Monday, May 25, 2015

INDIA’S FILM CENSORSHIP SYSTEM / FILM FATALE: COLUMN PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU BUSINESSLINE

CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT

The Censor Board’s ratings for mainstream Bollywood films reveal a gender bias and star obsession, over and above the extreme conservatism of which it is often accused

By Anna M.M. Vetticad


By the time you read this, chances are that the heated discussions about Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet would have died down, to be replaced by chatter about Aanand L Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Chances are too that in the midst of the din about the quality of Kashyap’s film, a crucial point would have been lost: that its gruesome violence was rated U/A by India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
The U/A certificate indicates that it is deemed fit for unrestricted viewing, though parental discretion is advised for children below 12. Producers prefer U/A to an A (adult) rating which affects collections by limiting a film’s potential audience.
Let me make it clear: this column is not against violence on screen. Unless a film glorifies, romanticises or advocates violence (Bombay Velvet has not done any of this) no one should curb a director’s freedom of expression. The issue here though is that the CBFC is consistently inconsistent.
Back when Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2 were released with A ratings in 2012, there was cause for celebration, because the films’ narrative steeped in expletives, crime and bloodshed was expected to incur the Board’s wrath. These assumptions were based on the Board’s track record, which included a refusal to clear Kashyap’s remarkable debut feature Paanch in 2001 on charges that it glorified crime, indulged in double entendre and bore no positive social message. The absurdity of the accusations lay in the fact that Paanch, quite to the contrary, was about the pointlessness of violence.
Over a decade later, GoW was handled by a different Board headed by classical dancer Leela Samson whose tenure (April 2011-January 2015) marked the dawn of a new progressiveness in the CBFC. Samson’s Board was not without flaws, mostly though because of the dated rules under which even liberals are compelled to operate and because the overall system desperately needs an overhaul. Despite these constraints, films like GoW were released.
However, then too, as it is with the abysmally regressive present Board headed by Pahlaj Nihalani, and in fact long before Samson entered the picture, the ratings for mainstream Bollywood films reveal two aspects of India’s Censor system: a gender bias and a star obsession. First, over the years, films by directors who are perceived as ‘artistic’ and ‘serious’ — Kashyap being an example — have been far more likely to get scissored or rated A or both, than films by directors widely considered more mass-oriented and/or mainstream.
Second, films revolving around big-league commercial male stars tend to get gentler treatment than those with younger, less established actors or those primarily associated with off-mainstream cinema. Third, female-centric films seem to be viewed through an entirely different lens from male-centric projects, possibly because they are automatically seen as ‘serious’. Take for instance the A-rated Rani Mukerji-starrer Mardaani (2014). When actor-producer-director Aamir Khan was informed about Mukerji’s reported intention to challenge the A, he was quoted as saying he agrees with the rating because young children should not be exposed to the kind of language and violence depicted in the film, adding: “Most absurd and strange things are shown in some films which are U or U/A. I cannot believe how it is shown in the film. I think we should be careful about what we are exposing our children to.” (Source: ibnlive.com)
That’s a curious statement, considering that Khan appeared to have no qualms about the U/A certification for his blood-spattered 2008 film Ghajini in which he played a ferocious, murderous hero. Ghajini featured far more gory aggression depicted far more graphically than anything in Mardaani. Yet it was deemed fit for children whose parents thought it suitable for their young wards.
The pattern of the Censor response to women-led films cannot be a coincidence. In a year when Bombay Velvet has received kid-glove treatment, the Anushka Sharma-starrer NH10 was certified A. Yes, NH10 is bloody. No doubt too that NH10 and the comparatively mild Mardaani merited As. The question is: why the double standards?
As already mentioned, women are not the only victims of this hypocrisy. Three years after Ghajini and Aamir Khan got lucky, the John Abraham-starrer Force — with its unrelenting scenes of blood-spurting, bone-crunching police brutality — got away with a U/A. In 2015, while Bombay Velvet headlined by Ranbir Kapoor has been awarded a U/A, Badlapur was certified A. Can it be happenstance that Badlapur starred the popular but still emerging youngster Varun Dhawan and gave equal significance to the darling of indie projects, Nawazuddin Siddiqui?
Can it be just chance that Badlapur’s director Sriram Raghavan remains best-known for his non-massy films Ek Hasina Thi (albeit a Saif Ali Khan-starrer) and Johnny Gaddaar? Can it possibly be a fluke that the only two U/A ratings in Kashyap’s filmography of 14 years as a feature director have gone to No Smoking (2007) with John Abraham and Bombay Velvet starring the hottest hero of this generation?
If India’s film rating norms are to be believed, it would seem that Kay Kay Menon’s highly believable, wild, amoral character in Paanch is objectionable; but not the violence of Ranbir Kapoor’s Johnny Balraj, including a close-up of him wrapping his arm around a man’s neck to crush and twist it. It would seem that a policewoman bashing up a criminal in Mardaani could ruin our children; but a policeman committing many more grievous acts of violence in Force cannot. Just saying.

