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Phillauri, Anarkali of Aarah and Naam Shabana triple whammy: Women’s stories finally in vogue

Three months into 2017 and we finally have Bollywood films championing female actors.

On back-to-back Fridays, we have Anushka Sharma’s Phillauri, Swara Bhaskar’s Anaarkali of Aarah and Taapsee Pannu’s Naam Shabana. Each of these films differs in storyline, but what they have in common is that they are headlined by women.

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In the last few years, films with female leads aren’t as rare as they used to be in Bollywood.

Last year films like Neerja, Dangal, Pink and Phobia told women’s stories. They followed in the footsteps of widely acclaimed films like No One Killed Jessica, Kahaani, The Dirty Picture, Queen and Mary Kom that also made their mark at the box office.

Bollywood is slowly but surely recognising that making movies that allow women to take center stage is a good business decision.

Almost two years ago, Anushka Sharma made her debut as a producer with Navdeep Singh’s NH10. The actress leveraged her A-list status for a film that on the surface was about a couple’s nightmarish road trip but left the audience with a strong message about honour killing, patriarchy and violence.

Her sophomore production is Phillauri, a film that by Bollywood standards has a ‘quirky’ story line. Directed by Anshai Lal, the film tells the tale of a Manglik boy who has to marry a tree before he can marry a girl. Turns out the tree is inhabited by a friendly neighbourhood ghost (played by Anushka) and the Manglik boy has to help her return to ghost-land.

With notable exceptions like Ekta Kapoor, Guneet Monga and Rhea Kapoor, movie producing is largely a boys club. Actresses traditionally would step into production only to resurrect their dying careers but 28-year-old Anushka is at the top of her game. She is an exciting producer to watch-out for. Instead of backing large projects with bankable faces, she has chosen to work with actors, writers and filmmakers who want to tell fresh stories.

Anushka’s home productions have injected Bollywood with fresh talent. The success of NH10 bought the supremely talented Navdeep back into Bollywood 12 years after his first film Manorama Six Feet Under released. It also helped writer Sudip Sharma and actor Darshan Kumaar to make their mark in the industry. Phillauri marks the debut of its director and is, also, actor Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) first Bollywood outing.

Anushka Sharma. Image from Phillauri - Facebook

Swara Bhaskar’s Anaarkali of Arrah bucks the trend of female stories that Bollywood has been telling. It is not a relatable character or setting. Anaarkali is an orchestra singer who sings lewd songs but defiantly unapologetic about her sexuality. The actress describes her character has being ‘very open about sex, her body and desires. Anaarkali starts the conversation with ‘I am character-less. This is what I do for a living. Now what?’’ Anaarkali’s overpowering sexuality is reminiscent of Vidya Balan’s portrayal of an ambitious junior artist Reshma who transforms into Silk, a sultry male magnet in The Dirty Picture.

Next week, Taapsee Pannu’s Naam Shabana is looking all set to start a brand new trend. The spy film is a spin-off from the hit Akshay Kumar starrer Baby. As Shabana, Taapsee Pannu had a role short enough to be a cameo in Baby, but it made a big enough impact for director-producer Neeraj Pandey to green light Naam Shabana. It’s very rare in Bollywood for a character to get its own spin-off film and even rarer for that film to have a female protagonist!

In April, Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) and her sorority of sex workers will take on the might of two nations and Noor (Sonakshi Sinha), a journalist, will find herself in absurd, often implausible, situations. Later this year, Shraddha Kapoor will play Haseena Parker, Dawood Ibrahim’s sister in Haseena _ Queen of Mumbai and Kangana Ranaut will be seen as Simran in Hansal Mehta’s crime caper.

This promises to be a good year for women in Bollywood.

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There is school of thought that includes actresses like Anushka and Vidya Balan who hate the ‘women-centric’ tag. And, they have been very vocal about it. “By calling a film ‘female-centric’ we are putting it on a disadvantage. Films with male protagonists are just ‘films’ but if you are telling a woman’s story it becomes female-centric. I have an aversion to classifications like this,” Anushka says.

While Anushka does raise a pertinent point, it is important to remember that a films that tell women’s stories are still a very small percentage of the films Bollywood churns out. The industry continues to be predominately male-driven both on and off the screen.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania: Alia Bhatt, how could you laugh at a male molestation scene?

