Column: When Saif Ali Khan wore Rishi Kapoor’s sweater

Starring Raj Kapoor’s dream of a better India, Rishi Kapoor’s trendsetting sweaters and Ranbir Kapoor’s self-introspection, my week could well be titled Kal Aaj Aur Kal.

Monday
Dekha hai teri aankhon mein pyar hi pyar beshumar— Dharmendra fawning over Vyjayanthimala and her trademark kohl-lined eyes on the television screen catch my attention. Nothing overdramatic about his assertions except there is a lot more to the legend’s big, expressive eyes — easily her best feature — than ardour.

The yesteryear actress and doyenne of dance, who just turned 80, conveys a world of drama and depth through them. “I was taught to be a dancer. We speak with our eyes,” she told a newspaper in a recent interview.

Be it doubt, distress, desire, mischief, melancholy, conceit or coyness, the Madhumati star’s eyes mirror her on screen state of mind like few can. Made this collage as a tribute to the one about whom Kishore Kumar sang, “aankhon se sama gayi dil mein.”
Vyjayanthimala
Tuesday
Beta, sweater pehno!

What are the odds of Saif Ali Khan prancing about in a sweater Rishi Kapoor wore in the same year as him romancing the same heroine as him? As your friendly neighbourhood Bollywood trivia scavenger, I am more than happy to answer that.

So there’s this off-white sweater with large maroon, blue and green spheres sported by Kapoor, championing the cause of knitted fashion since forever, in a lake scene of Saajan Ki Baahon Mein (1995) co-starring Raveena Tandon. It’s one of those rotten melodramas you think you’ve forgotten about completely until they return to haunt you on YouTube.

Now I’ve watched the lovey-dovey Chaha Toh Bahut in Harry Baweja’s Imtihaan (1995) way too many times to get it wrong. As suspected, Saif is wearing the exact same jumper whilst cozying up to Raveena before a campfire in the concluding bit of the melody.

Wonder if their common love interest noticed any similarity and pointed it out to either of her co-stars.
Saif Ali Khan, Rishi Kapoor
Wednesday
An intricate mystery from Hollywood’s collection of golden classics goes a long way in shaking off some of the disappointment of three consecutive movies (Rustom, Mohenjo Daro, Suicide Squad).

Like its tagline suggests, The Honey Pot, directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz, “cordially” invites you to enjoy and perhaps even solve a “perfectly elegant case of murder.” It’s a sophisticated, sharp whodunit peppered with romance, intrigue, humor and seductive Rex Harrison as the millionaire –both controlling and at the centre of all the action transpiring inside his palatial abode in Venice.

Based on two plays (Mr Fox of Venice and Volpone) and a novel (The Evil of the Day), the 1967 film blends its multiple resources to weave a shrewd tour de force enriched by terrific performances, lush production values and delightful dialogue.

If you haven’t watched it but plan to, the lesser you read about it, the more satisfying its surprise.
Rex Harrison in The Honey Pot
Thursday
It’s Raksha Bandhan! And since it falls on the same day as my classics column, I pick Raj Kapoor’s fifth film as producer Boot Polish, which, among other things like desire for a India’s progress post-independence, poignantly highlights the affectionate bond between a brother and sister. As stated in my article, what I like most is how their relationship plays itself out naturally without relying on stereotypical symbolism.

Later that evening, I attend the screening of Happy Bhag Jayegi, directed by Mudassar Aziz for producer Anand L Rai. The latter’s Tanu Weds Manu is a visible influence on this Indo-Pak comedy of chaos, especially Jimmy Shergill’s once again rebuffed by the bride character.

Despite the potential of its ambitious premise, Happy Bhag Jayegi doesn’t quite soar. Like I wrote in my review, its “creativity has the texture of a well-meaning school play, where kids generate excitement by reacting excessively to any situation or yelping at the top of their voice. What’s cute there seems daft here.”
Happy Bhag JayegiFriday
Subconsciously one knows that it’s only a matter of time before Ranbir Kapoor bounces back in a manner show business measures success. This belief is only strengthened after hearing his views in a fascinating new interview to journalist Rajeev Masand where the 33-year-old talks about his flops, future, heartbreak, love for football and two dogs –Leo and Guido.

