Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) #SherylPuthur

ae-dil-hai-mushkilDirected By: Karan Johar

Written By: Karan Johar

Cast:

Ranbir Kapoor – Ayan Sangar

Anushka Sharma – Alizeh Khan

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – Saba Taliyar Khan

Fawad Khan – DJ Ali

Lisa Haydon – Lisa D’souza

Imran Abbas – Dr. Faisal

Shahrukh Khan – Tahir Taliyah Khan

Alia Bhatt – DJ Alia

Language: Hindi; Urdu                                                    Genre: Drama; Romance

 

Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a story about relationships and heartbreak. The film opens with an interview of Ayan Sangar (Ranbir Kapoor), a London-based singer who has gone from being a YouTube sensation to a popular singer whose music intrigues his audience for its poetry and pathos.

Ayan opens up about the relationships that made him and probably broke him. Alizeh Khan (Anushka Sharma) is a girl he meets at a bar. After a failed hook-up, they become good friends. It is a friendship characterised by straight talking and witty one-liners. They also bond on their shared love for Bollywood which is something that connects them to the subcontinent. They are two people who have learnt to deal with loneliness and distant parents in their own ‘carpe diem’ fashion. Their friendly chemistry leads Ayan to assume that there is more to their relationship. He falls in love with her and she loves him too, but platonically.

Alizeh is wary of relationships because of her previous turbulent relationship with the popular DJ Ali (Fawad Khan), whom she met at Lucknow while she was a student. She is not over him and his return into her life cause cracks to appear in her friendship with Ayan because he cannot take the rejection.

Ayan, in his desperation to forget or deal with his heartbreak becomes involved with an intelligent, sensual older woman Saba Taliyar Khan (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). She is a shayara (poet) and she is as intrigued by him as he is by her. Ayan has a pattern to his relationships which are largely about sexual satisfaction. If his earlier relationship with Lisa (Lisa Haydon) was marked by shallow physical needs on his side and gold-digging on hers, his relationship with Saba is on a more equal footing.

Conceptually, the film is great. It is about being ‘friendzoned’ by a lover. Literally every character in the film is friendzoned at some point or other. The film explores the complexity of modern relationships and points out the flaws in relationships that don’t have very solid grounding. It speaks about falling out of love with someone and growing steadily intolerant about certain aspects of your partner’s personality. And how, conversely, to protect a valued connection, one would turn the proverbially Nelson’s eye to the true dynamics of the alliance.

But, the treatment of the narrative is poorly handled. It abounds in clichés which get a tad bit irritating. Even the fact that the movie is narrated through an interview is implausible. That is an overlong interview and if it was reality, one could empathise with the plight of the interviewer.

That the screenwriting is lazy is obvious in the manner in which the denouement was reached. Another film that pretty much handled the same theme but in a far more mature fashion was Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. Ironically, it is a Dharma Production.

Even the lead actors, who have obviously performed brilliantly, have taken recourse in roles they have essayed before. There is then nothing to look forward in their interpretation. Kapoor has reprised the pathos and confusion of his movies Rockstar and Tamasha (in fact, even the narrative borrows heavily from these two features). Anushka Sharma is mature in how she plays Alizeh but it’s still nothing new. However, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has truly pushed herself out of a performative comfort zone. Even Lisa Haydon is hilarious.

Now the elephant in the room is the political controversy that this motion picture got embroiled in because it cast a Pakistani actor. Fawad Khan is barely there in the movie and it might make an audience member feel ‘oh a storm in a teapot’ but it is my assumption that the film may have been re-edited post controversy and would have chopped out much of his role. It is rather sad that he leaves Indian cinema not with a bang but a fizzle.

Also, I suspect all the characters, except for Ayan, were Pakistani in origin. Even the scenes that were later dubbed as Lucknow may have originally been Lahore. This is more plausible because the punjabiness of the wedding preparation and music would be out of place in a Lucknowi wedding. This may have then implied that the narrative was heading towards the idea that we are so much more similar than we give credit for. It also did not seem a narrative that harped on the India-Pakistan past but side-stepped it and moved into a ‘this is how South Asians are’. It would have challenged the viewpoint that Indians in India have about Pakistanis when contrasted with that of Indians abroad. This very fact would have made this a mature take on the tense kinship we share.

Even the fact that Sangars are supposed to Brahmin, Ayan however, plays a very un-Brahmin role. If the above was how Karan Johar intended it, it is truly unfortunate that he had to pare down and remove all those subtle nuances that may have made the clichés more bearable.

