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Sunday, April 13, 2014
(This column by Anna MM Vetticad was first published in The Hindu Businessline’s BL Ink supplement on April 12, 2014)
Headline: THE MODERN FAMILY
Introline: A few feisty Bollywood daughters and parents are challenging the industry’s patriarchal ways
Changing roles: Alia Bhatt is among the new batch of actors who continue to defy gender bias in Bollywood families
In a season of opinion polls, here’s one of the non-electoral kind. Do you believe a majority of Bollywood stars are from film families? Chances are most of you will say yes. The right answer though, is yes and no.
In this notoriously nepotistic film industry, there’s a gender angle even to nepotism: while it’s true that most male actors ruling Hindi cinema today are relatives of producers, directors, actors and other industry insiders; most female actors are not.
If you think this is a feminist over-reading of the scenario, just run your eyes through the past fortnight’s mainstream Bollywood releases and spot the star kids in each lead cast: director David Dhawan’s son Varun is the hero of Main Tera Hero; producer Vashu Bhagnani’s son Jackky headlines Youngistaan; and Dishkiyaoon co-stars producer-director Harry Baweja’s son Harman with legendary actor Dharmendra’s son Sunny Deol. Score: film family sons – 4, daughters – 0.
Alternatively, consider the male stars in the 30-50 age group who have dominated Bollywood for the past quarter century. Only three – Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar and John Abraham – are rank outsiders. Their contemporaries are Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Ranbir Kapoor, Shahid Kapoor and Imran Khan whose lineage needs no introduction. The percentage is dramatically reversed among leading ladies in the same age group, with outsiders (Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Manisha Koirala, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai, Vidya Balan, Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif) far exceeding the number of industry daughters (sisters Karisma and Kareena Kapoor, Kajol and cousin Rani Mukerji).
The explanation for this skew lies in Bollywood’s male chauvinism. Sanjay Dutt explicitly states that no daughter of the Dutt clan can act in films. Some star parivaars opt for politically correct public utterances on this matter, but Dharmendra – who openly opposed daughter Esha’s film career – was unblushing about his conservatism when I interviewed him on his 75th birthday in 2010. “Aisi unpredictable line mein jaha ladkon ke liye bhi mushkil hai, usme bechari bachchiyon ko kyun bhejoge? (Why would anyone send their poor daughters into a profession which is so difficult even for sons?) Ultimately daughters have to settle down, to be frank,” he said. “A father wants nothing but happiness for his daughter. They should settle down, live a happy life, and work according to their husbands (sic).”
Don’t be shocked. After all, our film industries are not set in Venus or Mars; they’ve emerged from our very own gender-prejudiced society here on Earth. Like Dharmendra, most industry families are fixated on patriarchal notions of “protecting” daughters who are too “bechari” to take on the world, instead of investing in changing that world.
This industry is acutely aware too of its own culpability with the casting couch. There is also a hypocritical categorisation of women into types: if society at large often labels women as ‘wife material’ and ‘girlfriend material’, for people in the film industry, there is the ‘my mother/wife/daughter type’ who must not wear skimpy clothes or romance other men on screen, and the ‘co-star type’.
Rare is the film family where the baton has been passed from father to daughter; rarer still from mother to child to grandchild. The Samarths – Shobhana Samarth, her daughters Nutan and Tanuja, Nutan’s son Mohnish Behl and Tanuja’s daughter Kajol – are exceptions who have opened doors to others, as pioneers always do. If there had been no Karisma and Kajol, who’s to say whether Rani and Kareena would have joined films. If it weren’t for this quartet, would the past seven years have witnessed the arrival of Anil Kapoor’s daughter Sonam, Shatrughan Sinha’s daughter Sonakshi, or Mahesh Bhatt and Soni Razdan’s daughter Alia? Coming soon is Suniel Shetty’s daughter Athiya.
These girls are droplets in the ocean, but their entry still marks a notable change from earlier decades, partly because they are not pliable or bechari and partly due to evolving parental mindsets. Anyone who has met Anil and Sonam could tell you that he is far too liberal to keep a daughter in a professional purdah and she is far too feisty to follow norms. Less obvious though is the spiritedness of Shatrughan’s daughter Sonakshi, who cultivates an image of traditionalism by discussing family values, sanskaar and her family’s dignity in most interviews.
As I write this column, I place a quick call to Sinha Senior, who is busy in Patna campaigning for his seat in the Lok Sabha polls. On the drive to an election rally, Shotgun – as he is known to colleagues and the press – describes himself as Sonakshi’s shield against the casting couch. I ask: Would she have listened if you had commanded her not to act? “We’re past the era when parents could dictate terms to children,” he replies. “You have to treat them as your friends, guide them according to their capacity, aptitude and qualifications.” Open-minded as Dad clearly is, it turns out too that Sonakshi of the lowered gaze in public, is very much her own woman.
