Category Archives: PakBcn blog

Aamir Khan on Thugs of Hindostan co-star: Watching Amitabh Bachchan on-screen is ‘fulfilling’

Mumbai: Superstar Aamir Khan, who is working with Amitabh Bachchan in the upcoming film Thugs of Hindostan, says watching the megastar on the big screen is “a fulfilling experience”, and his superstardom can’t be re-created.

Asked if working with Big B was surreal, Aamir, an admirer of the veteran actor, told media here on Sunday: “Watching Mr Bachchan on screen in a theatre… His aura, action, every nuance of his acting was such a fulfilling experience in cinema.”

Picking his favourite from Amitabh’s filmography is a tough one for Aamir.

“I have many favourites like Natwarlal, Don and Namak Halaal. In fact, I remember after watching Namak Halaal in the theatre, I called up Mansoor (Khan) and asked him to come with me to watch the film. We went to watch its next show again.”

Talking about Big B’s stardom, he said: “I think the superstardom of Amitabh Bachchan can’t be re-created. It is so unique, the charisma he has….I mean imagine, there was a time when seven of his films were running in the theatre for months.

“Films like Don, Mukaddar ka Sikandar and Trishul in the same year! He used to date clash with his own film!”

As times are changing, and social media culture is playing an important role in building the public image of Bollywood film stars, Aamir says the definition of stardom has also changed.

“The fabric has changed. There was a time when access to a star was so limited, especially in the 1950s-60s era when there was no television, and fans used to wait for their stars to appear in cinema or a film’s premiere. They used to wait outside houses.

“Then came television when the interview started and people got the access to see how they looked and talked when not acting….That apart, of course, there were magazines and newspaper interviews. Now everything has changed, and how…,” said Aamir.

Now movie stars, he feels, are more communicative, accessible to their fans and it’s more interactive.

“It has changed from waiting outside the house to one click away….Everything about your favourite star is on the phone, and the phone is in your pocket. So you have the favourite star in your pocket,” he said.

The actor is excited about the Diwali release of his film Secret Superstar, also featuring Zaira Wasim. It will hit the screens on October 19.

Julie 2 actress Raai Laxmi on her Bollywood debut — and those persistent MS Dhoni questions

If an actor’s 50th film marks her foray into Bollywood, then the interviewer should probably steer clear of questions involving the actor’s ‘confidence’. Raai Laxmi — Bollywood debutante and South film industry veteran — certainly has a lot of it, and is confident about making an impact with her upcoming film Julie 2. When we meet up to chat about her film, a torrential downpour rages outside, but Raai Laxmi — a Mumbai resident for the past 10 years — is calm and comfortably ensconced on a settee, sipping a cup of chai.

Why did she choose to make Mumbai her base, despite being a popular star down South? “I lived in Chennai for about three years and when the studios took over, we started shooting elsewhere. It made no sense (to stay put in Chennai) and the locations were so far from my home that I normally had to take two flights to get there. It was easy for me to work with Mumbai as base. It’s been more than 10 years and now I consider airports and flights as my first home,” says Raai, laughing.

Raai Laxmi in a poster for Julie 2. Image courtesy Facebook/@Julie2Film

In the initial years of her career, Raai was credited as ‘Lakshmi Rai’. It is only recently that she adopted the name we now know her by. “I changed from Lakshmi Rai to Raai Laxmi some three years ago; there was no trigger for it. It was my father who forced me to change my name. He didn’t have any explanation for it, he just said that the change would be good for me. And it has worked well for me!”

Not many know that in 2006, Raai was approached by Yash Raj Films for a role in Chak De India. Raai was finalised for a part, but things didn’t fall into place at the contractual level. Raao too got busy with Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil cinema, shooting (in the initial phases of her career) as many as six films a year. “When big opportunities knock on your door, you definitely want to show your presence. In the past there have been three attempts to ‘introduce’ me. While dates didn’t work out in a few cases, it was a contract issue in some others. There were also clashes of opinions with a few producers,” she explains.

