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Vidya Balan: ‘There’s only one person whose empowerment I’m concerned with and that’s me

She is the earliest female star of her generation to fight her way to successive, substantial central roles in entertaining, commercially positioned films despite Hindi cinema’s continuing obsession with men.

Anyone who has observed the workings of the film industry will tell you that Vidya Balan’s has been a monumental achievement. It is fitting then that the first poster of her next film Begum Jaan was released just hours before International Women’s Day.

Srijit Mukherji’s remake of his own Bengali film Rajkahini, Begum Jaan features Balan as the madam of a brothel that ends up falling partly in India and partly in Pakistan at the time of Partition.

In this extended conversation, Balan discusses what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated society and profession. Excerpts from the exclusive interview: 

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In an article in The Hindustan Times for Women’s Day 2015, you wrote: “The Second Sex, a sort of bible of feminist literature, reads, ‘Humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself, but as relative to him. So, a man can think of himself without a woman, but she cannot think of herself without him.” You continued: “But that is changing now, and that is exactly why now is the best time to be a woman.” Would you say the past year has been the best year so far to be a woman in the Hindi film industry?

I can only speak for myself, Anna. More and more I realise, I am leading my life exactly the way I want to. I don’t want to make generic statements about the industry, though we’ll talk about changing cinema trends. I think more importantly it has to start at a personal level. For me, especially after marriage, for example, I had begun to question how things very subtly but surely change.

For instance?

For instance, how it becomes a Mrs Siddharth Roy Kapur as against a Vidya Balan and Siddharth Roy Kapur. These are subtle changes.

I don’t have to justify, but just in case someone doesn’t get it correctly, I love the man, I want to be with him, which is why we’re married, but that does not mean that I have to subsume my identity.

I’ve seen a change happen in these four years since my marriage. Now we just started saying Vidya Balan and Siddharth Roy Kapur on cards and invitations. (Laughs) It’s not just becoming a “Mrs”. What happens is, people are slowly goading you to lose your identity. We’re all finally products of our conditioning. It need not be conscious conditioning. Even if you come from a home like mine where we’ve not been brought up with any of those “a girl cannot do this” attitudes, yet somewhere, the way you begin to look at yourself after marriage changes.

And I realised that my fight was with myself really, because I kept questioning every little thing that happened. Like this example I gave you, someone who knows me as well or who’s worked with me even before having worked with Siddharth inviting me through Siddharth now. I couldn’t get my head around such things. And I’d tell myself, “Am I being any less a woman or any less a partner if I’m not accepting of this?”

So in the past four years I’ve seen my understanding of this become clearer, stronger, and that gets reflected in my choices. I’m not one person who’s going through this.

All around us, women are asserting themselves more and more. We are nurturers and givers, all that is fine, but we don’t want to give up our identities.

So whether it’s on a set in relation to a male actor, or in a marriage in relation to your partner, or while bringing up children, you’re seeing that change all around. And that’s the change we’re seeing in the industry. It will only become stronger as time goes by.

Soon after Madhuri Dixit got married (in 1999), I remember asking one of her directors why women get limited roles after marriage, and he for some reason thought I was asking whether he was mindful of her marital status while making the film. So he assured me, “Don’t worry Ma’am, I have kept in mind the dignity of married women while shooting this film”. That’s the mindset: that married women should do only a certain kind of role. Have you faced that attitude from the industry?

Mediapersons used to ask initially, “Does Siddharth have a say in your choice of films? Do you need his permission?” and I would have a shocked reaction to the word “permission”.

And the industry?

The industry has never asked me this because I’ve never allowed it and I don’t have that kind of attitude. It was never a concern in my head.

People keep asking, “Now that you are married, will you do another Dirty Picture?” And I keep saying, “Now that I’ve done The Dirty Picture maybe there’s no need for that, but if someone writes something as compelling or interesting, I’m most open to it.” I’m an actor. I’m not Vidya the person who is in the film. In my head that distinction between the actor and the person is clear. If I’m romancing someone on screen, it’s not Vidya Balan who is romancing the person. It’s that character. So how does my marital status make any difference there?

I will do whatever is required of me for a role. That can only change if… How do I say this? It’s a role, (laughs) it’s not like doing something with someone on the sly.

In the years since Madhuri’s marriage, do you think the industry has evolved, so that women like you or Aishwarya are less likely to get this kind of attitude from directors, “she can’t do this”, “we have to shoot her more carefully and present her in a more dignified fashion because she’s a married actress”?

