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Jab Harry Met Sejal: Imtiaz Ali’s film should rightly have been called Jab Sejal Met Dude

 

You get a similar feeling about Jab Harry Met Sejal, except you feel it about Shah Rukh Khan.

Now, of course, this is a pretty weird feeling to have about a ‘SRK movie’. Imtiaz Ali has done everything he can to stop you from feeling this. SRK’s Harry — despite having no discernible problem in life but being attracted so much to women that it scares (only) him — is supposed to be deep. You’re told again and again, mostly by Harry himself, that he’s a bad guy. He’s weary. He’s got trauma. One flashback early in the movie leads you to believe there’s some mysterious backstory from India that’s left Harry the tour guide scarred in Europe. Turns out nope, there isn’t.

Anushka Sharma and Shah Ruh Khan in Jab Harry Met Sejal. Image via Facebook

Because despite all the drama that the film tries to create around Harry, he’s fine. Nothing wrong with him. No trauma. No backstory. He’s just a dude, single in his forties. And that’s okay.

Jab Harry Met Sejal almost belonged to Sejal (Anushka Sharma). The movie is about her, after all – about the ring she lost and the things that happen to her as she goes from city to European city looking for it. Sejal moves the plot along: in fact, you often get the feeling that she was supposed to be the plot. Sharma’s deliberate Gujju accent may have been a bit much sometimes, but she makes up for it with her spectacular comic timing. Sejal is a lawyer, plays a role in her family’s business, is clear and decisive about what she wants, kicks the shit out of numerous bad guys and breaks off her own marriage. Harry is mostly just…there, a consequence more than a character, along for the ride Ali is taking us all on.

This movie should have been called Jab Sejal Met Dude.

In the run-up to this movie there was some talk of Imtiaz Ali’s repetitiveness: that most of his films feature people who go off on a journey in which they find themselves, and find love. This is true of Jab Sejal Met Dude too. It is practically the only thing that happens: the pair travel to different cities in search of a lost ring, get into really mild adventures in each city, find the ring and get together. You get the feeling that travel didn’t really need to be so central to the plot but was blackmailed into it, since everything travel was supposed to invoke could have been done without having gone on a journey at all. They could have found similar adventures just chasing each other around Mumbai – getting into fights in clubs, meeting spurned ex lovers, taking train rides, fighting thugs, throwing wedding parties for friends and singing impromptu songs.

Somebody somewhere convinced Imtiaz Ali early on that a journey is an integral part of films, so he feels the need to make all his movies fit that formula. The idea of a journey in Ali’s movies always leads to one person finding themselves. And barring few exceptions, that one person is usually a boy — from Jab We Met to Tamasha to Jab Sejal Met Dude.

Somebody somewhere convinced Imtiaz Ali early on that a journey is an integral part of films, so he feels the need to make all his movies fit that formula. The idea of a journey in Ali’s movies always leads to one person finding themselves. And barring few exceptions, that one person is usually a boy — from Jab We Met to Tamasha to Jab Sejal Met Dude.

Even more repetitive than the theme of travel are Ali’s precious male leads and all the bhaav they get from him. You get the feeling that men in Imtiaz Ali’s movies are a lot like Gayatri Jayaraman’s ‘urban millennial poor’ — whether it’s Shahid Kapoor’s man-child who couldn’t deal with his mother’s romantic relationship in Jab We Met, or Ranbir Kapoor whose biggest problem in Tamasha was that he couldn’t figure out if he’s a fun or boring guy to hang out with, or Kapoor in Rockstar where he can’t write songs until he feels sad about something, and now SRK’s spectacularly unremarkable Harry convincing himself he’s the blandest devil incarnate. Ali’s men break into sobs over their bad dating records and boring at-home personalities, probably to add some ‘darkness’ that’s supposed to add glamour to their souls in the filmmaker’s formula. I feel like telling the men in his movies to suck it up and go do their homework when they complain about how sad they are.

It isn’t like Ali doesn’t know how to give characters real problems. Part of the reason why Alia Bhatt’s Veera in Highway gets so chilled out about being kidnapped is that she’s dealing with the trauma of being sexually abused by her uncle as a child. Deepika Padukone’s Veronica in Cocktail is so traumatised by her breakup with Saif Ali Khan that she turns to excessive drinking and gets into a terrible road accident. Will someone please ask Ali, why do women need to go through so much trauma while the men get to just worry about themselves?