Happy Birthday Alia,

Today is the best day to tell you that you are one of the finest actors in our country. I put you in the same league as Kangana. Your glam-doll performance in Student Of The Year was an easy miss and I wouldn’t count that as one of your best performances, but I mean that as a compliment. You are not a doll, you are a person with impeccable ability to emote the toughest of  situations. You are young, but not brittle and shaky.

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You are barely a dozen films old yet you have proven your mettle. For the audience, you had the pressure of standing up for the performances of your mother Soni and sister Pooja. But you were a star in your own right. You probably got access to Karan Johar for your first film and that’s where the nepotism ends. Post that, you were on your own.

You developed your own wings and chartered your own route. No Mahesh Bhatt ever helped you get where you got. Anyone telling you otherwise, is just full of vile and has the sole intention of putting you down.

To me, your film Highway was the deal breaker. When I went to the theatre to see the film, I went with negative emotions. I thought it was a film that glorified love with the abuser.

However, when I watched Highway, I could relate to every scene of yours. You had dialogues in the film, but you could have done without any. Your eyes, your body language, even your shadow spoke a language that communicated the message like no other. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. I could relate to you, Alia. The times when you spoke to yourself in the film, when you were out in gay abandon, was actually the inner-talk that most survivors have with themselves.

While the credit of writing the scene and directing it so well goes to Imtiaz Ali, I really can’t imagine anyone bringing both, innocence and effervescence to the character, the way you did.

You held a mirror to all survivors of childhood rape through your spectacular performance. Thank you, Alia.

I think every survivor wanted to scream and hug you when you were raped in Udta Punjab. Your dialogue delivery, your look and your on-screen persona was admirable. You were so seeped into the character, that you reportedly found it so difficult to get out of the character. You faced some real-life phobias like walking in familiar streets. That’s what it takes to be an actor. That’s what it means to get into the skin of your character.

And though I am not a huge fan of Dear Zindagi, I think you emerged as one of the finest characters in the film as you lived the life of a child in a family of domestic instability due to matrimonial discord. Thank you for that Alia.

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This brings me to Badrinath Ki Dulhania, your recent role that is being watched by millions across the world and thus is making a lot of money.

The film was fun. Even though the entire premise of the film was over the top and scatter-brained, I think it brought out the best performances from you and your co-star Varun Dhawan.

But I have one grouse with you, especially since I see you as the most empathetic and sensible in the group. You have played a rape survivor, and a child sex abuse survivor to absolute perfection. I believe, a good person who absorbs to the world can only be a good actor, hence I am shocked and appalled.

Why is it so difficult for you to fathom, Alia, that it is not okay to laugh at a man who has been molested?

What were you thinking when director Shashank Khaitan asked you to laugh at a man who was sexually assaulted? You really thought that was funny? What if you saw Veera of Highway or Mary Jane of Udta Punjab getting molested that way, and you saw Randeep Hooda or Varun Dhawan laughing? Would you have done the film without any revolt? Do you find male rape funny?

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I am asking, because I know that it is a reality. I am a man who has been raped by a man, as a boy of 7 and all through my teen age years. I have no expectation from Karan Johar, who produced a movie with an inconsequential scene on the “comic”ness of male rape despite belonging to my own tribe. I have no expectation from that bloke Khaitaan. Varun doesn’t give me the vibe of being socially conscious and seems to still bea kid.

But you? I had faith in you. You let me down.

Your laughter in that scene is a painful reminder of the challenges many male survivors of sexual assault face everyday.

It is not funny to be raped. Gender irrespective. In fact, men and boys who get sexually assaulted are unable to speak up only because of the kind of laughter in your film. You drowned several voices of self acceptance that could have emerged out of the closets of shame with the sound of your laughter.

This wound will take time to heal.

However, I do hope, you get better and more sensible. You inspire, Alia. Don’t fuck it up like this.

Karan Johar, Kangana Ranaut’s feud teaches us a lesson on how to tackle bullies

If there’s one thing we learnt about Kangana Ranaut last year during the Hrithik Roshan scandal, it was that she doesn’t back down. Just days after Karan Johar accused Kangana of playing the “woman” and “victim card” too often and suggested that she leave the industry, the actress has replied. And, how!