Attitudes have changed but we are driving the change as women, Anna. Of course there are very supportive and understanding men who are trying, because finally, like I said, we’re all trapped in that conditioning, but at least they are aware of it so they’re trying in their own way.

Having said that, we are the drivers of change. So when we reflect that, that gives filmmakers, men or women, the courage to write roles for us that are not apologetic.

In the past year we have had some very successful films telling stories of women. Pink, for instance, was powerful and a reason to celebrate. But it still needed that poster of a protective patriarchal figure (Amitabh Bachchan) to promote itself. Some people, who I don’t agree with by the way, also felt the driver of change within the film was that man.  

To be very objective, Anna, we have to use the opportunities we have before us. For example with three relatively unknown girls – Taapsee is known – Pink may not have otherwise got the kind of viewing it got. The point is it did some 80 crore of business, that means that many people watched it. It doesn’t matter that the driver of change was a man there, as long as people watched. When people said, “Oh but sex brought people into theatres to watch Dirty Picture”, I said, “But once they come into the hall, they’ll see the larger picture. That’s my interest.”

Maybe in a few years that will change, that is changing anyway, but at this point, it was great they had a huge superstar like Bachchan who’s got a pull. It’s great he’s doing these kind of films. I personally of course felt that putting his name last in the credits was a bit of tokenism, but I’m nitpicking here. I’m still saying I’m just glad that a lot of people saw the film, a lot of people probably thought about their own attitudes, because sometimes even the most liberated and so-called evolved people end up making these judgements about women, maybe sometimes unconsciously. So you have to use what’s at your disposal to make the point you want to.

For example in Kahaani 2, the fact that we used the value of the Kahaani franchise to tell a story about child sexual abuse is what really excited me because if we’d made a film about child sexual abuse otherwise I’m not sure it would have got the kind of numbers watching it. This is not manipulation, these are just smart choices.

Are you optimistic about the possibility maybe a year or five years from now where a Pink can be made with a Madhuri, Sridevi, Rekha or Waheeda Rahman in Bachchan’s role?

Absolutely. Why not?

What gives you that hope? We are looking at the glass as being half full, but some things remain depressing even now. Even now, for instance, there are directors and producers who put rape jokes into films on a routine basis. What makes you so optimistic?

One, I am an eternal optimist. I choose to see the glass half full rather than half empty. I’ve seen the kind of scripts coming my way, especially since 2008 since I began to make certain choices that spoke to my sensibility, my belief, my sensitivity.

It could have been the end of the road for me post marriage for example, especially when my films didn’t work, but there is no dearth of opportunities coming my way. There are other actresses doing wonderful work, doing the regular stuff but also one film here, one film there, which is more woman-centric.

At my age (38), I’m playing the lead in a film, which five years ago wasn’t possible.

Earlier, if a woman-centric film flopped at the box office, people would attribute the failure to its woman-centricity. Are people now a little more open and not saying that?

More people are seeing our films as films, not just woman-centric films. Of course it irritates me when people say, “Acchha, for a woman-centric film it’s done good business.” But those are the industry types who want to tabulate and see trends, analyse and paralyse and all that, but the general public is changing.

I don’t think it’s about women-centric films having a limited scope of success. Some films work greatly, some don’t, that’s what it is. And I’m part of stories that I feel compelled to tell. So some of them work, some of them don’t, but I’m not here to champion the cause of women’s empowerment.

You mean, in your films?

Yes. If I’m here to champion anyone’s cause, that’s I, me, myself. (Laughs) If it ends up inspiring someone therefore to take up cudgels for themselves, great! Change has to happen at a very personal level for each one of us.

That statement can be misunderstood so could you elaborate on “I’m not here to champion the cause of women’s empowerment”?

Ya. There’s only one person whose empowerment as a woman I’m concerned with and that is me, therefore I make the choices I make. My choices are an extension of my beliefs. I’m here to tell stories, but I end up picking stories which empower me. It’s not shying away from feminism, or shying away from doing the kind of films I do. All I’m saying is that change has to happen at a very personal level.

Do you mean that you are happy if a point is made through your films, but your primary purpose is to entertain?

My primary purpose is to entertain, but just that the story through which I entertain invariably is an extension of my beliefs. So, can I entertain in a film where I have four songs and two scenes? I can’t. I’m incapable of it. It has to have substance.

People ask me, “Why do you keep choosing women-centric films?” Because, I say, I’m at the centre of my universe and I happen to be a woman. So I’m the most important person in my life. I’m telling stories where that importance, that value is shown to a woman, because I would choose only that. It comes naturally to me.