The duo caught up at his grandfather Raj Kapoor’s sprawling Chembur home. At some distance, I spot an old porch swing facing the neatly mown lawn. It’s the same one you’ll see in Simi Garewal’s documentary on the showman, specifically a clip of the latter’s birthday celebration sitting on the said swing flanked by his knee-high grandkids – Kareena, Riddhima and Ranbir.

At one point in the video, RK Sr tells a reluctant Ranbir to go inside and change into a nicer outfit.

Years later, it’s surreal to see his grown-up self welcoming the need for change, (even if for completely different reasons) “I am in that phase where I have to change, my films have to change, my pocket of expressions have to change, the tricks in my magic bag have to change.”

I don’t know if this is Ranbir at his most candid or critical. But I cannot think of a more self-aware actor in this industry.
Ranbir Kapoor in TamashaSaturday
A curiosity to know the true colour of a costume, worn by stars of black and white movies, takes over me every time I see something I like.

There’s an utterly graceful Sadhana on screen singing Tera Mera Pyar Amar from Asli Naqli draped in a lovely woven sari. I’ve always imagined it to be mustard yellow with a black border.
Sadhana in Asli NaqliThen there’s Madhubala frolicking to Main Sitaron Ka Tarana in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi in a heavily sequined gown. Could it be a shade of mauve?

Madhubala in Chalti Ka Naam GaadiSunday
A fiercely swaying lamp producing a stunning show of light and shadows, a wistful flute playing in the background, a cascade of memories of love lost and never forgotten, a bumpy bullock cart ride from the railway station to Paro’s house and a devastated, dying passenger restless to reach his destination.

I often revisit this scene from Bimal Roy’s Devdas for the sheer craft of its filmmaker and Dilip Kumar’s tempered intensity as the doomed hero of a tragic romance. My blood pressure dips every single time I witness his severely exhausted body language and sorrow-filled eyes underlining the exasperation of his inquiries —Arre bhai, kya yeh raasta kabhi khatam nahi hoga? Simple and yet so profound.

In his memoirs The Substance and the Shadow, Dilip Saab writes, “the dialogues of Devdas are replete with a haunting sensitivity, spontaneity and meaning. They came from the pen of Rajinder Singh Bedi, one of those rare writers whose syntax was so perfect that the simple lines he wrote inspired actors to build up deep emotions in their rendering. Being myself not given to superfluous speech, I appreciated the precision and brevity of the lines he wrote.”
Dilip Kumar in Devdas
This column was first published on rediff.com.

Also read on Super Filmi Week:
Getting nostalgic about the 1980s, Winona Ryder & Kishore Kumar
Rediscovering Gulzar’s Ghalib & finding Free Love
Applauding NTR’s Superman on screen!
Tripping on A R Rahman
A millipede and Kimi Katkar’s monsoon romance
Udta Punjab, worst casting decisions, and naheeee…!
Of warring Khan bhakts and meeting Mogambo!
Ranbir’s forgotten romance in Bachna Ae Haseeno
Funnier than Aishwarya’s lips
Clashing superheroes and crying Khans
OCDing on Neetu Singh’s LPs!
Garam Dharam, Mantrik Origins, Rockstar Cruise

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Happy Bhag Jayegi: Too few laughs, too much mess!

Happy Bhag JayegiThere’s a lot of love for the whimsical girl in our movies. People in the movie are floored by her charming irreverence. People outside the movie are fans of her offbeat rebellion. But, bank blindly on her myth without a lively subtext for her actions and the template is as exciting as flat soda.