The prevailing sentiment among most people that I spoke with, after the video of Karan’s dissing Kangana at London School Of Economics surfaced, was that ‘she shouldn’t bother saying anything anymore. What’s the point of escalating things?’ After all, we were taught by our parents to take the high road in an altercation.

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But when you are being bullied, ignoring it reinforces a sense of powerlessness in the target. Karan belittled, humiliated and insulted Kangana on a public platform. Addressing that bullying on an equally public medium was the only option for the actress to push back.

“Why is Karan Johar trying to shame a woman for being a woman? What is this about the ‘woman card’ and the ‘victim card’? This kind of talk is demeaning to all women, particularly the vulnerable because they are the ones who really need to use them. The ‘woman card’ might not help you become a Wimbledon champ, or win you Olympic medals, or bag National awards. It might not even land you a job, but it can get a pregnant woman who feels her water is about to break a ‘ladies’ seat on a crowded bus. It can be used as a cry for help when you sense a threat. The same goes for the ‘victim card’, which women like my sister, Rangoli, who is a victim of an acid attack, can use while fighting for justice in court”

For someone who has been ridiculed for her fluency with English, Kangana’s reply is very articulate. More articulate than say the man who wondered if she knows what nepotism means. In her reply, Kangana talks about choice and power. It’s important to remember that a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body, her mind and her life is what equality is all about.

Kangana has the choice to play whatever card she chooses. Whatever weapon she has choice to use available in her arsenal to take down the bullies whose place of privilege accords them more protection than she has ever had.

Karan took potshots at Kangana when she wasn’t around to defend herself; her reply makes it very clear that her fight is not against an individual.

“I am not fighting Karan Johar, I am fighting male chauvinism,” she says. One of the most effective ways to stand up to a bully is to fight back with logic and clarity. Her response makes it clear that she didn’t need his platform to air her opinions; that they have in fact worked together in a film (Ungli) that his production house produced; that airing their exchange from Koffee with Karan was not a sign of his magnanimity but was done for TRP and, most importantly, that she is a self-made woman who is ‘definitely not going anywhere’.

Time and again, Kangana has proven that she is exactly the kind of badass that Bollywood needs.

Running Shaadi: Tapsee Pannu’s character runs like no one is watching (and that’s a good thing)

Running Shaadi begins with a teenage Nimmi (Taapsee Pannu) in school uniform and plaited hair in red ribbons, telling Bharose (Amit Sadh) that she needs to have an abortion. Bharose works at Nimmi’s father’s bridal clothes shop (and looks the same age throughout the movie even though the story skips many years). It’s a surprising moment, not just because it’s in a mainstream Bollywood film, but also because Nimmi is not apologetic or guilty.

She looks scared, as one might expect her to be, but the moment passes into the beginning of a kind of quiet half-love, with Bharose taking care of her and suitably lovey music in the background, as he cuts her an apple and makes her chai.

The idea behind Amit Roy’s Running Shaadi, a new “social service” website that helps couples run away and get married, sounds like a suitably complicated and fun place for a movie to begin. Nimmi, Bharose and his friend Cyberjeet (Arsh Bajwa) decide to start this website. Of course, one might also expect it to deal with at least some of the many different ways that families respond to couples who run away (other than with happy reconciliation), but Running Shaadi hardly ventures into this less safe ground.

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Instead, it keeps trying to be funny, showing a very clear divide between parents who hate the website and youngsters who love it. Even when this isn’t explicitly said, we see women looking sneakily and longingly at the website’s posters the first time they go up around Amritsar, where the movie is set. As the story progresses, lovers begin to state the most common reasons they want to run away — inter-caste marriage, inter-religion marriage, financial difficulties, family rivalry, and arranged marriage.

Running Shaadi’s trailer shows everyone, from a Muslim man wanting to run away with a Hindu woman, to a gay couple, to an old man, all asking for help to run away. Strangely and conspicuously though, the trailer never shows any women asking.

As much as the movie itself seems to go nowhere, I’m reminded every time Nimmi talks that the movie wouldn’t have managed to trundle as far as it does without its women. At the end of it, you continue to be surprised by that first abortion moment, just like you realise that the movie gives its women more space than the trailer suggests. Even though the trailer begins with Nimmi wearing the same wonderfully dismissive expression that she keeps for the most part of the movie — as though constantly cursing that nobody else is able to keep up with her — she never becomes like Geet from Jab We Met.

