Super Filmi Week: When Akshay met a scientist fan

A brief encounter between Akshay Kumar and a scientist fan. Lauded filmmakers, lame last films. And the worst Kapoor to hit the silver screen. All this and more in my super filmi week.

Monday
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it breakMacbeth

Last week was one of the saddest in my life. I lost a beloved family member to prolonged illness in front of my eyes. Within few hours, hopes dashed and the reality of our impermanence hit me hard.

It’s a new day, a new week, but my grief is irreparable so I take comfort in his memories.

My uncle, or Mamaji as I addressed him, was full of pep and wit. I’ve never come across anyone more knowledgeable or humble. A wonderful singer and guitar player, he introduced us — my brother and me — to the magic of Boney M, Beatles, ABBA and the German electronic band Kraftwerk and encouraged our craze for cinema. 

Every single summer vacation was spent on VCR/VHS rentals watching all sorts of wonderful and weird Hindi and Hollywood movies on his cool Uptron TV. It meant a great deal. Not everyone had a colour TV back then. We could rent everything from the Carry On series to 007, Qatilon Ke Qatil to Hatim Tai and he would neither dissuade nor judge.

After I became a journalist, he would proudly tell everyone how he got to meet a movie star because of me.

It had only been a few months since I joined Rediff.com and secured an appointment to interview Akshay Kumar after a lot of dilly-dallying.

The actor was shooting in a far-flung area of Mumbai’s sprawling suburbs for a movie called Vidroh. It was an unmemorable, endlessly delayed project that eventually released four years later as Police Force.

When we met, Hera Pheri was still a month away from release and Akshay, predominantly recognised for his action skills, was consciously working towards respectability and an image change.

Our meeting was scheduled for close to midnight and Mamaji, who was visiting us that time, volunteered to chaperone me as things tend to become unpredictable on the sets and I wasn’t certain how late it would be.

This happened almost two decades ago, but I still remember Akshay’s splendour and warmth once he stepped inside the vanity van we were waiting.

Dressed in a spick-and-span formal shirt and trousers, the Khiladi appeared absolutely smashing and genuinely thrilled on learning Mamaji is a scientist and a fan.

After making small talk, he excused us while I threw my volley of questions at the ever-sporting Akshay.

On our way back home, my visibly impressed uncle thanked me and raved about the down-to-earth star.

You’re one of them now, Mamaji.

Tuesday
Discussing Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai with a friend.

Every time I talk about this film, my blood pressure shoots up. I’ve had identical conversations on this subject before, but I am unable to view Kaatru as a romance. It’s a horror film in denial. (Psst, if you haven’t watched it yet, jump to Wednesday.)

And that climax, that idiotic, implausible climax — I’d still forgive everything preceding it if the last scene wasn’t shoving down the hero’s glorious reform and heroine’s big heart down my throat.

It’s unlikely he would not be an abusive ass to her again.

Characters aren’t obliged to fulfil our ideas of morality, but it’s important to depict them transparently, honestly.

Perhaps if the director would treat it like the black drama it is and not romanticise messed-up love like a candy-hued cupcake, I’d remember it for something beyond Aditi Rao Hydari’s photogenic allure in all those gorgeous Vrisa outfits.

Wednesday
Think Kapoors, think gold standard in acting.

For generations, this family has served the silver screen with their passion, beauty and talent.

Not every single one achieved iconic stardom, but there’s one Kapoor who’s so bad, he single-handedly invalidates Saif Ali Khan’s genetics theory.

Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed, beautiful son Karan could make a thousand girls weak in their knees, but as far as acting goes, he’s so unequipped, it hurts to even remember.

Watching Loha on telly now, I am simply dumbstruck by his range of expressions. Limited Collection, anyone?

Thursday
Revisiting Vijay Anand’s Guide for a column and the face-off between Dev Anand’s divinity and Dev Anand’s pragmatism, his faith and scepticism — the pièce de résistance moment of this 52-year-old classic — is connecting to me now more profoundly than ever.

Sawaal ab yeh nahi ke paani barsega ke nahi. Sawaal yeh nahi ke main jeeunga ya marunga.’

Sawaal yeh hai ke is duniya ko banane wala, chalane wala koi hai ke nahi?’

Agar nahi hai toh parwah nahi zindagi rahe ya maut aaye.’

Ek andhi duniya mein andhe ki tarah jeene mein koi maza nahi. Aur agar hai toh dekhne yeh hai ke woh apne majboor bandhon ki sunta hai ya nahi.’

Few films have ever argued or introspected as effectively as the one between Guide‘s self and suspecting.

Friday
The day begins on a disappointing note with Imtiaz Ali’s spectacularly dull, Jab Harry Met Sejal.

