Friday, October 24, 2014

REVIEW 299: HAPPY NEW YEAR


Release date:
October 24, 2014
Director:
Farah Khan
Cast:





Language:

Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Sonu Sood, Boman Irani, Vivaan Shah, Jackie Shroff, Guest Appearances: Anupam Kher, Honey Irani, Dino Morea
Hindi


HERE'S A TEASER:

‘Narendra Modi’ makes a guest appearance in Happy New Year. Those few seconds, to my mind, exemplify director Farah Khan’s signature: cheeky, many things to many people, designed to attract attention, and definitely not – that word most people, including her fans, use to describe her cinema – mindless. 

The cleverness of that passing scene lies in the fact that a Modi bhakt may well interpret it as mainstream Bollywood’s flattering acknowledgement of their idol’s unignorable presence in the country’s news landscape, whereas a diehard Modi critic could see it as an oblique message about his penchant for appropriating anything and everything that can be seen as a national occasion. The interpretation is completely up to you, but the scene is impossible ignore. Methinks there’s nothing mindless about a film that can achieve that fine balance.


REVIEW ABHI BAAKI HAI MERE DOST...



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

YASH CHOPRA OBITUARY / PUBLISHED IN FORBES

(This article by Anna MM Vetticad was first published in the November 23, 2012, issue of Forbes India magazine)

BEYOND WHITE CHIFFONS & PICTURE POSTCARD ROMANCES

There was more to Yash Chopra than saris fluttering in the breeze, Swiss mountains, tulip fields and pretty frames

By Anna MM Vetticad

“King of Romance (1932-2012)” says the Amul ad, quick to mark a milestone in Indian history yet again. The iconic Amul girl sits on the floor of a snow-laden forest, a guitar slung across her chest, her bright eyes resting on an elderly gentleman seated before her, while the copy reads: “Main har ek pal ka shayar hoon, har ek pal meri kahani hai”, a take on a song from Kabhi Kabhie, the memorable 1976 film about ill-fated lovers, directed by Yash Chopra.

No doubt there is great poignance in that visual, paying tribute as it does to one of Indian cinema’s greatest and most successful producer-directors on his demise. In a sense, it’s apt too: After all, Chopra was a master of weaving perfect frames, pretty visuals and lyrical songs into languid romances. But, in another sense, the picture is incomplete. For as much as he has been lauded in obituary after obituary as Hindi filmdom’s King of Romance, the title fails to do justice to his vastly varied filmography that frequently showcases a forward-thinking mind, whether his audiences were ready for it or not. Romance is not an easy genre, but if we insist on pinning a single label on this man, then in all fairness let it be King of Versatility.

To fully grasp this idea, rewind to 1959, the year Chopra made his directorial debut. Dhool Ka Phool – produced by his elder brother B.R. Chopra – revolves around a young Hindu couple. While the boy is coaxed into marriage with someone else by his father, the girl discovers that she is pregnant and gives birth to a baby who she abandons. The child is brought up by a kindly Muslim man whose good intentions can do little to protect the foundling, or himself, from social opprobrium. In an India too hypocritical even today to admit that pre-marital sexual intimacy is a reality, it takes little imagination to appreciate that Dhool Ka Phool made 53 years ago was a revolutionary film.

In the years since, Hindi cinema has very occasionally revisited the theme. Each foray has emphasised exactly how progressive a thinker Chopra was all those years ago. More than four decades after Chopra’s film, Kundan Shah released the qualitatively average-in-comparison Kya Kehna, starring Preity Zinta as a college girl who gets pregnant after an affair. In 2000, the story was still uncommon enough for the subject to be described as “an uncomfortable issue” by reviewers.

Imagine then an India just 12 years after independence, when the young and idealistic Lahore-born, Mumbai-based Chopra dwelt on pre-marital sex, the social ostracism of unwed mothers and prejudices faced by children born out of marriage, while also throwing Hindu-Muslim animosity into the blend. When the wounds of Partition had yet to heal, imagine the impact on the Indian psyche, of a Muslim gentleman singing to a Hindu infant: Tu Hindu banega na Musalman banega, insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega.