Where Geet, with her loud, I’ll-do-whatever-I-want attitude is only there for Aditya to have realisations about his life and then come and save her, Nimmi never really seems to stop being the colourful, crazy, demanding woman that she is. She’s described as Amritsar’s pataka queen – a woman riding a bike while the two men sit awkwardly behind her.

The truth is that Running Shaadi’s men are mostly forgettable. Bharose is a nice guy. He’s from Bihar and works at the bridal clothes shop and there’s nothing to really dislike him for, except moments when he’s so nice and predictable that he becomes easy to pay very little attention to. Cyberjeet is funny — the first time we see him, he’s doing an aarti to a photo of Mark Zuckerberg, and his red pagdi has a tiny Facebook like sign on it just above his forehead. Nimmi, on the other hand — except for in classist moments where she is calling Bharose gawar again and again — is not boring.

Here an amazing thing happens. I can’t remember the last time a Hindi movie devoted a scene to an abortion. (Did we see Meghana Mathur, played by Priyanka Chopra in Fashion, go through with the abortion?)

Before the abortion, we hear the doctor turn to Bharose (who has accompanied her) assuming he is the man Nimmi had sex with, and says, “What problem do you guys have with using a condom?” The rest of the abortion passes in song-mode, with Bharose looking into a room where Nimmi is sleeping and then helping her home.

Soon after the half-love moments of this song, the movie fast-forwards to Nimmi in college (she’s studying English honours). She gets a temporary butterfly tattoo on her shoulder, gets angry when Bharose keeps trying to call her while she is at a party, and is embarrassed by him – her boyfriend who hasn’t gone to school or college and doesn’t wear fancy clothes.

But Nimmi makes nice with Bharose again and asks him to help her run away from home, because her parents arrange her marriage when they hear about the abortion. She tells him there is an educated boy she loves. Bharose, heartbroken but sweet (and also engaged to a girl in Bihar), helps her run away only to find that she’s left a letter at home declaring her love for him. It’s a bit of a weird moment because even though we know Bharose loves her (and would never act on it), we’re not sure how to respond to Nimmi deciding for them both that they should run away without telling him what she’s doing.

When the movie shifts to Bihar — which means more stupid, classist jokes — it’s Bharose’s turn to escape his arranged marriage. Bharose’s fiancée is the only other woman in the movie (apart from Nimmi) whom we see making an effort to go after the love she wants, hiding from family who follows her around everywhere, wearing a burkha to a theatre and buying two tickets, one of which she leaves under a Thumbs Up bottle for the man she loves. (An Amitabh Bachchan movie is playing.)

If there’s anything to watch Running Shaadi for, it’s the realisation that nobody will ever be able to keep up with Nimmi. She wants everything. Even in the moment when she is telling Bharose what she has done, she isn’t apologetic in the least — the only time we hear her say sorry is when she tells him it was wrong of her to be embarrassed by him in college.

The apology never comes twice. Unlike Shyra in Befikre, who predictably begins to look back on the days when she slept with many men in Paris with guilt, Nimmi never shows any signs of guilt — about being with men, running away from home, or being rude to Bharose when she goes to college. She knows what she wants and goes at it with such determination that you’re not in the least worried that she won’t get it, in the way that we are always feeling fed up on behalf of Bollywood female leads. (Isn’t it depressing that the only thing the female lead is guaranteed to get is the guy, and it’s not clear that she – including Nimmi – wants him or needs him?)

Running Shaadi isn’t great. But considering how much care seems to have gone into writing Nimmi’s character, the movie might have been much better if it let its women chase after and demand love, rather than showing just men asking how to run away. The movie ends with Bharose and Nimmi going back to her house to reconcile with her parents.

Her father is cleaning his gun, and the moment they enter, there is a crashing of glass because Nimmi’s mother drops the tray she’s holding when she sees them. This time, too, Bharose and Nimmi run. But while Bharose looks scared, Nimmi looks extremely happy to be running again and you are left feeling like nobody has caught up with her yet, and will never be able to.