But am I doing it for the larger good of womankind? No. Yet, when someone comes up to me and says, “This film gave me the courage to do a so-and-so,” I feel humbled and gratified, but I’m not… (long pause)

You’re not?

I’m not (pauses again) I’m not jhanda gaadke jo kehte hai na championing the cause of women’s empowerment or anything like that through my films.

But are you not doing that when you speak on issues, write feminist articles and so on?

But I’m saying I’m championing the cause of women outside of that, not through my films. I’m telling stories, but stories which inspire me are stories where women take centrestage, where women are overcoming obstacles and hurdles, discovering themselves, leading lives on their own terms. But outside, as Vidya, I’m very opinionated. I don’t know if I’m able to communicate exactly. Like, everyone says that every film should give a message. I don’t think you should give a message with every film. I don’t believe in preaching, I believe in practice, that’s what I do.

That’s what it is. Thank you, you’ve helped me nail it. That’s what it is, when I say that I’m not here to champion the cause of women’s empowerment – I’m here to practise it.

Shaadi Ke Side Effects was promoted as a film that was equally about you and Farhan’s characters, but when I watched the film it seemed like the writer completely forgot your character at some point. You had a lot of screen time, but the story completely became the hero’s point of view. Do you still find it hard to get scripts where your character’s point of view is as important if not more than the male lead’s point of view?

Sometimes writers get waylaid, and again I can’t harp enough on the conditioning that we all are products of. Which is why sometimes with the best intent you end up getting muddled up and confused. It starts out as one thing, but somewhere there is compromise because you feel the need to toe the line, to align with the male perspective.

But even to recognise that takes a while. Today when you said this about Shaadi Ke Side Effects I actually began thinking, no one’s ever mentioned this to me.

You may have hit the nail on the head. Because it started out being about a couple and then it was about a man wanting to escape the routine or the responsibility of a marriage.

All this was part of my confusion also, which is why I’m saying I was probably choosing the films that gave voice to some confusion or a certain state of mind.

How did you not see the problem with Shaadi Ke Side Effects when you read the script?

That’s exactly what I’m telling you, because I was muddled in my head.

I was grappling with whether marriage really means that you subsume, so if my character gets lost in the second half maybe that’s how it’s meant to be and I’m not ashamed to say that I was going through these questions. Because one is what you believe you are, and the other is what you feel you should be.

Again I come back to conditioning. In my house there’s been no active conditioning of the sort at all, and yet somewhere I think as a woman in this country you’ve grown up believing that in marriage you become the last priority for yourself. Anyway women are not that much of a priority for themselves, then after a marriage you definitely are not a priority for yourself. That’s what’s been fed to us, which is why this entire question that really exasperates me is: how do you balance your work and household? I don’t balance it.

When I’m at work I’m at work, when I’m at home I do whatever is required for the house. I do more than Siddharth because I am more finnicky about things, but there’s been no issue between us in terms of, if I’m not there he’ll say, “No no, I’m not going to do this,” or some rubbish like that. And I’m completely disconnected when I’m at work. But when people are asking you those things, you’re wondering. Then for a while I started calling up the cook daily from shoot and saying, “Acchha toh aaj sabzi kya banaogi?” (What vegetable will you cook today?) That was not me.

Has anyone ever asked Siddharth how he balances work and home?

Not at all. And you know how many times I’ve gotten asked… Forget Siddharth, male actors never get asked, “When are you impregnating your wife?” Why the hell are you asking me, “When are you going to get pregnant? When are you going to expand your family?” How is it your concern? Am I asking for your salary slip? It’s as personal.

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Am I asking when you’re consummating with your partner? It’s actually akin to asking me that. And it used to anger me. Now I’m amused. I’ve started saying, “Agli baar jab hum saath honge toh aapko zaroor bataayenge (Next time we are together, I will definitely tell you).” Because, what are you expecting me to say?

On a related note, following the controversy over Aishwarya’s pregnancy and the film Heroine, there was talk in the industry of introducing a pregnancy clause in actresses’ contracts? Has that started happening?

Uh, not any of my contracts.

Would you be willing to sign such a contract? Would you be offended or do you think it’s practical and fair?

It’s practical and fair. Because the physical you changes, god knows what else will change. I’m accepting of all body types, that’s not the point. I’m saying suddenly for example after signing a film you’re going to change, that’s unprofessional, so I guess you have to plan these things.

