where each syllable coming out of her mouth is supposed to be strung together to make some sher or she is angry at someone, about to sign their death farmaan or she is just wistful. These three moods are repeated ad nauseam and as a result, nearly every scene that features Balan seems repetitive.

For this writer, the film’s trailer was a portent of the misstep that Begum Jaan is being seen as. The film seemed to be the kind of straight story where everything would depend on the actors to make it tick and being the anchor, it would invariably end up being Balan’s responsibility to tie the whole thing together. There is a possibility that once the hoopla about the film being a letdown settles, Begum Jaan might enjoy a renewed interest within the viewers. This wouldn’t be too difficult as the supporting cast is good and there are more than a few moments that hold enough intrigue to make Begum Jaan worth a re-look in times to come.

At the same time, there is a great possibility that Begum Jaan could be the end of Vidya Balan as we have known her up until now. In a way, it is good because Balan has been pigeonholed into doing seemingly “serious” roles. Her efforts to shift gears with a Bobby Jasoos (2014) or a Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014) have not been commercially successful and even though the failure was far from solely Balan’s, it has nonetheless created a myth that she can only excel playing sombre or thoughtful characters. Initially in her career, Balan had featured in the popular comedy TV show Hum Paanch (2000) and even early films like Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006), Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007) and Heyy Babyy (2007) displayed a decent flair for comedy or lighter roles — yet even there, she was relegated to being the comparatively serious kinds.

Begum Jaan’s message about rape and its survivors is deeply troubling: Here’s why

Last week, the singer and actor Janelle Monáe said something that, coming from her fabulous self, was a bit of a stinker. “Until every man is fighting for our rights, we should consider stopping having sex.” Fans and critics jumped to point out the with her sex strike idea — a similar theme was the crux of a inspired 2015 film, Spike Lee’s almost unwatchable — the most glaring one being expecting women to be more than game to sacrifice their sexuality for a larger cause.

The convenience with which you can offer up women’s bodies as points of resistance, without thinking twice about how such a resistance may work, is exactly the kind of shortsightedness that is so off-putting about Srijit Mukherji’s new film Begum Jaan. A remake of his Partition period film Rajkahini (2015), it was highly anticipated for its portrayal of women sex workers at a brothel in Punjab which is owned by the eponymous Begum Jaan — a ruthless madam with a heart of gold played by Vidya Balan. Everything is running smoothly at the kotha in 1947 until representatives from the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League inform Begum that she and her girls have a month to hot-foot it out of her home, since Radcliffe’s Line of Control to divide India from Pakistan will pass through it. The women instead decide to fight to the death.

Poster of Begum Jaan

But before you even get to how Mukherji ruins the plot’s potential by trying to do too much and ending up only skimming the surface of Partition upheavals, you have to rewind to the beginning of the movie.

It begins in the present day, with an interpretation of the December 16 gang-rape incident. Two men on a bus attack a woman. She runs for it, shielding herself from her assaulters by hiding behind an old woman who then strips slowly, to the incredulity and revulsion of the assaulters. Horrified, they flee the scene. Even if you try to ignore the massive tri-colour blowing in the background (it looks triumphant, I’m really not sure why), the scene doesn’t make sense because it relies on the grossly flawed premise that an old woman’s nudity is a terrifying deterrent for anyone intent on assault or rape.

Towards the end of the film, there’s a repetition of this incident, set in the past. A child called Laadli (Gracy Goswami), who grows up into the old woman of the present day scene (she’s wearing the same ribbons in her hair in case you miss all the other symbolism), tries to protect her mother from rape by undressing stoically. The policeman who seemed so keen on rape is horrified, humiliated and feels so repentant that he becomes a farmer. (Don’t go looking for logic, there isn’t any.) When the film ends circling back to the old-woman-as-saviour scene, you have to pause and wonder what Mukherji was thinking.

