Super filmi week: Udta Punjab, worst casting decisions, and naheeee…!

It’s like Audrey Hepburn said, ‘Everything I learned, I learned from the movies.’ I wouldn’t go that far but every film, good or ghastly, brings it share of wisdom and warning. Here is my learning from this week.

Monday

A still from Stardust

It’s possible to feel differently about a movie when revisiting it after a long gap.

Some movies age badly or lose relevance or simply cease to hold the same charm as they once did in our memory. Conversely, sometimes we notice things we hadn’t earlier on and begin to view it in a renewed light.

I am watching Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust, based on Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel, for the first time since it released in late 2007. I don’t remember it too well but the leading man looks awfully familiar, as does the silly lad he’s scrapping with over Sienna Miller.

Why that’s Charlie ‘Daredevil’ Cox and Henry ‘Superman’ Cavill of course before spandex and superpowers consumed them for good.

A still from Stardust

While this part of my discovery is fun, the other only rubs in a previously held belief I still strongly uphold — Claire Danes is a TERRIBLE choice for the part. And it’s not only because of her creepy now-you-them-now-you-don’t eyebrows.

The actress plays a luminous star with an agonisingly severe aura, radiating zero charm or wit, that’s even more conspicuous around the adorable Cox or effervescent Robert De Niro. Vaughn’s adaptation isn’t half bad, one I would have judged far more favourably if not for the lacklustre, lumbering Danes.

Tuesday

Nargis Fakhri in Rockstar

Claire Danes and her lack of ‘star’ appeal prompted me to learn how others feel when it comes to ‘movie-ruining worst casting decisions (external link) ever’ on Twitter. An outpouring of names suggests I’ve hit a chord and my fellow movie buffs were only waiting to be asked and answer.

The one to be hit hardest by this spontaneous survey is Nargis Fakhri in Rockstar,followed by the likes of Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan, Sonam Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. I wonder if we tend to confuse choice of actor for inadequate skill.

Personally, I didn’t mind Nargis in Imitiaz Ali’s film, which I thought camouflaged her limitations just about enough to focus on Ranbir Kapoor’s spectacular story of song, soul and self destruction.

Casting is a curious business in Bollywood and, sadly, not always dictated by the requirement of a script. There are actors who play to their strengths and others who transform as per their role. But there are some who are a major box office draw. More often than not, it’s enough.

Wednesday

A still from Udta Punjab

The more its detractors pull down Abhishek Chaubey’s unreleased Udta Punjab, the greater the curiosity to watch it.

The on-going battle over its ‘controversial’ content takes a new turn with co-producer Anurag Kashyap’s furious takedown of Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani — after the latter’s bizarre claims that the Black Friday director took money from Aam Aadmi Party to show Punjab in a poor light — at a press conference attended by the film’s many producers (Vikas Bahl, Ekta Kapoor) and filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar, Imtiaz Ali, Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt, and Aanand L Rai.

Amidst passionate columns about the right to unrestrained creativity as well as sceptics dismissing it as shrewd PR work, it’s interesting to notice every time an authority objects to a brand of creativity as inappropriate for public consumption, it becomes the most broadcasted fodder for open discourse. So who’s protected from what anyway?

Perhaps instead of deleting scenes despite an A-certification, torchbearers of moral policing should attach cautionary watermarks along the lines of ‘Smoking Kills’ as guidelines for decency.

Let’s see: Peeing in public is injurious to health.

Expletives can cause mouth ulcers.

Skin show may cause eczema?

Thursday

A still from Andaz Apna Apna

It’s easy to mistake her vehemence for aggression but I find Raveena Tandon’s candour rather refreshing. So it’s a pleasant surprise to learn her role as columnist, one I wasn’t aware of until now.

I haven’t read all her blogs but they’re pretty engaging and personal. Also, devouring every single film magazine in the 1990s is reaping fruit as I can easily figure out the undisclosed individuals mentioned in some of her blind items.

In one piece, she addresses Bollywood’s double standards when it comes to age as well as the film industry’s inherent gender bias with humour at its sarcastic best.

‘I am often asked if I would act in the remake of Andaz Apna Apna. Director Raj Kumar Santoshi has clearly stated that he will never make it without Raveena or Karisma. In good humour, I reply: Yes, certainly, the first frame will show Raveena-Karisma’s garlanded picture on the wall and Aamir-Salman paying homage to their dead wives and sobbing on each other’s shoulders… and the rest of the movie will show them chasing Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor!’

Friday

Gupt

The promos of Te3n packed promise but the film doesn’t live up to its potential.

Like I stated in my review of the mystery drama, ‘At what pace a story wants to unravel is entirely the storyteller’s prerogative — some narratives speak in poetic pauses and cryptic musings; others succeed on a throbbing tempo. In Ribhu Dasgupta’s Te3n, the leisurely movement isn’t so much to examine the scene of crime, as it is to document the accumulation of evidence. It would be effective too if the film wasn’t so willfully minimizing its drama and dynamism to conceal the obvious.’

I love watching suspense; it’s one of the most interactive of all genres. The thrill of guesswork while journeying into intrigue to realise what the famous crime writer Agatha Christie said, ‘Very few of us are what we seem.’

Later that evening, while watching Rajiv Rai’s slickly packaged whodunit Gupt, I am reminded of the same.

I will never forget the excitement surrounding the identity of the killer or the shock ensuing it. Back in the social networking free age, the answer found its way on the walls of college restrooms while those who caught the first show would threaten to reveal the spoiler if you rubbed them off the wrong way.

Running houseful everywhere, it was a while before I procured a ticket (in black, no less) but my brother who reviewed it for Rediff would neither confirm nor deny if XYZ is the murderer. I didn’t see it coming. Did you?

Saturday

Shabana Azmi in Lorie

Out of anger, denial, disgust, grief or shock, countless Bollywood moments are punctuated in deafening, dramatic versions of the indispensable ‘Naheeeeeeeeee…’

And coming across a glorious gallery of shrieking nahis (external link) is the best thing I’ve seen all week.

Thanks to the very awesome Hindi film aficionado behind Beth Loves Bollywood(external link), I learn about this gem curated by the marvelous movie blog: MemsaabStory (external link).

I loved it so much; I couldn’t help make a teensy contribution. One where it looks like Shabana Azmi (Lorie) is demonstrating what to do in the absence of noise cancelling headphones.

Sunday

Trailer of Psycho

Stunning, surreal and strategically secretive — the Mirzya trailer is all about building up Anil Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan’s entry into films.

Trailers are no longer about announcing a movie’s presence but a marketing art form — ranging from gimmicky to imaginative — hoping to generate buzz and influence early box-office.

A fascinating 15-minute video essay (external link) by Filmmaker IQ examines the evolution of movie trailers in Hollywood while noting the contribution of game-changing visionaries like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg through the decades.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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