Super filmi week: Gulzar’s gussa, Sachin’s tears!

Christopher Nolan’s next, Gulzar’s gussa, Shyam Benegal’s Shivaji and RD’s Lawrence of Arabia connection, catch all this and more in my Super Filmi Week.


Christopher Nolan on the sets of Dunkirk

What should Christopher Nolan direct next?

My question on The New Yorker Movie Club’s Facebook page attracts unique responses — porn, zombies, anime, something without Michael Caine (or Hans Zimmer), you name it.

Many would love to see the Dunkirk director dabble in romance. Many feel it would be a complete waste of his high-calibre capabilities.

Some wish him to adapt Dante’s The Divine Comedy or Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, but a whole lot is curious to see Nolan helm horror if not the next 007.

One fellow shares a bizarre synopsis involving submarine, pilots, explorers and cannibalistic crewmates in mind.

Though nothing beats someone’s suggestion of an intergalactic war involving time travel ‘where Hitler is a transgender-fluid-pan sexual fighting against a bisexual black man who’s best friend is a furry cisgender.’

I am pretty sure that’s not happening anytime soon. But it is fascinating to note the confidence and imagination he elicits in his viewers.

Fitting too, given Nolan’s extraordinary body of work: Following, Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar and, of course, The Dark KnightTrilogy.

Personally, it’s not what he’s going to make, but how he surprises me that is exciting. What do you think?


Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri in Bharat Ek Khoj

I am celebrating India’s 70th Independence Day with an episode of Shyam Benegal’s magnum opus Bharat Ek Khoj focusing on Shivaji.

Benegal’s 53-episode adaptation of Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India is an integral part of any kid’s nostalgia growing up on Doordarshan in the 1980s.

But I’d recommend revisiting the series as an adult to appreciate its finer nuances and filmmaking technique.

Naseeruddin Shah is most majestic as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and duly conveys his metamorphosis from fledgling to master statesman and founder of the Maratha empire.

Om Puri pitches in as the shrewd, spiteful Aurangzeb and contributes to a dramatic war of words between the two over Swaraj and Sultanat.

Often historicals are so single-mindedly pompous and jingoistic in the portrayal of its most loved or loathed figures, they neglect to acquaint us to their complexities.

Benegal’s version is restrained in its drama and effectively brings out the bold strategies and open rebellion that made Shivaji so popular among his followers while also touching upon his anxieties as a leader.

Politicians may paint him as the face of a certain ideology, but watching this episode compels you to look at the icon differently.


Asha Parekh and Jeetendra in Caravan

Every time I hear the tune in the opening credits of Nasir Hussain’s 1971 musical Caravan, I rack my brains to remember where I’ve heard it before.

Finally, today, it’s come to me.

Rahul Dev Burman snitched a significant bit from Maurice Jarre’s Oscar-winning score of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and cleverly camouflaged it in Usha Uthup’s stylish crooning.

RD also took obvious ‘inspiration’ from Abba’s Mamma Mia for a song medley in Hussain’s Hum Kisise Kum Nahin.


Kajol in VIP 2: Lalkar

I quite enjoyed the first VIP and its cheeky commentary on unemployment and resourcefulness and was hoping to see the same unassuming humour in its sequel.

But the difference of director shows.

Soundary Rajnikanth takes over from Velraj and turns the story from an unapologetic underdog’s coming-of-age into a brash, misogynist lout’s taming of a puffed-up shrew.

Dhanush and Kajol try to have some fun around an out-dated setup that’s too daft to exploit the charisma of its leads beyond slo-mo overkill.

VIP 2 attempts something interesting towards the climax, but everything preceding it goes downhill.

Although if anyone decides to make a biopic on the famously temperamental Balaji honcho Ekta Kapoor, Kajol is the boss.

Like I wrote in my review, ‘Kajol is a spontaneous snob and breathtaking bully.’


A still from Satya

Happy Birthday, Gulzar!

I cannot imagine anyone who’s as respected as this ingenious, illustrious, iconic artist in the industry.

When one thinks of him, one imagines exquisite poetry, sophisticated aesthetics, classical imagination but the poet-filmmaker is nothing if not versatile in his accessibility.

Be it Lakdi Ki Kathi or Yaara Seeli Seeli, Golmaal Hai Bhai Sab Golmaal Hai or Goli Maaro Bheje Mein, there’s no boundary to Gulzar’s fancy.

The mention of Goli Maar reminds me of an amusing anecdote co-writer Anurag Kashyap recounted in a television interview to journalist Rajeev Masand discussing Ram Gopal Varma’s underworld drama, Satya.

Apparently, the filmmaker and his crew preferred its composer Vishal Bhardwaj’s dummy lyrics Gham Ke Neeche Bomb Lagake Gham Udado to Gulzar’s original wording.

Kashyap was assigned the unpleasant task of telling the veteran how the other lines worked better compared to what he had written.

Gulzar put him in place saying, first learn to pronounce Gham.


