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Rajkummar Rao on Trapped: ‘One of my most challenging works to date

Rajkummar Rao may be trapped in a high rise in his latest movie, but he is definitely not going to get trapped in the stereotypes of Bollywood.

From an experimental urban thriller, Trapped to light comedies – Behen Hogi Teri and Bareilly Ki Barfi — to political satire, Newton, Rajkummar has his plate full this year with four back to back releases. Excerpts from an interview with the National award-winning actor who caught the acting bug quite young.

This seems to be an exciting year for you with four back-to-back releases coming up.

I was shooting non-stop last year. Aligarh was the only film that released in 2015. It was mere coincidence that all these films are coming together. I would finish one film, take two months break and start preparing and shooting for the next one. Behen Hogi Teri is a fun, small town film, while Bareilly Ki Barfi is a romantic comedy but with very stark characters. Hansal Mehta’s Omerta that releases probably next year, is quite explosive, very sensitive and very universal. It is something we have never seen before on the Indian screen. Next I will start shooting for Ekta Kapoor’s new digital series, in which I will play Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

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With just one character in Trapped,  it must have been quite challenging keeping audience interest in mind?

The director (Vikramaditya Motwane) can answer that question well because when I am performing I don’t think about those aspects. That moment when I am living as an actor is mine. I am trying to live that moment truthfully, so I can’t be thinking about other reasons. But yes, Vikram has done that beautifully and our editor has cut the film in a brilliant way. The use of music and sound design is all very engaging. That is the reason we are calling it an urban thriller. It is a very unique, very different, one of its kind film. It is one of my most challenging works till date.

What was your reaction when you were approached for Trapped?

I was thrilled because I was getting the chance to work with Vikram. I have been a big fan of his work, I loved both his films — Udaan, Lootera. A story and film like Trapped is so rare for an actor. There is so much that you can do. I was more than happy.

Do you consider playing a solo character in a film as an opportunity or does it make you nervous?

It is definitely an opportunity, it doesn’t happen with every actor. I feel privileged to do this survival drama and I think any sensible and good actor would jump on to a film like Trapped.

90 per cent of the film is shot in one flat; we had a limited crew but everybody’s energy was towards making this a special film. Also, I was going through such physical changes and was eating, drinking accordingly. It was needed for the part. I was just doing my job. Shaurya (Rajkummar’s character) is somebody who is stuck in this apartment without food and water, so as an actor it is my responsibility to go through that process. Everybody was there for me, they were pampering me, lot of love was showered on me, everybody’s energy was just focussed on Shaurya’s journey and how to make it interesting.

Would you consider this as the best phase of your career?

My best phase is yet to come but it is a great time. I feel there is definitely a growth in my performance. Now when I look back at my earlier films, I feel I could have done much better, which is natural to feel because you grow in life, you age. Performance comes from the experiences and exposure in your life. I feel more confident in the industry now from the time I began. But I still remember how I was in Gurgaon. I saw this whole filmy world as a parallel universe, and now when I am shooting and making a film, the feeling is the same. I still feel I am in this amazing, dreamy, fairy tale life that is so different from my mundane life.

We have read that movies deeply impacted you when you were growing up…

Yes, I remember when I saw Agneepath as a kid, I started howling on how Amitabh Bachchan could die. He cannot die, he is Amitabh Bachchan; he is not a human being, he was a super man for me. Of course, now I am part of the industry, part of film-making, and now that feeling is not there. But I still get very emotional when I see a good performance or a good film. I get moved easily.

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Your collaborations with director Hansal Mehta has resulted in award winning films…

Yes, and our forthcoming film Omerta is by far the most explosive work I have done with Hansal. I think he is one of the best directors we have. For me he is more like a family now because Omerta is our fourth film together. The kind of relationship we share, it’s going to last for life. We can keep working together. We share the same understanding, the kind of stories we believe is very common and the way we want to tell them is with similar understanding.

Was there a script while shooting for Trapped because a film like this would need lot of give and take between an actor and director?