I found it strange that before the release of Jab Sejal Met Dude, Anushka Sharma claimed in an interview that her character was very superficial and had no depth. The trailer made it seem like she had plenty going on for her. But now, having watched the movie, I think I understand what she meant. It isn’t that Sejal has no depth, but that her role doesn’t allow her to show it no matter how much the plot depends on her. How can Sejal unfold all of her own complexity and depth when so much space is being taken up by SRK unnecessarily crying over his tour-guide status and imagined evilness towards women?

Ali won’t give us the satisfaction of a truly evil SRK, and he won’t give us the satisfaction of a truly realised Anushka. He just wants to hit the road again with a Dude.

 

Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha movie review: Suneel Darshan’s son returns in a film so terrible, it’s riveting

A long long time ago in the kingdom of cliched cinema, a rich man’s daughter falls in love with a poor stable boy. He is killed by her father for that crime. Decades later, his bhatakti aatma returns to claim the heart of her granddaughter. We are told the young lady is her naani’s carbon copy and, as fate would have it, already engaged to her childhood friend at the point she meets the aatma.

What happens thereafter is not what you might expect, but I am not wasting time getting into the nitty-gritty of the story because, frankly, that would amount to beating about the bush. Overriding fact: this film is awful.

It is a romantic thriller, but no twist in the end, nor even Amarjeet Singh’s slick camerawork in the picturesque English and Welsh countryside, can compensate for the all-round godawfulness, the inertness and the dated storytelling that constitute Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha.

Poster of Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha

Producer-director Suneel Darshan’s latest venture marks the return to Bollywood of music director Nadeem Saifi, and Darshan’s second attempt at giving his son Shiv an acting career.

Nadeem’s compositions for the film are passably melodic while they last, but too generic to be memorable. The Nadeem who has churned out songs for Ek Haseena Thi EDT is not worthy of the reputation enjoyed by the man who made the blockbuster music for Aashiqui and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin as one half of Nadeem-Shravan in the 1990s. Like this film, his work too seems stuck in time.

It speaks volumes about the pathetic quality of Ek Haseena Thi EDT that the music is still one of the nicer things about it.

The highlight of the film’s horrendousness is Shiv, a milky-skinned gentleman whose expressionlessness resembles the blankness of faces we see these days Botoxed into immobility.

I understand paternal devotion. I do. But to expose your child’s absolute lack of talent before the world is not love. There is no kind way of saying this, so I may as well not mince words: Shiv cannot act.

The only saving grace for him in this film is that Natasha Fernandez is almost — though not entirely — as bad. Instead of advertising itself as a film, Ek Haseena Thi EDT should have considered promoting itself as a contest for pathetic acting between Darshan Junior and Fernandez. Their co-star Upen Patel is no Robert De Niro, but he comes off looking comparatively impressive in the presence of these two and made me wonder whether he might show some spark in a better film.

Pretty Ms Fernandez struggles to work her facial muscles, poses around (clearly at the behest of her director) and delivers dialogues in an amusingly strained fashion. Her Hindi diction is awkward, she even says tukraana for tthukraana. And director saab did not deem it fit to correct her before demanding a retake?

Perhaps Darshan was too busy focusing on getting the wardrobe and makeup departments to package his heroine to perfection so that she could be draped on his son.

The problem lies not just in a father prioritising his offspring over all else, but also in this team’s questionable attitude to women. For instance, the good guy in Ek Haseena Thi EDT is positioned as a good guy although he thinks nothing of kissing a sleeping woman who does not know him; and when one man asks another for a birthday gift, the other guy points to a woman, as though he had purchased her from a shop. Her outburst in the end, about the right to make her own choices, comes as an obvious afterthought, inserted there by writers who want to camouflage their narrow-mindedness in a changing world.

To be fair to Darshan, although he has enjoyed tremendous commercial success, he has at no point been viewed as a great artist or a liberal by serious Bollywood gazers. That said, nothing in his filmography is a match for the vacuity of this film.

Ek Haseena Thi EDT is so terrible, it is riveting. (Spoiler alert, for those who still care) It is not a fantasy flick, nor does it belong to the mythical/mythological genre, yet at one point, a man reveals — with a perfectly straight face — that after an accident, he prayed to God for a few extra days on Earth and God granted him 14. What calculation did God make to arrive at that precise figure. Was God a voice in this fellow’s head? Did s/he appear in flesh and blood? Did they chat on Skype?