Kareena Kapoor Khan on Rangoon: ‘Some films are beyond box office collections

We don’t know Saif Ali Khan’s reaction to the box-office fate of Rangoon yet, but his wife and actress, Kareena Kapoor Khan is totally unfazed.

When asked what she feels about the dismal box office earnings of the period drama, Kareena said, “Vishal Bhardwaj’s films are art, it is like a painting. You either like his films or you don’t. It is not like a typical commercial film that is going to cater to everybody’s taste and sensibilities, he caters to a certain section of audience and that is why some critics have revered it and called it a piece of art. Vishal Bhardwaj is known for that. So when you do a film like that, with a lot of love for cinema, the actors get lot of appreciation. Some films are beyond box office collections.”

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She further added, “Saif has been in the industry for 25 long years. He is beyond success or failure of his movies.”

Earlier, during Rangoon’s special screening, Kareena was all praises for the film and went on to say that she was expecting it to be one of the best films of the year. Kareena had earlier been a part of Bhardwaj’s 2006 release Omkara, which also had Saif in his finest performance as Langda Tyagi, though the duo were not cast opposite each other in the movie.

New mommy on the block may be taking it easy after the arrival of baby Taimur, but come May, the actress will be back where she belongs – in front of the camera.

She will bounce back into action and kickstart the shoot of Veere Di Wedding in May. Veere Di Wedding is Rhea Kapoor’s ambitious chick flick, which also stars Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania. Kareena said that she is currently utilizing the time for getting back into shape. “The preparation for the film is just hitting the gym, that is the only focus as of now,” laughs Kareena, who doesn’t regret losing out on the fourth instalment of the Golmaal series to Parineeti Chopra.

Kareena was part of the last two instalments of Rohit Shetty and Ajay Devgn’s comedy but had walked out of the film owing to her pregnancy. “I couldn’t have done Golmaal. I am at a stage when I am also not ready to start a film before May. It wouldn’t have worked out,” she says.

“But yes,” she continues, “I am definitely reading scripts. I have worked throughout my pregnancy but now Veere De Wedding is a priority. Once that finishes I will take up something else because I can’t do two films at one time. I need to balance things out. Priorities keep changing in life. First I was married and now I have a family, I have always done multi-tasking, something women understand that they have to do.” She further states, “Even after marriage, it was always one film at a time. I would always want to finish a film, take a break and then go for the next. Both, Saif and I am going to maintain that.”

Alongside her movie career, Kareena has for the first time entered the television space and a soon-to-be-launched factual entertainment channel has roped her as its ‘Feel Alive’ ambassador. The channel, among other things, will talk about saving earth, adventure sports, wild life and global warming.

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Further, talking about the “adventure” and “journey” of motherhood, Kareena says, “It has been just two months and adventure has just started, there is a lot to look forward to. I will experience as it comes because the journey of every mother is their own. It is such a personal experience. Tomorrow, even if my sister Karisma has to give me tips or advice, I will tell her, ‘Listen, this is your journey, it is like your relationship with your son. I am taking it as it comes.”

Does she have sleepless nights? “I would call them as more joyous nights than sleepless nights. It is so exciting. I won’t even want to think that I’m losing out on my sleep; it is a joy and pleasure to be up with him.”

While Kareena evaded the controversy surrounding her newborn’s name, she did touch upon the media focus on her pregnancy. So did it seem like an intrusion into her experience?

“Being a celebrity anything is an intrusion. Of course, pregnancy is something that I chose to share with everyone, I didn’t want to hide. Lot of women, when pregnant, probably wouldn’t want to go out or continue with normal things. The amount of advertisements I shot for, the brands or campaigns I shot for when I was pregnant was as much as I probably shot for when I was not. That is the way I chose to live my life,” says Kareena, further adding, “this is always the personality that people and my fans relate to and I am a happier person when I try not to hide things from them.

Running Shaadi quick review: Tapsee, Amit Sadh’s film falls prey to curse of the second half

Running Shaadi is one of those movies that you might want to give a try because of its actors.