Why, for me, more than anything else I don’t want the pressure of having to look a certain way even when I’m pregnant. If and when I do plan my baby, I want to enjoy it yaar, and I want to keep it safe at all costs. I don’t even want the negativity of people saying you’re being unprofessional and you didn’t tell us. And it’s only right, isn’t it?

A male actor may gain weight between the time he signs the contract and he comes on set. Would you say it’s fair for a contract to have clauses relating to weight gain and physical appearance of all the cast, not just a woman who might potentially get pregnant?

Uh, no. Because I as a woman have gone through various bodily changes during films. Forget male actors, I wouldn’t be okay with being subjected to something like that, because a lot of things, hormonal changes for instance, are outside my control.

If someone gets drunk and goes out of shape, that’s really unprofessional, but some things are beyond one’s control.

Pregnancy is also not just the physical appearance na. Maybe it will impair you from doing certain things, maybe in a delicate pregnancy you’re not allowed to. It is an investment of time, money, energy. So many people are invested in a film, so out of respect for that I would definitely tell people.

Let’s say an actor is looking trim when he signs the contract, then he starts getting drunk, over-eating and not gymming. Six months later when they shoot he’s looking different.

So male actor contracts should have that. (Laughs)

Or any actor’s contract. If you’re saying you’re okay with a pregnancy clause, then would you be okay with a clause about that also?

No. I take my work very seriously, so I for example won’t even stay up the night before a shoot because I treat it like an exam in that sense. (Laughs) Therefore I would think that people should be more responsible, but I have a problem with (pauses) with body image. Now I think we’re slowly going into the body image area. For me, uh, unless it’s a real requirement of a role that you be a certain way, if you’re playing a warrior and you have to have a certain kind of body and you just let loose, then that’s not okay, but otherwise, (pauses)

This is something that you are thinking about as we do this interview, am I right?

Ya, absolutely.

And you have not yet fully formed your opinion?

Ya, I’ve not yet.

Fair enough. There has been an increase in the number of women writers and directors in Hindi cinema in the past year or so: Gauri Shinde (Dear Zindagi), Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (Nil Battey Sannata), Leena Yadav (Parched). Would life become easier for actresses like you when more women are in decision-making roles in the industry?

Ah, for sure. We need more of them for a balance of perspective. No one wants to do away with hero-centric films, but I hope there is a day when we don’t need the term “women-centric”. That will happen when there are an equal number of films made with men and women taking centrestage.

Similarly it will just be a healthier balance, one, from a larger perspective of equal opportunities for women writers. And do it on the basis of merit.

 

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.

Running Shaadi: Tapsee Pannu’s character runs like no one is watching

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.

Dangal box office collections cross Rs 385 crore: Aamir Khan plans success party

Mumbai: Dangal producers Aamir Khan and Siddharth Roy Kapur will host a grand party here on Saturday to celebrate the success of the movie, which has become the highest grossing Bollywood entertainer.

In 'Dangal', Aamir Khan portrayed wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat

The film has recently surpassed collections of Rs 385 crore at the Indian box office. For Aamir, it almost makes for twin celebrations as now he has two films — PK and Dangal — which have crossed the Rs 350 crore mark.

The makers are ecstatic with the reactions and positive response to the film, which is in demand even in its sixth week.

Aamir, who usually shies away from parties, is organising the celebration for Dangal after being urged by his friends from the Hindi film industry. He has invited the who’s who of the industry for the party at Taj Lands End, said a source in the know of developments.

Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, Dangal is an inspirational story of an Indian wrestler Mahavir Phogat, who against all odds, manages to train his daughters Geeta and Babita to become world class wrestlers.

The sensitive portrayal of the father-daughter relationship moved the audience, who also appreciated performances by Aamir and his on screen daughters Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra.

Don’t expect Bollywood stars to pull a Meryl Streep: Honesty’s never a virtue in the film industry

On the contrary, more often than not they succumb to political and ideological bullying – never standing up for their beleaguered colleagues or fellow citizens. That these stars, despite their hefty celebrity statuses, have ever so often failed to defend fellow actors who are hounded by fundamentalists and government alike, is indeed a sad commentary on the culture of the Bombay film industry.

Mercifully, not all celebrities across the world, are cut from the same cloth. When confronted with bullies, not all of them genuflect or become tongue–tied. Nor do they fear to take the powerful head on.

Meryl Streep poses in the press room with the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

This Sunday night, the celebrated actor Meryl Streep, presented an inspiring template for the kind of outrage celebrities can put on display.

While accepting her lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, Streep turned the occasion into one which addressed many of the anxieties that have been racking America since the Presidential election this November. Speaking out against the dangerous and discriminatory politics practised by US president–elect Donald Trump, she said:

“Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts which are not the arts. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.”