With nothing happening on screen, I busied myself with these profound questions. I also briefly considered headlining this review thus: Ek haseen critic thhi, ek khokhla film thha.

Tubelight: How much Salman Khan will earn from the film (whether or not it’s a hit)

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that after the Dangal and Baahubali mania, the next film to do justice to the term “most-awaited” would be Salman Khan and Kabir Khan’s Tubelight.

There’s been much buzz about the film. In Tubelight, set against the backdrop of the Indo-China war of 1962, Salman plays a do-gooder who is very close to his brother. He’s a little slow, and is therefore called a Tubelight by everyone. The film also stars Chinese actress Zhu Zhu and Sohail Khan. The film is a remake of Little Boy.

Given the massive success of two big Bollywood films globally, Dangal and Baahubali, it is being touted that bigger opportunities have opened for future Bollywood films globally.

DNA reports that Salman is planning a grand release in China and premier for Tubelight, and since the film already has a Chinese connect (it has multiple Chinese actors), the box office collections are expected to sky rocket. With Zhu Zhu being a big name, trade experts are predicting 700-800 crore collections from China itself.

And so, the big question on everyone’s mind is, how much of this profit will Salman Khan be pocketing for himself?

A source from the crew of Tubelight has revealed that the film has been made at a budget of Rs 170 crore, and Salman Khan has taken a signing amount of Rs 60 crore. This is due to the fact that all his films bag satellite rights worth Rs 60 crore, which is regardless of its box office fate.

It was further revealed that Salman will also be bagging half the profits of the film. This could also be because he is the producer on the film, as Tubelight is jointly produced by Kabir Khan Films and Salman Khan Productions. (Please note that these figures are not verified by the makers of the film).

Manisha Koirala on Dear Maya: ‘I loved the script instantly; it’s a feel good film

After a five year break from arc lights, Manisha Koirala, who makes a comeback with coming of age drama, Dear Maya, was nervous about facing the camera.

The 46-year-old actress will be seen in the role of a middle-aged woman looking for love, and she says, “I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. I was on the edge when I was facing the camera.”

Manisha has worked with some of the biggest directors back in the 90s like Mani Ratnam (Bombay, Dil Se), Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Khamoshi), Vidhu Vinod Chopra (1942, A Love Story), and now she chose to make her comeback with young director, Sunaina Bhatnagar, who has assisted Imtiaz Ali for six years.

dear maya social

“I first read the script, I loved it instantly and so I decided to meet the director. When I met her, I knew that she will make a good film. Sunaina had made a good character sketch. She was very clear about the character’s psychology. It is a feel good film, and that is another reason it attracted me,” says Manisha, who’s working with a woman director for the first time in her career.

Says Sunaina, “Manisha told me that she was used to melodramatic, loud acting, so she wanted me to tell her if she was doing that. Somebody as talented as her was so honest about it and hence I knew it will be an easy process of shooting with her. Her sensibility is subtle and realistic. Even in those days she tried to keep it subtle.”

Interestingly, while her character in the film is shown being a victim to the pranks of two young girls, Manisha says, that she was a big time prankster in her hey days. “I have played many pranks on people,” she laughs.

After Dear Maya, Manisha is looking forward to Dibakar Banerjee’s Bombay Talkies 2 which has been made in small segments like the previous part. Then there is Sanjay Dutt biopic, “in which I play Nargisji. I have a miniscule yet an important role. It is like special appearance,” she says. “I have altogether worked on four films this year and played some interesting characters. Next year I have been offered two to three good scripts so let’s see how that progresses,” says Manisha.

Coming to the Dutt biopic, one wonders if she shared some notes with Sanjay Dutt particularly since both of them have been paired together in over half a dozen movies in the 90s. “Sanjay and I are like buddies but we haven’t spoken as yet about me playing Nargis ji,” she smiles.

Even as Manisha sounds awestruck by the work of her contemporaries like Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit, she can’t stop praising some of the current lot of actresses. “Look at Alia, Kangana and Deepika’s work, they are doing more meaningful roles now. I saw Udta Punjab, and I don’t know much about the film but I remember Alia’s work. She leaves an impact. I saw Queen years back, Kangana left an impact,” says Manisha.