(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)

(This column by Anna MM Vetticad was first published in The Hindu Businessline newspaper on May 23, 2015)
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Note: This photograph was not sourced from The Hindu Businessline


Friday, May 22, 2015

REVIEW 332: TANU WEDS MANU RETURNS

Release date:
May 22, 2015
Director:
Aanand L. Rai
Cast:




Language:
R. Madhavan, Kangna Ranaut, Swara Bhaskar, Jimmy Sheirgill, Deepak Dobriyal, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Eijaz Khan, Rajendra Gupta
Hindi




Tanu Weds Manu (TWM) Returns is, to use a colloquialism, a zabardasti ka sequel. Read: a follow-up that does little to take forward the story or characters of the first film. It’s funny a lot of the time – really really funny – but that’s no excuse for the haphazard plotline.

Director Aanand L. Rai picks up where he left off in 2011’s sleeper hit Tanu Weds Manu, assembles some of Hindi cinema’s most talented actors for the project and then squanders them away with a barely conceived plot.

Writer Himanshu Sharma’s screenplay for the film is steeped in earthy, desi humour which this gifted cast complements with their impeccable timing and dialogue delivery skills. His story, however, wanders all over the place, the characterisation of the leads is weak to say the least, and the plot is riddled with loopholes the size of a continent.

For instance, at one point over the course of a very crucial scene, a significant character kidnaps the sister of another significant character – the film actually does not tell us what happened to her after that! Did the writer and director forget? Or did they not care enough to make the effort?

The woman re-appears briefly during the end credits, but hello, what happened between the abduction and then? Loose ends such as this one are too obvious to have gone unnoticed by the team, which suggests they were left hanging due to indifference, not inefficiency. Since TWM Returns is positioned as sensible – not slapstick – comedy, this is a disappointment.

The story, for what it’s worth, goes like this. Four years after they fell in love and married in Tanu Weds Manu, Tanuja Trivedi a.k.a. Tanu (Kangna Ranaut) and Manoj Sharma a.k.a. Manu (R. Madhavan) are now an unhappy couple in London. The opening scene where they consult a team of doctors at St Benedict’s Mental Asylum, Twickenham, is hilarious. The two stars play off each other brilliantly and Sharma’s dialogues are crackling at that point.

The downslide begins right away though with what happens to Manu at the end of that episode. Was Tanu intentionally cruel to her husband or was she helpless when their open battle led to unexpected consequences? If the latter, then why did she make no effort to save him then and there? If the former, then this instance of evil is out of character for this woman who, in the rest of the film, is portrayed as all heart despite her rough edges.


Be that as it may, both Tanu and Manu return to India. He ends up falling for a Tanu lookalike, a Haryanvi athlete from Delhi University’s Ramjas College called Kusum Sangwan a.k.a. Datto (also Ranaut). And Tanu charms the pants and hormones off her parents’ paying-guest-who-does-not-make-payments, Arun Kumar Singh a.k.a. Chintu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) in her home town Kanpur. She later hooks up with her old love Raja Awasthi (Jimmy Sheirgill). Also in the picture are the lead couple’s three buddies from TWM: Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal), Payal (Swara Bhaskar) and Jassi (Eijaz Khan).

Don’t be misled by the veneer of comedy. At heart, TWM Returns is a serious endorsement of marriage and traditional notions of romantic love. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you share the film’s worldview. The problem lies in the confusion over the heroine’s motivations.