But Chopra would not rest there. In 1961, he made Dharmputra – also produced by B.R. Chopra – in which he flung himself right into the fires of pre-Partition Hindu-Muslim tensions. Here, the child of an unmarried Muslim couple is taken in by a loving Hindu family but grows up to be a Muslim-hating bigot. Dharmputra was steeped in overt symbolism and subcontinental politics. A Hindu family and a Muslim family co-existing peacefully served as metaphors for the two nations that would subsequently be torn out of one, and the hope that India and Pakistan could look beyond their painful history.

To those tempted to dismiss these scenarios as simplistic, or as exaggerated and melodramatic, it would be appropriate to point out that the release of both films would be fraught with risks even in 2012, when religious “sentiments” are still so easily “hurt”.

As it happens, the situations in both films find echoes in real life. As recently as 2011, the press reported that a Hindu couple in Hyderabad trying to adopt an orphaned Muslim baby was being harassed by both communities. The Indian secular ideal of ‘Hindu Muslim Sikh Isaai, hum sab hain bhai bhai’ is not quite the rosy reality that we would like to believe. And Chopra chronicled this truth at a time when most Hindi films preferred to pretend otherwise.

Sadly, like so many of Chopra’s hard-hitting films of the pre-1975 era, Dhool Ka Phool and Dharmputra are often lost in the flutter of chiffon saris that came to characterise his later works. That the gloss of those post-1975 films curtained off the vision of so many film commentators is partly the fault of a widespread tendency to judge books by their pretty covers, to assume that what is pretty is not gritty. 

Chopra himself must take some of the blame though. Too many films released by his production house Yash Raj Films (YRF) in the first decade of this century tried to replicate the glitz that came so naturally to him, without the depth of writing that Chopra brought to most of his directorial ventures. Lustre bereft of logiclike an impoverished home with colour-coordinated walls and furnishingsdid those films in, and Chopra cannot be absolved for such transgressions even if the reins of YRF were by then largely in the hands of his son Aditya. 

There are those who believe that Chopra’s most socially and politically conscious films were the ones produced by his equally illustrious sibling. Yet, this too is not entirely true. While he owes much to his brother, his success is also inextricably linked to the great lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi; to the scriptwriting team of Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar; to Amitabh Bachchan whose Angry Young Man status in Bollywood was further cementedafter Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeerby Chopra’s 1975 film Deewaar (not produced by the elder Chopra); and to Shah Rukh Khan with whom the director found remarkable box-office success from the early 1990s. The Deewaar protagonist’s angst against the system, reflecting off-screen India’s disillusionment with the establishment that had failed to deliver on the promises of Independence, indicated Chopra’s ability to sense the mood of the nation. When a similar anger and violence became the norm in Hindi films, Chopra continued the trend with films like Trishul (1978) and Kala Patthar (1979) while also repeatedly breaking away with poetic odes to love.

It was with these romances that his penchant for stunning pictures came to the fore. But the enduring image of Rekha and Amitabh wandering through acres of tulips in Silsila should not take away from the courage Chopra showed in acknowledging marital infidelity in that film. It’s also a measure of how influential he had become that he was able to persuade Rekha, Amitabh and his wife Jaya Bachchan to play out on screen what many believe is the story of their own lives. Naysayers feel Chopra “chickened out” in Silsila’s final reels when the erring husband goes back to his pregnant wife, giving audiences a socially acceptable climax. The other way of looking at it though is that the film’s ending is a reflection of the most probable outcome of such a situation in middle- and upper-class real India.

It’s a different sort of courage that we see in Chopra’s 1991 Sridevi-Anil Kapoor-starrer Lamhe, applauded by critics yet a box-office failure at home. Indian audiences, it was found, were uncomfortable with the story of a man falling in love with the daughter of a woman he had once been in love with. 

Lamhe was ahead of its time,” a friend wrote on Facebook the other day. “Incest as a theme was not acceptable in the nineties.” But there was no incest in Lamhe. The girl that Kapoor’s character falls in love with a second time was not his child but the daughter of a woman he never married.