Down South, Raai has worked with all the top stars of the day. Why debut with Julie 2 in Bollywood ten, instead of a project opposite an A-lister/one supported by a big banner? “Bollywood, to me, is a new industry and I have no idea how it operates. I come from a different school of thought and wonder if it’s the same here. We don’t chase people and I would have been happy to accept a film from a big banner or with a known star. It’s just that the Khans do one film in a year and Akshay does three films with a long queue of producers behind him. Also it’s a rare thing that you get to see a fresh face in the films of such stars.”

One of the dampeners during the Julie 2 promotion press interactions have been questions related to MS Dhoni, with whom Raai was once in a relationship. For Raai, it’s in the past and the questions about Dhoni seem to visibly annoy her. “It is annoying,” she says. “I feel like banging my head against a wall. People start judging you and imagine that you’re doing this for publicity. I have my own identity, and if I’ve not been talking about (the relationship), then why are people asking me about it?”

When faced with a couple of persistent questions about Dhoni at a press conference for Julie 2, Raai responded with, “Who is he?” She tells us that the constant questions are in a sense, ‘forcing (her) to not acknowledge him’. “When you say something, it becomes a headline. When you don’t say anything, it becomes a headline,” she says, wryly, adding, “Maybe I shouldn’t date someone famous, only to bring an end to these questions.”

Perhaps after Julie 2‘s release, the focus will shift to other talking points when it comes to Raai Laxmi.

Newton brings forth the point of view of those who conduct elections: Amit Masurkar

It was the search of a political idea on the web that led to the inception of Newton.

Amit Masurkar was determined to make his next film a political one after the critically acclaimed Sulemani Keeda. Amit spent the subsequent days doing things that writers often do – type out words on Google and look for all possible search results.

“The words that caught my attention were ‘polling booths’, ‘EVMs’ and ‘Presiding Officer’. I typed other words too and the search threw up ‘political dynasties’, ‘conspiracies’ and ‘scandal’. We already have seen films dealing with the latter topics but one has never seen anything from the point of view of people who conduct elections,” reveals Amit, on how Newton was born.

After having travelled to roughly 50 film festivals across the world with the film, the moment is finally here for the director, as his labour of love will be screened in cinema halls of its origin country.

Newton was shot in the Naxal prone areas of Chhattisgarh.  Amit maintains that he was very clear about rooting his film in the region of Chhattisgarh because of its red earth and unique tree topography. So was it a cakewalk shooting in the Naxalite zone? Amit answers, “Do you think so? It was quite tough actually. We wanted to cast local people for the film. It would have been tough getting them to a different location. With so many people it was easier for us to just go there and shoot.”

Despite the assurance and cooperation by the state government, the first day of the film unit in Chhattisgarh was anything but a smooth ride. The first location earmarked for the shoot was a forest area near Raipur. To the unit’s horror, ten days before the shoot of this low budget flick was to commence, the forest officer (also the signing authority), was found guilty of corruption charges. The subsequent raids yielded millions in cash stashed at his house.

“We had no clue what to do next as he had also turned a fugitive. After the officer was sent to jail, the next one was scheduled to join in his place only after few days. It was only after the local line producer informed us of another location called Dallirajara that the shoot could commence,” informs Amit. When the shooting began, the unit was informed by the local police chief not to take any police protection, as it would have meant danger to their lives. The covert message was to be behave like locals.

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Being a low budget flick, the film also had its share of disappointment even at the scripting stage. Two leading production houses rejected the script even before reading the plot. Was it disappointing? “Not at all. I am more comfortable working with faces that I know. If somebody green lights a project and later quits his job, chances are that when someone replaces him your project might just go south. No one is interested in taking chances at these foreign studios.”

Amit was also part of the writing team that gave the fabulous The Great Indian Comedy Show, but the following years were full of struggle bearing no results despite the hard work. He would pitch ideas to directors and after being signed would start working on a script. The saga continued for four years and not a single script could fructify in the shape of a film. This was also the phase when he suffered depression. “I don’t know how I got out of it. I just decided not to depend on other people. It was then that I decided that I should do my own thing. I made a list of things that were available to me and then wrote a script around it and that’s how Sulemani Keeda happened.”

