Category Archives: Bak Bak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

‘Dum Dum’ from Phillauri: Anushka looks great, but why isn’t Diljit Dosanjh singing for himself?

When the trailer for Anushka Sharma’s production Phillauri  released, apart from a strong buzz about the supernatural elements in the film, it also showcased Punjab in all its glory. Diljit Dosanjh plays Sharma’s long lost lover, and a singer who vows to prove himself before marrying Anushka’s character.

The first song from the film has now released, called ‘Dum Dum’ and it has a strong Punjab influence, replete with local stringed instruments, a vernacular flavour and thick vocals.

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It shows us how Dosanjh’s character uses his mellifluous voice to gain Anushka and the villagers’ attention, and we are also shown how the two fall in love.

The song is filled with slo-mo shots of the Punjab landscape, of both Anushka and Diljit’s characters and of the world they inhabit as the song slowly plays out.

However, while watching the video song, there was this nagging issue we had that refused to die down. Everybody knows Diljit Dosanjh is a singer, and popular one at that. He specialises in Punjabi music, and even started his career with it.

Why, then, was he not chosen to sing this song?

It is possible that as the male lead in the film, he may not have had time to record music as well, but this makes a larger case about authenticity in Hindi films. For a lot of us who have heard Dosanjh’s music, adding his voice to this number would have lent a far more personal touch.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Raees box office collection: Shah Rukh Khan’s film has Rs 21 crore opening

Shah Rukh Khan has proved yet again, his penchant for making a solid opening at the box office with his latest release Raees.

Raees, directed by Rahul Dholakia and produced by Excel Entertainment and Red Chillies, was expected to take in anything between Rs 17-19 crores in box office collections when it opened on Wednesday, 25 January 2017.

The predictions seemed in line with SRK’s previous releases — Fan (which brought in Rs 19 crores on opening day) and Dilwale (which had a Rs 21 crore opening).

As per early reports, which have taken into consideration the screen count (approximately 2,600) and occupancy levels (reported to be around 60 percent through the day), the Day 1 box office collection has been estimated at Rs 21 crore.

Trade observer Ramesh Bala tweeted out the early figures: “Looking at the early day one numbers, Raees seems to have outdone Kaabil by a huge margin at the box office: Raees — Rs 21 crore; Kaabil — Rs 7.5 crore.

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1 figures for Raees at Rs. 20.5 crore, stating: “Considering the fact that Wednesday was a regular working day with the only advantage being the big holiday on Thursday (Republic Day), due to which evening and night shows were better than normal, Raees has clearly taken a very positive start at the box office.”

While official figures are still awaited, it is Day 2 figures for both Raees and Kaabil that will be keenly watched. It remains to be seen how much the public holiday will benefit the business of both films.

Bengaluru molestation: Backlash to Akshay Kumar’s message shows it’s catch-22 situation for stars

On the morning of 9 January 2017, Meryl Streep made a blistering anti-Trump speech at the 74th Golden Globes without mentioning the President-elect. During her acceptance speech for the Cecil B DeMille Awards, she called out Trump for mocking a disabled person and warned that the press would need to be defended. As expected, the same people who laughed at Akshay for using a public platform to address a societal issue lauded Meryl.

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Bollywood actors are always criticised for not taking a stand on issues that are relevant and volatile. It’s just that when they do address an issue, their opinions are ridiculed and their motives questioned. And, don’t forget what happened to Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan when they spoke up.

Celebrities in our country don’t have basic freedom of expression.  They are both expected to have and not have any opinions. If they do express an opinion, they shouldn’t have ever done or said anything contrary to that opinion. Also, they shouldn’t have a film releasing around the time of the said opinion being shared.

A friend pointed out that Akshay has Jolly LLB 2 releasing next month so obviously this video was a PR exercise. She added, “When he does films like Rowdy Rathore and Housefull where women are objectified, how can he expect his audience to respect women?” Last year, Katrina Kaif spoke about gender equality and violence against women during a conference in Delhi. The first reaction I heard was “How can Katrina talk about gender empowerment when she dances suggestively in skimpy clothes to ‘Chikni Chameli‘ and ‘Sheila ki Jawani‘?”.