“Well yes, not in clinical terms,” my friend wrote back, “but the romance between a man and a girl his daughter’s age perhaps did not find many takers.” The box-office rejection of Lamhe is the clearest evidence of audience double standards in Chopra’s career. This was the 1990s, when Bachchan had already spent several years romancing heroines who were young enough to be his daughters in real life. The difference between Lamhe and Bachchan’s films was that the Big B was usually playing the part of a man much younger than his real age. Apparently, the pretence of no age gap between the hero and heroine was acceptable to viewers, but the fictional depiction of an age gap in Lamhe was intolerable.

In the 1960s, Chopra had earned success with the thriller Ittefaq. He returned to the genre in 1993 with the psychological drama Darr, turning Hindi film convention on its head when he made SRK’s anti-hero in effect the hero of the film. In the 19 years that followed, Chopra directed just three films: Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) starred reigning superstars SRK, Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor. 2004’s Veer-Zaara once again starred actors ruling Hindi filmdom at the time: SRK, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta. And Chopra’s swan song Jab Tak Hai Jaan (to be released on November 13) stars SRK, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma.

Dil To Pagal Hai and Veer-Zaara were entertaining, eye-catching films that earned mega money at the box office, none of which comes easy to any filmmaker. Veer-Zaara also marked a return to Chopra’s pre-occupation with Hindu-Muslim ties, this time through a cross-border love story. However, the visual grandeur, casting and excessive sentimentality of these films have clouded much of the assessment of this great film-maker’s body of work and earned some criticism from even his admirers that he had become formulaic post-Darr.

It must also be pointed out that in Veer-Zaara, like other Hindi filmmakers before him who had dealt with inter-community romances, Chopra too played it safe by ensuring that the minority community member in the relationship was the girl who as dictated by Indian social normscould be brought over into the Hindu fold. It’s hard to tell whether there is an unspoken diktat on this matter from Indian audiences, but it’s disheartening that the man who made Dhool Ka Phool and Dharmputra would turn out to be a conformist, albeit in a well-meaning film.

Still, it’s crucial to emphasise that several films emerging from Chopra’s production house in the past decade have continued to raise significant points about the man-woman bond and inter-religious harmony. In Hum Tum, a woman is offended when her boyfriend apologises to her for their consensual pre-marital sexual encounter (such an apology would have been the order of the day in films of earlier decades). Fanaa mentions the unkept promise of a referendum made to the Kashmiri people. Sadly, the seriousness of these films is not widely acknowledged by the film-going community.

Even Chak De! India’s pathbreaking feminist tale of religious and gender prejudice in Indian sport could do little to erase the widely held impression continuing from the mid-1990s, that YRF was more about brilliant packaging than issues which resonate with India.

Indian cinema lost a colossus when Yash Chopra passed away on October 21, 2012. Good-looking stars, chiffons flying about in the wind, Swiss mountains and fields of flowers are no doubt a part of his legacy. Let’s not forget though that so too was that great mind much ahead of his time. 

(Anna MM Vetticad is on Twitter as 
@annavetticad)



Note: This photograph was not published in Forbes

Sunday, October 19, 2014

REVIEW 298: SONALI CABLE


Release date:
October 17, 2014
Director:
Charudatt Acharya
Cast:


Language:

Rhea Chakraborty, Ali Fazal, Smita Jaykar, Anupam Kher, Swanand Kirkire
Hindi

If David doesn’t look like David in a David-vs-Goliath film, you know you have a problem.

The film shares its title with a small-time cable Internet agency in Mumbai, the owner of which refuses to sell her shop when a large corporate entity called Shining decides it wants to monopolise the broadband business in the city. Sonali Dattaram Tandel (Rhea Chakraborty) is a feisty, fiery creature who won’t brook nonsense from anyone. Abandoned by her mother in her childhood, now as an adult she mothers her alcoholic father (Swanand Kirkire). If you want to buy out her tiny enterprise, Sonali Cable, you don’t phone her and tell her to visit you in your humungous office building with the intimidatingly massive lobby; you don’t tell her, you make a polite request. Goes without saying that there’s nothing polite about the bullies in suits from Shining.