Like I wrote in my review, it ‘has the stars, the songs, the scenery and all the trimmings for a riveting romance’ but ‘in the absence of soul bears little magic.’

I didn’t feel any heat in Harry and Sejal’s chemistry or predicament of their resistance or submission.

Rather, I found their togetherness contrived and stretched to justify a series of poorly conceived machinations.

Saturday
Earlier this week, the lively promo of Shubh Mangal Savdhan came on air and piqued my curiosity.

That’s when former film critic-turned-filmmaker Sudhish Kamath recommended I watch the Tamil original Kalyana Samayal Sadham of which the Ayushmann Khurrana-Bhumi Pednekar starrer is a remake.

Caught it on Hotstar today, where it’s streaming for free with English subtitles.

Kalyana Samayal Sadham is a gentle yet effective, light-hearted but layered commentary on sexual dysfunction against the backdrop of the hassles of an Indian wedding.

What I liked a lot is the play between the superficial and the sentimental through the rituals of the wedding and foundation of marriage.

And so I quite agree with its leading man Prasanna when he says, ‘Anybody who watches this film will connect to it, especially those who are about to get married or who have just got married.’

Sunday
Happy Friendship Day!

Tyson (Gulshan Grover) and Gibran (Raza Murad) may not be among the forefronts of Bollywood’s big screen chums monopolised by the good guys of Hindi cinema.

But the campy friends of Rajiv Rai’s masala multistarrer and their brightly burning ‘dosti ka roshandaan‘ make them quite a pair.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

Previously:
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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Classic Revisited: Guide is as glamorous as it is soulful

“Dil ke mere paas ho itne, phir bhi ho kitni door. Tu mujse mein dil se pareshaan dono hain majboor. Aise main kisko kaun manaye…”

Once in deep throes of love, today their hands touch but do not meet. Ego, pride and distrust have formed an impermeable wall between a couple who braved odds and defied convention.

But then few mysteries are as confounding and complex as the relationship between a man and a woman.

This certainly seems true of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman’s 1965 milestone, Guide. Directed by Vijay Anand, the big screen adaptation of R K Narayan’s acclaimed novel chronicles the liaison between Raju and Rosie, their upheavals and impasse with such keen intimacy, intricacy and intensity, it’s hard not to be moved by the passions that bind and, eventually, break them.

Except it’s not just the pitfalls of heartbreak but a profound encounter in spiritual realisation that lends Guide its significance in cinematic history.

Reflecting upon all that’s contemporary and traditional, radical and taboo, superstition and spiritualism, philosophy and perception, the 52-year-old classic is a multi-faceted masterpiece of poetic strength.

A bold exercise in emancipation and exploration of existentialism, Guide is also a notable departure from the stereotypical representations of the hero and heroine of that era.

Ever so insightful and judicious, Vijay Anand treats Raju and Rosie as two imperfect people coming into their own, instead of role models. Yet, he’s mindful of the immense charisma of the two stars portraying them.

Truth be told, Guide is as glamorous as it is soulful — a perfect marriage of aesthetics and intelligence, gamble and gravy.

It all began during a trip to London when someone mentioned R K Narayan’s 1960 Sahitya Akademi winner to Dev Anand.

The actor loved the book so much, he immediately telephoned its author for rights revealing plans of producing a Hollywood and Hindi version for his home banner, Navketan Films.

If back home Guide went on to win acclaim if not box office, the English version, written by Pearl S Buck and directed by Tad Danielewski, was a no-go.

In its disparaging review, The New York Times singled out the ‘gaudy English-speaking characters and the make-believe of their unconvincing romance that is performed by Miss Rehman and Mr Anand.’

It is common knowledge that R K Narayan didn’t quite care for either interpretation.

As path-breaking Guide is for its time, it is not above compromises. Some of the changes lend the narrative a bumpiness and robs it off Narayan’s delibrately crafted ambiguity.

Before any of this transpired, Satyajit Ray was looking to direct the subject. He even contacted Waheeda Rehman, but the project never took off.

Following Dev Anand’s entry in the picture, filmmakers like Raj Khosla and older brother Chetan Anand were approached to helm. Eventually it would be Dev’s younger sibling Vijay aka Goldie who’d take charge as co-editor, writer and director.

Blessed with intuitive storytelling skills, one that is in complete harmony with his eye and ear, Goldie’s contribution to Guide reflects in sight and sensation. Not to forget dialogues that revel in rhetoric — Shohrat tumhe mili, sarr mera ghoom gaya.

Right from the opening sequence, when Raju (Dev Anand) is released from jail after serving time for a case of fraud and the dilemma of returning to the humiliations of his past or walking away in the direction of an uncertain future is posed before him, S D Burman’s overwhelming rendition of Wahan Kaun Hai Tera weighs in the transient nature of life with hard-hitting clarity.

