Weekly Diary: Funnier than Aishwarya’s lips

I am in Delhi these days. Delhi, most months, is not an easy city to live in but in May it’s just impossible. When not cursing the unbearable heat and the scalding hot water that, as a consequence, flows from the tap, I find relief in, what else, movies.

Here’s the lowdown on my super-filmi week.

Monday

Purple is one of the grooviest colours and one of my favourite colours. As much as I love it on Prince, Phantom and Provence, I’ll admit I was far from thrilled to see it plastered on Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s perfect pout at the Cannes red carpet. It just doesn’t make sense unless Leroy (you know, Veronica Lodge’s prankster nephew) works for L’Oréal now.

It reminded me of the time when, as kids, we’d devour on colourful ice golas from the street till our lips and tongue turned all shades of orange and purple. Funny, yes. Fashionable, I don’t think so.

Having said that, hats off to her for being such a sport about the whole thing.

Aishwarya’s lavender lips are a distant memory as soon as I chance upon an image so uproariously bizarre (and pink), only a manga comic artist would do my expression true justice.

Here’s the thing: what if artichoke was hair and fixed on Reena Roy’s head? Discover. Recover.

Reena RoyTuesday

Delhi’s sweltering heat and pictures of nieces and nephews enjoying their summer vacation in theme camps and fancy resorts are playing on my mind.

As a school kid, every year around this time, I’d travel to the capital to visit my grandmother. A major part of the trip’s attraction was my uncle’s VHS player and the next-door neighbour’s video library. I’d spend hours browsing through the available titles and the one thing I distinctly remember is just HOW MANY of these starred Jeetendra.

How can I forget? My credibility took a serious beating after I rented Zahreelay — yet another insufferable Sholay rehash co-starring Sanjay Dutt, Chunky Pandey, Juhi Chawla and Bhanupriya long before Ramgopal Varma Ki Aag took the mantle. The video shop owner’s suggestion was another Jeetu multistarrer, Sone Pe Suhaaga, alongside Dharmendra, Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Kimi Katkar and Poonam Dhillon.

For fun’s sake, I look it up. It’s a senseless lost-and-found ’80s baloney where Jumping Jack runs a fan business. Unfortunately, the only thing that will spin in this movie is your brain.

In one scene, Jeetendra is reproaching Sridevi for being Paresh Rawal’s (who’s called Teja but no mark, no meaning) daughter as though she can help it. Except his snowman jumper distracts you from the absurdity of it all.

In another, he’s doing the exact same thing, only from behind bars, until mother Nutan intervenes and the scene inexplicably cuts to Jeetu-Sri standing in pouring rain against a Khajuraho-inspired sculpture.

Jeetendra, Sridevi in Sone Pe SuhagaBut the moment that takes the cake is the one when Kimi Katkar tells Anil Kapoor, “Meri ek hi tammana hai ki main Olympics main gold medal haasil karoon.” Even as you’re digesting her desire, Kapoor promises to help Kimi achieve this goal by immediately finding trees to dance around of course.
Anil Kapoor & Kimi Katkar in Sone Pe Suhaga
Wednesday

Rampant metro construction in Noida these days is creating traffic hell for commuters. Lack of good music on most radio stations is only making it worse.

“Nothing good in Hindi film music this year yet,” I grumble in my hopeless quest to find something worthwhile amid the gabby RJs and incessant ads on air.

Frightening, really. It’s almost June now, but there’s still nothing noteworthy to listen to from a stockpile of recycled junk or half-hearted creativity. Not one melody that’s stayed on like a Rockstar or Lootera.

There was a time when even random potboilers boasted of exquisite tunes. Right now, even the biggest movies cannot boast of songs with a long shelf life.

Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar

Thursday

Despite being one of the many people who dreamt of a Deadpool movie for years, I got around to watching it only now. Goes without saying that Ryan Reynolds is a scream as the ‘Merc with a Mouth’, even if one doesn’t see his face for a better part of its duration.