It was sheer luck for Amit when Newton metamorphosed from an independent film to a studio-backed film. It was a one-month assistantship under Aanand L Rai in 2004 for a telefilm that tilted things in his favour. “Rajkummar Rao showed him a clip of Newton and the shots impressed him. When Raj told him about me, his instant reaction was ‘I know him’. He then took my phone number and called to say that he loved the clip and was open for help of any sort,” reveals Amit.

Thanks to the filmmaker of Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhanaa, the initial plan of releasing the film in 150 screens has now trebled.

For this engineering drop out, jungles have now become addictive. “I realised after the shoot, jungles are very addictive. You have to build your own infrastructure. There is a thrill and it gives a very sublime feeling,” he adds.

Paresh Rawal on why he thinks Ranbir Kapoor is like Naseeruddin Shah, demonetisation and his latest film

The politician in Paresh Rawal is yet to be overshadowed by the actor. Clad in blue jeans and a loose shirt when I meet him at a five star hotel, it’s evident that Rawal is on familiar turf. So what’s his first love these days — films or the Parliament? “Basically I am an actor so it has to be film sets, but these days I am enjoying my stint in a different way. The experience inside the Parliament is enriching. It helps one learn tricks of the world which helps me polish my craft as an actor,” Rawal says, as we settle down for a chat.

People who have interacted with Paresh Rawal will vouch for his reserve. He hardly engages with people he does not know and intracting with the press seems to be anathema. The cumulative result is that he is perceived as a snob. Is the assessment true? “If I keep appearing in front of them (people and the press) on a regular basis, they themselves will get bored of me. Rest assured, I am not media shy. People who know me and are close to me know this well that I don’t even have an iota of snobbishness. As far as perception goes, it’s difficult to win over perceptions because that’s not tangible. You can’t please everybody,” Rawal explains.

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Paresh Rawal has never looked back after he shot into the limelight with his menacing act in Arjun. He was handpicked for the role by director Rahul Rawail after seeing him perform in a play. Rawal, a gifted actor, excelled in virtually every role that was offered to him. He believes that this could happen only because he did not receive formal training from any school. He cites his villainous acts in Dacait, Kabzaa and Sir, which were all inspired from people he knew. “It’s difficult for me to get into (the skin of) a villainous character who is an idiot. These days no one is scared of villains. Whatever make-up you apply or weapon you carry, people will never be scared of you. Behude lagte hai hum. If it’s all about portraying a behuda character, might as well make it amusing,” he reasons.

His upcoming film Patel Ki Punjabi Shaadi has been compared to 2 States, but Rawal denies any similarities. He maintains that the film is a laugh riot and the Gujarati character that he plays is neither stereotypical nor caricaturish. The film also reunites him with Rishi Kapoor after almost 25 years. The last time the two shared screen space together was for Rajkumar Santoshi’s Damini. So was there a moment when the passage of time hit home? “Never,” says Rawal. “Those from the Kapoor clan are such large-hearted people. I never got this feeling that I am acting with him after such a long period. He is a straightforward man.”

Currently he is also busy shooting for Sanjay Dutt’s biopic. The very mention of his co-actor Ranbir Kapoor brings a twinkle to Rawal’s eyes and it’s fair to conclude that the younger actor has the veteran in thrall with his acting prowess. In fact, Rawal believes that Ranbir is in the same league as Naseeruddin Shah. “An actor is known by his choices and just look at Ranbir’s choices. No one can dare stand in front of him.” He recalls: “When I was acting with Ranbir in the Dutt biopic, I got a feeling which I had experienced when I was acting with Naseer Bhai during Sir 25 years back. There is an actor in front of you to whom you reacting. The feeling was surreal and it happened after 25 years.”