We had a 35 page script/screenplay. But that was about it. Most of it was improvised. Actually for a film like Trapped you really can’t write, you can probably write pointers. Shaurya is stuck and his door gets locked…after which you can’t really say how an actor would react. One will have to go there and live that moment in order to find out how I will react. Then there was a pointer that it is Day 3, there is no water and he is searching for water. Now, as an actor it is my job to convey this pointer in as best way possible.

Did you convey your ideas and thoughts to the director while shooting?

I was already so excited that I was getting a chance to work with Vikram and I have my complete faith in him as a director. I knew I was in safe hands. There were times when I was confused, I wasn’t sure, but he was always there to take care. But he gave me total freedom to perform, to explore. He was very open with ideas. It is a mutual feeling and understanding between a director and an actor. They have to have that kind of trust in each other in order to make a film special and beautiful.

Trapped has a universal appeal to it…

Yes, it is a very universal film. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. Lot of people have seen the film and they are relating to it. They can connect to the character and be a part of Shaurya’s journey. Such is the response. I would give credit to Vikram in shaping  the character’s journey. It is so engaging, so universal, very believable and very human.

How much do critics and their reviews matter to you?

Of course, it does. I read most of my reviews. I want to see other people’s perspective. It is always good to know what other people are thinking about you because after a point of time you start losing your objectivity. You need third person’s perspective in order to know things with an open mind.

Most actors say that more than critics they would care for audience reaction…

I want both of those. I want the balance of a critic’s opinion and audience love as well.

Among the actors of this generation who do you like?

Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Sushant Singh Rajput, Shahid Kapoor, Amit Sadh, who is also a friend. There are so many, that is the beauty of this generation. Everybody is pushing their limits, everybody is doing such exciting work. Ayushmann and Varun are also very talented.

Do you guys connect?

We don’t meet often. We are busy with our own lives, shooting and promoting and then taking breaks, but whenever I meet Ranbir or Ranveer I very naturally tell them. I told Ranveer that I really loved his work in Bajirao Mastani.

We have always slotted actors in commercial mainstream and art cinema. Is the gap between them diminishing?

It is diminishing for sure and the credit goes to all these biggies, these superstars who I am fan of. Starting from Shah Rukh, Aamir, Salman, Hrithik, all of them are changing the definition of commercial cinema. The highest grosser today is Dangal, which is absolutely an unconventional commercial film. There is nobody dancing, there is no item song, it is the story of a 50-year-old guy, a father, and the film is set in a small village in Haryana.

Who would have thought this subject 15 years back? Who would have thought that a film like this would make Rs 400 crore? These superstars are pushing their limits and they have given us also a chance to experiment with our craft. I have always said that films or cinema is like a buffet, you serve everything to the audience and let them decide what they want to go for. Let them make their choice but you should give them the choice.

How important are these Rs 100, 200 crore clubs for you?

I definitely want all my films to make money, I want my producers to make money. For the industry to survive it is important that money should come. It is directly proportionate to how many people are watching your film. Rs 100, 200 crore actually means that those many people went to theatre and saw your film. I want both, critical acclaim as well as good box office returns.

Would you ever do a complete mindless film, the ‘leave your brains at home’ kind?

(Laughs heartily) I doubt I will ever do that. But never say never, maybe just for the kick of it.

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How do you go about choosing your script?

There is no fixed formula. I read lot of scripts, actually I read everything. I look for excitement. Something should happen inside me when I am reading a script and it is very impulsive. Either you feel it or you don’t. I go by my instinct.

Who are the directors on your wishlist?

There are so many of them. All these new generation of filmmakers. I don’t want to miss out on any name…Raju Hirani, Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Do you fear failure?

More than failure I am nervous when I am shooting a film. I am constantly thinking about whether I am able to crack a character, or a scene, or not. What if I get stuck? What if I feel trapped? I am honestly scared about these things more than whether it will make money or not.

Do you feel scared of getting trapped into a stereotype?

Yes absolutely, but I am constantly making efforts to not to go through that process and to keep doing different films, keep playing different parts. That is why I want to constantly surprise my audience. I want to give them a Behen Hogi Teri or a Bareilly Ki Barfi, and Newton and a Trapped. It is an exciting time to be an actor.