The movie stars Tapsee Pannu and Amit Sadh who were last seen in Pink and Sultan respectively, and these two put on a great show. Ram (Amit Sadh) works in a textile shop in Punjab, whose owner is Nimmi’s (Tapsee Pannu) father. It’s a smooth playground till love hits; Ram and Nimmi fall in love while the latter is still in school. As she moves on to college and starts hanging with cooler friends who wears better clothes and speaks in English, love falls short. While Ram gets very annoyed with this, Nimmi tries to get the relationship back in track.

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One night when Ram has had enough, he calls his relatives back in Bihar and fixes his wedding with a stranger. That night is whena million dollar idea of making a website that would help lovers elope and get married legally strikes him. They name it runningshaadi.com and this is the first 30 minutes of the movie.

From this point, for a very long time, we only see montages of them helping 20-odd couples elope and get married. Beyond that, we eventually lead up to the main plot point in the film: how Raj and Nimmi get their love mojo back.

The performances in the movie are great. Tapsee Pannu and Amit Sadh are great to look at and have the north Indian twang bang on, which helps you understand the story better. Arsh Bajwa, who plays Ram’s side kick in the movie (a Sardar tech junkie named Cyber) does a great job, too.

Running Shaadi has an interesting plot; it’s new and fresh but not entertaining throughout. The movie is fun for the first 30 – 45 minutes when we just get to know the characters and understand what’s going on. Post that the movie falls flat. There is nothing more to it once they make the website.

The movie was earlier supposed to be called runningshaadi.com — which is also the name of the website, but due to legal reasons, they had to drop the .com from the name. Since this is was a last minute decision, the movie had many scenes where ‘.com’ was blurred and beeped, which makes it look shabby.

It’s not just Akshay Kumar, but the female characters in the satirical dark comedy drama, Jolly LLB 2, were also applauded.

It’s not just Akshay Kumar, but the female characters in the satirical dark comedy drama, Jolly LLB 2, were also applauded.

One such character was the wonderfully-nuanced cameo by SayaniGupta, who played Hina Siddiqui, a young Muslim woman driven to despair.  It’s a small but pivotal and deeply impactful role, so much so that Sayani was lauded for her performance by some of the veterans from the industry. Twitterati in large numbers also poured their love for her.

Gupta has so far been doing a balancing act between commercial and art cinema. She has received critical acclaim for her offbeat and distinctive roles in films like her debut Margarita With A Straw (played the role of Kalki’s love interest)and most recently Fan (as Shah Rukh Khan’s secretary), however, Sayani doesn’t take compliments or criticism seriously.

“I have never sat down to ponder over what others have to say because ultimately you know what you have done. Piyush Mishra (theatre and film actor, NSD alumni) called me few days back when I was shooting for Jagga Jasoos, and said while referring to Jolly LLB 2, ‘I didn’t know you acted so well.’  Lot of people are complimenting me on social media as well. Somebody told me that they went to watch the film thrice because of me. There are lot of people who said I made them feel for the part and I made them cry,” says Sayani.

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She continues, “My performance really moved my mother, and she is far too detached about the industry and not at all excited about the film world or what I am doing. She is not in favour of me acting and it was quite a struggle to convince her when I went to FTII (Film and Television Institute of India). Little by little, she is coming to terms with it but she would have rather seen me as an IAS officer or in a regular job.”

“We are from middle class family and they didn’t want their only daughter to get into films. Obviously there are certain perceptions about the film industry. My close friends never say nice things, they are always critiquing my work, but finally they felt that I was brilliant in Jolly LLB 2.”

Strangely enough, Sayani has been getting offers for horror movies for last few years and she, too, fails to understand the reason for it. “Maybe they think I am a Bengali, I have big eyes…” she laughs.

While Sayani so far has rejected two offers post Jolly LLB 2 (as  she is “choosy”, “instinctive”, “and not ready for it”), she is certainly excited about her first international project, The Hungry, which is an Indo-British production starring Naseeruddin Shah and Tisca Chopra. The film, for which the actors were very selectively chosen, is directed by debutante filmmaker Bornila Chatterjee, who is an alumnus from New York’s Tisch School of the Arts. The Hungry is an adaptation of William Shakespeare tragedy Titus Androcinus, which is believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593.

“This year marks the 400th death anniversary of Shakespeare. His stories could seem a tad hyper-real for this era, but this film is a realistic take. The script won at a collaborative cine-lab,” says Sayani, further adding, “The film has a bunch of deadly actors. We shot for it in Delhi and Agra. The ambience on set was stimulating and since we all got along so well, it turned out to be a great shoot.”