Manu was a sweet yet irritating duh in the romance department earlier too, so his behaviour in the second film is not beyond belief although he continues to come across as a Big Moose in love. It’s a measure of Madhavan’s nice-boy aura that it’s hard to dislike Manu despite his stupidity and his marginally icky attraction for a near-child. Tanu though, remains inexplicable, just as she was in this film’s precursor. The question is not: What the heck does this woman want? There are mixed-up characters in the real world too, so her seemingly muddled head does not defy believability. No, the question is: why the heck does this woman want what she wants?

An artiste who can rise above a script’s limitations is rare. Ranaut has evolved so dramatically in the past four years that she has become that artiste. She does the best she can with the confused characterisation, delivering a slightly toned-down version of the earlier Tanu, still fiery to the point of being belligerent yet also appearing to search her soul more often. She also grabs the screenplay’s big strength – the dialogues – with the hunger of a talented performer, chews them up and spits them out with infectious verve.

Her turn as Tanu’s doppelganger Datto (a better written character) is astonishingly good. There are moments when she manages to make it seem like this could be a different actor bearing a resemblance to Ranaut. Certainly the film’s styling, make-up and costume departments deserve a huge share of the credit for their intelligent work on her, without the use of obvious crutches such as thick glasses or  comparative dowdiness favoured by Hindi films of the past. But Ranaut takes it beyond that, giving Tanu and Datto completely different personalities and beings.

It is also to her credit that though Datto has a thick accent, she is not a caricature of a Haryanvi woman. And I almost fell off my chair in wonderment at how much she reminded me of athletes I’ve seen in training: that walk, that manner of running, all done without a hint of exaggeration.

Kudos too to Ranaut for sorting out the two things that have been her Achilles heel so far: diction and voice modulation. She is remarkable every step of the way in TWM Returns.


Her presence does not diminish this films flaws, however. Tanu’s mixed-up motivations are a glaring gap in the writing. Manu is one-dimensional. And frankly, the tension between Payal and her husband Jassi is far more credible than the stereotypical clash between Tanu and Manu.

What’s truly worrisome about this film though is its carefully masked attitude to women. TWM made light of a man kissing an unknown woman lying passed out on her bed. Manu’s actions in that scene were projected as being romantic. In a world where too many people do not grasp the meaning of consent, this is not cute; it is unforgivable. Then came Raanjhanaa from the same team, a horribly disturbing ode to stalking. This film is less overt.

An early scene in TWM Returns makes light of that kiss from Film 1. And the abduction of a woman by a man who thinks she is in love with him is also passed off as a joke here. Up to that point the fellow has been built up as an endearing character, thus making it hard for the audience to despise his behaviour towards the woman. More to the point, by quietly giving the girl a line to deliver in which she points out to him how wealthy her fiance is, the film plays to the gallery of roadside Romeos and sundry misogynists who believe women are teases and that they are selfishly governed by concerns about financial security in matters of the heart. This suggestion also cashes in on the increasing antagonism one sees from such men towards independent, smart women, I guess to balance out the presence of bright women like Tanu and Datto in the film.

It’s hard not to wonder then if this attitude has also pervaded the creation of the two leads. There can be no other explanation for why the writing is designed to make us enjoy Tanu’s fire, but sympathise with her hai-bechara ‘victim’ Manu.

This tone is sought to be masked by such things as Datto’s brother giving a group of Haryanvis in Jhajjar a lecture about women’s freedom. Feminism is the latest fashion going around, and Team Rai-Sharma are the latest to fake it.

Despite its jumbled story and this undercurrent of misogyny, it’s hard to write off the film. Because when the going gets good the dialogues are killers and because of the immaculate acting. Of the excellent supporting cast, the always highly watchable Bhaskar and Ayyub merit a special mention, and Dobriyal is an absolute scene-stealer. Also in the business of stealing scenes are the songs (music: Krsna Solo, lyrics: Raj Shekhar), in particular I’m just an old school girl sung with histrionic flair by Anmoll Malik and, in its Haryanvi version, by Kalpana Gandharv.

These enjoyable positives led by Ranaut are what hold up an otherwise very flawed film.

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

Footnote: What does it say about this male-dominated industry that Madhavan’s name precedes Ranaut’s in the opening credits although she was the USP of TWM, she is clearly the bigger star in Bollywood, and she is the name on the strength of which TWM Returns was marketed?

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
121 minutes 

Photographs courtesy: 
(1) Poster – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanu_Weds_Manu_Returns
(2) Still – Raindrop Media