Haider is a bewitchingly clever retelling!

HaiderBy its very virtue, melancholy is a lonely, lingering, tedious and consuming emotional state. It simply cannot be hurried. Except if you persist sympathetically by the side of the man devastated by its grip, the upshot is more heartfelt than ‘words, words, words’ can articulate.

In Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kashmir’s trials are mirrored in its eponymous hero’s ruin and rude realisation of betrayal from the ones he perceived his own.

A retelling so clever, so bewitchingly clever, a further validation of Bhardwaj’s deep-rooted understanding of the Bard that gets more and more intimate with every passing Shakespeare he tackles. After testing his mettle in the dark guilt of Maqbool (Macbeth) and honing it further in the regrettable impulses of Omkara (Othello), Bhardwaj not only recreates Hamlet but also takes the liberty to rewrite it — such a bold move but such a darn beautiful one.

There’s a line, “I must be cruel only to be kind. This bad begins and the worse remains behind,” which is attributed to Hamlet in the play but refreshingly redefines the motivation of someone else in the adaptation.

Bhardwaj plays with Hamlet‘s structure and timeline to inspiring results and so before it becomes a full drawn saga of indecisive avenging of a father by his son against his uncle and mother, Haider familiarises the viewer, with generous help from co-writer Basharat Peer, to the hostile, early 1990s atmosphere of the snow-covered paradise (captured to delight in Pankaj Kumar’s sweeping frames).

Peer, who I have a fleeting memory of in rediff.com’s office, strokes the script with unflinching scenes of terror and tension that afflicted the population of Kashmir, caught in the crossfire between militants and army. I haven’t read his acclaimed Curfewed Night but I do recall this heart-breaking diary, which offers a disturbing glimpse of the horror he encountered personally. He even appears in a brief cameo doing what may seem amusing at first but is mostly a painful reminder of scars left on a tortured psyche.

For those constantly living on the edge, madness seems like a foregone conclusion if not a much-needed escape, Haider plays on it shrewdly. Even when its delicately carved walnut wood décor, crewel-embroidery namdas and drapes colour the screen with prettiness that belies its reality, so potent is the film’s distrustful vibe, even a warm gesture to embrace seems like an unfriendly move to frisk.

Only this is Vishal Bhardwaj and his signature whimsy and chutzpah, which acts as both — an attitude and pun, is highlighted in Haider’s light-hearted departures where Salman Khan is the only glimmer of cheer in this war-torn hell.

HaiderHaider’s first fifty minutes are like a prologue allowing us to form an opinion, a first, second or third impression of its key characters and their reasoning through teasing imagery but isn’t quite neutral where its politics is concerned. But if you agree to Haider as a poignant account instead of a comprehensive study, the somewhat one-sided picture may not offend.

I found myself a little restless by its initial pace but Haider’s deliberations are essential and, eventually, rewarding because it sensibly concerns itself beyond its titular man.

Some of the most classic scenes (and verse) from the play are faithfully reproduced but Bhardwaj’s true calibre shines in his reinventions that lend Haider an ideology and individuality that is entirely its own. (It also makes complete sense to have released on October 2.)

Its visual narrative is just as significant, like how Haider’s prelude to wild behaviour finds an eye-catching metaphor by way of gray langur in the backdrop. Whether it is intentional or not, I do not know. If not, what a breathtaking coincidence.

Though never taking precedence over the spoken word, sound –as melody, as design, as background bears a thoughtful presence in Bhardwaj’s film. Its stirring songs by Gulzar and Faiz and a background score dominated by violins (the most human of all instruments, in Louisa May Alcott’s words) and sirens require a certain experience with sorrow if not the sensitivity to understand or appreciate.

Bhardwaj is an actor’s dream. And the cast, so many wonderful actors even in five-second roles, realise this opportunity in different ways.

I liked the benign tempered Narendra Jha as Haider’s wronged father and Kay Kay Menon’s composed rendition of the corrupt but not completely deplorable uncle. I enjoyed the three elderly gravediggers as well as the Salman fanboys (Sumit Kaul and Rajat Bhagat) and a certain carrier of a plot twist I will not mention. I found radiant Shraddha Kapoor’s depiction of fair Ophelia a confused mix of gullibility and guts. And her (needlessly) ill pronounced English spoiled two good scenes.

I was impressed by the crescendo of Shahid Kapoor’s performance. He doesn’t talk often but his eyes do. Sometimes pale like a ghost, sometimes burning with hysteria and insanity; sometimes tender with moist tears that are recipient of gentle kisses from the women he loves. The lattermost is a subtly explored territory in Haider.