In writer and director Mudassar Aziz’s Happy Bhag Jayegi, the titular Happy (Diana Penty) appears to be a hodgepodge of Kareena Kapoor’s boisterous Punjabi girl in Jab We Met, Kangana Ranaut’s audacious rebel in Tanu Weds Manu, Parineeti Chopra’s runaway specialist in Shuddh Desi Romance and Sonam Kapoor’s sneakers-preferring bride in Dolly Ki Doli. As fun as these inspirations are, the end result is a sloppy protagonist who’s neither convincing in her mischief nor original in her exploits.

Penty, best remembered for her dazzling subtlety in Homi Adajania’s Cocktail returns to screen after a considerable gap to play a complete contrast. As breathtaking she is, her performance lacks the necessary humour and sass to salvage a lazily written sketch. All her relentless screeching and tantrums prove grating around a script that sees some odd virtue in her cantankerous ways.

What happens is Happy, an Amritsar resident, is inadvertently transported to Lahore in the course of a failed attempt to elope with her jobless boyfriend Guddu (Ali Fazal) on the day she’s due to marry corporator Bagga (Jimmy Shergill) but lands in the living room of Bilal (Abhay Deol) an aspiring politician and ex-Governor’s son in Pakistan.

Panic ensues, both back home and across the border leading to lies, chaos, hectic traveling between Amritsar and Lahore, make-believe cousins and ghosts, bossy/ jealous girl friends, intimidating fiancés, infatuated do-gooders, blockheaded beaus, lumbering kidnaps and an over-the-top climax worthy of a Priyadarshan movie.

If only it wasn’t so witless and flimsy, I’d buy it too.

While I appreciate the jingoism-free setting, Happy Bhag Jayegi’s creativity has the texture of a well-meaning school play, where kids generate excitement by reacting excessively to any situation or yelping at the top of their voice. What’s cute there seems daft here.

Such a pity, especially when the actors flanking Happy are so talented and endearing to watch. If Happy Bhag Jayegi succeeds in delivering a few laughs, it’s entirely to their credit.

Happy Bhag JayegiJimmy Shergill gamely lampoons his bride-bereft boastful groom from Tanu Weds Manu (Director Anand L Rai is the producer of Happy Bhag Jayegi) and looks visibly chuffed dancing to Sunny Deol’s Yaara O Yaara from Jeet. Ali Fazal does well as the sweet-natured dolt. Abhay Deol is saddled by half-hearted writing, where it’s never too clear if his repressed desires and expressed views are of any consequence to the plot. Still, his easy-going charisma pitted against Penty’s raucous outbursts is quite a relief.

There’s also Pakistani actress Momal Sheikh, quite the radiant presence and the source of needless romantic complication. Piyush Mishra’s distinct dialogue delivery, this time in chaste Urdu, provides some comic wordplay wherein mousiqui becomes mausi-ki.

It’s silly but this is the most humour you can expect.

The review was first published on rediff.com.

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Revisiting Boot Polish: A beautiful celebration of sibling love

Boot PolishWhen a pair of destitute brother and sister is left at the mercy of a heartless relative, the only solace they can find is in one another. They are somewhat like Hansel and Gretel but with no crumbs to strew the path, no home to trace back to and no parents to return to.

Nothing can possibly be more horrific and in an irrevocably cynical world, they’d stay lost forever. But in Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish, hope is both a stimulant and strength.

Orphans Bhola (Rattan Kumar) and Belu (Baby Naaz) have no alternative but to obey their belligerent aunt and beg for a living. Oblivious to the gift of childhood, survival is all they know. Yet, waggish and artful, they’ve learned the tricks of the trade and implore the passengers in Mumbai’s ever-swarming local trains or rushing passer-by’s on streets for a”dhela” or two.

Bhola is the older and responsible one whereas Belu is as precocious as they come. While Rattan Kumar conveys the sensitive disposition of Bhola, plucky Baby Naaz and her uninhibited, smart-alecky zeal steals the show. The child star even received a Special Jury mention at the Cannes Film Festival for her impressive work.

Around its leading pair of kids schooled in the art of outsmarting, Boot Polishexamines the business of begging and bargaining, its disturbing creativity in juggling handicaps and guilt tripping with humour and irony.