You  have made it large without any backing or connection in the industry. What are your thoughts on the ongoing debate on nepotism?

There is favouritism, but that is okay. As an audience I want to see talent on screen. I don’t care where it is coming from. As long as an actor is talented, it is worth my money and time, I want to see them on screen. I would pay money to watch Ranbir Kapoor, I would pay money to watch Alia Bhatt, these are extremely talented actors. But the problem is when somebody is not talented and still we have to keep watching their films just because of this nepotism thing. I have a problem with that. But times are changing now. People are accepting only good talent.

Phillauri actress Mehreen Pirzada on Anushka Sharma, her Bollywood debut and Telugu films

Five years ago, when Mehreen Pirzada was working in New York, little did she know that, one fine day, she would pursue an acting career in films.

In 2013, when she took part in the Miss South Asia Canada beauty pageant in Toronto, Mehreen was supposed to dance in one of the rounds at the beauty pageant. She had to pick a chit which had a celebrity’s name and it turned out to be, well, Anushka Sharma herself.

“I danced on the song ‘Jiya Re‘ from Jab Tak Hai Jaan,” Mehreen laughs recounting the story. “Ever since, I was hoping that I would get a chance to work with Anushka. I believe in fairy tales. I’m living one right now. Three years later, after six rounds of auditions in early 2016, I finally got a call. It was while I was watching Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. I had to come to Mumbai and meet Anushka Sharma, who’s one of the producers of Phillauri. Suddenly, I felt like I was under a spotlight.”

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Ask her if Anushka knows this story, Mehreen beams with joy saying, “Yes. When I shared my story with her, she was surprised. And then, she told me that a long time ago, her mother had written a chit where she wished that her daughter should act in a Yash Raj film when she grows up. Finally, when she bagged Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, her mother showed her the chit. I couldn’t help but blush when she told me this story.”

In Phillauri, Mehreen plays Anu, a young woman who is about to get married to her childhood sweetheart Kanan, played by Suraj Sharma. When he’s told that he’s mangalik and has to get married to a tree to ward off evil, he ends up meeting a friendly spirit Shashi (Anushka Sharma). The film is, in a way, a study on how love is the same no matter what the time frame is. “The story constantly keeps going back and forth. Anshai Lal and writer Anvita Dutt have weaved an interesting story about how love doesn’t change even though time changes,” the actress adds.

Being the youngest member of the cast, she admits to being quite pampered on the sets of Phillauri.

“I was the youngest and newest member of the team. All my co-stars – Anushka, Diljit Dosanjh and Suraj Sharma are well-established, but never made me feel out of place. I’m very critical of my own work and want to deliver my best. One time, when I was quite upset that I didn’t get a shot right, and Anushka got to know that I cried the whole night. The next day she came and hugged me and said, ‘Arey pagli…kya hua tujhe? Why were you crying? We’re all there for you.’

“I didn’t expect such a sweet gesture from her. She treated me like her own sister. The best thing about her is that she is quite straight forward as a person” said Mehreen.

Having grown up in Punjab, before her family moved to Canada, Mehreen is well-versed with the nuances of the Punjabi culture; however, she disagrees that it was a major factor behind why she bagged the role. “We are actors and the only thing that matters is how much we soak in the characters and make them our own. I act in Telugu films and when I’m shooting there, I’m a Telugu girl,” she avers.

So, does she have plans to go back to Canada in near future? “Only if I have to shoot there,” she laughs, adding, “I’m really glad that I spent the formative years of my life in USA and Canada. It has helped shape my personality. Back there, you are on your own and you do things to make yourself happy, not others.”

The actress made her debut in Telugu cinema in early 2016 with Krishna Gaadi Veera Prema Gadha in which she played Nani’s romantic interest. Despite the success of the film, she had to wait for nearly 10 months to bag her next project and currently, she’s on a roll with as many as five Telugu and Tamil films to her credit.

