Revisiting three generations of the Kapoors in Kal Aaj Aur Kal

Kal Aaj Aur KalThere’s something intimate about watching actors related to one another on the big screen. Even in its fictional skin, it allows audience to imagine how they must be around each other in real life.

And so it’s easy to understand the fuss around RK banner’s Kal Aaj Aur Kal, which brings together three generations of an iconic film family representing three generations in a story about generation gap.

Quite a casting coup to witness the Kapoor triad — Prithviraj, Raj and Randhir — extend their real-life relationship of father, son and grandson on celluloid, also noted for Randhir’s debut as both leading man and director. (This might be a good time to mention brother Rishi Kapoor and filmmaker Rahul Rawail contributed as assistant directors on the same.)

Only the 1971 family drama came at a time when RK Films wasn’t at its flourishing best. A year before Raj Kapoor’s ambitious and expensive Mera Naam Joker had bombed badly and the mood at the studios was far from jubilant. But when Randhir expressed his desire to wield the baton, his father didn’t object.

The showman had little reason to. It’s a fine premise — about how a lonely business tycoon (Raj) throwing lavish no-reason parties to keep company suddenly finds himself forced to take sides between his foreign-returned son (Randhir) and country-bound father (Prithviraj) after they come to live under the same roof.

Early on, an argument over breakfast gives ample indication of the conflict in store. Arm wrestling to justify their choice of health food to debating on divorce (“Sita ke zamane mein talaq ka rivaaz hi nahi tha”), this dada-pota jodi is a hoot.

If Randhir was “nervous as hell” while directing the “best actors to work with,” it doesn’t show.

Kal Aaj Aur KalExcept in this tradition versus modern scuffle, the perspective is unquestionably one-sided. There’s some attempt to highlight the ignorant, Western-fixated youth (“Rabindranath Tagore? Shantiniketan ka headmaster tha!”) but Randhir’s Rajesh is largely progressive in his thoughts and sensitive to his father’s feelings whereas Prithviraj Kapoor’s Diwan Bahadur is more pig-headed than prudent in his unyielding support for convention.

In one scene, the grandson protests from participating in an elaborate religious ritual organized by his grandfather, “Bhagwan ko dil se maana chahiye, yeh sab dhong rachane ki kya zaroorat hai?” (Funny how, from RK to PK, we still need to be reminded of the same?) To underscore this, immediately another scene involving casteism follows, revealing his evolved sensibility and his grandfather’s bigotry.

Although such a dispute’s very nature is to be dramatic, Kal Aaj Aur Kal insists we recognise the humour in it by doling out many a comical face-offs for our viewing pleasure. A farsighted Mehmood could visualise this situation and exploit it in his hilarious parody of the troika in Humjoli, which released a year before the original deal.

Even as the clearly scandalised gramps is recovering from the concept of live-in relationships (“Jis din hamare desh mein aisa hua humara sarvanash ho jayega”) and daddy dearest is losing sleep over the never-ending baap-beta feud, Randhir zooms off in his shiny silver Buick convertible to serenade college classmate Babita.

Their romance transpires more quickly than a bread slice turns toast, aided well by party favourites from the swinging sixties like Venus by Shocking Blue or Tommyy James & The Shondells performing Mony Mony and Jeronimo’s Na Na Hey Hey pop up as dance music to showcase the pop obsession of the hippie generation.
Kal Aaj Aur Kal
A coy Babita and bouncy Randhir may look foolish but are cute fluttering to Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle’s sweet-sounding vocals against Shankar-Jaikishen’s mellifluous ditties — Aap yahan aaye kisliye, Tikk Tikk Tik, Jab mein honga sath saal ka aur tum hongee pachpan ki or Bhanwre ki gunjan.

As for their chemistry, it’s aptly described in that symbolic frame where they leave behind a stuffed doll and plush monkey.

In a perfect instance of art imitating reality, Kal Aaj Aur Kal borrows a great deal from the duo’s personal love story. Like in the movie, they first met on a plane and attended the same college. The couple was already going steady when Randhir started work on his debut. Many people thought he cast his girlfriend so that his family would warm up to the future Mrs Randhir Kapoor.

Only here her presence causes a big rift between grandfather and grandson. He wants Randhir to marry the girl of his choice.

Perhaps Prithviraj Kapoor didn’t approve of an over styled daughter-in-law?

Babita, credited for designing her own wardrobe, romps about in big bobs, frilly sleeves, ruffled shirts, colourful jumpers, flared kurtas, polka prints, ribbons and bows, oversized sunglasses, signature pink lips. For one sequence, filmed at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College, she’s sporting gold link chain suspenders clipped to her plaid skirt accessorised with a frilly shirt, white sunglasses, white bows, a quilted purse and black stockings. (Oh yes, and the two obligatory text books.)

