Super Filmi Week: Madhuri Dixit’s beauty of imperfections

‘We used to discuss pimple remedies!!!’

With that one candid disclosure film journalist Anupama Chopra breaks Madhuri Dixit’s guard and the monotony of prerelease interviews.

Watching them giggle over the memory like schoolgirls, I begin to recall how the Ek Do Teen star struggled with a problem skin all through her reign as numero uno. And yet acne never got into the way of her incredible success.

Unlike today where there’s insane pressure to look flawless all the time — you have things like high definition makeup and movie stars appear airbrushed in real life too — Madhuri’s blemishes were her constant companions through iconic portrayals like Tezaab, Ram Lakhan, Parinda, Dil, Beta, Saajan and Hum Aapke Hain Koun.

She even agreed to go makeup free in Nana Patekar’s Prahaar.

Perhaps she realised her talent isn’t skin deep and that one glimpse of her dazzling smile, dhak dhak oomph and spellbinding star power will be enough for us to go va va voom.

Rummaging through my journalist dad’s files in our old house, I discover a booklet of FTII student films from circa 1970. Every page bears a title, synopsis, stills and credits.

Three images immediately catch my eye. Simply addressed as Jaya (Bhaduri now Bachchan), (Danny) Denzongpa and S P Sinha (Shatrughan Prasad), it’s exciting to witness the legends at the onset of glorious career paths.

There’s Anil Dhawan too with whom Jaya Bhaduri would go on to star in Basu Chatterjee’s endearing Piya Ka Ghar.

Of all the student movies listed in the leaflet, the one to interest me most is Angry Young Man.

Long before the title became synonymous with her superstar husband Amitabh Bachchan, it was a little known creation H Shamsuddin wrote and filmed with Jaya, Danny and Shatru.

I read somewhere Danny, whose real name Tshering Phintso was proving hard to pronounce, got his famous nickname after Jaya suggested it to him.

Sanju‘s eagerly awaited trailer is out and everybody has something to say about the dramatised account of Sanjay Dutt’s life story.

Some love the pulsating energy and emotional rollercoaster director Rajkumar Hirani and his leading man Ranbir Kapoor are putting out there.

Some are completely put off by how easily it absolves the criminal chapters of the Sanjay Dutt saga.

Some are irritated by Sonam Kapoor’s screechy mangalsutra inquiry.

Some are deeply disturbed by Hirani’s contempt for Anushka Sharma’s natural hair.

Personally, I could live without the sight of floating pee and potty. But I guess it’s necessary to emphasise the extent of Dutt’s ordeal.

There’s so much going on in the trailer that no matter what the verdict on Sanju is, Ranbir emerges triumphant anyhow.

Revisiting Mr India for a classics column and it still doesn’t sink that Sridevi is no longer amongst us.

Once again, my feelings about her as the Queen of Expressions are validated. I’ve said it before, if making a face was an art form, Sridevi had mastered it to perfection.

Take a look. 

This Friday saw girl power at its blasphemous most in Veere Di Wedding.

While I liked the leading ladies and their easy camaraderie, I wasn’t even remotely convinced of its phony empowerment.

Like I wrote in my review, ‘Veere Di Wedding wears its superficiality and sass with such barefaced gusto; you’ll wonder if this is a parody. In a better-written film, it would be and still not conform to the traditions it thinks it so cleverly over-rides.’

Nevertheless, the engineered flak it’s getting from some squeamish sections and their made-up grandmothers over Swara Bhasker’s masturbation scene reveals how female sexuality is viewed in a country that laughs hard when chamatkar is replaced by balatkar.

It’ll be three decades of Tridev next year.

Director Rajiv Rai’s pulpy villain falooda is my ultimate masala pleasure. Even now my greatest regret is I didn’t get to watch it on the big screen but on VHS I devoured it to death.

It feels like only yesterday everyone was flipping over Naseeruddin Shah’s unexpected song and dance turn, Jackie Shroff’s bandhini dupatta swag and Sunny Deol’s thundering threats along with a hoard of campy villains led by Amrish Puri and the sight of Madhuri Dixit, Sangeeta Bijlani and Sonam flouncing around them in sparkling harem pants.

The thought of a remake sometimes does cross my mind. But then Sunny’s warning pops up in my ears, ‘Kutte ko izzat di jaye toh use pichli seat pe bithaya jata hai. Par kudey ko bori mein dalkar dikki mein patka jata hai.’

Pointless trivia #389

Ajay Devgn and Kajol sporting very similar looks same year, different movies.

Next year they had fallen in love and began dating, pyar toh hona hi tha?

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Revisiting Mr India, the Bollywood superhero everybody loves

When I first watched Mr India, I was about the same age as some of the kids in the film.

Like most young viewers at the time, I was completely sold on Anil Kapoor’s marvellous invisibility watch. Desi movie merchandise isn’t a thing yet. It certainly wasn’t back then. Most of us would just pretend to vanish wearing mum or dad’s chunky HMT watches. 