So he has broken or tried to break community and nation stereotypes. But he hasn’t stepped out of the traditional Bollywood ending of tragic catharsis or truly reconciled himself to ambiguous or incomplete endings. The ending, therefore, is unexpected, incredulous and unintentionally funny.

On a side note, the cinematography and art design were aesthetic. The music of the film is brilliant. Moving, poetic and catchy – a double thumbs up.

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Parched (2016) #SherylPuthur

parched_xlg

Directed By: Leena Yadav

Written By: Leena Yadav

Cast:

Tannishtha Chatterjee – Rani

Radhika Apte – Lajjo

Surveen Chawla – Bijli

Riddhi Sen – Gulab, Rani’s son

Lehar Khan – Janki, Gulab’s wife

Sumeet Vyas – Kishen

Mahesh Balraj – Manoj

Chandan Anand – Rajesh (Raju)

Sayani Gupta – Champa

Adil Hussain – Mystic lover

Language: Hindi; Gujarati                                                          Genre: Drama

 

Leena Yadav’s Parched is a women-centric film but unlike how it is represented, it isn’t just a movie about the abuse faced by rural women. In fact, abuse is one of the themes taken for granted throughout the narrative. Almost every female character faces it or is assumed to have faced it in the past.

Instead, the film is more about thirst. Sexual thirst – the act of being parched for pleasure, kindness, appreciation and recognition. Most Indian women, according to Sudhir and Katharina Kakar’s book The Indians have never experienced sexual pleasure. Sex for them is painful and a duty. And pleasure – a myth. Parched, then details what women talk about amongst themselves – how they wish to discover pleasure or try to find happiness in other things so that they can brush aside the glaring need for human intimacy that they have.

The three main women that the narrative revolves around are Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte) and Bijli (Surveen Chawla).

Rani is the respectable widow who is getting her son married to Janki (Lehar Khan) from another village. In flashbacks and through the one-sided conversations with her invalid mother in-law we see that she has never truly known happiness and had to put aside her books because a well-read woman cannot run a house. The irony is, she uses the same lines on Janki who wishes to study. More than anything, it tells the viewers what her mother in-law may have faced and how she too may have knuckled under societal pressure to follow norms.

Lajjo is known as the barren woman who is however, a skilled handloom worker. She is frequently seen sporting bruise marks – the handiwork of her husband Manoj (Mahesh Balraj). She is an innocent character who has romantic notions and jokes about being barren, though no one laughs. Rani is who she runs to for comfort when her husband’s abuse gets out of hand.

Bijli, on the other hand, is an erotic dancer who also satisfies the needs of the village men whenever she is asked to. She occasionally refuses and plays the diva but is frequently told that as a whore she should know her place. For Rani and Lajjo, she is the breath of fresh air and brings news from the outside world that they have never seen. She is also the only one among them who has experienced some pleasure in sex. They scoff at her stories of a man who treated her body as a temple because such a man does not exist in their opinion.

Women have no autonomy over their bodies and a pivotal scene that occurs in the beginning of the film is before the panchayat. A woman, Champa (Sayani Gupta) walked out on her marriage because of the abuse she faced but the sarpanch decrees that she must return because otherwise it will bring dishonour on the village. She loudly proclaims that she is being raped and abused by her in-laws but instead she is herded into the vehicle and the sarpanch is seen consoling the father that she will come to understand and accept it.

However, mirroring this scene is that of the women’s representative at the panchayat asking for the television to be brought in. The panchayat feel that there is no need for it, plus the mobile phones they asked for has been nuisance enough. They also claim that the expenses for the cable connection can’t be borne. But the women offer to pay for it from their savings through the handloom work.

So the changes that do come in are because of the women and this frightens some of the men who feel it emasculates them. Such as Gulab (Riddhi Sen) and his friends, who feels Kishen (Sumeet Vyas), a local entrepreneur, has brainwashed the women into believing that their handloom work can make them independent and self-sufficient. Kishen’s ‘foreign’ wife, as they refer to the Manipuri lady who is a teacher at the neighbouring village, is also to blame because she stands for unacceptable modern practises.

Alongside the abuse is the agency these women possess. They support each other and many of these women rebel unobtrusively. In fact, the frequent motif of travel such as in the beginning of the film when Rani  and Lajjo are travelling by bus is one such rebellion because Lajjo lets the wind blow away her pallu (long cloth covering the hair and sometimes face – a societal norm expected of women in public in many communities as a sign of submission). The wind blowing the hair that is so often covered is a running motif in the film because it is a forbidden pleasure.