In a grand, eloquent sweep, the veteran actor gestured towards the challenges awaiting the acting fraternity, and many other diverse sections of the American public. She told the gathering how Trump’s imitation of a disabled reporter “broke her heart. … I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing,” she said.

Faced with Meryl Streep’s speech, one cannot but consider how strikingly different the conduct of Bollywood stars has been when it comes to dealing with similar challenges; how abjectly they have failed in not just defending their own rights as a collective community of actors – but also thereby ending up backing retrogressive fiats by default.

Very recently we were witness to the manner in which Raj Thackeray’s Navnirman Chitrapat Karmachari Sena (MNS) bullied top Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, and director Karan Johar, into giving an assurance that they would not work with Pakistani actors in future. The orchestrated uproar over the release of Khan’s film Raees this September, which had Mahira Khan, a Pakistani actress in a lead role, pushed Shah Rukh Khan into offering Thackeray an assurance that “they will not hire any Pakistani actor till the situation between the two countries (India and Pakistan) improved.”

Shalini Thackeray, general secretary of MNS Chitrapat Karamchari Sena, went to the extent of saying: “It is not a veiled threat. It’s a direct threat to producers like SRK and Karan Johar who take Pakistani actors in their movies.” Even in the face of such unabashed bullying, Bollywood kept totally silent.

The same way it kept mum when the Modi government attacked actor Aamir Khan last year for his comments on the prevailing culture of intolerance in the country.

The discomfiting truth is that in almost all such cases of covert and overt persecution, actors are left to fight lonely battles (that is if they themselves do not rush to placate the bullies,) while the industry heavyweight lapse into silence as a means of self–preservation and self–advancement.

In stark contrast to such servility, Meryl Streep spoke out not on just on behalf of her own fraternity – but also defended the interests of the larger fraternity of others who are feeling ever more alienated and threatened by Trump’s politics.

Her speech, in its wide scope, was political in content. “Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose,” she said. Addressing the media, the actor called on the press to hold the government accountable and for the public to support independent reporting. She urged the “famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press” to support the Committee to Protect Journalists. Saying “we’re going to need them, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”

In a strangely fitting way, Streep’s speech comes days after the death of Indian actor Om Puri who, not only championed progressive causes throughout his career but was mercilessly hounded by the powers that be last year for his remarks on the controversy on hiring Pakistani actors.

Unsurprisingly, he found little vocal support within his own community. All too often, only the Anupam Khers of Bollywood are heard speaking out aloud – and that speaks volumes for the culture that seems to dominate the film industry in India.

Om Puri brought the rural aam aadmi character into mainstream cinema: Amol Palekar

Om Puri had mentioned that he gave all the credit of his entry into film life to me. He had said that it was because of my success that people like him and Naseeruddin Shah could even dream of entering into films, doing good roles and being established. I don’t know how much of it was true but if at all it is to be considered, I would say that if I represented the aam aadmi, it was the urban aam aadmi. Om brought in the rural aam aadmi into mainstream cinema and Bollywood. He further took it to international cinema. His long journey reflects his acting powers and brilliant career.

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I want to correct the impression that he started his career from FTII. Before that, he graduated from the National School of Drama. In fact, my first meeting which I remember with Om was when we were both participating in a theatre festival in Kolkata. I had seen his performance in Udhavas dharamashala. This was a Marathi play which was being performed in Hindi and I knew that play very well. So, when I saw his interpretation and his performance in that play, I was completely bowled over and our friendship and association began from that day. So, his career had started from theatre. And his roots were always in theatre. He eventually went into films, then grew on an international level. But I think more than Ghashiram Kothwal, I would point out Udhavas dharmashala. In his acting career, Aakrosh was brilliant and in Mrinal Sen films, he was absolutely outstanding.

But I admire Om for his completely different portrayal in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and his role in Chachi 420 is very unlike his personality. He came up with such beautiful performances in comedy that one could see what tremendous range this actor had. Irrespective of the kind of role or the frame of the role he was given, he would still come across with flying colours. I think of the hard work which he had shown in the National School of Drama, in FTII and in his entire career. He could hardly speak English when he started his career but went on to act in Hollywood films, speaking in perfectly good English without getting brought down by this kind of handicap. This just shows his strength, his capacity, his hard work and his growth.