No, it’s not the fashion. It’s not because she mistook him for a gardener. (At least not deliberately like a certain Lakshmanprasad Sharma.) Grandpa’s funda is simple. Every time he got sick in the village, his friend’s daughter served him sabudana ki khichdi. That makes her the Best Bahu Ever.
Kal Aaj Aur Kal
It’s to the veteran actor’s credit that he makes his character’s deep-rooted shallowness seem silly. And funny. To what extent you are taken in by his huffing-puffing histrionics depends on how much you like his distinctly overstated disposition. I find it both amusing and adorable.

Ultimately what Kal Aaj Aur Kal is driving at is that they’re all nice folk but a product of their time and conditioning.

Ideological differences between the two Kapoors on the extreme spectrum reach a point when Raj Kapoor is forced to pick between his creator and creation. Desperate, he disappears from the madhouse leaving his father and son to resolve matters.

It gives way for another entertaining round of banter. Especially droll is the manner a bug-eyed Prithviraj humours his grandson, “Yeh Buddha aap ki kya seva kar sakta hai?”

What could have wrapped up on a fun, balanced note drags a little more than it should to accommodate a melodramatic discourse on the circle of life.

Kal Aaj Aur Kal
wasn’t a box office smash but its dialogues hit hard. Raj Kapoor walks away with some of the best lines: “Dushmani ko khareedne kahin jaana nahi padta. Aur dosti kisi keemat par nahi milti.” And another where he teases his son trying to fit into the trendy new suit he’s got him, “Naya zamana itna tang hai toh ismein ghusoonga kaise?

Kal Aaj Aur KalUnderstated and free from the grating mannerisms, the Raj in Kal Aaj Aur Kal alternately radiates warmth and melancholy as the loving father and devoted son. His composure stands out even more around a hyper-energetic Randhir who went on to play another version of a campus rebel in the breezy Jawani Diwani and direct two more films (Dharam Karam and Henna) for his home banner.

Nonetheless, the truly aww-inducing moment comes towards the end when Prithviraj pep talks his son like only a father can to his baby. It doesn’t matter if they really communicated in that manner or not but it’s the closest the film comes to expressing the purity of these bonds that’ll never go out of style — kal, aaj or kal.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

Also read:
Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai| Dastak|  Jawani Diwani | Saudagar | JoganJo Jeeta Wohi SikandarParakh| ArjunAnand Math| Khubsoorat| Andaz Apna ApnaKala Bazaar|Salaam BombayShaukeenSaaranshAmar PremMeeraLamheHero | Daddy | Kora Kagaz | Khamoshi | Awaara | Qurbaani | Half Ticket | Khel Khel Mein | Shakti | Gharonda | Junglee | Johny Mera Naam | Khamosh | Ittefaq | Lal Patthar | Chashme Buddoor | Umrao Jaan | Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak | Sikander | Ram Aur Shyam | Teesri Manzil | Mili | Yaadein | Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa| Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron| Aag | Chaudhvin Ka Chand | New Delhi | Taxi Driver

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Manjhi The Mountain Man is watchable for Nawaz. And Nawaz alone.

 

manjhiThere’s a wondrous quality to grand gestures, hyperboles holding true and against-all-odds triumph. With so much to be disappointed about and so little inspiration, any shred of truth in extraordinary achievements and impressive individuals infuses hope.

Such magnificent reality carries much promise on celluloid. At least, director Ketan Mehta seems convinced of its potential considering his past few films revolved around real life figures like Sardar Vallabhai Patel (Sardar), Mangal Pandey (The Rising) and Raja Ravi Varma (Rang Rasiya).

What he doesn’t realise is that his enthusiasm for trimmings and affectations, even when the content is sufficiently dramatic on its own, distracts and disengages. Mehta cannot resist making the same mistakes in his latest biopic Manjhi The Mountain Man, a middling effort chronicling the incredible struggle of Dashrath Manjhi (brought to life by a spellbinding Nawazuddin Siddiqui.).

The premise is good. Mighty good. A man of no resources, hailing from Gehlore village in Bihar, resolves to cut through a tall mountain single-handedly for the purpose of creating a path using a modest hammer and chisel. Events leading to this over two-decades long commitment and how it all comes about are recounted in Manjhi, which spans over five decades.

The film travels to and fro in time — even as our titular hero toils in a gravelly, severe landscape — through episodes marked by a shifting socio-political climate.

Mehta grabs the opportunity to stuff in every conceivable scenario– be it the prevalence of child marriage and bonded labour, subjugation of farmers and their wives, rampant casteism carried out by the vile village landlords (Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pankaj Tripathi), Naxilism, the era of Indira Gandhi-declared (Deepa Sahi intentionally/unintentionally parodying the former Indian Prime Minister) emergency or a nasty drought forcing villagers to abandon town.

There’s obvious ambition at play here but the random, superficial and superfluous nature of these incidents never quite explains its influence on Manjhi’s mind, method or madness.