Says Mehreen, “I was going through a low phase after making my acting debut. I knew the film had done well, but I wasn’t getting any offers. I can’t sit idle at home because it makes me feel restless. However, I didn’t let this negativity get the better of me. Thankfully, things are looking good at the moment with plenty of work. Right now, I’m as excited as a school kid about my debut in Bollywood. I had a similar feeling when I was awaiting the release of Krishna Gaadi Veera Prema Gaadha and now, I’m going through the same thing again.

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.

Baahubali 2 trailer: Rajamouli’s film looks spectacular; Prabhas-Rana’s action is the highlight

If you, like most of the country, have been waiting with bated breath for the trailer of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, then that day has finally come.

From the beginning seconds of the trailer, when you hear Amrendra Baahubali’s voice talking about his mother, Sivagami Devi, to being the guardian of all the people of Mahismati, expect severe goosebumps as you go back to the biggest cliffhanger of 2016.

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Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?

Well, you’re not going to find out from this trailer, but you will get much closer to the truth.

The trailer begins with a quick montage of all that happened in the last film, Baahubali: The Beginning.

Prabhas is given a loud entry filled with swagger, slo-mo shots and death-metal music playing in the background. We finally get to see Anushka Shetty looking absolutely gorgeous as Baahubali’s wife Devasena. Their chemistry seems quite explosive, especially in the grand dance sequences.

We see Baahubali telling Katappa that nobody can kill him as long as Katappa is by his side. We then see Sivaghami Devi figuring out that a war is beginning within the kingdom, indicating that Baahubali and Bhallala Dev’s fights are going to dominate the film.

In order to see the dream-like landscape picturised in the film, the mind-blowing action sequences and all your favourite characters including Tamannaah, Rana Daggubati and Naseer, you need to watch the trailer below.

Everything is bigger, better, and grander in Baahubali 2: The Conclusion — a sure shot blockbuster.

In defense of Badrinath Ki Dulhania: Varun’s character is problematic but also learns his lesson

Some critics have already hailed Badrinath Ki Dulhania as a great new statement for feminism in Hindi cinema while on the other hand, some have argued that it in fact, only adheres to the Bollywood’s skewed perspective when it comes to gender and feminism.

The film’s plot revolves around a boy Badrinath (Varun Dhawan) and his love for a girl, Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt), and how he tries to ‘win’ her by any and every means available. The film’s narrative checks every single box when it comes Bollywood clichés but intriguingly enough tries, and to a great degree also manages to leave the viewer with a simplistic message – one cannot and ought not force someone to fall in love.

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The rather banal manner in which this Shashank Khaitan directed film plays out makes it a highly unlikely contender to make any kind of social statement and yet it seems to have managed to achieve just that. In the midst of all the noise surrounding Badrinath Ki Dulhania a small but rather significant detail, which has the capacity to change the perspective the film, is being overlooked.

The fact that Badrinath Ki Dulhania in more ways than one is an unabashed celebration of Raja Babu (1994) — the Govinda-Karishma Kapoor starrer from the 1990s that relegated gender stereotyping and misogyny in popular Hindi films to a new low — suddenly makes you look at the Varun Dhawan-Alia Bhatt film in a new light.

The similarities between Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Raja Babu are glaring enough for the film to be considered a remake in the true sense of the word.

In both the films, the plot revolves around a slacker rich kid (Govinda/ Varun Dhawan) who falls for a well-educated girl (Karishma Kapoor/ Alia Bhatt) with a mind of her own and believes that everyone irrespective of their gender ought to be given an equal chance to do what they want. In both films, the element of arranged marriage becomes a meet-cute for the lead pair and in both the films the girl rejects the boy for being a mismatch in every conceivable way.

While in Raja Babu, Raja initially brushes rejection off and later tries to ‘sing and win’ over Madhubala (Karishma Kapoor) — remember ‘Aa aa ee mera dil na todo’? — he simply moves on when Madhu insults his parents (Kader Khan, Aruna Irani) for not educating their son. Later Madhu is shown feeling bad about the way she expressed herself and forgives Raja for, well, being himself and the two then hatch a plot to win over the heartbroken parents to get them married.