Come to think of it, even in the animated flick  The Croods, where he lends his voice to Guy, Reynolds’ chatty buoyancy is hard to miss.

Sure, Deadpool is enjoyable and the opening credits tickle long after they’ve rolled except it didn’t blow my mind like I hoped it would. It’s full of sharp action and the humour is expectedly insolent, but the shtick gets tired after a while. The script simply doesn’t hold any surprise.

Still, it’s a feat that the movie got made at all and one so successful at that. Just wish for its sequel to pack in some sweet, stinging conflict.

Deadpool

Friday

I head to the multiplex near me to catch an early morning show of Omung Kumar’s Sarbjit.

As I mentioned in my review, “Omung Kumar’s access to inspiring individuals is the only noteworthy aspect of his filmmaking. After squandering an opportunity with the biopic on boxing champion Mary Kom, he returns to chronicle the long struggle to bring justice to Sarabjit Singh by his sister, Dalbir Kaur, in the weepy, wasted premise of Sarbjit. Sans the Kumar’s cosmetic sensitivity and overblown depiction of incredible lives, it proves to be his undoing yet again.”

Yet, given how frequently substandard vision is perceived to be in the same space as the profundity of the reality it is emulating, I won’t be shocked if Sarbjit benefits likeMary Kom did.

SarbjitSaturday

The constant Cannes updates tempts me to treat myself to a French film I have been meaning to watch for some time now. Released in 2012, Les Saveurs du Palais is based on the true story of French President François Mitterrand’s personal chef, Daniele Mazet-Delpeuch.

Like a fluffy souffle, it doesn’t engage in much complexity but is full of taste and appeal while it lasts. Films centered on food, especially French food, make for delectable viewing. This one’s no  different. All its understated layers and metaphors are concealed in the technique and elegance of culinary challenges.

I can easily picture Madhuri Dixit recreating Catherine Frot’s commanding, graceful presence around Amitabh Bachchan’s stately but foodie President/PM, while Rishi Kapoor plays her disgruntled old-school rival in the kitchen if ever Bollywood decided to buy rights and remake. Perhaps someone with Shakun Batra or Zoya Akhtar’s dialled down sensibilities would do it justice.

Interestingly, a few years back I watched another French food-centric comedy,Comme un Chef and tweeted suggesting a remake directed by Batra again, with Rishi Kapoor and Aamir Khan as as two chefs belonging to two different generations who find a balance in their relationship and cooking collaboration. To my surprise, its director Daniel Cohen responded promptly and in complete agreement.

One can only wish. And wait for Saif Ali Khan to do his version of the mouth-watering grilled cheese sandwich in the upcoming remake of Jon Favreau’s Chef.

Les Saveurs du PalaisSunday

Ever the quizmaster, I ask three people the name of Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow in Kabhi Kabhie. They didn’t know or answered wrong. Let’s see if you remember. You’ve got a week’s time!

Kabhi Kabhie

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Sarabjit: Cosmetic sensitivity, overblown depiction!

SarbjitOmung Kumar’s access to inspiring individuals is the only noteworthy aspect of his filmmaking.

After squandering an opportunity with the biopic on boxing champion Mary Kom, he returns to chronicle the long struggle to bring justice to Sarabjit Singh by his sister, Dalbir Kaur in the weepy, wasted premise of Sarbjit sans the a. Kumar’s cosmetic sensitivity and overblown depiction of incredible lives proves to be his undoing yet again.

The true story of Sarabjit Singh is heartbreaking to say the least—a farmer from Punjab who strayed across Pakistan border in a state of drunken stupor only to be apprehended and accused of espionage by cops resulting in a death sentence upheld by Pakistan Supreme Court.

Languishing in a Lahore jail for over 20 years—even as Dalbir campaigned her brother’s cause on legal, political and social platforms—Sarabjit finally succumbed to serious injuries after he was brutally attacked by two inmates.