The film is about them choosing for themselves within their own constraints, be it Janki choosing to study as well as help Rani with housework, even if she has to do it secretly. The film also has elements of homoeroticism especially in Rani and Lajjo’s relationship but it isn’t the simplistic reading that Deepa Mehta’s Fire gave to lesbianism which was, neglectful husbands = lesbian relationship. It is rather that, in a world where women do not experience intimacy, their female friends fill that void. Considering no one really questions the homoeroticism in Fight Club between Edward Norton’s character and Tyler (Brad Pitt), I suppose this could be met with similar nonchalance.

The film is a truly positive experience despite the startlingly real violence in it as it also about the agency of women. It has humour and poignancy in its portrayal of women’s experiences.

Kapoor and Sons (2016) #SherylPuthur

kapoor-sons

Directed By : Shakun Batra

Written By: Shakun Batra and Ayesha Devitre Dhillon

Cast:

Rishi Kapoor – Amarjeet Kapoor (Dadu)

Fawad Khan – Rahul Kapoor

Siddharth Malhotra – Arjun Kapoor

Ratna Pathak Shah – Sunita Kapoor

Rajat Kapoor – Harsh Kapoor

Alia Bhatt – Tia Malik

Sukant Goel – Wasim

Amarjeet – Plumber

Language: Hindi                                        Genre: Drama; Comedy; Romance

 

At the heart of Kapoor and Sons is the idea of family. The need for acceptance, validation and consolation, you require from your immediate family members. The Kapoor family is certainly dysfunctional but then every family is. It’s just a question of degree.

The characters may seem callous but it is the kind of indifference that sets into any kind of long-term relationship. Which is why when the characters see themselves at the receiving end of such indifference, they act out to gain attention. Be it Dadu (Rishi Kapoor) playing dead, Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah) throwing tantrums because she feels rejected or Arjun (Siddharth Malhotra) storming out after a family feud.

Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) feels persecuted by his wife’s demands and alienates her even more – adding to her need to act out. However, it is Rahul (Fawad Khan) who tries to keep the family together. He acts the responsible adult when everyone else seems to be giving in to their infantile side. But he may be the one most splintered on the inside because of the secrets he has to keep.

In fact, as the story progresses, the characters get more and more unhinged, till the lines between their public appearances and private selves come dangerously close.

What keeps the film from becoming an absurdist, dark Pinteresque drama is the humour, warmth and the Indian melodrama. Honestly, the latter isn’t a Bollywoodisation rather an inherently cultural pattern, albeit sometimes exaggerated in cinema.

The catalyst of the film’s action is Dadu, whose heart attack brings the estranged sons – Rahul and Arjun home to Coonor. The two siblings have a complex relationship. Rahul is the successful novelist while Arjun is struggling to find his space as a writer while doing odd jobs. He is jealous of Rahul’s success and the obvious preference his parents seem to have for Rahul.

There are characters who try vainly to hold on to their safety cloaks of upright behaviour. In fact, the younger characters seem to shield their inner selves more than the older ones. Sunita and Harsh openly argue, even in front of the plumber (Amarjeet) who thinks it’s perfectly alright to comment on their argument. Dadu is too old to care about public opinions and sees no point in it. Which is why, he openly expresses his displeasure, inappropriate humour and so on.

Maybe, it’s because with your family you should be able to express the unsavoury aspects of your personality. There is also an interesting cast of side characters like Tia (Alia Bhatt), Wasim (Sukant Goel), his brother and others. Tia for instance is this bubbly girl who is fond of both brothers which considering their uneasy relationship is worrisome. She however, just like the other characters has another side to her personality that is not easily apparent.

The central motif of the film is the family photo that Dadu wants to take. He wants it be titled ‘Kapoor and Sons since 1921’ probably as a reminder that the family is still together. He wants everyone to be together, to be happy and to be present. However, when all players come together for the photo, things fall apart.

Obviously watch it for the performances by seasoned actors like Rishi Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah and Rajat Kapoor. Yet, the performance that stands out is Fawad Khan’s sensitively handled performance of the “perfect bachcha”. He carries the film and could very well find another nomination coming his way, preferably in the Best Actor category. The sibling dynamics are well-portrayed by the lead actors. They are convincing in how they fit into the moulds of older and younger siblings.

Therefore, one could say the psychological detailing of the script and the masterful direction keeps the narrative tight.