(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an IntrepidFilm Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)
Photograph courtesy: Everymedia PR (shot of Alia Bhatt shooting for Imtiaz Ali’s Highway in Aru Valley, Kashmir)
Note: This photograph was not used in BL Ink
(a) The Dharmendra Interview by Anna MM Vetticad / Headlines Today / December 2010: http://tinyurl.com/pq5ut45
(b) “Bollywood and The Inheritance of Gloss” / Article by Anna MM Vetticad / The New Indian Express / June 2011: http://tinyurl.com/ne5xzt3
(c) Ranbir Kapoor, on being a Kapoor / Interview by Anna MM Vetticad / The New Indian Express / June 2011: http://tinyurl.com/ouxawxs
(d) “Ranbir my son is a fourth generation male actor” / Interview with Rishi & Neetu Kapoor by Anna MM Vetticad / The New Indian Express / June 2011: http://tinyurl.com/nj4fngo
Friday, April 11, 2014
April 11, 2014
Amitabh Bachchan, Parth Bhalerao, Boman Irani, Usha Jadhav, Sanjay Mishra, Brijendra Kala, Cameos: Anurag Kashyap, Shah Rukh Khan, Ranbir Kapoor
There’s a point in Bhoothnath Returns when Amitabh Bachchan’s character makes this very telling comment: Kabhi kabhi buraai khud buraai ko khatam kar daalta hai. The line is not a call to non-action by good folk, but a realisation that even as good fights evil, sometimes evil brings its own competition down. The line also marks one of the neatest twists in this well-meaning film that brings Bhootnath The Friendly Ghost back to Earth after we first met him in 2008’s Bhoothnath.
Bachchan plays the spirit who ends up standing for elections in Mumbai as his goal of helping a poor boy from Dharavi called Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao) turns into a goal to cleanse the Indian polity. The first half of the film has poignance, mischief and humour as Bhoothnath first sorts out Akhrot’s problems, then helps him become a professional ghostbuster, and finally becomes a politician himself. There is nothing in the Indian law that says a candidate must be alive to stand for elections, we are told. You can imagine the chuckles that entire sequence elicits.
Director Nitesh Tiwari ensures that the story trots along at a brisk pace for the most part, armed with a talented bunch of actors headlined by the lovely Big B and Parth. This wonderful child actor treads that fine line between precociousness and pizzazz delicately, and manages to keep his feet on the right side of the line while not once stepping out of character. It’s also worth noting that Bachchan always seems to put his child co-stars at ease as is evident not just here but earlier in Black and Bhoothnath too. Tiwari too must be complimented for his ability to spot gifted children – he’s the co-director of 2011’s Chillar Party. The children of Chillar were so amazing that the 10 of them jointly won the year’s National Award for Best Child Artiste (shared with Partho from Amole Gupte’s Stanley ka Dabba). It’s important to note that Bollywood’s ace casting director Mukesh Chhabra has worked on both films.
However, there are other not-so-fine elements from Chillar Party that Tiwari carries forward into this film: the absence of girls and women from the forefront of the action; and an item song in the end that arrives part way through the credits, placed in such a manner that most viewers are likely to miss it (having lingered to note down names of some crew members, I was at the door of the hall when it started, so I returned; most of the audience had left by then).
The timing of the film is apt. Rarely before has Bollywood made such a concerted effort to influence viewers to participate in the democratic process and to vote. The point is very effectively conveyed until Bhoothnath Returns turns into a speech in the final 45 minutes or so. At 2 hours and 35 minutes, the film is also just too long, feels stretched beyond a point and speaks in two tones. Ram Sampath’s eloquent and moving song Sahib, for instance, is used in a documentary-style sequence featuring this slow-moving number played over a series of National Geographic-like stills of mostly poor Indians across communities.
It’s also never nice to see a director getting star-struck. Bhoothnath and Akhrot are the protagonists of this film, but that final item number during the credits shows us just brief glimpses of young Parth, and revolves instead around Bachchan with singer Yo Yo Honey Singh. Come Party With Bhoothnath is a catchy dance number, but is incongruous in a children’s film, especially with lyrics that go thus:
Don't waste your time, ab sun lo tum meri baat
Kahaan dhoondoge iss shehar mein club tum aadhi raat
Jab saari duniya so jaati hai
After party ho jaati hai
After party ke bhi after
Jo chale ye woh party hai
Come Party with The Bhoothnath, Relax man! (four times) …
Music... bajaate jaao
Daaru... pilaate jaao
Haathon... ko uthaate jaao
Aaj raat... sabko nachaate jaao
“Daaru pilaate jaao” in a kids’ film? In a video featuring those kids, albeit briefly? Strange!
Still, until it gets confused about what it wants to be – feature film or docu, children’s film or adult fare, light-hearted entertainer with a message or dead serious – Bhoothnath Returns is a lot of fun. It’s good to see Bachchan in a role so different from the standard patriarch he usually plays in films these days. As for Parth, he’s something special.
Rating (out of five stars): **3/4
Footnote: After seeing Bhoothnath befriending a little boy in the first film, it would have been so refreshing to see him with a little girl in the sequel. This is not a criticism of Bhoothnath Returns in particular but of Bollywood in general. We know that this industry prefers to tell us stories of men, but it’s sad to see the male dominance extending to children’s films too.
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhoothnath_Returns
Lyrics courtesy: http://www.lyricsmint.com