Indeed, his soundtrack for Guide is one of the greatest ever.

Every single one of its 10 compositions dazzles with a melody and poignancy that not only blends into the scenes, but also offers a greater understanding of its characters’ disenchantment and delight.

Guide wouldn’t be Guide in the absence of SD and Shailendra’s poetry.

On screen, Fali Mistry’s breathtaking photography captures the lush scenery and expressive symbolism befitting Raju and Rosie’s occupation as well as the imagery of their inner turmoil and predicaments with artistic fervour.

A good two hours of its nearly three-hour running time is told in flashback to Raju’s old-fashioned mom (Leela Chitnis) as Rosie recalls her miserable marriage to an indifferent, insensitive, impotent archaeologist named Marco (Kishore Sahu).

Daughter of a Devadasi, she wed the brute to escape the stigma of her socially frowned upbringing, but her love for the classical form endures much to her husband’s chagrin.

The sham nature of their May-December arrangement is soon clear to Rosie as her husband neglects her in pursuit of discovery and caves.

Actor/director Kishore Sahu is a bold choice for the part if not exactly a compelling one. His withered Marco starts out on a fascinating note while he’s still a single-minded workaholic.

But the script’s need to demonise him and manufacture sympathy for Rosie’s suicidal impulses or validate a growing closeness to Raju — the local tour guide they’ve hired during their stay in Udaipur — is most contrived.

Still Raju’s heartfelt ‘Kalakar bhaand nahi hote‘ pep talk and Rosie’s Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai ardour makes the moment where she finally musters the courage to leave Marco both credible and whistle-worthy.

Her outburst may not be on par with the aggressive feminism of today but puts its point across crisply.

An electric, uninhibited Rehman lashes with words and hands and asserts her right in a cry so gutted, you know it’s coming from a place of absolute disgust and rejection — If I want to cheat, I’ll do it openly and not use work as a pretext like you.

She may have said all those things to him, but Rosie isn’t all that tough. Not yet anyway. She’s been mistreated for so long, she clings to the first nice guy she comes across.

And for Raju too, pity turns into pyaar soon enough: Tere dukh ab mere, mere sukh ab tere.

Of course, Raju is not some random tourist guide to begin with. They never are.

He is Dev Anand — dripping with style, skill, beauty and a gift of the gab that transforms Guide‘s literary eloquence into quotable quotes.

Realising the strength they draw out from one another, they form a formidable team of dancer and manager paving the way for Waheeda Rehman’s spellbinding dance moves in the grandly choreographed Piya Tose Naina.

The fairy tale period doesn’t last too long. The man who made a living showing off landmarks of his city now lives in an abode that has become a tourist attraction of sorts. Except is it really his?

The woman it really belongs to is tired of dancing to yet another man’s tune. She feels the need to assert her financial independence to a man squandering her hard-earned wealth in wasteful indulgences.

Ismein mera bhi hissa hai, Raju,’ Rosie gently reminds her beau.

If not immediately, Raju eventually feels the sting of her words. Insecurity clouds his better judgment when he learns Marco wants Rosie’s signature in relation to a bank locker.

Raju first presumes Marco wants to usurp Rosie’s wealth. On learning the contrary, he scoffs at his bogus bigheartedness. It’s almost a cue for him to do something stupid.

In the scene that follows, Rehman breathes fire through her eyes and feet to cry Saiyan Beiman in betrayal even as Dev Anand laments Kya Se Kya Ho Gaya Bewafa in his defence.

There’s much to atone for and bigger truths to find as Raju tests the extent of his will and power of faith in his second innings as accidental Swami and potential saviour of a drought-ridden village.

An absent-minded lackey, quite like Johnny Lever’s butler in Baazigar, hodgepodges Raju’s original message into a misleading one causing the gullible, grief-stricken villagers to believe he’s contemplating fasting until it rains.

The shift from Rosie-Raju’s turbulent romance to an atmosphere of dedicated bhakts and spiritual ascension is both odd and hurried.

On its own though, every single moment of spontaneous wisdom holds a curious, mesmerising value.

Perhaps it’s the honesty in Dev Anand’s inspired conviction. In his autobiography, Romancing With Life, the late actor writes, ‘I had transcended all human emotions, making the “self” in me the sole conqueror. The ascetic in me was totally in tune with my performance during the glorious days of my own discovery.’

It peaks most magnificently in the soliloquy debating worldly desires against soul salvation — Tum ahankaar ho, tumko marna hoga. Main aatma hoon, amar hoon.

And just like that Guide lives on.

An edited version of this column was first published on rediff.com.

Also read:
Mandi| Boot Polish| Chandni| Priyatama|GhayalJab 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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Jab Harry Met Sejal: SRK shines, Anushka annoys, Imtiaz disappoints!