However, she is aware that the dream roles may not come to her easily at this juncture. Recently Raveena Tandon had a funny take on the sequel to Andaz Apna Apna; she said that if the slapstick comedy was to be made today, she and Karisma may feature in the sequel only as a photograph: “You know how the sequel will begin? Both Lolo and my pictures would be hanging on the wall with Aamir and Salman crying that they have lost their wives. Cut to the next scene, they will be seen running after 21 year old girls”.

To this Manisha says, “That is so true, Raveena said it so correctly. But this is a kind of dilemma that all actresses go through. It is in Hollywood as well.”

“Manisha, who has worked with all three superstars, continues, “What is not natural is that these three Khans have still managed to survive. After being in the industry for 10 or 20 years, it is natural that you go down and some other energies, talent come in and they follow the same graph. But Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir are still on top. There is something god gifted in them. Nobody can replace them. It is a unique feature. We should admire their staying power, rather than feel bad.

Half Girlfriend: Chetan Bhagat’s book or Mohit Suri’s film, which one is worse?

Some questions are truly critical. For instance: “Why did Kattappa kill Bahubali?” Now that we have the answer to that particular question, there is another burning question for the pop-culture-obsessed mind, and that question is this: Does Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend retain that line, immortalised by Chetan Bhagat. Deti hai toh de, varna kat le. The answer? In a bit.

First, we must address the elephant in the room. Why are people casting Arjun Kapoor in roles that demand complexity, nuance, skill and an overall understanding of context and milieu? Say what you will about Chetan Bhagat and his writing, but his books are fodder for the kind of films that can strike gold at the box office, if they’re made and positioned smartly. 3 Idiots and 2 States have proven that.

Shraddha Kapoor as Riya Somani in 'Half Girlfriend'

In fact, Half Girlfriend — despite being a mostly-unimpressive and sometimes-revolting book — has the kind of story that would have been a smash hit as a film in the ’90s. And treated with the right amount of texture and sensitivity, it had the potential to make for an intriguing watch even for today’s audience. One of the key aspects of the story – the protagonist Madhav Jha’s struggle and conflict with the English language, can come through strongly only with a medium like cinema; because in the book, everything is in English, including the bits where the character is actually speaking in Hindi.

However, the film falls flat on its face, largely because rather than seeming like an under-confident but rugged, attractive, athletic and intelligent fellow — what Madhav is supposed to be like — Arjun’s Madhav comes across looking like an overgrown oaf (pardon my language, but it’s true). His supposed-Bihari accent is not only terrible, but also inconsistent. In one scene, he says ‘loojer’ and ‘loser’ within a few seconds of each other, without irony. (What’s surprising is that Arjun played country bumpkin so much better in his first film, Ishaqzaade.)

About the only not-bad thing one can say about Arjun Kapoor in Half Girlfriend is that the film version of Madhav Jha comes across as less of a sexist creep than the book version. But that’s because Arjun Kapoor completely lacks the chops to pull off the character the way it was written. The character in the book is your average horny Indian male bred on a staple diet of entitlement, who shows a semblance of evolution through the story. (Sample this: At one point, when the girl covers her exposed legs, Madhav in the book reacts with, ‘Damn, I just lost my view’.) The character in the film, though, is just a brawny bumbling buffoon, his facial hair standing in for actual expressions.

Mohit Suri also takes the best thing about the book — the character of Riya Somani — and makes her a brooding bore, with spurts of being a slightly improved version of the high-on-life-or-cocaine character Shraddha Kapoor played in his own Ek Villain. While she was insufferable there, she’s quite, well, sufferable here.

Riya was an enigma in the book, the reasons for her demeanour, stoic personality and her actions through the story being a mystery all through, revealed only in the third act. (Yes, the book is actually split into ‘acts’. Bhagat knew right then that he was writing a script, not a book.) Like the book, in the film the narration itself is forcibly non-linear. However, the story unfolds quite linearly, cutting to the present once in a while. The result is a dumbed-down film with virtually no peaks or hooks, preferring to spend its time wallowing in shallow emotions, accompanied by a thoroughly unmemorable soundtrack.

In fact, the ‘village area’ scene from the trailer, which has already become a mildly funny meme, actually has ‘rural area’ in the book. That’s how little the makers of the film think of or trust the audience, and that’s the level they decided they must stick to all through. In another scene, we see Shraddha Kapoor put a bottle of water to her mouth to take a sip, but clearly not sipping or even wetting her lips. That’s how little the director cares.