In Badrinath Ki Dulhania things play out differently. Badri’s ego is far too big to give up once Vaidehi ditches him at the altar. Badri’s father (Rituraj), too, eggs him on as the patriarch would love to hang Vaidehi by the door to make an example of her for other girls who would dare to run away. On the pretext of getting some answers on why Vaidehi rejected this uncouth but dil ka heera ladka, who even helps her family tide over the trouble of arranging the dowry money for her elder sister’s marriage, Badri tracks Vaidehi down to Singapore.

He and his buddy, Somdev, kidnap her, dump her in the boot of a car and drive off. They have a conversation and she tries to reiterate that she does not see herself with a guy like him but like any Hindi film hero, Badri tells her that she could have told him a few times more instead of running off. He then fights with her hostel guards and almost endangers her job prospects but Vaidehi refuses to give up on him because she believes that she is also to be blamed for his behaviour for she bolted from the boondocks for a better life.

There is enough in Badrinath Ki Dulhania that fans age-old Bollywood traits like stalking is love, when a woman says no it means yes, and that a man must win over the woman at all costs.

Moreover, the worrying factor, and rightly so, is that young actors like Dhawan and Bhatt are fanning this mindset that somewhere could inspire the young viewer in believing that how it plays out on the screen must be replicated. However, it is important to note that the inclusion of a stereotypical scene where the hero is doing something out rightly wrong does not necessarily mean that it is being promoted.

The film is set in Uttar Pradesh and this is what happens there in real life.  In Badrinath Ki Dulhania and perhaps even in Raja Babu the male protagonists are shown undergoing a certain degree of transformation; needlessly to say that it comes at a great cost and after much wrong has been committed but there can be no confusion about the transition. The manner in which the first half of the imagery is highlighted across films right from Deewana Mujh Sa Nahin (1990) to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) to Tere Naam (2002) and in more recently Raanjhanaa (2013) many times pales the second part, as in the case of Badrinath Ki Dulhania where Badri says an emphatic ‘no’ to this father’s and, up until then, his own ways of doing things.

The reason why Badrinath Ki Dulhania has somehow managed to convince many that, its flaws and shortcomings notwithstanding, it is a feminist film is because of the lead characters and the actors who play them.

Both Dhawan and Bhatt are very credible and more than strike a chord. Dhawan might not be in the same league as a Bhatt in both stature as well as talent (more on that in a bit) but he has managed to place himself in a unique position. He does not seem to be competing with a Ranbir Kapoor or Ranveer Singh and is more than leagues ahead of his contemporaries such as Aditya Roy Kapur, Siddharth Malhotra, and Tiger Shroff.

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This makes Dhawan the most amiable face of his generation and is reason enough for the audience to lap him up. Bhatt is perhaps the second most fascinating talent after Kangana Ranaut in Hindi cinema today and although she might not have had her Kajol moment with a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge or a Raveena Tandon like cult post-Mohra, she is the only one out there with the same verve that defined divas like Hema Malini, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit or Juhi Chawla.

In Badrinath Ki Dulhania she has one of her toughest roles: to be a typical Hindi film heroine (read: be willing to come second to whoever be the hero) and at the same time be someone real.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania is a deftly crafted film, and even though it suffers from the curse of the third-act, it is enjoyable. Had the film been constructed better, it had what it takes to become a milestone. In saying this, this writer is certainly not making a case for what the lead character of the film does on-screen. There is no disagreement that the film in some way glorifies stalking but at the same time it also more than ensures that the lead learns his lesson.

Is that enough? Probably not when it comes to messaging about gender equality and feminism.

But within the realm of popular Hindi cinema, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, in a narrow manner, does suggest that Bollywood knows it cannot remain insulated from the real world anymore. Even in 2017, both onscreen and off it, Bollywood is grappling with the concept of choice – in the real world Karan Johar does not like Kangana Ranaut exercising her choice and in the reel world, Badrinath does not get that he ain’t Vaidehi’s choice no matter how many times he spins the wheel.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania would have managed to strike gold with the audience had Vaidehi remained true to her own self and had she continued to be Badri’s friend rather than making a choice of marrying him. It would be a far greater and more organic statement. But this is Bollywood, people!

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.

Randeep Hooda on Gurmehar Kaur row: ‘How did it get so big if it was not already on the agenda?