He’s absolutely electrifying in the scene where he goes all out to pronounce his madness. His work as Haider is a challenge well met, a film to be proud of. Kapoor’s younger avatar, played by Anshuman Malhotra, is quite a find as well.

HaiderBut the one I am going to bow to is Tabu. Tabu, oh my god, Tabu. A world is said without uttering as much as a word. She plays us through her slightly puffy eyes and enigmatic, cold smile. Occasionally, the veil of steely composure slips and her insecurities come through.

Gertrude is almost impassive in Hamlet but as Haider’s young mother, Ghazala, she is granted the benefit of mystery. And Tabu lets on the secret in a manner that will haunt you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Stars: 4

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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The Annie & Anya Foodie Trail: Exotic India: Valval

This week’s foodie theme is Exotic India.

Honestly, what may seem exotic to a person of one region might be routine for those hailing from the region it belongs to. Ambiguous description notwithstanding, the idea is to cook something not too mainstream but out of our familiarity zone.

Initially, I wanted to prepare the Kashmiri delicacy, Nadru Yakhni but I couldn’t find the seasonal lotus stems in any vegetable market close home. Then I recalled having this fun conversation I had with Namrata where she shared a recipe of a Mangalorean style curry she relishes.

Basically it’s pumpkins (red and white), colocasia and beans cooked in coconut milk.

What I like about this dish is that there’s nothing severe about it. Not too many ingredients, not too many spices — it’s all about the vegetables soaking in the minimal seasoning, the fragrant coconut milk and how the combination of it all comes alive in your mouth.

Valval Valval Valval valval5

And here’s a look at what Anupma Bakshi rustles up this week: Mambazha Pulissery & Thoran Rice Platter.

Related links:
Week 1: Pasta: Four-cheese ravioli in butter sage sauce
Week 2: Mexican: Homemade nachos and salsa bar

The Annie & Anya Foodie Trail

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Desi Kattey is a giant bore!

Desi KatteyA game of connect-the-dots on a blank sheet is how I can best sum up Anand Kumar’s giant bore named Desi Kattey. Every thing happens so randomly in this story of two childhood friends who grow up to become ace marksmen in the world of crime.

If one (Jay Bhanushali) wants to make amends and use his skill to represent India in shooting sports, the other (Akhil Kapur) wishes to gain power by pulling the trigger for unlawful purposes.

A subject involving men who enjoy firing bullets with a background score provided by Amar ‘BAM BOOM BADANG’ Mohile is what aural nightmares are made of.  And that’s pretty much what I endured while sitting through this racket of a film that doesn’t make even infinitesimal sense.

What’s particularly daft about Desi Kattey –an insipid mishmash of just about every script engaging two friends going separate ways meets underdog sports hero — is how forced the events look.

It’s like the whole filming happened even as the writers cooked something up along the way. One minute, the boys bump off a dangerous hoodlum’s (Ashutosh Rana) man, the next they claim to be his biggest fans with cuttings of his heroics plastered all over the wall. What heroics? What news? And, pray, what’s an ex-armyman (Sunil Shetty) doing near a shady warehouse inspecting an on-going exchange of fire between two gangs in the middle of nowhere anyway?

I’ll tell you what this modern-day Thakur Baldev Singh is up to.  He’s looking for extraordinary shooters to win gold for India because he couldn’t owing to some “conspiracy” Desi Kattey is too lazy to inform us about.

A remarkably composed Shetty goes about training his protégé with a straight face even when mouthing lines like, “Do dhadkanon ke beech mein jo time gap hai that’s your target.” No wonder Bhanushali touches his feet in the end to pay his respects.

Bhanushali’s greatest appeal is his pretty face and that’s concealed behind loads of facial hair that’s more suitable for a cast member of the Planet of the Apes. Squinting both eyes with all his might is the maximum intensity he can conjure up. It looks marginally less annoying when compared to Akhil Kapur’s constantly bobbing head. Know what’s worse than an inexpressive actor? An inexpressive actor in slow motion.

Desi KatteyHaving said that neither is a patch on the inimitable Sasha Agha. Grunt, grin, grunt, grin, grunt, grin, that’s what she does. Rather, that’s all she does.