Characters are always talking, traveling, letting go and discovering themselves in Imtiaz Ali’s romances. What may seem like a trademark is really a breakthrough — discovery is the key to evolution that makes most headway in a fluid surrounding. 

In figuring out another, we figure ourselves.

Imtiaz Ali hasn’t gotten to the bottom of it yet, but his story’s journey within a film and outside it is about just that.

It’s my favourite characteristic of his filmmaking and nowhere to be found in Imtiaz’s latest confection, Jab Harry Met Sejal wherein the journey neither delivers the zest of an adventure nor the wisdom of an exploration. It’s like its two leads are merely ticking off an itinerary that’s beautiful to witness but in the absence of soul bears little magic.

Jab Harry Met Sejal has the stars, the songs, the scenery and all the trimmings for a riveting romance. Alas, the writing is staggeringly sloppy, unoriginal and deviates from its premise involving a starry-eyed nitwit and skirt-chasing cynic to entangle itself in superficial complexities that made me judge instead of root for its oddball protagonists.

Harinder Singh Nehra aka Harry (Shah Rukh Khan) is a Punjabi tour guide in Europe reluctantly assisting Sejal Zaveri (a Gujarati traveller from a group tour he recently conducted) to search for her missing engagement ring.

Come to think of it, Jab JMD (Jai Mata Di) Met JSK (Jai Shree Krishna) would be an apt title for it.

The film opens on a sublime note with Safar, the sweetest melody from Pritam’s mellifluous soundtrack highlighting Harry’s humdrum, empty life until we meet Sejal.

We never get to see the extent of Harry and Sejal’s interaction before she charges back into his life and nearly blackmails him to help. Her family isn’t allowed much of a presence either, typical of an Imtiaz creation, where potential lovers are seldom interrupted by familial obligations.

If Love Aaj Kal harped about the concept of ‘pile on,’ Sejal demonstrates it in all her grating glory. Clearly the brief was ‘annoying Gujju’ and Anushka puts her heart into it. It’s not necessarily a criticism. I know people who sound just like her, so her accent is almost authentic if also inconsistent.

The best thing about cinema is its power of plausibility. It’s what makes good look great and even the unlikable alluring, but in JHMS, Anushka’s spectacular energy and whims are spent playing a doltish damsel-in-distress obsessed with making bizarre inquiries about her sex appeal.

Sejal’s bouts of low self-esteem targeted at Harry, a guy she barely knows and already trusts implicitly, are perplexing. All her yak yak candour and not-so-jolly LLB-ness proves too much even for Harry, Europe’s resident lothario, who at one point protests, ‘Yeh bahut silly ho raha hai.’

Paying no heed to Harry’s growing exasperation, she continues her antics as though possessed by Johnny Lever and proposes to behave like his girlfriend till the end of their trip.

It’s not long before homesick Harry, dreaming of Punjab and phulkari, settles to sing early morning duets about Radha against a bird’s eye view of Prague.

Amsterdam, Budapest, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Frankfurt are some other European towns they paint red. I don’t mind the revelry; I just wasn’t invested in it. Not once, not ever.

Imtiaz’s derivative imagery draws influences from Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge most unabashedly AND unimpressively to orchestrate what happens when role playing gets real, a street-smart guy rescues a dewy-eyed girl from NRI wolves and where a man and a woman will snuggle in sleep but won’t cross the line because once a Raj Malhotra always a Raj Malhotra.

There’s a scene where Sejal asks Harry if he’ll attend her wedding in Mumbai.

‘You don’t know me,’ he tells her with a hint of sarcasm that I read as ‘you wouldn’t ask such silly questions if you had seen DDLJ.’

Occasionally though, I chuckled at Sejal’s selfie seriousness and inept spontaneity. ‘Zyada shopping nahi kari kyunki Prague mein bhi jaake karoongi na thoda,’ she rattles to a concerned relative on the phone. Or when Harry brings out his forceful Punju voice in the middle of nightclub row like a daddy losing his head at a rebellious teen — ‘Kutta bhauk raha hai?

These are times when JHMS‘s wit is at its unaffected best. But such moments of ingenuity are few and far between.

In essence, Jab Harry Met Sejal‘s titular characters wander aimlessly from one place to another from inside a bubble, holding on to a dream that’s playful yet unreal, surprising but hollow. Had Imtiaz treated it like one and not surrendered to predictable fantasy, I’d still admire his audacity.

What’s commendable though is how even after so many years SRK makes falling in love with a woman about to marry someone else look like it’s happening to him for the first time. Truth is he’s no longer practising romance. He has become it.

And so it’s only befitting when Sejal begs him in her best fangirl face to train her fiancé in the art of affection — ‘Meri life ban jayegi.’

I only wish it’s for a better love story.

Rating:2 Stars

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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