Rawal is, of late, known for his acerbic tone on social media platforms. His Twitter account was in the eye of a storm when he mentioned Arundhati Roy in a tweets about Kashmir. Has his wife ever chided him to tone down his tweets? “She knows that there is no point chiding me but she also knows that I mean every word that I say or write on my social platform. I know that sometimes my style is acidic and harsh but during such cases it becomes impossible for me to keep things inside because of my anger.”

Bank Chor’s new song BC Knockout Rap brings up the old battle between Mumbai versus Delhi

Bank Chor, the new comedy from Y-Films, the youth wing of Yash Raj films, has been steadily releasing songs from its OST.

The fourth song from the film has now been released as well.

Titled ‘BC Rap Knockout: Mumbai vs Delhi‘, the track takes the form of a rap battle between two teams — one from Delhi and one from Mumbai. The song is a musical bout with both teams throwing barbs at each other about their respective cities, but done as banter through rap punches. Olympian boxer Vijender Singh leads the Delhi side in the rap battle whereas Bank Chor lead actor Riteish Deshmukh captains Team Mumbai.

The 'BC Rap Knockout' from Bank Chor

BC Rap Knockout‘ is a thumping, energetic number. Incidentally, the theme of the song reflects one of the running gags in the film — Riteish’s character Champak, who hails from Chinchpokli, is shown constantly squabbling with his sidekicks Genda and Gulab, who hail from NCR, about which is better: Mumbai or Delhi.

Hear the song here, when it releases.

Watch: Irrfan Khan is the new ‘Meme-lord’ in town, thanks to this AIB video

You don’t have to worry about making memes if you are the meme’ — Irrfan Khan just made this famous, thanks to All India Bakchod (AIB).

After the successful Every Bollywood Party Song, Khan has once again collaborated with AIB for another hilarious video, Dank Irrfan. The first three minutes of the five minute video stand nowhere in comparison to the final minute which could have been better as a standalone video.

Khan, like a true sport, poses for five rib-tickling memes.

Irrfan invites you to his haweli

In the first one (our personal favourite) he poses as the late Amrish Puri in his spooky avatar from Rakesh Roshan’s 1995 action thriller Koyla. He follows that up by completely nailing the dialogue, ‘Aao kabhi haweli par‘, which suits him even more given the fact he is from Rajasthan.

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Irrfan is all ears as Uncle Sam

The second meme shows Irrfan take a dig at all the Americans whose only window to India is Danny Boyle’s 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire. This one is hysterical given that he starred in the film and also that he is actively working in Hollywood.

Half Girlfriend: Arjun Kapoor may play ‘Bihari boy’ Madhav Jha, but doesn’t sound like one

Somewhere along the line, Bihar has become Bollywood’s shorthand for colorful thuggery or rustic idiocy. If Hindi films are anything to go by, the only stories about Bihar worth telling highlight its lawlessness and penury.

In Apaharan, director Prakash Jha attempted to expose the thriving kidnapping industry in Bihar while his Gangajaal was spun around the infamous Bhagalpur blinding case. The badlands of Bihar were the backdrop of the blood-soaked rivalry between generations of gangsters in Anurag Kashyap’s two-part Gangs of Wasseypur. And then there was the extremely cringe-inducing Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav that ends with the politician addressing the lead characters.

Biharis have been living with this stereotype, for better and for worse, for a few decades now. So, it’s a relief to see a basketball-playing Stephenian from Patna in Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend. In case you haven’t read the Chetan Bhagat novel the film is based on, Half Girlfriend is about Madhav Jha, a bumbling Bihari boy (Arjun Kapoor) who falls in love with a rich Delhi girl Riya Somani (Shraddha Kapoor).

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Thankfully, Madhav will not join the long list of gun toting, gaali giving Bihari characters the Bollywood audience has come to know. While there might not be a crime in the film, if the promos are anything to go by, the collective Bhojpuri accent in the film could qualify as an assault (Arjun’s “Ee haph girlphriend hota kya hai?” in the teaser was enough to make my ears bleed).