Few days back, Randeep Hooda was on the receiving end of much hate on social media platforms, for allegedly ‘bullying’ Gurmehar Kaur — the daughter of an Indian Army martyr.

The actor found himself being dragged into a controversy after applauding a tweet by Virender Sehwag, which saw the cricketer taking a jibe at Kaur for her post that had her holding a placard that said, “Pakistan did not kill my father. War did!”

The Indian cricketer later shared a picture of himself posing in a manner similar to Kaur’s, with a message on a placard that read, “I didn’t score two triple centuries, my bat did.”

The post, which tickled Hooda’s funnybone, earned applause from the actor. Within no time Hooda and Sehwag were referred to as ‘bullies’ by social media users and were bashed for being insensitive towards the martyr’s daughter. Soon Hooda took to Facebook to clarify his stance saying that he wasn’t being insensitive to the daughter of a soldier, who gave his life for the country.

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Hooda made himself unavailable during the controversy and instead told us to refer to his Facebook post.

However, he now opens up about the row to Firstpost, saying, “The issue was blown out of proportion. But I realised that I should have been careful because of the environment that exists in our country vis-a-vis women. I saw Sehwag’s tweet… I often laugh on his jokes.  I laughed at the joke in isolation, it wasn’t connected or directed at Gurmehar. I didn’t know who she was in first place. I didn’t know the connotation of it. I started getting messages and some prominent journalists were commenting on it. I quickly went back on Twitter and saw what’s happening.”

“I very precisely said that do not politicise this poor girl’s point of view and those two words were taken – poor and girl – then they said you are a misogynist and sexist. I realised where it was headed, what were the political ideologies and I know from experience what was going to happen. If you go through my tweets — actually most people are reacting to the headlines that people have put up. Nobody has read the tweets, there was nothing abusive in them. It was merely conversation between me and those journalists, which turned this into a whole fiasco. And how did it turn into such a big thing if it was not already on the agenda?”

Hooda further went on to say that he has always been targeted whenever he has put out his opinion on social media.

The Sarbjit actor said, “I have been labelled before. When I spoke up about Gurgaon being changed to Gurugram, they labeled me with all kind of things and I got a lecture on Sanskriti in not such polite terms. I spoke about Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the violence against him, I said hinsa galat hai, we can discuss the issue, haath nahi utha sakte. Again, another set of people trolled me.”

Hooda also stated that trolling has now become a major issue. He added, “It seems to me that we are not having a conversation anymore. We tend to get abusive while trolling. You can have your point of view and you can disagree. It’s a democracy.” He continued, “Remove me and Sehwag from the situation. We are not affected by the kind of abuses we get. Put us aside even if we have worked hard to reach here after 20 years. The same threats were given to my mother and sister as well as to Sehwag’s family members. Even Babita, Geeta Phogat and my colleagues Richa Chadha and Pooja Bhatt were not spared.”

“Whether it’s a man or a woman, it’s wrong to troll. It’s a crime and you can not threaten a woman on social media or anywhere else. It has to be addressed. The social media head of India should look into it as it’s becoming a major issue,” he added.

Incidentally, Randeep also slammed those trolling Karan Johar and Kangana Ranaut, who recently had a fall-out over the latter calling Johar the ‘flag bearer of nepotism’ on his chat show, Koffee With Karan.

“Both, Karan and Kangana are entitled to their opinion. Both are quite similar actually. Both of them can fight it out, we don’t have to be part of their conversation. At least I don’t want to be part of their conversation. Again there is trolling happening. If there is conversation happening between Karan and Kangana, why is everybody jumping into it and calling them names? Am sure they are calling them names and it is getting abusive. That is what we need to control. We have stopped being a nation which has conversation. If we don’t have a conversation, if we don’t listen to the other person’s point of view then how can we run a democracy? Unless we respond with our reasoning it is not going to work. It is going to be partisan.”

This brings us to the debate of nepotism as Randeep, like Kangana, is also considered to be an ‘outsider’ with no industry connections. Both have made it big in Bollywood without any backing or support.