In Desi Kattey’s laughable scheme of progression, if one guy falls in love after seeing a girl splashing water on her face, the other is smitten merely at the sight of his romantic interest, a Kanpur-based gangster wins the election from Delhi and sets his henchmen to kill some arbitrary set of people in Mumbai for what exactly we’ll never know and a school’s annual day function has a livelier crowd than Anand Kumar’s idea of an audience for international sporting event.

I could rant endlessly but suddenly; I remember what one character said during the movie, “Dimaag pe zor mat lagao.” That’s the least I can do given the zor and shor my eardrums suffered today.

Stars: 1

This review was first published on rediff.com. 

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Revisiting Bimal Roy’s satirical gem, Parakh

A still from ParakhIn a year of opulent dramas like Mughal-E-Azam, Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hai, Kohinoor, Barsaat Ki Raat and Chaudhvin Ka Chand, master filmmaker Bimal Roy reiterates the power of simplicity with his 1960 offering Parakh.

Seldom mentioned in the same breath as his more eulogised works like Do Bigha Zamin, Devdas, Bandini, Sujata or Madhumati, Parakh’s satirical commentary is surprisingly relevant even after half a century since its release.

After collaborating with Roy on the acclaimed Do Bigha Zamin, legendary music composer and writer Salil Chowdhury designs a parable set in a small village, which explores the degree of greed a human being can possess as well as the farcical repercussions that follow when unreasonable opportunism takes over.

Devoid of saleable stars or commercial trappings, Parakh’s multifaceted premise flourishes favourably under Roy’s sharp-witted filmmaking that’s discerning enough to balance his ridicule for the fraudulent with his appreciation for the incorruptible. A major contributing factor (along with its able ensemble cast) in why it scores both on consequence and charm.

It all starts when the postmaster (Nazir Hussain) of an uneventful village called Radheypur receives a letter from a wealthy philanthropist by the name of Sir J C Roy entrusting him the responsibility of handing over the princely sum of Rs 5 Lakhs to the most honest resident of his village meant for its development.

Although burdened by financial troubles, a nagging loan, a bed-ridden wife, a school-going son, a daughter he wishes to marry off to a suitor of her choice, the postmaster instead calls on the central figures of Radheypur – the landlord (Jayant), the contractor (Asit Sen), the village priest (Kanhaiyalal), the doctor (Rashid Khan) and a young schoolteacher (Vasant Chowdhury) to decide who’s the most genuine of them all.

Save for the schoolteacher, sharing the postmaster’s dignified disposition while also harbouring a romantic corner for his lovely daughter Seema (Sadhana), rest of the party gets into a hilariously competitive spirit to prove themselves worthy of the money.

A still from ParakhSensing a democratic approach serves their cause, the foursome on the schoolteacher’s suggestion agree on an election, wherein the village votes in the favour of the most deserving candidate out of the aforementioned five nominees.  The circus that ensues is woefully true yet unquestionably funny.

Greed leads to charity in the paradoxical turn of events and changes Radheypur’s fortunes overnight. While the schoolteacher, anyway committed to the welfare of his village, isn’t lured by temptation, his fellow contenders engage in mad struggle to outdo one another.

The conceited landlord does away with collecting taxes from the poor peasants.  The crooked contractor sets about urgently building tube wells and roads. The self-seeking doctor and his cheerful compounder (a very young and sober Keshto Mukherjee) now offer free treatment to previously neglected patients. The troublemaking priest plays on the gullible folk’s blind faith and it works too lest the displeased goddess curse them to damnation.

In one droll scene, he conceals a deity’s figure above a bulk of drained chickpeas under the soil and when the mass of legumes swell up, the figurine obviously rises leading trusting devotees to believe it’s a divine set-up. Even if it’s tad caricaturish, Kanhaiyalal’s exuberant pujari is the most amusing of the four.  Another moment of comical irony is when he incites his followers to drink the dirty lake water citing its holy properties. Cut to the doctor who mocks the same but does not realise his wife is one of the blind supporters and has poured a glassful down his throat.

Roy diverges from their story to accommodate a demure romance between Bengali film actor Vasant Chowdhury and Sadhana.

A still from ParakhTheir affection for each other is tested when they become subject of gossip in the neighbourhood, which is triggered after our hero refuses to give in the landlord’s cunning offer or his city-bred sister-in-law’s (Nishi in wannabe Madhubala mode) flirtatious overtures. Sadly, Parakh too endorses the haughty modern girl changing into a sari-clad avatar of virtue stereotype that continues to thrive as recently as Deepika Padukone in Cocktail.