Adil Hussain: Films like Force 2 and Commando 2 subsidise my involvement in indie cinema

Adil Hussain, a renowned face in the world of theatre, art house cinema and Bollywood, has created quite a niche fan base for himself with his content-driven films like English Vinglish, Life of Pi and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.  He is now gearing up for the release of Mukti Bhawan, which received a standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival and won him a special mention at the 64th National Film Awards 2017. It was also invited to reputed film festivals like the Busan International Film Festival, Dubai Film Festival, Swedish Film Festival, Berlinale Festival and Vesoul Film Festival.  Mukti Bhawan is the story of a reluctant son, played by Adil, who must take his father to Varanasi where the latter wants to die and attain salvation.  Firstpost met up for an exclusive interview with the acclaimed actor.

Adil Hussain. Image from News 18

Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us something more about your role. Initially, you were not recognised in the look you sport in the film.

(Laughs) That is the idea. Shubhi (director Shubhashish Bhutiani) wanted me to look absolutely different, so we added the stomach with an extra pad. We experimented with several moustaches and finally chose a thin one. Then, with the body posture, language and style of walking, slowly it happened. I am playing a small town guy who sits in an office the whole day. He is middle-aged, has a bit of paunch and doesn’t care a damn about how he looks. The film is about a father and son in a dreadful situation, where the father emotionally blackmails the son to go with him to Varanasi, where people go to die. Both have differences and grudges against each other, but as they spend time together in Varanasi, they introspect about their relationship and a bond grows. My character is full of conflicts. He doesn’t want to accompany his dad, but is dutiful towards him and also has a soft corner for him.

What was your reaction when you were offered the film? It must have sounded quite bizarre.

Absolutely. I didn’t know there was an institution like Mukti Bhavan; I thought people would individually go check in to some hotel by themselves. I have heard the phrase,”Kashi mein jaake marenge.” But I didn’t know about the existence of an established institution where one spends 15 days… A friend, who has also directed me, forwarded the text from the film’s producer telling me that this is the story, this is the director’s profile, that the director’s first film was in the Best Short Film category at Venice, that he is 24 and that he is making a film about death. I said, “Wow!” This was an amazing combination. Without reading the script, I said yes. And when I read the script, it was way more than I had expected. One doesn’t get to do such unusual stories. After stories written by great writers like Shakespeare, Kafka and Tolstoy, which I’m used to permorning in theatre, quite often the scripts I get are not what I’d like to be a part of.

When I met Shubhi, I asked him, “How old are you?” He said 24, and mentioned that he wrote the script when he was 23. “How old are you actually?” I asked him this several times even during the course of the shoot, because when I was 23-24, I was only thinking about girls, not about death (laughs). It is humbling to see someone talking about the philosophy of death at 24.  Shubhi has probably come to an understanding about relationships. Actually, his film is more about life than death. Death is there, it is inevitable, but the film tells us that we better get a grip on our lives.

The film is also quite light-hearted, despite dealing with a sombre issue.

I saw the fun, the wit, the humour and lightness of the film, which did not reduce the depth and gravity of the situation. All of us are senior actors, and the way Shubhi dealt with us was a lesson for me in humility. That quality is also reflected in the film. I consider myself very lucky to be cast in these kind of films, which I think are the future of Indian cinema in a sense. These films are away from the unnecessary gloss and glitter. I have nothing against that kind of cinema, just that there should be space for films that deal with in-depth issues which are sensitive, important and relevant. It need not give out a message; it can be pure entertainment as well.

But as an actor I would always want to act in films that challenge me, take me out of my comfort zone and take my sleep away. Otherwise, you don’t grow as an actor. If you always do what you know then you remain stagnant. These films challenge me to make something believable. I have never faced this kind of situation in my life, so to make it look convincing was challenging.  The film is also quite entertaining. I laughed the whole time when I watched it; I laugh loud. I have watched it eight to nine times across the globe.

What was your experience while shooting the film?