Unlike today’s scenario, where there’s a superhero movie coming out every six months, Mr India was a one-of-its-kind event. More than three decades later, the magic still holds good. What I love most about Mr India is how real it feels for a sci-fi fantasy.

The hero is an average Joe running an orphanage by giving violin tuitions. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence where he hasn’t paid his cook in months and owes large sums of money to his landlord and grocer. And yet, it seems entirely probable when he turns invisible and takes on a deadly terrorist and his band of baddies. 

My favourite bit is when our titular hero, the do-gooder Arun Verma (Anil Kapoor’s star power and genial air is visible even when his character is not) acquires this wondrous device from AWOL Ashok Kumar’s office.

His genuine excitement when he asks his young, equally awestruck companion if he should test it — it’s a minor gesture, but one that shows he treats the kid as an equal and values his opinion. This is what makes Mr India extra special. It views children like little people not just as means of adorability.

Shekhar Kapur’s 1987 classic is a labour of love, ambition and ingenuity. Under his direction and Salim-Javed’s penmanship, it celebrates compassion and human spirit with generous doses of humour, thrills, music and contrivances. But what lends the adventure its distinction is the playfulness exhibited by the good guys and bad ones. 

Which brings us to its other iconic, oddly khush character — Mogambo.

Mr India is inconceivable sans Amrish Puri but the late actor came on board after more than 60 per cent of the shooting for the film was complete. A Hitler caricature residing in a Star Wars-inspired lair, Mogambo is an evil cartoon referring to himself in the third person.
Marked by nefarious deeds (drugs, black market, riots, bombs, nuclear missiles), a pompous catchphrase — Mogambo khush hua — and goofy sidekicks –Daga (Sharat Saxena) and Teja (Ajit Vachani) — he’s far too entertaining to truly hated or feared. Puri’s towering persona, whimsical expression and the jolly new ways he comes up with to say his legendary line have made Mogambo an enduring symbol of Bollywood pop culture. 

So is Sridevi’s delightful portrayal of Seema, a gung-ho news reporter prone to slipping into various disguises for the greater good of mankind.

Dressing up and dancing a storm as Ms Hawa Hawai under the pretext of investigating criminal activities carried out by Daga and Teja or creating ruckus in Karga’s gambling den to pay a hilarious tribute to Charlie Chaplin, the inherent silliness of these gags is elevated to pure artistry under Sri’s inimitable touch.  

Although her no-holds-barred chiffon seduction in the smouldering Kaate nahi may seem a bit out of place in a children’s movie, the imagery of her making out with an unseen beau in a heap of hay is far too powerful to ignore.    Her Seema shares a bittersweet equation with the children of the house, which leads to much banter and a droll football medley wherein composer duo Laxmikant Pyarelal parody their own chartbusters to accommodate Javed Akhtar’s fitting quips.    

Mr India may borrow plot points from Shammi Kapoor’s Brahmachari, remind of Mr X in Bombay‘s plot gimmick and throw in characters called Captain Zorro and Doctor Watson, but it is a film with a mind of its own. 

Mr India is big on funnily named characters. Satish Kaushik’s griping cook and caretaker — Calendar scores by the virtue of his moniker. Then there’s Annu Kapoor as Seema’s perennially rattled editor and his pestering landline afflicted by the wrong number syndrome.  

While they take care of the humour, Mr India gets its heart from the kids. The ones living under Verma’s roof are neither a precocious bunch nor pint-sized terrors but wide-eyed moppets filled with curiosity, cuteness and mischief. 

Shekhar Kapur’s perceptivity around young actors after Masoom made him a perfect choice for the film.  And the dignity he conveys in their resilience and vulnerability during a scene where they’ve not had a meal in two days and Sridevi offers some delicious rescue in the form of snacks and pastries says volumes about the emotionality of Mr India. 

That’s why the bumping off of the most angelic member of the bachha party for dramatic emphasis comes as a rude, rude shock. One that writer Javed Akhtar, in retrospect, admits the script could have done without.   

A subject and title like Mr India would tempt most filmmakers to insert jingoistic elements or shove schmaltz down our throats but Kapur’s sharp, sensible vision was never slave to formula, which is ironically the most sought after thing in this movie.  

Where most heroes would go on a vengeance spree after inheriting their deceased father’s invisibility activating invention or plot a meticulous scheme to ensure Mogambo’s downfall, Arun is happier putting food on the hungry man’s table or inexplicably knowing where to appear (you know what I mean) every time Seema gets into trouble. Another thing that contributes to the movie’s enduring popularity is its technical finesse. The special effects don’t feel dated even though we are surrounded by CGI overkill. 

Every department contributes in enhancing the narrative. 

Mr India and Mogambo’s costumes — one’s humility and other’s flamboyance — define their role of good versus evil.Laxmikant Pyarelal’s upbeat chartbusters as well as Kishore Kumar’s philosophical musing in Zindagi ki yehi reet hai keep the momentum going through its nearly three hours running time. 