What’s reassuring though is how the postmaster, unlike his pragmatic wife, refuses to compromise on his daughter’s happiness till the end and even says a line that’s rather progressive for that time and milieu when the priest suggests her marriage to the aged albeit wealthy contractor, “Mere beti sayani ho chuki hai. Main uske maamle mein dakhal nahi dena chahta.

What lends Parakh an air  of enchantment is Motilal’s Fairy Godmotherish presence in the story. As the postmaster’s limping subordinate Haradhan, he’s the carrier of this commotion-inducing letter. The actor won a Best Supporting Actor Filmfare trophy for his role and plays his part with waggish fervour and sarcastic quips  — Sab cheezein hazam nahi hoti. Khas kar ke hamdardi. Agar iski kahin zyadti ho jaati hai toh khatti khatti dakaarein aane lagti hain — while wryly pointing out the hypocritical class discrimination and disturbing instances of untouchability.

Quite early do we realise he is not what he seems. The film is too hasty in revealing his identity but Roy, I suspect, is not too concerned by the suspense or the big reveal as he is in exposing the two-facedness of a social system, the sham campaigns and the rampant apathy. Here’s what Moni Chatterjee’s character has to say on the significance of voting, “Aankh kar lo bandh aur parchi chhod do. Chulhe mein jaaye ya bhaad mein baat ek hi hai.

A still from ParakhLike I mentioned earlier in my article, this Bimal Roy gem is all about balance. All its thought-provoking components find a lively anchor in the romantic fraction of Parakh’s story, which is boosted by Sadhana’s luminous and, of course, fringe-less appearance.

The minimalist director wasn’t too happy about her Audrey Hepburn do that added to her star-making turn in Love in Simla. So she pinned them behind and transformed into a picture of desi grace.

I once read an old interview of the actress where she mentioned how Roy complimented her by saying she reminded him of his favourite Nutan during the O sajna barkha bahar song.

Speaking of the evergreen song, which also ranks among Lata Mangeshkar’s top favourites, what can one say about her ethereal rendition and its magnificent pictursation in Kamal Bose’s soulful camerawork that fills the frames with the glorious scent of petrichor? The winning combination of Salilda’s dulcet soundtrack and Shailendra’s lilting poetry imbues every single composition a personality that blends in the narrative yet holds its own.

While I love the breezy beat of Mila hai kisika jhumka, I am in complete awe of Lata’s delicate delivery of the poignantly penned Mere mann ke diye yunhi ghut ghut ke jal tu mere laadle with its haunting, marvellous choral arrangement. Manna Dey playfully mocks in his volley of ‘Dakuon ne jog liya, chor bhaje Ram Ram’ for the baul melody, Kya hawa chali baba, closer to the theme of Parakh.

A still from ParakhEverything that happens in the film on a small scale happens in the world on a wider one. The canvas of avarice may be bigger but the means and mentality to acquire it is just the same – bribe, corruption, deceit, scandal and violence. Parakh recognises it, even rebukes it but in a light-hearted vein.

Reform might be distant but reward is certain, at least for one spotless resident of Radheypur.

This column was first published on rediff.com

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The Annie & Anya Foodie Trail: Mexican: Homemade nachos and salsa bar

Can food be fun? Mexican cuisine certainly is.

I’ve tried my fair share at it —burrito, quesedilla, fajita, hot chocolate (the Mexican way), fried rice and mmmmmm mmmmmm is all I really need to say.

This week’s theme is Mexican cuisine so I thought I’ll set up a mini nachos bar. Basically, Homemade tortilla corn chips (corn dough is super tricky to work with, by the way) with different kinds of salsa and thingums to dunk the nachos in.

And so there is roasted zucchini salsa, pico de gallo, grilled corn salsa, refried beans and cheese sauce.

What I discovered: zucchini can sure kick avocado’s ass and how. (Having said that, I love you, guacamole.)

Okay, so I clearly got a little ambitious here and it was pretty exhausting especially the never-ending chop, chop, chop. My enthusiasm may lead you to believe I am dynamism personified. You could not be more wrong. ;)

But here’s why I’d like to think it was worth it.

Homemade nachos and salsa bar Homemade nachos and salsa bar Homemade nachos and salsa bar Homemade nachos and salsa bar

And now go drool over what Anupma Bakshi, hard to believe it’s first ever go at Mexican, has got to offer:  Mexican Chorizo Hash Skillet with Jalapeño Salsa.

The Annie & Anya Foodie TrailRelated links:
Week 1: Pasta: Four Cheese Ravioli

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