Peppering dialogues with chiradiya and kahe; replacing ‘z’ with ‘jh’ so ‘zindagi’ becomes ‘jindagi’; or, saying ‘hum’ instead of ‘main’ and kijiyega and lijiyega instead of karo/lo is not enough to sound Bihari. The ‘kaa’ in ‘kaa ho’ isn’t just a ‘ka’ or a ‘kaa’ but a sonorous ‘kaa’ with unique glottal articulation. Even after all these decades of Bihari characters, Bollywood mostly seems unable to decipher the nuances of intonation that go with getting the accent right. It’s not easy to put a finger on it but it’s probably the correct pitch levels while handling vowels that let most of our actors down.

A recent offender was Alia Bhatt in Udta Punjab. As the nameless Bihari hockey-player-turned-migrant-labourer, the actress was in top form. Subjected to rape and drugs, she brought out the vulnerability and resilience that had me rooting for her. But only after I made a conscious effort to not hear her accent. Though Alia had actor Pankaj Tripathi (Gangs of Wasseypur, Nil Bateye Sannata and more recently, Anarkali of Aarah) as a dialect coach for the film, her accent rang false. Aside from Alia, everyone else in the film sounded 100 percent real. “She sounds like a Juhu girl trying to talk like her Bihari maid. It’s all wrong,” scoffed a fellow Bihari who I watched the film with.

There’s a thin line between sounding like a caricature and realistic. On the other end of the spectrum is director Avinash Das’s debut film Anarkali of Aarah. Swara Bhaskar’s Anarkali sounds so authentic; I could close my eyes and be instantly transported to Gopali Chowk in the heart of Aarah. A half Bihari in real life, Swara might have never lived in the state, but she knows how to lean-in just so on the last word of a sentence.

What actors and directors don’t understand is that there isn’t one Bihari accent but hundreds of them, dialect-by-dialect, town-by-town. I am told the only time my Bhojpuri accent surfaces is when I speak with my parents. During those conversations, to some non-Bihari friends I sounded like Amitabh Bachchan (from Namak Halal and Don). He spoke Hindi with an Awadhi accent in those films and not Bhojpuri but I am nitpicking. After the release of Gangs of Wasseypur, I got a lot of “but you don’t sound like a Faisal, sorry Phaijhal”.

With accents that are as tuneful as Bihari, if you get the pitch wrong people really notice. Dialects and accents have very rarely been the focus of a performance in Bollywood. In the last few years, actors like Kangana Ranaut and Aamir Khan have successfully sounded like their Haryanvi characters in Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Dangal with the help of diction coaches. It’s not very tough to sound Bihari if you really want to.

Lipstick Under My Burkha: No one can stop this film from reaching people, says Prakash Jha

Even as Lipstick Under My Burkha has been critically acclaimed in several international festivals, it is not getting a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), in India. ‘

The film has been deemed too ‘ and according to CBFC, it is laced with sexual scenes and abusive words. Revolving around four women — a burkha-clad college girl, a young beautician, a mother of three and a 55-year-old widow who rediscovers her sexuality, the film features actors like Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkana Sen Sharma.

As the team awaits the decision of Film Appellate Tribunal (which is due today, on 27 March), producer Prakash Jha and director Alankrita Shrivastava put across their point of view in a chat with Firstpost. Excerpts:

Poster of Lipstick Under My Burkha

Isn’t it ironical that despite hitting roadblock ahead of its release in India, the film has earned accolades in the International film festival circuit?

Alankrita Shrivastava: It is very ironic. It’s huge disrespect to the Indian audience by not certifying the film because then you are saying that world over somehow people are more educated and are more evolved except in India. It is a very colonial mindset to say that there is something wrong with the Indian audience. Why should we deny the rights of Indians to watch a film that has been made in their own country?

The kind of response we have been getting at festivals across the world is really phenomenal. I wasn’t expecting that. It is getting lot of applause and standing ovation in every country we have shown. We have got several jury and audience awards. The question and answer session post screening has been long and non-stop because people want to talk and discuss. There is lot of emotional connect which people are feeling across the world among different audiences.

It is unfair that our own audience is not getting to watch it. Hope the decision is reversed and people finally get to watch the film.