Apparently, actors like Akshay or Katrina have no right to speak about gender issues. ‘Every job is a job’ does not apply to Bollywood’s actors. The argument is that actors have a large sphere of influence. Hence, we expect our actors to be actor-activists. And, that brings us right back to the backlash they face every single time. Ever so often the repercussions go beyond abuses online or being topics of discussion on primetime news. If Bollywood is too scared to speak up, it’s because their statements could (and have, in the past) harmed the industry financially. This is not a fear that Hollywood lives with.

During the Actress Roundtable of 2015, Kalki Koechlin was spot on while explaining an actor’s social responsibility. “People always say that actors have a responsibility… an actor has the responsibility to deliver in their job as an actor, just as much as a banker in theirs. For every actor to be an activist on every topic is ridiculous,” she said.

Every time we look to our celebrities to use their influence to impact large scale societal change, it is important to remember that they are only human. Like us, they are bad, and at times lazy activists. When a celebrity speaks out, it’s out of sheer frustration and anger at what is happening in the country. Again, that reaction is no different from how anyone of us would react.

Most of us don’t have the bandwidth to comment about everything. What an actor chooses to take a stand on comes from a personal space. It has nothing to do with his/her movies. In his video message Akshay said, “I am ashamed to be a human being today. I was returning from my New Year’s vacation with my four-year-old daughter in my arms when I learnt about the molestation incident in Bangalore (sic). I don’t know how did you all feel about it, but my blood started boiling. I am a daughter’s father but even if I was not one, I feel if a society cannot respect its women, it doesn’t deserve to be called a humane society. What’s most disgusting is that people have the guts to justify such shameful acts by criticising women for their choice of clothes.”

Everything Bollywood does is not for publicity. Among the many causes he supports, Akshay, along with Youth Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray, has been involved in the Women’s Self Defense Centre (WSDC) in Mumbai where women are given free self-defense training. Launched in 2014, WSDC offers a course that lasts for a month after which women have the option of enrolling for free advance classes. There are plans to open 100 more WSDCs across the country in the next five years.

Akshay Kumar doesn’t need a video message or a WSDC to generate publicity for his next release or for himself. Nor does Katrina Kaif need to speak at a women’s empowerment conference to generate work. Like you and me, Bollywood celebrities are not obligated to be activists. They do it because they are concerned citizens.

The only people we need to question about social responsibility are our elected representatives. They are the only ones who directly benefit from airing their views. So, leave Bollywood alone.

Om Puri: His life, dreams, struggles and accomplishments in his own words

I used to work as a clerk at a government office in Punjab. I was paid a salary of Rs 600 per month. I decided to leave the job, and pursue a career in acting. I knew that irrespective of how I fared, I would do better than making six hundred rupees. So I quit the job. At the time, it was unheard of. Everybody wanted government jobs. I studied acting for five years, including a course at the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi, and only after I was certain that I had the requisite skill, I moved to Mumbai. But it took not less than thirteen years after I decided on pursuing a career in the film industry that stability finally found me.”

These are Om Puri’s words in an interview to me.

Om Puri had earlier sought bail after being accused of domestic violence. PTI

An internationally acclaimed actor, a Padma Shri recipient, one of the pioneers of the world of parallel cinema, a stellar performer whose versatility transcended borders – Om Puri, who breathed his last in his Mumbai home on Friday, bagged several credits during his celebrated career spanning over four decades. But behind the tales of glory was a man who, as per his own admission, had trained hard to acquire the skill he was distinguished for.

He had struggled hard to survive in Mumbai before the film industry let him carve his space.

My interaction with Mr Om Puri was on a morning in August, 2015. I was busy with research for my recently published book, ‘The Front Page Murders: Inside the Serial Killings that Shocked India.’ The book, which is the true story of a serial killer who would murder and hack Bollywood strugglers for wealth in Mumbai, 2012, required me to speak to film industry insiders about the Bollywood struggler life in Mumbai, their passion and its pitfalls.