What we’re left with, then, is that burning question from the start of this column. (Spoiler ahead!) In the book, Madhav attempts to get intimate with Riya, is rebuffed and becomes violent, before he utters that most infamous and reviled line, which created a stir when the book came out. Deti hai toh de, varna kat le. (‘F**k me or f**k off’ is how Chetan Bhagat translates that line in the book.)

We’ll never quite know whose call it was, but the scene in the film ends up a cop-out, simply by virtue of one changed syllable. It could have played out exactly in the disgusting manner it appears in the book, after which Madhav could have gotten his comeuppance through the story. Instead, quite like the book and the film, its most (in)glorious moment is also a half-damp squib. Who would have thought that one day Chetan Bhagat will get to hear these golden words: The book was better.

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.

lipstick-under-my-burkha-380 (1)

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.

 

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.

Baahubali-2-poster

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.

The Ghazi Attack: The Indian war film has changed, even if the enemy has stayed the same

The war film is a genre with obvious attractions since it allows for spectacle, action and suspense, and Sankalp Reddy’s bilingual film The Ghazi Attack (Telugu and Hindi) must be counted among the few Indian war films to harness these advantages to the full.

The war film is nominally a historical genre but few national cinemas have been able to turn the merciless gaze of history upon their own nations’ doings/experiences in war. Indian cinema is no exception and the war film in India has, generally speaking, only been an occasion for patriotic fervour; the wars with Pakistan have been especially pictured since India accredited itself well in them.

But the Indian war film dealing with Pakistan has gone through several avatars — although the historical circumstances examined remain the same — and this is due to war patriotism meaning different things at different times. The Ghazi Attack for instance, is notably different from JP Dutta’s Border (1997), which must still count as the best Indian war film hitherto.

JP Dutta's Border

The first Indian film to deal with war against Pakistan was Manoj Kumar’s Upkar (1967) although war only took up part of the film. Upkar came two years after the 1965 war and allegorised the relationship between India and Pakistan as that between two brothers, the younger one (played by Prem Chopra) significantly wanting partitioning of the ancestral land. Upkar had a long and convoluted story which included other elements — like agriculture and the progressive farmer, and the conflict between the farmer and the trader. Only Russian war films — like Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying (1957) — habitually bring in family drama alongside the battles but I interpret this as an acknowledgement that war affects everyone — even those not fighting at the front.

American World War II films like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), by sticking only to combat, also suggest that war is too far away for the average citizen, that the experiences of fighting men are not emotionally shared at home. This distant view could hardly have been held during WWII but, with the US increasingly involved in wars with no participation from its citizens, warfare has become of consequence only for a few.

It would seem that the war film faded from Indian screens after the 1960s though Dev Anand’s Prem Pujari (1970) made a half-hearted attempt to revive it in 1970. The resounding victory in 1971 left virtually no mark and this can be attributed to Pakistan having been so weakened by it that it ceased to be threatening to India for over two decades for its activities to ruffle the feathers of Indian patriots. But by the 1990s, Pakistan had regained much of its lost strength and became a threat once again. But fervent patriotism in cinema was also made possible in 1990s by an indirect development. This was the economic liberalisation and the end of Nehruvian socialism in 1991, which ended the representation of social conflict in Hindi cinema. If films like Hum Aaapke Hain Koun…! (1994) denied conflict altogether by placing all classes, castes and religions within a mythical, harmonious ‘Ramrajya’, other films like 1942: A Love Story (1994) and Border responded by pushing conflict to the boundaries — i.e. with external foes. Where Vidhu Vindod Chopra turned the British into primary adversaries, JP Dutta did the same with Pakistan.

Kay Kay Menon and Rana Daggubati in The Ghazi Attack

Border was made in the same format as traditionally adopted by Hindi cinema, i.e. as family drama, and this contrasted with some of its action sequences — like the killing of spies near the border — being more cinematic than anything witnessed in Hindi popular cinema.  The epic structure of the film — using the families of the soldiers as well as both the army and the air force to enlarge its canvas — was also in keeping with Hindi cinema of the times, still engaged in the project of helping an undifferentiated Indian public imagine a unified nation in which different social segments played their parts. The fact that The Ghazi Attack abandons this format has been seen as an achievement by reviewers, but what this means politically is worth investigating.