Even if one looks at it dispassionately, there’s much to address in the nature of diplomatic complacency, its enormous failure to facilitate justice and falsification of available information, the ambiguity of internal politics, the uncomfortable reality of intelligence agencies or the casualties of an unceasing India-Pakistan crossfire.

It’s disturbing to see how a reality signified by guts and anger is portrayed in a manner too jittery to offend anyone or evoke discontentment at the ministry through its protagonists. Director Omung Kumar plays it woefully safe and completely avoids treading on political toes except for a token representation now and then. Of course, the opportunity to squeeze in a jingoistic jab is always welcome.

Barring superficial interactions, the viewer seldom gets an effective picture of the extent of endeavor and elbow-nudging Dalbir must have engaged in to draw attention, find connections and seek repeated audience with bigwigs running the country.

SarbjitWhat one does hear is a screechy Aishwarya Rai Bachchan screaming till she’s unconvincingly overtaken the clamor of fake crowds gathered around her. She is Dalbir Kaur, a woman single-handedly crusading to clear her brother’s name as ‘spy’ and ‘terrorist’ and bring him home.

Aishwarya’s efforts to look and sound the part show. But not in a way that helps the movie. She’s unwieldy in her rage—when pointing angry fingers at gawking guards or beating her chest to proclaim her ‘Sikhni’ strength to a carefully manufactured mob or violently pulling out stems in a mustard field to release her pent up frustration.

It’s only in that one scene where she is unwilling to part with her dead baby girl we catch a glimpse of untapped vulnerability.

Even as Sarbjit picks a hectic pace, broadly ticking off the episodes of his gloomy timeline in haphazard chronology against a poorly established tense political atmosphere, Darshan Kumar shows up as the Pakistani lawyer helping Dalbir on the case. One of the key people in the Sarabjit saga, Awaish Sheikh’s screen avatar and its middling portrayal is disappointingly one-note. Except when he’s volunteering to burn his own effigy in a sharp but patchily enclosed sequence.

As Sarabjit’s wife, Richa Chaddha is largely neglected and stays on the fringes. We mostly see her doing household chores or providing an excuse for Omung Kumar to insert a needless song about happier times. Nevertheless, she grabs one specially tailored moment to express her desolation amply.

SarbjitIn the title role, Randeep Hooda’s commitment to Sarabjit’s declining physicality is commendable even if a tad overdone and showy. His existence is an endless nightmare and Omung Kumar incorporates abundant beating, blood and blister to highlight it. A better-written script would encapsulate the impact of all the harassment and isolation on his desperate psyche, the response of his loved ones on seeing a healthy man in a damaged state like that haunting final encounter between Chandrachur Singh and Tabu in Maachis.

Needless to say, Omung Kumar is no Gulzar. His preoccupation at milking a tragedy not only clouds his judgment but reveals a complete lack of one. What remains is so affected and superficial, it’s all a sham. And a shame.

This review was first published on rediff.com

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When Jeetu & Neetu played newlyweds in Basu Chatterjee’s Priyatama

PriyatamaWise men say only fools rush in but Neetu Singh cannot help falling in love with Jeetendra in Basu Chatterjee’s breezy Priyatama.

She’s the sort of impulsive romantic Bollywood looks at dotingly, indulgently. Only unlike Nargis (Chori Chori), Pooja Bhatt (Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin) or Kareena Kapoor (Jab We Met), she isn’t running off to someplace. Actually she sort of is — right in the beginning of the film — from her South Bombay abode to her boyfriend’s snug pad in suburban Bandra.

It’s a spur-of-the-moment, monsoon-triggered decision. Perhaps she’s been listening to too much of “Raindrops and roses” as the Sound of Music record lying about her seems to suggest. Or maybe it’s an aftereffect of the fresh, wet breeze gliding across her face. Rains do crazy things to the romantic-class and in Neetu’s case it’s reinforced her desire to tie the knot immediately.