My study took me to actor Om Puri, recipient of two national awards then, but a man of long-standing perseverance, his story barely told. Since I had been a senior crime correspondent with a leading national daily, availing Mr Puri’s mobile number through an entertainment journalist in the city was not a difficult task. But I knew that getting him to talk would be tricky. He was a Bollywoodwallah after all, and to journalists, no one has more dolled up egos than this breed of artists. I, however, was in for a surprise.

‘Haan ji,’ Mr Puri answered his phone.

After I introduced myself, inquiring if it was a good time to talk, Mr Puri informed that he was on his way somewhere, and would be happy to spare a few minutes. Pleasantly surprised, I rolled out my questions, and he gladly detailed.

Recollecting the time when he first moved to the city of slums and skyscrapers to chase his Bollywood dream, Puri said:

“I was 26 years old when I first came to Mumbai. I did not know anyone here except for actor Naseeruddin Shah. He was my senior at NSD. So upon reaching here, I went straight to him. He was living in a rented room then, and allowed me to stay with him for two weeks. We were sharing the room, but the landlady did not approve of it. I was staying as a guest, and wasn’t paying rent. So she took me out. Through a friend, Naseer then found a paying guest accommodation for me off Hill Road in Bandra. It was a bungalow, and I was given one room with only a cot, one almirah, a table, and a chair. That was 1976. I paid a rent of Rs 175 per month. One and a half years later, the landlady’s son got married. They wanted the room, and I had to move out.”

The veteran artist recollected that after leaving the bungalow, he approached a hostel in Bandra. However, the authorities were skeptical about letting him stay because they had a bad experience with an actor before, and didn’t allow accommodation to Bollywood aspirants anymore. Puri tried to convince them, saying that he wasn’t any other run-away in the city, whiling his time away, that he was extremely serious about his Bollywood dream, and was working hard towards it. But the hostel authorities wouldn’t budge.

I did not give up hope, and landed at the hostel every other week. I had to have a roof. Eventually, they agreed, and I stayed there for two years, sharing my room with another boy. Aakrosh released in 1981. The film was very well received by art producers, but it didn’t impress the film industry. I moved to several other places before Manmohan Shetty’s Ardh Satya was released in 1983. (Om Puri’s career took off with this film; he also won the National Film Award for Best Actor for this role.) Mr Shetty told me that he had a one-BHK flat lying vacant in Chembur, and that I should move there until I get my own place. Things were good thereafter – eight years after I moved to Mumbai, and thirteen years after I chose to pursue a career in acting.

During our conversation, Puri spoke extensively about how difficult the life of a Bollywood struggler is in Mumbai, how these men and women flock to the city with dreams of the silver screen, hopes of that one celluloid break, and how they end up getting exploited by men who have set up businesses only to cash on their innocent dreams.

Bollywood aspirants need to be careful about falling prey to criminal elements in Mumbai. They should only visit established offices, and not believe any random person who boasts of connections in the film industry. The struggler’s life is very difficult here.  When you come to the city with dreams of the film industry, the biggest problem is survival. Mumbai is an expensive city. When youngsters approach me for roles, the first thing I ask them is if they can afford staying in the city for at least a year without a stable income, if their families can afford it. If yes, they can go ahead and try their luck.

Talking about his own luck, Puri said that he had worked hard to turn fate in his favour.

“Bollywood aspirants usually come to this city, looking at people like us. And when they see someone like me, particularly, it gives them hope. They think ke yaar, Om Puri jaisa aadmi, jiske face pe daag hai, naak bada mota sa hai, Irfan Khan bhi koi aisa good-looking nahi lagta, agar yeh log kar sakte hai, toh hum toh inse better dikhte hai. (They think that if a man like Om Puri, who has spots all over his face, a fat nose, Irfan Khan is also not very good-looking, if they can make it, we are better looking than them.) But they don’t realise that we have worked hard to study acting before coming to Mumbai. I came here after training for five years.”