Cinematographer Baba Azmi’s brilliant use of light, spectacular compositions and vibrant palette capture the atmosphere and design of Bijon Das Gupta’s lavishly constructed sets and their shrewd detailing.

Be it the sea-facing bungalow in Versova village (in western Mumbai) or Mogambo’s shiny den fetauring acid tanks, secret passages and one-off robots in RK Studios or good ol’ Mumbai while it still had some breathing space, the life inside Mr India is an attractive combination of commonplace and fantasy.  

Mr India‘s brand of vigilantism is active not aggressive, silly not sensational, daring not dark, where the sight of a flying, furious Hanuman idol is all it takes to teach a lesson or rein in bullies.

The world has become a darker place since then with no divine intervention in sight. 

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Veere Di Wedding: A superficial, sassy celebration of sisterhood

Veere Di Wedding is about four girlfriends, one wedding and an A-certificate. 

It’s almost as if a gorgeous box of bonbons stumbled upon a mountain of bullets. But the only rounds fired are the expletives shooting off its four female protagonists’ mouth.

The girls drink, smoke, cuss and party in picture perfect dollhouses wearing picture perfect make-up. It’s as though brochure after brochure fell inside Carrie Bradshaw’s drunken diary. Every single frame of its product placement state of being is costumed and prettified to Instagram perfection. 

Veere Di Wedding wears its superficiality and sass with such barefaced gusto; you’ll wonder if this is a parody. In a better-written film (Mehul Suri, Nidhi Mehra), it would be and still not conform to the traditions it thinks it so cleverly over-rides.

Shashanka Ghosh’s latest trifling aims for a Sex and the City brand of female friendships and freewheeling candour around a quartet of bum chums hailing from South Delhi, also the centre for overbearing, overzealous Punjabi aunty politics. This time there’s West Delhi doing its tacky bit to take some heat off GK’s incessant snobs.

Before they dive into Delhi’s overdone stereotypes, a clumsy prelude of their younger selves serves to establish the endurance of their bond as well as one character’s aversion for commitment.

It’s a standard issue among filmi brides. They insist they don’t believe in marriage, but agree to go ahead with it anyway only to mid-way develop second thoughts and then indulge in a tiring game of will she-or-won’t she make it to the altar.

We already know. There’s not much by way of plot anyway. Most of it is just jamboree stuffed with noisy caricatures and cosmetic bonhomie of four mildly frustrated friends.

And so Kareena scratches her throat and regularly rolls her eyes at mum-in-law’s ridiculous demands and suggestions of wearing hideous Fairy Princess gown.

Sonam Kapoor’s divorce lawyer is a simpering, starry-eyed, fool seeking romance and surviving her opinionated mother’s (Neena Gupta) obnoxious commentary — “Must you wear pants? You look like a lesbo.” “Freeze your eggs.”

Shikha Talsania is an exhausted product of marriage and motherhood, but retains her sense of humour especially when bragging of her Caucasian conquest, “John ke john ke saath kaun khush nahi reh sakta?

Swara Bhasker could leave sailors and Devdas behind at the cursing/drinking game. Her irreverence may or may not stem from the fact she got divorced few months after an exorbitant destination wedding.

Between fancy shopping sprees and glittering pre-wedding rituals, the narrative just drifts away to accommodate sub-plots involving humourless parents, homosexual uncles, cackling stepmothers, overexcited in-laws and nondescript beaus.

But a movie cannot rest on weddings and gaalis alone, so while the writers sit and break their heads over how to wrap this meandering mess, the Veeres take off to Phuket and toss still more gloss and glamour in our direction. 

What ensues is an unexpected shift of tone when the focus moves from friends to family. Its jarring sentimentality once again reiterates this ridiculous notion of grown-up women having to seek validation from their folks.

Veere Di Wedding doesn’t go overboard bashing the opposite sex besides hiring the blandest possible men for the women to romance and reject. What’s silly though is how coy the film remains despite its aggressive display of irreverence. There are zero instances of intimacy where even the boldest scene is restricted to self-pleasure. 

All four friends are distinguished by their appearances and roles, but they are essentially the same person — conventional to the core. There’s no real rebellion, just a consuming love for fashion and faux feminism where every zinger flying out of their mouth sounds like something you’ve heard on a sitcom or favourited on your Pinterest wall.

For a while though, the unapologetic tone of its ‘Baahar se sati andar se slutty’ shallowness actually works. A lot of that has to do with the easy whimsy the supporting characters intentionally (Manoj Pahwa) or accidentally (Anjum Rajabali) supply and how authentic the sisterhood feels.

Kareena’s restraint around the bubbling wedding hysteria, Sonam’s airheaded optimism, Swara’s crackling profanity and comfort for innuendoes and Shikha’s talent for naughty wit comes together to say it’s not a big deal for women to talk and do as they please.

If only Veere Di Wedding actually believed it too.

Rating: 2.5

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