A still from Bareilly Ki Barfi

Bareilly Ki Barfi is an easy-peasy confection focusing on three youngsters driven by little complexity and lot of indecision, which might not be exclusive to small-towners alone. But the language peppered in regional flavours and spontaneous humour sure celebrates its under-rated charm.

I just wish someone else had done the voiceover. Javed Akhtar’s voice isn’t as witty as his words.

Here are a few things I enjoyed in director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s second offering:

Kriti Sanon’s Bitti Mishra is like all the Bennet sisters rolled into one. Her relaxed relationship with her dad (Pankaj Tripathi) and nok-jhonk equation with mum (Seema Pahwa) is what gives Bareilly Ki Barfi so much to smile about.

Rajkummar Rao provides the laughs. He brings the house down as the bakra turned badass. He’s a fabulous dancer too.

When it comes to burning the dance floor, he’s more mainstream than Kriti or Ayushmann Khurrana.

Despite a sketchy characterisation, Ayushmann turns what could be the most super cheesy climax into the most aww-inducing moment of Bareilly Ki Barfi.


Sachin: A Billion Dreams

Sunday begins on an intensely nostalgic note.

Watching Sachin: A Billion Dreams is a lot like looking back at your first love.

There’s a sense of contentment where you feel good about your choice and gladdened by the memories you made. But you’re sad too because that’s all it is now — memory.

I am just one of the billion voices that cheered ‘Sachiiin! Sachin!’ in that precise sur every time he came on the ground to bat. To be part of that joyous era witnessing the magic of Sachin Tendulkar at its peak feels special in itself.

The film is decidedly more ode than documentary of his Cricket God imagery, which itself is telling of how he is truly perceived. But then Sachin’s overwhelming celebrity is marked by performance, not antics.

At all times, he embodied hope and encouraged excellence. In a world filled with uncertainty, he instilled faith by doing his best, regardless of success or failure. It’s what makes us emotional around him and protective about him.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams presses all the right buttons and brings on the waterworks as we learn his state of mind through those crucial matches or the personal life he often missed out to become our champion.

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When Akshay met his scientist fan
John Wick’s Amar Akbar Anthony moment
When the bride cried Sallu
Imagining Ranbir Kapoor as Balraj Sahni
Long live Aamir’s Model School Pajamachaaps
King’s Speech by SRK
Getting ready for the Baahubali juggernaut 
Super filmi week with Hit Girl Asha Parekh
Feasting on Achari Alia, Mastani Papdi!
Grace under fire
More power to Anushka Sharma
Rishi Kapoor’s page-turning debut!
Picking Jedi skills from Amitabh Bachchan
Mera wala Shah Rukh
Ranbir-Ranveer, sigh sigh!
When Tabu struggled with a 500 rupee note
Of post-festival blues and toilet titles!
Finding links of life in Dhoni’s Ranchi and Madhuri’s Mujrim!
Inside Dharmendra-Hema’s intensely private world
Power of Pink
The irrepressible cuteness of Pooja Bhatt
Indradhanush was our Stranger Things
When Saif Ali Khan wore Rishi Kapoor’s sweater
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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VIP 2: Dhanush-Kajol spar in a shrill, silly movie!

Only yesterday I was watching an old clip from a Bollywood award function.

Salman Khan and Karisma Kapoor had just announced Kajol’s name as the winner for her negative portrayal in Gupt.

Clad in a casual salwar kameez, the famously temperamental actress appeared a mix of smug and indifferent as she marched on stage to collect her trophy and vamoosed after a curt ‘Thank you.’

Somehow though, Kajol’s haughty manners made for a refreshing change in a gathering of cloyingly sweet, politically correct and lobbying-for-laurels movie stars.

Two decades later, Kajol is a lot more fashion conscious and friendly but her inherent sass is as staggering as ever. And it’s the first thing to catch my eye in the introduction scene of VIP 2: Lalkar, where she’s, what do you know, accepting an award with an entitlement that becomes her.

Kajol is a spontaneous snob and breathtaking bully. She never attempts to tone down the blatancy of her conceit as the auburn-haired Vasundhara Parmeshwar — a fiery cross between Aaina‘s Amrita Singh, Laadla‘s Sridevi, The Devil Wears Prada‘s Meryl Streep and producer Ekta Kapoor.

Under the snooty CEO’s leadership her construction company has become a force to reckon with. But in the absence of subtext or subtlety, her grit is as empty as her growl.

Directed by Soundarya Rajnikanth, the sequel to Velraj’s winsome Tamil hitVelaiilla Pattadhari neither retains the footloose humour nor the populist fervor of its predecessor. A tedious caricature of everything that endeared us about the first one, VIP 2: Lalkaris excruciatingly shrill and silly.

There’s no technique, thought or thread that binds the two. Its sole purpose is to cash in on VIP‘s goodwill and trumpet Dhanush as the outsmarting underdog turned messiah of the masses on screen and a star entertainer who has the audience eating out of his hand off screen.

Although his Raghuvaran spends most of his time in glugging alcohol, slo-mo dancing on streets and sexist squabbles with/about wife (Amala Paul), he’s still bagging prizes and job offers.