Plus, some of it is just so flimsily executed. The sequence with the Naxalites (led by Prashant Narayan) starts and ends on a note so abrupt, it’s plain comical. A corpse floating in a village pond surrounded by strategically arranged lotuses to create postcard morbidity, how stagy is that? Moreover, muahahaha-ing villains, better suited for a 80s potboiler, disrupt the enormous believability its leading man is striving for, in his dynamic delivery of a dedicated soul.

Nawaz tenderly conveys his ardour for his spunky wife Phaguniya (a lovely Radhika Apte), which is crucial to the challenge he’ll eventually grab on. At the same time, how his hatred for the wretched mountain changes into care and understanding is vague. His transformation from romantic to activist isn’t fleshed out at all but the talented actor offers a spiritual know-how entirely based on his active instincts. Under keener direction, an allegory would unravel and enthral. On its own, it’s just a possibility unexplored.

Still Manjhi is watchable purely because of this actor’s grasp of a wilful, persevering personality recognised by his passion not poverty. It’s a distinction Nawaz duly delivers, if not the film.

Stars: 2.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Brothers: A nearly three hour long cacophonous music video!

BrothersRemember Amar and Prem’s encounter in Sevaram’s queer guesthouse wherein they grab and smother each other pretending to hug it out till the latter is reminded of Ramanand Sagar’s Bharat-Ram reunion episode?

Believe it or not but that’s exactly what I was thinking of while watching the final showdown between Akshay Kumar and Sidharth Malhotra inside a fighting cage in Brothers. I love Andaz Apna Apna to bits but this NOT A COMPLIMENT.

A MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) combat that sparks off hilarity, how absurd can it be? A lot, my dear readers, A LOT.

In Brothers, Akshay and Sidharth — sporting mouthguard, boxing trunks and gristly beards et al, are strangulating one other while holding a mini mumbling conversation.

Tum kitne feffish ho!” (You’re so selfish!).

I’m foffy Monty.” (I am sorry, Monty.)

They may be the ones rolling on the floor but the audience is the one left laughing through this cheesy schlock about sparring siblings that is Karan Malhotra’s official remake of the underrated 2011 Hollywood family/sports drama, Warrior.

Tom Hardy’s — a champion actor on all occasions — shoes are too big to fill. And so the makers split bits of his characterization into both the leading men of Brothers. In this bargain, Malhotra’s Monty ends up looking like a bungling bonehead, a grungy Moose with no more than vacant scowls and scruff to offer.

BrothersIn yet another tiring example of Bollywood’s Basanti-fixation, Malhotra deviates quite a bit from the original – meaning: overstuff a simple family story about strained ties into a nearly three-hour long cacophonous music video.

The first half is a series of contrived flashbacks playing out like recycled Richard Marx music videos. One to establish Akshay Kumar’s quickie courtship of Jacqueline Fernandez, K Jo-brand middle-class marital bliss and sick child complication, the other to explain Jackie Shroff’s muddled past — alcoholism, infidelity, love child — around a glycerine-armed Shefali Shah.

And all of it is marked in such zealous, glaring displays of Christian symbolism – crucifixes, churches, Jesus tattoos, sign of the cross, Bible, prayers, choirs, coffins, it could put Finding Fanny to shame. Even the girl (a repetitive Kareena Kapoor) in its item number, she’s Mary not Munni mind you, dare not disturb its religious thread.

I would brave the glut, Kiran Kumar in purple suits and rhinestone brooches, frames bursting with deadpan actors and tacky dialogues (Fighter ki want uski jeet ka formula hoti hai), juvenile TV debates over the ethical issues surrounding MMA, yet another fighter named Luca (there was one in the so much better Apne) and Jackie Shroff’s exuberant hamming, if it would lead to something coherent.

Almost nothing happens in the first one and a half hour except a dreary, dragging assertion of how miserable these people are – people Malhotra wants us to care about by hammering our eardrums with Ajay-Atul’s blaring background score that’s almost threatening us to feel, feel something, anything.

I did feel like one of those MMA fighters “Shaolin I-forget-the-rest-of-his-name” at one point. But things didn’t end too well for him. Neither do they for this writer who likes a good fight when she sees one.

But lacklustre, strategy-devoid bam bam, where the camera is more concerned with Rocky-replicas gnashing their teeth and glowering through busted eyeballs, is such a let down after enduring torturous degrees of schmaltz in hope of better.

BrothersIf they were so hell-bent on changing the script, Brothers should’ve picked the flamboyant, over-the-top WWF in place of MMA. It’s more in sync with Malhotra’s masala aesthetics and the memory of Akshay Kumar taking on The Undertaker in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi still delights.

What you get is an earnest Khiladi sporting his graceful greys in a movie that’s too cosmetic, loud and exhausting to take notice.

Stars: 1.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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