 

Fitoor (2016) #SherylPuthur

fitoor-trailer-postersDirected By: Abhishek Kapoor

Written By: Abhishek Kapoor; Supratik Sen

Cast:

Aditya Roy Kapur – Noor

Katrina Kaif – Firdaus

Tabu – Begum Hazrat

Mohammed Abrar – young Noor

Tunisha Sharma – young Firdaus

Rahul Bhat – Bilal

Akshay Oberoi – Mufti

Talat Azmi – Salman

Lara Dutta – Leena Becker

Rayees Mohi-ud-din – Junaid

Kunal Khyaan – Aarif

Khalida Jaan – Rukhsar

Ajay Devgan – Mirza Beg

Sameer Roy – young Salman

Language: Urdu; Hindi                                               Genre: Romance; Drama

Abhishek Kapoor’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is set in Kashmir. At first, it seems a cinematographic choice but slowly certain themes emerge. The desolate beauty of the landscape, the changes in the season and the almost painful need for beauty and freedom that the characters express comes to us through the land just as it does through the narrative.

Noor (Mohammed Abrar) meets Firdaus (Tunisha Sharma) when he accompanies his brother in-law Junaid (Rayees Mohi-ud-din) to Begum Hazrat’s (Tabu) mansion. For him she seems like a dream riding a horse, free, imperious. Their relationship from their first meeting emphasises the class divide. He is eventually made her playmate and it is increasingly apparent that he is obsessed with her. Begum Hazrat soon parts them and commands him to become worthy of Firdaus.

Years later, when Noor (Aditya Roy Kapur) is busy honing his skills at art, he receives an art scholarship from an unknown benefactor and has to move to Delhi. He knows from prior information that Fridaus (Katrina Kaif) is in Delhi as well. So he sees this as an opportunity to better his lot and inhabit her world.

What becomes central to this romance is the power play between the characters. Begum Hazrat, due to an ill-fated romance tries to take revenge on fate and people by playing Noor and Firdaus against each other. Firdaus, having been trained by her mother, is unpredictable in her affections towards Noor. And it is not just the control the two of them exert on him but ‘fate’ itself seems to be controlling him and forcing him to feel obliged for any baksheesh (alms/bribe) he receives.

Does the political situation actually figure in the story? It certainly has the socio-economic concerns of Dickens’ novel and strangely enough, the political implications of the land do figure.

Firdaus is to be married to Bilal (Rahul Bhat), the next governor in Pakistan. And this is where the line from the trailer enters – “Doodh maangoge toh Kheer denge, Kashmir maangoge toh cheer denge” – If you ask for milk, we will give you pudding, if you ask for Kashmir we will give you a thrashing.

Noor sees Fridaus as Kashmir – pure and beautiful. Then if Bilal is Pakistan, is he India? Or is he also Kashmir? He after all admits to be living in the past. Firdaus for him represents a way of life in Kashmir that is open only to those who have the wealth to remain unconstrained. But there is a fallacy in this, because Begum Hazrat controls Firdaus so everything has become tainted.

Most of the people Noor meets at Delhi are Kashmiri in origin. And while he feels slightly overwhelmed in the beginning with the grandeur, he fits in. If anything, it becomes his space. Aarif (Kunal Khyaan) does not wish to return to Kashmir and neither do most of the others because for all its beauty, they would choose freedom instead. Rather than hearing stories of a Kashmir that was liberal, they would rather live liberated lives.

Most of the characters live in the past. Begum Hazrat, unable to find closure, continues to live in a past of abandonment. Salman (Talat Azmi), Bilal’s father, also never forgets Hazrat who was once his fiancée despite the fact that she left him.

Having seen a previous adaptation of Great Expectations, there was personally no element of surprise but the film is nevertheless a good screen adaptation. All the characters were well cast; in fact, the younger selves of Noor, Firdaus, Hazrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) are uncannily perfect. Tabu in fact has the done the dubbing for Aditi Rao Hydari with probably some pitch modifications to sound younger. Thus it retains authenticity in the film. However, Ajay Devgan was wasted in the film. His character of Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations had so much more to it. And yet it just wasn’t explored in this film. He was downsized to a plot device. The ending of the film, is tame to put it mildly. The whole film expects the narrative to reach a satisfying crescendo and that does not happen.

The artwork and the cinematography were stirring; and the music and dialogues – poetic. The title Fitoor means obsession/ passion/ insanity and it is most apparent in Noor and Hazrat because the others hide it better. Yet it comes out in the restrained violence of Bilal; the longing in Salman and the loss in Junaid.

Note: I was pleasantly surprised to see a friend and fellow actor Sameer Roy in the film. He plays a small role, that of the young Salman, but it was great seeing him in Fitoor.

Wazir (2016) #SherylPuthur

wazir

Directed By: Bejoy Nambiar

Written By: Vidhu Vinod Chopra; Abhijat Joshi

Cast:

Farhan Akhtar – Danish Ali

Amitabh Bachchan – Pandit Omkarnath Dhar

Aditi Rao Hydari – Ruhana Ali

Manav Kaul – Yazaad Qureshi

Anjum Sharma – Sartaj

Neil Nitin Mukesh – Wazir

John Abraham – S. P.