More than five decades later, the imagery, now even more precarious, plays itself out in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.

Boot PolishDwelling in one of the rundown shanties by the railway tracks, their only source of comfort is David’s benevolent bootlegger John Chacha and his brand of motivational music — Nanhe munhe bache teri mutthi mein kya hai, Tu badhta chal and Raat gayi phir din aata hai. Inspired by his counsel to strive for dignity in labour, they decide to quit begging and save money to buy a boot polish kit.

In a world where they’re constantly dismissed, disparaged and thrashed, purpose is akin to a brand new toy, one they cannot play enough. A heartrending scene underscores this amply after a phony astrologer rudely brushes off Bhola’s request to learn his future as”jootiyan ragdega.” Too naïve to recognise the contempt in his so-called foresight, Bhola exults over the impending fulfilment of his most desired wish — boot polish.

When it finally happens, the brother-sister duo happily exclaims,”Aaj se apna Hindustan azaad hota hai” revealing how freedom is interpreted among the underprivileged.

Little does he realise that accumulating tools is not enough, one needs skills too. A series of misadventures at Wadala Road station leave Bhola disheartened but Belu convinces him to not give up. A round of lessons from John Chacha in better salesmanship — Thehar zara o janewale, babu, mister, gore, kaaley. Kab se baithe aas lagaye. Hum matwale polishwale — benefits their cause considerably until his arrest and monsoon play spoilsport.

In a nasty turn of events, Bhola and Belu are separated from each other. At this point, Boot Polish slips into contrived territory to accommodate Belu’s good fortune when a wealthy couple adopts her whilst overdoing the melodrama to stress on Bhola’s bad luck.

Boot PolishHe languishes, she flourishes; the ensuing contrast is pertinent but mawkishly portrayed before arriving at its dramatic conclusion entailing a chase amidst trams and cries, all the way from the erstwhile Victoria Terminus to Gateway of India.

Hindi films tend to advertise the fervency in relationships by spelling them out repeatedly. But in Boot Polish, the deep affection between the siblings is evident and unaffected, sans the mandatory Bhaiya/Behna song to tom-tom their bond.

As the fifth film produced under the RK banner, Boot Polish shares its neorealist soul with the showman’s early and most acclaimed works like Awara, Shree 420 and Jagte Raho. Except it’s directed by his assistant Prakash Arora. Undeniably, the RK imprint is all over. Be it in the lyrical narrative unfolding like a thought-provoking musical or 420 tacked on David’s prison uniform.

While discussing his father’s most significant works, Rishi Kapoor revealed to rediff.com how RK ghost-directed the film,”because he was not happy with the way it was coming along.”

Apparently, the original cut of Boot Polish did not feature any songs but after the failure of his previous production, Aah helmed by Raja Nawathe, he didn’t want to take any risk and assigned his favourite composer duo Shankar-Jaikishan to whip up a soundtrack on short notice.

As rich as the music and the philosophical thoughts weighed in may be, some of them feel quite unnecessary in retrospect. Like David’s Tansen parody Lapak jhapak tu aa re badarwa rendered by Manna Dey or the maudlin Tumhare hain tumse daya mangte hain.

Boot PolishWhen this black and white classic released in 1954, India was caught in a post-Independence frenzy. There was tremendous optimism among leaders, citizens and filmmakers relating to its reform and progress. This strong sense of idealism is what abates the darkness of Boot Polish as well as makes a convincing case for the upliftment of the underclass.

In daughter Ritu Nanda’s coffee table compilation, Raj Kapoor Speaks, he mentions, ‘We wanted a reformed social order, a certain kind of discipline, education to eradicate poverty, so on. I saw the environment and the social effect it had on people and tried to present it with romanticism and a certain sensitivity of belonging.’

Boot Polish is a poignant celebration of tender persistence and sibling love where Bhola and Belu find their way back home, one far superior to the one they’d started from. Yet the irony is that thousands of Bholas and Belus continue to wander the city in tattered clothes and dashed hopes and no happy ending in sight.

This article was first published on rediff.com.

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