The film talks about women’s sexuality and their desires.  From what we have seen recently, the industry is not ready to accept women who speak up their mind? Why do you think it is happening? How do you react?

Alankrita: The CBFC is clearly functioning from a very patriarchal mindset, they have no idea about the context of how they should watch a film. They have no idea about the gender dynamics, the politics of representation, the politics of female gaze versus male gaze. I feel they are just functioning from a space where the only kind of cinema they seem to be propagating is a very male gaze controlled popular mainstream cinema. There is no level playing field for alternative voices.

CBFC is not uncomfortable with sex per se but they are uncomfortable with the fact that a woman is striving for agency over her own body and she is trying to claim her own desires. There is no nudity, there is not even a cleavage shot in the film. The film talks about the lives of women from their own point of view but we are so used to watching item songs where the camera mindlessly travels up and down a woman’s body with zero connection with the narrative, or where women are portrayed as sati savitri, virtuous women, or vamps.

There is very little space for ordinary women who have had their ups and downs. They want to keep us engaged only with popular representation of women and nothing more. No one has the right to shut down 50 per cent of the population voice. The decision of CBFC is absolutely not in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution of India which promises freedom of expression and gender equality.

Prakash Jha: CBFC clearly has no sense of the audience, they are completely blank. They seem to be telling women: ‘How dare you change the balance of the society? You have been raised, indoctrinated, we have told you how to speak, how to stand, how to behave, how to express, how to serve men all your life.’  The audience all over the world is extremely intelligent, they are expressive because they are what they are.

Can anyone stop me from exercising my rights? No one can stop this film eventually from coming to people. I am not afraid. I don’t get discouraged by such things.

Why didn’t you move the High Court like the Udta Punjab producers?

Jha: They probably didn’t have much time on their hand as the release date was very close and court saw the logic in Udta Punjab team approaching them. In our case we didn’t have the release date announced, so the court would have asked us whether we have exhausted all our options. We are going to the Tribunal and waiting for the verdict which takes time.

Recently the Padmavati set was vandalised and the film’s director was assaulted, you think intolerance on freedom of speech is on a rise?

Jha: It has always been like that. Indian society, mythologically, historically, socially has always been very strong. They have never tolerated, never accepted and allowed anything which doesn’t fit into their mind-frame. Lot of objections have been raised on my films and I have ended up going to the tribunal, court; this is not new for me. I always tell filmmakers that film-making is not just a creative process, it is an art of putting your view to the society in the forefront.

Perhaps, I have given the same mantra to my assistant Alankrita, too, and she is going to face controversies. But we don’t want controversies. We have shown the film in several festivals, it has reached different kinds of audience. Alankrita is just back with seven global awards. Audience from Cairo, Sweden, England, Miami, France, Tokyo and even our own, MAMI, have applauded and appreciated the film.

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When people have the freedom to select their government and their own future, then don’t they have the freedom to watch a film?

While slamming the supporters of Lipstick Under My Burkha,  CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani defended himself by saying that they have been liberal in the censor certification of films like Befikre, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Rangoon and yet the industry folks were complaining. Comment.

Prakash JhaLipstick Under My Burkha questions the very soul of the society which perhaps is not understood by CBFC.

Alankrita: Women in our popular, mainstream cinema are always acted upon. Stalking is portrayed as love. But a situation where a woman is striving for agency over her own life, her own body, her own desires and dreams, that is something making them uncomfortable.

For a very long time now, we have been striving to move to a place where films are certified and not censored, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

Prakash Jha: I appreciate that the government had appointed a body under Shyam Benegal and they have submitted the report. I encourage the government to adopt that report and make it into a law and thus remove the process of censoring. A film like Lipstick Under My Burkha will only enhance the thinking of the society, the richness of the society. It is not going to damage the society.

Alankrita: I am not discouraged, I have faith in the Tribunal. I hope they are able to see the film in the context it has to be seen. I am sure that they will be able to reverse the CBFC decision. It is important to continue my journey, I will continue to make such films. One has to be prepared to fight it out.

 

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.