We did a film four or five years back and I made a film called Dhamkatha. It was a movie for children in which Om had played the lead role of a lovable grandfather. Again, we had some memorable moments during that period. We worked very hard during the day. And then, after a hard day’s work was over, we would sit down, chat, have a drink and discuss a lot of things over that drink. During that discussion, Om did not just talk about films. He was capable of talking about his point of view, his opinion on politics and his comment on social issues. This side of his personality was very fascinating. Therefore, we could connect a lot more and it was a very beautiful association, although we did not meet regularly.

I don’t remember meeting Om on a regular basis. But whenever we bumped into each other, we would mostly be shooting in a studio for different films. He would be shooting his film, I’d be shooting mine. We would be there, then we’d sit down and have lunch together, or we would bump into each other at a film function or a party. Even though there was a long gap between each time we met, there was never a feeling that it was after any gap. It was always with a kind of warmth and the feeling that we just met yesterday. And he always had respect, so our friendship was a very beautiful relationship.

Today is not the day to talk about controversy. But I don’t think people have an appropriate view about actors. I just saw yesterday that Akshay Kumar came out and commented on the Bengaluru incident. Why do people think that actors can’t do it? Anchors have always done it, actors have done it in the past when they felt that there was something wrong happening in our country. I think it is just the media’s perception that actors are only entertainers and they need not talk about any other issue, neither political nor social. But Nana Patekar has been doing such a brilliant work for farmers.

I have said that some actors don’t hesitate to come out and make a statement. Om was one of them. And therefore, we belong to the same gharana.

Koffee with Karan season 5: Shahid and Mira Kapoor, get a room

In the latest episode of Koffee with Karan, Shahid Kapoor and his wife Mira were so mushy, in-love, and all about each other that we felt like asking them to get a room (or go home).

For their first public appearance together, this was quite a memorable one. Quick flashback: the duo announced their marriage in 2015 amid many rumours. It was an arranged one and had the whole country talking. They were wedding in a lavish ceremony. Whatever questions you had about the couple, this episode of Koffee with Karan definitely answered most of them.

Karan Johar being himself, started the show by addressing the elephant in the room: in his last few appearances on the show, Shahid appeared with all his rumoured love interests, Kareena, Priyanka, and Sonakshi. While Karan took Shahid’s case on this, Mira seemed unfazed and quite sporting.

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This was followed by multiple stories of how Shahid and Mira met for the first time. Sample these: When both families gathered together to discuss Shahid and Mira’s wedding, the duo were unaware. They were assuming that the match being spoken about was Shahid’s younger brother Ruhaan, and Mira (because their ages are similar). Upon meeting for the first time, Shahid and Mira spoke for 7 hours, non-stop. It was after meeting a couple of times did they decide to get married, but when Shahid met Mira’s father for the first time, he was prepping for Udta Punjab. Which means that his father-in-law saw him in his Tommy Singh avatar (ouch).

However, this story takes the cake. During their first meeting, Shahid asked Mira why she wants to marry someone much older to her. Mira’s response was, “why do you want to marry someone much younger? That’s much worse.”

One of the first judgments you make about Mira (let’s face it, we were all judging her, this is the woman’s first TV appearance), is that she’s unlike a “star wife”. She seems quite real, and it shone in one particular anecdote. When Karan asked her how she manages at film parties, she revealed that she actually likes meeting new people and hearing stories about a world she is not a part of. But more importantly she had no reason to feel weird or out of place.

Mira left no opportunity to make fun of Karan Johar (woot woot). When they played a game called “pillow talk”, Johar asked Mira what she says to Shahid every night before sleeping. When she revealed it was, “I love you,” Karan in his trademark style said, “I feel like I’m watching some Valentine’s Day special”, to which Mira said, “it’s like you’re watching one of your own movies.”

The flavour of being real must have transferred to potentially one of the most histrionic host on Indian TV, because when Karan Johar asked Mira things about Bollywood she doesn’t like, she said, “Airport looks and nepotism,” to which he responded, “the latter might be directed at me”.

Suffice it to say, this was one of the most candid episodes, where love was not just in the air but pretty much everywhere (this rhyme was as cliched as the couple, Shahid and Mira).

Dangal movie review: Aamir Khan and four lovely youngsters knock it out of the park

Sweaty bodies gripping each other in places strangers should not touch, violence as a form of entertainment, our baser human instincts getting official and mass encouragement – if you ask me why I cannot stand contact sports, these would top my answer.

Young Geeta and Babita Phogat have far more mundane reasons for hating wrestling: no girl they know does it, so why should they? Dangal is the story of their father’s bulldog-like determination to make them gold medal winners for India, and the girls’ own passage from aversion to passion for the sport.