There is a scene where I walk through the pyres. It was the first time I went so close and saw several bodies being washed and stuff.  It sort of made me realise something that I knew intellectually but had not experienced yet, that I may have to be here tomorrow, so I should not take myself so seriously. I am a very insignificant entity in the face of universe, so I should behave accordingly. I had that feeling before, but now it was reaffirmed, reconfirmed and fortified that I will merged into the dirt of planet earth… so I should just relax and behave myself (Laughs).

Of late, you have been active in commercial cinema, and have been part of films like Force 2, Commando 2. Why don’t you take up more projects in Bollywood? Isn’t it tempting?

Commercial mainstream films are not tempting at all. What would be tempting for me is getting more money, doing less films and doing more theatre. So I act in two Bollywood films a year which will fund two years of theatre and family life. For that reason the box office matters, but otherwise, I am so happy where I am. Bollywood never inspired me before and it will not inspire me anymore. I did Robot 2, Force 2, Commando 2… these films subsidise my involvement in independent films and I am grateful to them. Otherwise, I keep refusing many films. They keep casting me in a cop’s role, but now I don’t want to play a cop for the next five years.

You are extremely choosy, so how do you decide to take up a Bollywood project?

My role should be inevitable to the script; it should make sense.  If the director is good enough and the script is convincing enough and the money is good, I pick the film. If I don’t get the creative satisfaction and money, then why should I do films in Bollywood? I would rather cook for my family, for my son and wife, or I could teach at the National School of Drama (NSD). I also have teaching offers from various universities. I am hoping that my market price goes up so that I don’t have to do many films (laughs). Otherwise I am very happy with small things in life.

Are you wary of getting typecast in the Hindi film industry?

Yes, that’s the whole issue. After graduating from NSD, I didn’t feel like coming to Mumbai because I knew the industry here will slot me into a set image on the basis of my skin colour and things like that. That typecasting in Bollywood, it kills the actor. Actors here play a certain image that has been created. It sells, you are successful and then you don’t want to change it because you are scared. Fame, money and box office figures are tempting. So if an actor is happy doing it, it is fine, but I am not. I realised this is not the place I want to go to. But I started getting offers even as I didn’t come looking for them. I did Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya, I did few more and luckily there are independent films happening. I satisfy my thirst for acting in different roles by doing independent cinema.

Which are your upcoming projects?

A paranormal thriller film called Dobara which will be releasing soon. Lisa Ray and I play husband and wife in the film. It’s a remake of a Hollywood paranormal thriller called Oculus. I play an important role in Love Sonia, which is a very intense movie. There is also Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha and Freida Pinto in it. Danny Denzongpa is making Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala in Hindi, where I play Mini’s father. I recently finished shooting for a Bengali movie Maati in Kolkata. I am also doing a Norwegian film called What Will People Say for director Iram Haq whose first feature film was an official entry in the Academy Awards from Norway. I play an Iranian intelligence officer in a Malayalam film which has been made with young international actors from the US. It is set in Iran and shot in Oman and Kerala. Not to forget, Robot 2 is coming this Diwali!

What about your first love – theatre?

I have many releases coming up, but I have taken a break from films till the end of this year to concentrate on theatre. Since 2010, I have worked non-stop. I have done 50 films including short ones, and I am a bit tired in spite of acting in good films because the demand of film acting is almost 10 per cent of what is demanded on stage. So I am going back to stage till about the end of this year. I want to revitalise myself, because I am getting tired and bored, to some extent. Even for a film like Mukti Bhawan, the demand from an actor is very little in comparison to theatre. I have done very serious and rigorous avant-garde and experimental theatre for which I travelled across the globe. I am preparing a piece for a solo performance which is a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, called Karam Nishtha. I have dreamed of doing this since 1994.  It is my dream to play Krishna and to start with that, I will slide into the theatre world. I will start training with Kutiyattam guru Venugopalan Nair from 14 May on the connection between breath and emotion. That is a very ancient technique. But before that, I will represent Mukti Bhawan in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

Sachin Tendulkar releases song ‘Cricket Wali Beat’ on Indian Idol 9, makes singing debut with Sonu Nigam

Mumbai: Sachin Tendulkar has made many records on the cricket field in his 24-year international career, which ended in November 2013. But on Sunday night, the Master Blaster made another debut — this time with the mic.