If you’ve watched the first one, you too will wonder what’s gotten into Amala Paul. From genial girl-next-door to cantankerous half, her character is an altogether different person.

But the real problem is VIP 2: Lalkar has no real conflict to pit its two talented protagonists against.

Director Soundarya is fixated by the idea of her brother-in-law Dhanush and his hallowed simplicity standing up to Kajol’s mighty star power over punctured ego and skewed ethics. So they spar to the best of their abilities over random reasons asserting their supremacy in a game of one-upmanship against scenarios that look embarrassingly manufactured.

What could have been a crafty take on power play and gender politics between architect and engineer dumbs down into a clichéd bickering of elite and everyman.

The film may decorate Raghuvaran and Vasundhara with awards and insist they be taken seriously but their recklessness and unprofessionalism they display makes it impossible to do so.

At one point, Kajol is yelling at Dhanush and the crowd gathered around them like an exasperated schoolteacher admonishing an out-of-control classroom. She may have even thrown in a F-word in there. The Hindi dubbed print I watched muted it out.

Expletives or not, it’s always better to watch a film in the language it’s originally created. The sur of a conversation is lost in translation especially when the dubbing is as clunky and inconsistent as it is here.

No wonder my favourite bit is when the film is at its quietest and quirkiest, when Dhanush and Kajol catch a breather and the script, at last, comes into its own.

I would have liked to see more such free spirit in VIP 2. Pity, it had to be the final five minutes.

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Toilet: Ek Prem Katha: Akshay’s bombastic fight for pyaar, potty & privacy

In Hrishikesh Mukerjee’s winsome Kisi Se Na Kehna, Utpal Dutt’s buttoned-down patriarch looks down on all things modern as evil and a threat to Indian culture. He insists on finding a traditional, illiterate daughter-in-law for his son (Farooque Shaikh).

As it turns out, his son is in love with a smart, educated doctor (Deepti Naval). He doesn’t have the courage to evoke his heart patient father’s wrath and devises an elaborate scheme to pass her off as a village-dwelling sanskari bahu until the truth is discovered and preconceptions are cast off.

Mukerjee makes a good point about unfair prejudices with a healthy mix of amusement and sympathy.

Somewhere in that bombastic tone and overblown revolution of Shree Narayan Singh’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha lies a similar story of a quick thinker and his offbeat tactics, scrambling to create an environment of coexistence between his dynamic wife and bigot bapu.

Except the problem here is even more basic than education — it’s the right to relieve oneself in private.

Open defecation is a cause for great concern in India, one that grows despite campaigns, catchphrases and allocated budgets revealing irregularities in supervision as well as its object’s warped views on sanitation.

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha has something pertinent to say but isn’t clever enough to venture beyond screaming platitudes to underscore its milieu of antiquated values.

It’s the sort of meaningful cinema that pauses to linger on Sana Khan’s cleavage, lust over Sunny Leone, jest about Hrithik Roshan’s thumb detail, and where Mathura district’s small-town fervour and conservatism fills the frames, yet characters talk Ray Ban and Syria and idle away on smartphones quite comfortable in their toilet-less existence.

More implausibility follows when a considerable chunk of its 161 minutes running time is wasted to manufacture a romance between a 36-year-old Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and a studious Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) over a stale pattern of he stalks-she berates-he ignores-she pursues-both fall in love and get married.

Akshay’s age is repeatedly pointed out lest we forget how gutsy it is for a superstar to play a character almost 14 years younger than his real age. Perhaps it’s the generation gap that makes it hard for him to fathom why his new bride is making a big fuss over the lack of toilet in their house.

Jaya is livid to learn about the existence of an early-morning communal event wherein women squat in the fields and lighten their load over gossip and gas.

Used to doing the deed in privacy, such humiliation is unacceptable to her. Although Keshav is unable to understand her firm resistance at first, he comes up with ingenious ways — jugaad — to ensure she doesn’t have to join the ‘lota party’ even as his dogmatic father refuses to permit a toilet at home.

The Keshav-Jaya story acquires a more personal skin in crisis. Keshav may be a product of his conditioning but he’s driven by his emotions. An ordinary man’s ascension into decency and compassion and a woman’s tenacity to accept nothing short of what’s her fundamental right is what lends Toilet heft, if only the director had focused more on this.

As long as it appears to be a domestic matter, there’s credibility in Keshav-Jaya’s challenges as well as the solidarity they deal it with. But when it becomes a full-blown crusade, it’s almost sycophantic in its politics. As is Toilet‘s sanctimonious tone and melodramatic inclinations that takes every possible complexity — social, cultural or religious — and shoves it down the viewer’s throat in the garb of half-hearted feminism, rushed protests and simplistic resolve.

Toilet treads unevenly between movie and movement. It only works well when it allows Akshay Kumar’s influential charisma and Bhumi Pednekar’s fiery spirit to use their instinctive humour, warmth and spontaneity to build a relationship that’s based on something more sound and striking than the sight of Sudhir Pandey’s pee.

Rating: 2.5

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