Recently, Sayani earned an honourable mention for the Best Actress award for her short film, Leeches, at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles  (IFFLA). In just two years of her career, she’s also bagged one of the lead roles opposite Naseeruddin Shah with The Hungry. The actress considers it her privilege to act alongside ‘Naseer’, who was her teacher at the FTII.

“Naseer was very excited about his role after decades. He plays my father. He has been my teacher and lot of my understanding about acting and the craft is because of him. It was almost like reassurance of sorts when he would come to take our class. I adore him as a human being. He is fun to be around. He has always taught us how acting is all about reacting. He is a keen listener, which adds to the performance,” she says, adding:

“There are two of the coolest men I have worked with – Shah Rukh Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. They are sensitive, they are aware, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are normal dudes.”

So did Sayani take any advice from the two “coolest” men?

“Some of the things Naseer told me is: ‘Learn your lines till you bump into a furniture. Know your lines backwards. Study the script well. Be relaxed and don’t take things too seriously. Make it fun and light.’ On the other hand, there’s much to learn just by the way Shah Rukh carries himself. He is the most technically sound actor, I feel. His understanding, the cleanliness with which he does everything, his craft is solid. He doesn’t show it. He is persistently hardworking and also the humility. He doesn’t take his stardom seriously,” she reveals.

Two of Sayani’s “friends” from the industry are the erstwhile directors – Rajkumar Hirani and Vishal Bhardwaj. She may not have offers from them yet but she certainly takes their advice. “I don’t talk work with them. Hirani often tells me that I should give people time after they have seen my film. I did audition for a part in Rangoon but Vishal told me that it won’t be good enough for me. I would never ask them to cast me because that could hamper our relationship. Whenever they want to cast me, they will.”

Sayani is currently shooting for Ranbir Kapoor-Katrina Kaif- starrer Jagga Jasoos which has been in the making for a long time. “When I signed the film I was playing the only narrator in the film. I had a separate track of my own. But since there is no script — Dada (Director Anurag Basu) doesn’t work with scripts, he writes as he goes along — my role has changed. I will know what my part is only after I see the film. Also, it is a very difficult film when it comes to format. It is musical, it’s a children’s film, and it is not a normal narrative. I play a 14-year-old girl and that is all I know (laughs),” she says.

Anushka Sharma’s next production Kaneda confirms Arjun Kapoor in the lead

The first thing to come to your mind when you think of Arjun Kapoor and Anushka Sharma pairing up for a film is that finally we have a pairing of equals (read: the Khans’ principle of romancing actresses half their age is so passé).

 

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And so it’s confirmed. Anushka Sharma will reportedly be seen romancing Ki & Ka actor Arjun Kapoor in her upcoming film Kaneda. It will be helmed by Navdeep Singh, who last directed the sleeper slasher hit NH 10. DNA reports that it will be a dark, gritty thriller and after NH10 we are pretty sure it will be dark.

There were several rumours that Arjun Kapoor had stepped down from the film, but it has no been confirmed that he will be a part of it.

Kaneda will be Anushka’s third production after NH 10 and Phillauri. The 28-year-old actress has finished the last schedule of Phillauri, where she will be seen sharing space with Diljit Dosanjh and Life of Pi actor Suraj Sharma. The trailer is said to be released next week sometime.

Arjun Kapoor has two films — Half Girlfriend with Shraddha Kapoor and Mubarakan co-starring uncle Anil Kapoor.

Anushka’s last film was Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil where she played a girl from Lucknow, Alizeh. She is currently also working on Imtiaz Ali’s next with Shah Rukh Khan, tentatively titled Rehnuma.

Kung Fu Yoga: Why Indian film industry can’t forget Jackie Chan-starrer in a hurry

Early reports indicate Kung Fu Yoga is not doing well commercially, in spite of Jackie Chan’s popularity. A newspaper article states that just 14 viewers watched the film on its release day (3 February) in a Mumbai multiplex. According to a film industry representative, it is expected to do better in south India than the rest of the country. However, its overall performance is unlikely to be impressive. The impact of Kung Fu Yoga on India’s film trade is going to be limited. At worst, the importer and his distributors stand to lose money. Small change, for an industry that routinely fails to recover production costs from the box office. Nevertheless, Kung Fu Yoga is not a film which the Indian film industry can afford to forget in a hurry. Because it was a part of an ambitious — and potentially game changing — plan by the Chinese and Indian governments.