And thence commences the enmity that almost destroys this gutsy gali ki chhokri, her friendships and especially her relationship with her boyfriend Raghu (Ali Fazal), son of Mumbai politician Meenatai Pawar (Smita Jaykar).

Disappointingly for a film co-produced by veteran Ramesh Sippy and his son Rohan, the lady neta’s name is its only cheeky touch. The late Balasaheb Thackeray’s wife was Meenatai, and Pawar is, well, you know the Pawars. Looks like writer-director Charudatt Acharya was having fun there.

No idea what happened thereafter. The introduction to the disparate cast of characters working with Sonali and the basic plotline are successful in getting viewer interest piqued. Unfortunately, too much unravels too soon in this film.

There are many elements that appear promising – the father-daughter relationship minus the presence of a mother figure (not common in Bollywood films), the personal touch offered by small business operators, the potential collusion between politics and big business, the bleak future of small businesses when that collusion takes place, and more. All this is particularly relevant in the context of the continuing FDI-in-retail-vs-the-future-of-kirana-stores debate. Sadly, Acharya fails to flesh out these elements and take them forward, which is odd considering that his earlier co-writing credits include films vastly superior to this one: the unusual horror flick Vaastu Shastra, the interesting though inconsistent Dum Maaro Dum and the delightfully quirky, layered Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Nautanki Saala (the last two directed by Rohan Sippy). Sonali Cable merely skims the surface of everything it deals with, while our little Ms David and the people at Shining end up looking like clichés.

Besides, though the actors in Sonali’s office and home settings are believable, and Smita Jaykar feels very real as a politician of questionable morals, Rhea Chakraborty sticks out like a sore thumb. She is just too glammed-up to fit the part of a young woman sweating it out in a narrow bylane in lower middle-class quarters in a congested city. She has an expressive face but her makeup is too flawless, her jewellery too well-matched to her stylish, figure-emphasising clothes. In a country where working women are extremely careful about the way they are turned out for fear of being misunderstood, I’m not saying a real-life Sonali Tandel shouldn’t dress like this woman, but that she wouldn’t dress like her on the job in the kind of job she does.

Sonali’s posture too is more like that of a professional model at a studio shoot than a woman running a corner shop. Notice how she stands, her dainty hands planted just above her hips to underline her tiny waist that is already highlighted by her impeccably cut tops. Let’s get real!

Ali Fazal is the cute-looking guy who played Vidya Balan’s boyfriend in Bobby Jasoos earlier this year. Fazal has a likeable screen presence and delivers a neat performance here, despite the half-baked screenplay. The redeeming factor for Chakraborty is that she has good chemistry with him. In fact, they’re hot together when they cuddle up.

The villains in the story never make the transition from cardboard cutouts to real human beings: there’s the sleazy corporation owner (Anupam Kher), his obsequious second-in-command who is out of his depth in the job throughout but is not fired anyway, and a third man who seems far wiser than the second-in-command but does not take over the job. At least Kher’s character boasts of an innovative quirk that is effectively icky: he has a earbud permanently stuck in his ear, thus constantly conjuring up visions of ear wax and – don’t ask me why – people who pick their noses or men who don’t wash their hands after peeing. This, his obsession with khakra and the ridiculous tasks he gives his ever-on-call gori firangi Woman Friday are amusing to begin with, but after a while they become yawn-worthy and you want to see evidence of action in his bustling mega-company beyond those three men mostly cooped up in a room.

The last thing you would expect from Ramesh and Rohan Sippy is a film that looks like it ran out of both money and imagination early on. In addition to better writing and casting, this one needed more extras in more frames and sets that weren’t trying hard to look like natural settings.

Sweetness of intent can’t make up for superficial content. Too much of Sonali Cable feels as if a section of the team lost interest in this project long before it was wrapped up.

Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):

U/A
Running time:
128 minutes