Tendulkar collaborated with singer Sonu Nigam for the iconic cricketer’s debut track ‘Cricket Wali Beat‘. Sonu said that Tendulkar is a very good singer.

Sachin Tendulkar and Sonu Nigam. Image courtesy: YouTube

The song had its world TV premiere on the grand finale of singing TV reality show “Indian Idol 9″ on Sunday night on Sony Entertainment Television.

The lyrics of the ‘Nacho Nacho Nacho Sare Cricket Waali Beat Pe‘ are quirky and they go something like this: “Gend aayi, bala ghuma, mara chaka, Sachin, Sachin… nacho nacho sab cricket wali beat pe.”

Talking about the song, Sonu said here: “I am glad to be part of Sachin’s new innings. The song that he has sung with me is called ‘Cricket Wali Beat‘. I was very surprised to see the way he was pitching right. That’s why I believe that when God blesses someone with genius, it spills in other faculties too.”

Sonu can now vouch for Tendulkar’s singing skill.

“He is a very good singer. We did not use pitch corrector on his voice as he was singing in the right sur (tone) and (despite being) the shy person that he is, he got extremely comfortable the moment I kind of increased the masti (fun) quotient while we were shooting the video. It was wonderful and I am very happy that people are loving the song,” the singer said.

Sonu judges “Indian Idol 9″ with composer Annu Malik and choreographer-director Farah Khan. The finale saw three contestants — LV Revanth, Khuda Baksh and PVNS Rohit — competing with one another on stage.

About having Sachin on the show’s stage, Sonu said: “‘Indian Idol’ is my family, my house, my domain and Sachin coming in and releasing the song for its world TV premiere, is a matter of pride for all of us.”

“Sachin Tendulkar is a phenomenon not just for India, but for the world, especially for the world of cricket. When he is given the title of god, it’s not just by chance. His whole demeanour, whole career, entire reputation and the spotless career that he has had, is the reason why he is called the God of cricket,” Sonu added.

The Arjuna Award winner had earlier released his autobiography named “Playing It My Way”, and recently he launched his digital app 100MB.

Ranbir Kapoor won’t make public appearances until Sanjay Dutt biopic releases?

There’s immense buzz around Sanjay Dutt’s biopic being helmed by Rajkumar Hirani, especially since Ranbir Kapoor stars as the actor.

Ranbir Kapoor on the sets of the Sanjay Dutt biopic. Twitter

Ranbir Kapoor has been sporting different looks to portray to the life of the troubled star, and the film will apparently graph Sanjay Dutt’s life in the movies, his various relationships including one with his father. Ranbir has apparently and will also need to lose weight to shoot for the prison parts.

The first shooting schedule, that kicked off last month, focuses on Dutt’s contemporary phase. Ranbir will be sporting 6 different looks in the film.

However, despite multiple reports and so much buzz, there’s a sense of secrecy around Ranbir Kapoor’s portrayal of Dutt. The shoot happens in closed studios, and the makers are allegedly very strict about leaks. And now it being reported that Ranbir will not be making any more public appearances until the film is ready.

reports that Hirani has asked Ranbir to generally keep a low profile, and not be spotted around too much.

Further, that Ranbir and Hirani had gone to meet Aditya Chopra as the YRF film Tiger Zinda Hai has been slotted to released on Christmas 2017, when they had planned to release the Dutt biopic. The meeting was reportedly to discuss avoiding a clash with a Salman Khan film.

The Sanjay Dutt biopic, tentatively titled Dutt, is slated to release this Christmas. It is directed by Rajkumar Hirani and also stars Sonam Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Jim Sarbh and Dia Mirza.