Nitesh Tiwari’s third film as director is based on the real-life story of Haryana’s Mahavir Singh Phogat, patriarch and coach of one of the country’s most unusual sporting families: his daughters are all wrestling champions, the eldest two — Geeta and Babita — are Commonwealth Games gold medallists, and Geeta is the first Indian woman wrestler to have ever qualified for the Olympics.

This achievement is particularly striking considering that Haryana has one of India’s worst child sex ratios and a horrifying track record in the matter of female foeticide and infanticide.

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Dangal is about Mahavir’s single-mindedness which brings him into conflict with his wife, his community, the country’s sporting establishment and ultimately, even Geeta.

The first half of the film is riveting in every way imaginable. Mahavir (played by Aamir Khan) gives up his wrestling dreams to financially support his family. He then decides to turn his yet-to-be-born sons into wrestlers who will bring home golds for India. This dream too is crushed when he and his wife Daya have four daughters instead in succession.

One day when Geeta and Babita bash up a couple of local boys for abusing them, Mahavir sees the light. He forgot, he says, that a gold medal is gold whether won by a boy or a girl.

The songs neatly woven into the narrative in these scenes are catchy, their lyrics steeped in hilarious colloquialisms. The acting is singularly flawless all around.

Geeta and Babita as children are played by two brilliant debutants, Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar, who knock it out of the park in every scene (if I may borrow a phrase from another game). And the storytelling matches up.

No effort is made to gloss over Mahavir’s flaws: he is a dictator at home and a terror outside. This is, without question, a traditional set-up where the husband/father’s word matters more than anyone else’s opinions or beliefs. Even the local people are afraid of him, but that does not stop them from gossipping about this man who, they are convinced, will drive his daughters to ruin by forcing them into a field they believe no woman should touch with a barge pole.

Jolly LLB 2 trailer: Akshay Kumar plays a bumbling lawyer-turned-hero in Subhash Kapoor’s film

The Jolly LLB 2 trailer is out. And from what it offers for our consumption, it seems to have capitalised on all of its leading man Akshay Kumar’s strengths.

Akshay Kumar in Jolly LLB 2

Jolly LLB 2, the trailer, starts off as a comic caper. We see Akshay’s character, a lawyer named Jolly, on a losing streak in court. He is prone to asking his witnesses filmi questions, like when Salman Khan is likely to get married; cry like (in the words of Saurabh Shukla, who plays the judge) Nirupa Roy, and generally engage in a whole lot of theatrics that have little or no intended effect.

He also has the gift of spinning grand, catchy lines — although his bombast finds barely any appreciation in the courtroom, or at home, with his long-suffering wife Pushpa (Huma Qureshi).

Things — and the tone of the film — change suddenly when a man is killed, and his wife approaches Jolly for help seeking justice.

Jolly quickly realises that this is not just about one man’s life being brutally cut short, the victim was but one pawn in a larger nexus that involves several powerful people. When Jolly fights against them, he realises that he has the fight of his life ahead. His adversary in court is the evil advocate Annu Kapoor.

There is one dialogue that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser: Jolly says in court that whoever said ‘everything is fair in love and war’ was the biggest fool — because then it would mean that those who decapitate soldiers at the border in the name of war, or those who fling acid at women in the name of love, are justified in carrying out their heinous acts.

The Jolly LLB 2 trailer packages everything that the ‘Akshay Kumar brand’ is known for — comic timing, action, dialogue delivery, romance and pop patriotism — in its two-and-a-half minutes of run-time.

Dear Zindagi movie review: Incredibly cute Alia, Shah Rukh Khan need a more consistent script

Dear Zindagi is clearly straining at the formula-ridden Bollywood straitjacket to give us a refreshing take on love and family, and for the most part it sticks to its guns. In the end, it does succumb to the pressure to bow to perceived public demand with passing mentions of what we have come to consider inevitable in every Hindi film, but the ride up to that point is so rewarding so often that it is tempting to look past those needless moments.

Writer-director Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi comes four years after her remarkable debut with English Vinglish. If that film brought the charismatic Sridevi back to the big screen as a leading lady after a 15-year hiatus, this one redefines the concept of hero and heroine in Hindi cinema.

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Dear Zindagi revolves around Kaira (Alia Bhatt), a talented young cinematographer in Mumbai who despises her parents, appears confident in her romantic relationships yet is ridden with insecurities about the men she is drawn to. Those insecurities lead her to deliberately hurt her boyfriends before they get a chance to hurt her. It does not take a degree in psychology for a viewer to figure out her behaviour patterns, but Kaira is naturally confused by her fears. She ends up seeking professional help, and with some wise counsel, finds her answers herself.