Meet Dolly – wealthy, spoilt, starry-eyed, effervescent, clingy, champagne-glugging, loveable albeit ever ready to jump the gun — she’s new-fashioned yet comfortably dependent on her men for money. Being the only daughter of an affluent judge, she’s never had to worry about economics. It’s a familiar narrative but when essayed by a vivacious Neetu, barely even 20, it develops a spirit of its own.
Priyatama
Marriage is akin to a game of ‘ghar-ghar’ in her naïve head. And so when she badgers her beau Ravi (Jeetendra) to propose marriage to her father, he plays along.

It helps that Utpal Dutt (ever a delight) isn’t a fire-breathing dragon daddy but a pleasant paternal figure, the kind Ravi can sheepishly confess about his pre-meeting rehearsal with Dolly or argue love conquers all in defence of his 1200 bucks salary as a Doordarshan TV producer.

That’s a decent remuneration for 1977 but not nearly enough for a spendthrift like Dolly who, post-marriage, immediately blows up all their earnings in redecorating the flat, canned food to whip up exotic delights like “Hungarian goulash” and, consequently, multiple STD calls to her family cook to improve her cooking skills.

Even if Priyatama doesn’t dwell on it specifically, Dolly’s excess energy needs a greater challenge than domestic goddess or Emma-esque cupid between her best friends (Asha Sachdev and Rakesh Roshan).

If Sachdev, who won a Best Supporting Actress Filmfare trophy for her Big Ethel in Ali MacGraw glasses chasing Roshan’s perennially disgruntled Jughead is refreshingly droll in its contrast, Roshan raises laughs with his ‘not amused’ interjections. He’s happiest strumming the guitar to younger brother Rajesh Roshan’s lilting tunes, the winsome Koi Roko Na Deewane Ko.
Priyatama
On the other hand, Jeetendra, always a revelation in middle-of-the-road cinema, has no trouble getting under the skin of Dolly’s affectionate husband. His chemistry with Neetu is effortless and incredibly warm. Before he hits the point of exasperation and starts fantasizing about a obedient wife (Main Jo Bolun Haan To Haan), his Ravi makes genuine attempts to please her. Be it complimenting her horrid cooking or the sequence where he’s endlessly delayed in traffic for her birthday dinner.

True to his style, Chatterjee examines the teething troubles of newly weds — its exhilarating ups and discouraging downs — with characteristic humour of everyday milieu.

Yeh Dher Se Kapde Main Kaise Dhoyun, a supremely catchy jingle I grew up listening to on radio, pops in the background of a dinner scene as an analogical reference to Ravi’s plight in finishing a mound of offensive food sitting on his plate. During the afore-mentioned traffic scene, a poster of Sanjeev Kumar’s Yeh Hai Zindagi looks down knowingly at our distraught hero.

It’s these witty touches, deft writing of believable characters and relatable scenarios — Bambai mein jab do doston ka ek flat hota hai jiski shaadi pehle ho jaati hai flat uska hota hai— lending Priyatama its enduring freshness and repeat value even after more than three decades.

PriyatamaAlthough the disagreement between the husband and wife reaches a point of legal intervention (I S Johar and Asrani’s squabbling Parsi lawyers target the funny bone), Chatterjee doesn’t position their quarrel around a standard battle of the sexes, social expectations or role-play. They’re victims of their own immaturity and impatience triggered by the usual suspects—ego and misunderstandings.

Priyatama has none of the chauvinism of Shashi Kapoor-Hema Malini’s Abhinetri but, like them, Ravi-Dolly too put on a facade of hunky-dory marital life to prevent distress to the parent.

The charade never feels contrived under Chatterjee’s simple but nuanced storytelling as he shares the cosiness, the disappointment, the uneasy silences and the inexperience of young marriage without once judging his characters.

It it what makes them so flesh & blood and Priyatama worth a revisit.

This article was first published on rediff.com.

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