Jackie Chan and Sonu Sood in 'Kung Fu Yoga'

The film has been panned by Indian critics too. Kung Fu Yoga’s failure on critical and commercial fronts in India is a pointer to a larger problem that Indian and Chinese film industries face all the time. Ironically, this film was meant to address the very problem that it now stands as the latest example of. A majority of Indian and Chinese films earn their revenues from viewers who are of Indian or Chinese origin, as the case may be. Both industries struggle to realise value from markets beyond the overseas markets where there is a significant presence of expatriates. Of course, we need to expand our understanding of the expat to include the South Asian diaspora and “Three Chinas” (Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong) plus Singapore, with reference to Indian and Chinese cinemas respectively.

Kung Fu Yoga’s poor showing in India is not for the want for effort. Apparently, Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif were approached, but were unavailable. As a result, the final lineup of Indian actors, which includes Sonu Sood, Disha Patani and Amyra Dastur, is not exactly stellar. Undaunted, Jackie Chan charmed his Indian fans and local media representatives alike during his much publicised promotional tour in the run up to the film’s release. I do not wish to go into why it didn’t work — several reviewers have done that already. Instead, I would like to draw attention to two points. First, the film worked for Chinese audiences and critics alike. Second, this is a failed Indo-Chinese co-production.

Kung Fu Yoga earned US $ 138.8 million (around Rs 940 crore) at the box office in China alone during the first week of its release. That is double the estimated cost of the film. Notably, the film’s takings are already way higher than the worldwide collections of India’s most successful film, Dangal. More importantly, it reminds us of the size of the Chinese market and the drawing power of Jackie Chan.

Released during the Chinese New Year (CNY) weekend, which usually witnesses the highest footfalls in theatres during the entire year, Kung Fu Yoga emerged as the second highest grosser of the season, after Journey to the West. The success of this year’s CNY releases is said to have cheered up the Chinese film industry, which had a dull year in 2016. Incidentally, Journey to the West is directed by Tsui Hark and produced by Stephen Chow (of Kung Fu Hustle fame), both of whom are Hong Kong industry stalwarts.

China’s quota system ensures that access of foreign companies to its enormous film market is severely restricted. At present, only two Indian films can be released in China annually, according to the website China Film Insider. This number is unlikely to increase in a hurry. In 2016 the quota for foreign films, a bulk of which are Hollywood productions, stood at 34. The only other way Indian production companies can enter this market is by making co-production deals with Chinese companies. Everyone in the film business knows this but, as always, the devil is in the detail: whom to work with, with what stories, and so on.

Akshay Kumar’s Republic Day idea: An app to help families of martyred soldiers

It was in October 2016 that Akshay Kumar had  posted a message in support of jawans an their families, post-Uri attack. While public discourse had been taken over by the issue of whether or not cultural relations with Pakistan should be boycotted (most stridently, in the demand for the ouster of Pakistani artistes from the country), Akshay posted a video on social media that asked people to focus on the real issue: providing succour to the families of those soldiers whose lives had been lost in the terror strike at Uri.

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Now, in the run-up to Republic Day 2017, Akshay has put out another video that indicates he wishes to walk the talk. The Rustom actor has proposed the creation of a mobile app and website that can help in delivering much-needed financial aid to the families of martyred Indian soldiers. The app will allow donors to directly pay an amount of their choice into the verified bank account of the departed soldier’s next of kin.

Akshay began his video message with a disclaimer: “This idea is directly from my heart. May be it is useless or can be a big hit.”

He then explained his concept:

“I think that our country should have a website or a mobile app which directly connects the kin of martyred soldiers and the people who want to extend help to them. This website will host a list of the names of the martyrs, along with the bank account numbers of their close ones — mother, father or wife. And if someone wants to help that jawan’s family financially, they can directly make a contribution into their accounts. That account number will be deleted once the total deposited money accounts to Rs 15 lakh. By this, family members of the martyred soldiers can directly use that money.”