Although I haven’t spoken to the actor since this conversation, I know that he was proud of his eccentric looks, and his achievements in the face-obsessed film industry despite them.

“I have no regrets at all. I have done quite well for myself. I didn’t have a conventional face, but I have done well, and I am proud of it,” Puri wrote on Twitter a fortnight ago.

Nervous, but also very excited: Deepika Padukone on her Hollywood debut with Vin Diesel

Mumbai: Actress Deepika Padukone says she is nervous and excited about her Hollywood debut xXx: Return of Xander Cage that stars Vin Diesel.

“I am really excited. This is my Hollywood debut. I am very nervous, but I am also very excited. And today is the beginning to that journey. Hopefully, we will be coming to India soon,” Deepika said on 1 January before leaving for abroad to kick-start the film’s promotion.

deepika-vin-380-getty

“In terms of promotion, first we will head to Mexico. As far as the release is concerned, we will first release the movie in India. While shooting the film, I discussed this with my unit… that it would be great to first release it in India and I am happy that it is finally happening,” she added.

After her Hollywood debut later this month, Deepika will be known for being more than a Bollywood actress.

Talking about it, she said: “I think I’d like to be known as a good person and a good actor. But I also feel very proud that I get to represent my country, especially in this kind of action franchise of the film.”

“I am really excited. I am also very sure we will enjoy this film because of its content. There is a lot of action, adventure in the film, which we have not seen in Indian films before. So, I can’t wait to bring this movie to India and show it to everyone.”

Shah Rukh Khan: ‘As an actor, I do not perform keeping awards in mind; it just happens

Mumbai: Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who launched the upcoming international film award titled ‘Indian Academy Awards’ says he loves awards and considers them the collective applause for his work.

Shah Rukh Khan. File photo/Solaris Images

“I love being a movie star and I love awards. After working for some time in the industry, we all reach a point from where we need some kind of applause and recognition. My awards are the collective applause for the work that I have done that year or on a film,” Shah Rukh told media here.

Khan added that in his opinion, none of his films so far in the vast body of his work is worthy of a National Award.

“If I haven’t got an award, I didn’t deserve it.. as an actor, I do not perform keeping any award in mind, it happens,” he added.

Indian Academy Awards, conceptualised by Brainstorm Entertainment and executed by Cineyug will held in California to celebrate world cinema of three major film industries — Bollywood, Tollywood and Hollywood.

Apart from Shah Rukh Khan, the event had Vandana Krishna, Saurabh Pandey of Brainstorm Entertainment, US Consul General Tom Vajda and Aly Morani from Cineyung.

Explaining the idea of celebrating cinema on such a huge platform, Shah Rukh, asking people not to compare it to the Oscars or any such awards, said: “Bollywood films are hugely respected by American artistes. Creating this kind of platform will help us to not only promote our Indian films of different industries, but also create awareness of our work.

“India is one of the old filmmaking countries of the world. So as a member of film industry, I feel it is our responsibility to educate people about our cinema that can resolve lot of misconception about Indian films.”

One of the unique factors of the award is film lovers’ participation. People can vote for their favorite films, stars in over 21 categories from the official website of Indian Academy Awards.

IAA founder Pandey said: “The Indian film industry is going global and the Indian Academy Awards is a celebration of that global, democratic academy that is completely transparent and all encompassing. Our aim with these awards is to bring a sense of realism and credibility to cinema awards in the Indian film industry. This is an academy that never sleeps.”

Vajda said: “We are very pleased to support the collaboration between the American and Indian film industries, in a way that recognises and promotes great talent and storytelling in movies. California is a perfect destination to showcase this for both American and Indian audiences”.

Indian Academy Awards will be a two days extravaganza of live performances by various superstars of Bollywood including Shah Rukh that will be choreographed by Shiamak Davar along with music and fashion shows on 7-8 July 2017 in Silicon Valley.