The first thing about The Ghazi Attack that one notices is its conspicuous use of the English language. The extensive use of English in Hindi cinema can be traced to the segmentation of audiences in the new millennium by the multiplex revolution — when admission differentials increased considerably. It became viable for Hindi films to confine their address to Anglophone Indians, whose spending power had also increased due to the new economy boom. Many Hindi films which use English conspicuously, and may be taken to largely address Anglophone audiences, are ‘patriotic’ — like Rang De Basanti (2006) — but their attitudes cast doubt on the inclusivity of the Nation they are imagining, on whether their patriotism is directed towards an undifferentiated India – or one dominated by the upwardly mobile classes. RDB’s antipathy towards politicians is, for instance, the attitude of a middle-class which has a small use for electoral politics, since it hardly has a say in the outcome of elections.

The Ghazi Attack is about an incident just before the 1971 war when the Pakistani submarine Ghazi was prowling in the Bay of Bengal with the intention of sinking the INS Vikranth, India’s only aircraft carrier, which might have tilted the military balance since it was expected to present an obstacle to the Pakistani navy in the country’s efforts to quell the rebellion in East Pakistan. In actual fact, the PNS Ghazi was destroyed mysteriously – either from the mines it was laying or by an Indian frigate – but the film fictionalises the episode by having an Indian submarine S21 track the better-equipped Ghazi down against all odds and destroy it. Kay Kay Mennon plays Captain Ranvijay Singh while Rana Daggubati the officer who takes over when the captain is killed. The film is tightly made and technically proficient. Rarely have Indian films generated so much suspense and excitement. My interest in the film is, however, elsewhere.

War films are normally adventure films and The Ghazi Attack is no exception. But what is ultimately a problem is that, rather than be content with this, it emphasises its patriotic side by having demonstrations of fervour from its protagonists, the most obvious scene being the sailors singing ‘Saare Jahan Se Accha…’ and  the National Anthem before they destroy the PNS Ghazi.

This brings us to a contentious issue in the present day around the singing of the National Anthem. Traditionally, the National Anthem was sung to remind us of the Independent Nation in the midst of our everyday preoccupations since it was instituted by our founding fathers. It was natural that it should be sung only at chosen moments (like a flag hosting) and the understanding was that Indians would, while singing it, be reminded that they were part of an inclusive national community. Singing the National Anthem was not a demonstration of patriotism – perhaps not needed since we were Indians as a matter of fact – but a reminder that we were together. If this view is allowed, the National Anthem sung by the sailors on S21 emerges as people remindingthemselves that they are part of a national community, i.e. that their act is in itself not ‘for the nation’ — when the fact that they are risking much to attack an enemy vessel should have been reminder enough that they are acting for it. Military men in combat perhaps do not need to be reminded of the Nation just as a fish does not need to be reminded of water.

Where Upkar and Border, by extending their canvases to epic proportions, implied that every citizen is wittingly or unwittingly involved in the Nation at war, The Ghazi Attack deliberately confines its scope to military men. This, I suggest, should be regarded as a significant development by Indians. In order to see its true implications, one should compare it to sports patriotism (as in Dangal). In the sports film one sees the sportsperson only from a distance, i.e. one knows that one can never truly be affected, personally, by the sportsperson’s success or failure. When The Ghazi Attack follows the same strategy the question is whether it is not placing war at the same distance from the audience as sport. Is it not implying that war (to the audience) is as distant as sport and not something which might actually affect them?

Given the nature of their appeal it can be argued that both Dangal and The Ghazi Attack target/address the same Anglophone segment as their primary constituency. Both films are patriotic and demonstrate their patriotism through fervent singing of the National Anthem at moments of victory. Apart from standing at attention at the commencement of any film, the singing of the National Anthem, when it is made part of the fiction has the audience standing up again, and this response is sought by both Dangal and The Ghazi Attack when the Anthem is deliberately sung (in its entirety) in their narratives. In The Ghazi Attack the National Anthem is sung once and played by an orchestra the second time and it may be anticipated that audiences will stand up three times in all. The Supreme Court has made only the first time mandatory but with anthem-vigilantes at large, one must be prudent if one wishes to get home without injury.

To conclude, it would appear from today’s patriotic cinema that we are beset by a deeply paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we (of the  educated classes) have little faith in the inclusive Nation in which everyone plays a part and have replaced it with an Anglophone nation, which claims, falsely, to include everyone. Secondly, we are not confident of the durability of the imagined Nation since we wish to be reminded of it as frequently as possible through the singing of the National Anthem. The central irony is perhaps that it is when the national spirit is weakest and least inclusive that we are most strident in our demand for nationalist fervour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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