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“There is nepotism and there is also not. If you are talented, nobody can pull you down. That is for sure. And Kangana is a great talent; she has really done well for herself,” said Hooda.

Talking about his upcoming project, Hooda, who is known for going that extra mile for his films, will be seen playing the role of Havildar Ishar Singh, the military commander of the 36th Sikhs in the movie, Battle of Saragarhi that took place in 1897 between British Indian Army and Afghan Orakzai tribesmen in the North-West Frontier Province.

This Raj Kumar Santoshi-helmed period drama will depict the true story of the 19th century battle when around 12,000 Afghans attacked a British Indian contingent, which also comprised 21 Sikhs who went on to become the heroes of the mission. As part of his preparation, the actor, who is already a master of horse-riding, studied Sikh history, learnt sword-fighting and vintage-rifle shooting.

Last year, Hooda had shocked everyone with his emaciated look in Sarbjit, and it may be recalled that Twitterati had bashed certain prominent Awards’ organisers for him not getting a single nomination for the film.

“My approach towards my work has always been to enjoy the process. Even when I was doing theatre, I used to enjoy the rehearsals more than the actual staging of the play. The kind of work and exploration I do, that for me is the biggest reward. If I don’t get an award, it doesn’t change the credibility of my performance and if I get an award it doesn’t make it better. So both ways, it is of no consequence to me. It is people’s opinion. It is more like the game of golf where you have to better yourself. It is not a boxing match where you have to compete against other people,” said Hooda.

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.

Judwaa 2: Is Varun Dhawan becoming the Salman Khan of his generation?

At the expense of cracking an utterly poor, pun-driven joke, the chances of the classic Beatles track Yesterday being a favorite of every single contemporary male actor in Bollywood would be very high. After all, at no other time, perhaps, would the fascination for recreating iconic songs of the past been as high as today, with Tamma Tammai and Laila Main Laila dominating music charts.

Varun Dhawan in first look of Judwaa 2. Twitter

In the past, Varun Dhawan has tried to be an upmarket Govinda in Main Tera Hero (2014), rekindling a younger Saif Ali Khan from Main Khiladi Tu Anari (1994) in Dishoom (2016), an early Shah Rukh Khan in Badlapur (2015) and post-reminiscing Sanjay Dutt in ‘Tamma Tamma loge‘ song in the upcoming Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya (2017).

Now, Varun’s finally seems to be venturing into the territory of the star that he would love to fashion his career on — Salman Khan. The news of the Judwaa (1997) remake officially taking off has now truly made him the poster boy for reliving yesterday once more.

Among the others from his generation (which include Siddharth Malhotra, Aditya Roy Kapur, Arjun Kapoor and Tiger Shroff) Dhawan would perhaps be the only one comfortable across various genres. The ease with which Dhawan switches into a familiar mode to rekindle the memories of not just Salman Khan but also Anil Kapoor, Salman Khan, and Govinda, while attempting something like a Badlapur (2015) — a film that stands apart from the combined body of work of all his contemporaries — puts him in a different league.

The combination of Varun Dhawan being able to revive the 1990s, and Bollywood’s obsession with remaking/ rehashing films from that period, only strengthens his chances of being ‘the Salman Khan’ of the current lot. Dhawan was around 10-years old when his father, David Dhawan, directed Judwaa and the importance of the film was not lost on the young boy. It was an important film for David Dhawan as up until Judwaa he had barely managed one successful film without Govinda in the form of Bol Radha Bol (1992) that featured Rishi Kapoor and Juhi Chawla.

For Salman as well, Judwaa was a much-needed solo hit after a two-year lull post-Karan Arjun (1995).

The success of Judwaa changed the way David Dhawan functioned and although the film was designed to cater to the standard David Dhawan audience (read the front-benchers), the presence of Salman Khan induced a new segment of viewers.

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Post-Judwaa you can see how even Dhawan’s films with Govinda – Hero No. 1 (1997) and Deewana Mastana (1997) became, for the want of a better word, up-market. Moreover, Dhawan didn’t need to rely on Govinda. Dhawan made 26 films after Judwaa and only 3 of them feature Govinda in the solo lead.