When one of the biggest stars in the history of Bollywood appears on screen about 40 minutes after the opening credits, it goes without saying that this is an extremely unconventional film. Bhatt’s Kaira is the focal point of the story from start to finish whereas Shah Rukh Khan – playing her therapist Dr Jehangir Khan – surfaces towards the latter part of the first half and is nowhere to be seen in the concluding scene.

In a male-obsessed industry still tending to subordinate women in most mainstream projects, this is a decision that shows guts on Shinde’s part and Khan’s evident willingness to experiment. That other MegaKhan, Aamir, took a similar gamble with rewarding results in Taare Zameen Par (2007), and this is a winning aspect of Dear Zindagi too.

SRK gets less screen time but owns every scene he is a part of. In fact, Doc Jehangir enters the picture just as the film is sagging and appears to be repeating itself. His arrival immediately lifts Dear Zindagi. It sags again occasionally thereafter, but never when he is around. Besides, there is such warmth in Kaira’s interactions with the Doc that it envelops the rest of the narrative too.

It is worth mentioning that Khan in this new phase of his career when he is acknowledging his age gracefully, showing us a dash of gray and a whiff of wrinkles, is looking hot.

Kaira explodes in anger at one point when someone describes her as a pataka (firecracker). Well, that’s precisely what Bhatt is – a pataka with pizzazz and verve. What makes her so impactful is that she has had an internal journey with each of her roles so far, and not so far allowed that journey to be overshadowed by her attractive personality. Kaira is simultaneously exasperating and endearing, and Bhatt remains in control of that difficult blend throughout.

Still, the film needed more matter to wrap around these two lovely stars, and Dear Zindagi too often does not. Some of that comes from the failure to build up the satellite characters who are Kaira’s go-to people in times of need. We get that she is pre-occupied with her own emotional struggles to the point of not noticing their problems, but that is no excuse for the writing to neglect them too.

Who is Fatima (Ira Dubey) beyond being a mature, married friend? Who is Jackie (Yashaswini Dayama) beyond being a sweet, supportive, possibly younger friend? Who and what is that chubby male colleague beyond being chubby and funny? Who is her brother Kiddo (Rohit Saraf) whom she loves, beyond being her brother Kiddo whom she loves? Who and what are her boyfriends Sid (Angad Bedi), Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor) and Rumi (Ali Zafar) beyond being a good-looking restaurateur, a good-looking producer and a good-looking musician?

(Spoiler alert) And then there are those two oh-no moments towards the end – you know the kind that make you say, “Oh no, you too Dear Zindagi”? One of them seems to go along with the traditional view that characters played by a major male star and a major female star must inevitably be attracted to each other if they interact long enough in a story; the other underlines the essentiality of a man in a woman’s life to make her feel complete. Both are fleeting suggestions, but they pull down the film’s assuredness about what it is trying to say until then. Oh no, you too Dear Zindagi? (Spoiler alert ends)

For this and other reasons the film is inconsistent and intermittently lightweight. Yet, there is much else to recommend in Dear Zindagi.

The use of music, Amit Trivedi’s breezy tunes and Kausar Munir’s conversational lyrics are lots of fun, as are Kaira’s many amusing interactions with her friends. DoP Laxman Utekar fills the film with pretty frames of Goa beyond what we are used to seeing of that picturesque state, and is just as imaginative in his focus on Khan and Bhatt’s faces. Watch out for the closing shots of Bhatt on a beach.

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From an industry that usually treats parents as deities deserving to be worshipped, it is also unusual to get a story that does not ignore these gods’ feet of clay, especially considering that Dear Zindagi is co-produced by Karan “It’s All About Loving Your Parents” Johar.

Above all, it is nice to see a film making an effort to destigmatise patient-therapist interactions, in a portrayal far removed from the “paagalkhanas (lunatic asylums)” of an earlier Bollywood era.

Dear Zindagi then is a mixed bag. I loved SRK in the film, Bhatt is always a pleasure to watch, the story visits many themes that are uncommon in Bollywood, and several of the discussions are either witty or insightful or both. Overall though, the film comes across as being not enough because the writing needed more substance.

Dear Gauri Shinde,

You broke the mould with the delightful English Vinglish. Since you have defied convention in so many ways this time round too, you may as well have gone the entire distance without worrying about the consequences. We believe in you. Please do have faith in our faith in you.