Language: Hindi                                                                  Genre: Action Thriller

Wazir is an action thriller based on a story by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Set in Delhi but tied up with Kashmir, the film follows an ATS officer Danish Ali (Farhan Akhtar) as he tries to uncover the links between a terrorist organisation and the politician who is secretly funding them. Things very soon spiral out of control and professional pursuits become personal vendettas when his daughter dies in the crossfire. Estranged from his wife Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari) and debilitated by grief, he befriends a wheelchair bound chess master Pandit Omkarnath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan).

Chess is central to the narrative and the metaphors of chess colour every aspect of it. The scenes where the, at first detached Danish is defeated by five year olds are fun to watch. They are a pressure-valve from the rather dark narrative. While these chess games make Danish and Omkar close friends, they also create an empathetic space wherein both seek understanding and closure as fathers because they are beset by a sense of impotence due to fate’s manipulations.

The film is a meta-narrative; a story within a story or maybe many stories because every character seems to be presenting a story and strangely enough each story is like a move in a chess game – calculated. The characters then become like pieces on a chess board, some also try to be the players. A little fore knowledge of chess may make certain things apparent like how the Elephant can by castling defend the King or how the Wazir (Bishop) can take on the powers of a Queen. Deciphering this make it something to chew on.

One has to draw parallels with Suniel Shetty’s character in Main Hoon Na who says something to the effect of ‘all wars are personal’ – this is central to the film.

However, an analogy for the film is that of the soufflé that didn’t rise. It is delectable and most would devour their portions but it lacks something. A short story is a tightly packed narrative and since a film cannot be so compact, it needs to be more expansive. Yet at times the film needlessly explains itself. That makes it a little tedious to a viewer.

The cinematography is beautiful but the editing could have been tighter. John Abraham’s character is wasted in the film but Sartaj (Anjum Sharma) forms a good foil to Danish’s impetuosity. Danish is a problematic character because he charges blindly into a situation and his reaction at the penultimate moment of the film is incongruous in terms of human behaviour. This could be seen as a flaw in the narrative structure.

The characters are on the whole well-crafted with Omkarnath Dhar standing out as the showman and Yazaad Qureshi (Manav Kaul) as a pivotal character. A scene that is testament to Kaul’s abilities is when he calmly sits down and rolls up his sleeves, all the while keeping a civilised appearance and calmly questioning his daughter. It leaves a knot in the stomach that threatens to overwhelm the viewer’s composure.

Bajirao Mastani (2015) #SherylPuthur

 

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Directed By: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Written By: Prakash Kapadia

Cast:

Ranveer Singh – Bajirao I

Priyanka Chopra – Kashibai

Deepika Padukone – Mastani

Tanvi Azmi – Radhabai

Vaibbhav Tatwawdi – Chimaji Apa

Milind Soman – Pant

Aditya Pancholi – Pratinidhi

Ayush Tandon – Nanasaheb/ Balaji Bajirao

Mahesh Manjrekar – Chhattrapati Shahu

Irrfan Khan – Narrator

Language: Hindi; Marathi                       Genre: Action; Romance; Drama

Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani is a true love story of epic dimensions brought out from the shadows to which history has confined it to appease powerful yet blinkered mindsets.

Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) is a young warrior of an illustrious lineage who is elected to the office of Peshwa in the Maratha Empire despite his youth, because of his breadth of vision and intelligence. Willing to take risks and making impulsive decisions, he embarks on several successful military campaigns. While not accompanied by his wife Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra), her devotion to him is his strength.

It is the impulsive campaign to Bundelkhand that brings Bajirao face to face with Mastani (Deepika Padukone), a princess of Bundelkhand. He falls in love with her but realises that a union between them is unlikely so he returns, pushing away thoughts of her. Mastani, however, takes a particular act of his as a sign and follows him to Pune. It is here that all the subterfuge against this unacceptable union begins. It is helmed by Bajirao’s mother Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi) and her son Chimaji Apa (Vaibbhav Tatwawdi).

It is almost frightening to witness how fanatical people can be about ritual purity, religion and the ilk. It is ironical too because the people oppose the Mughal Empire and Muslims but use Urdu-influenced Hindi in official and personal contexts. A significant line in this context is by Bajirao when he said (it’s not a verbatim quote) that yes he fights against the Mughal Empire because he is against them and what they do, not their religion. This is a telling statement in the current socio-political situation as people get blindsided by belief systems that have almost hypnotic qualities. The film is thus subtly critical of the times.

However, what was a letdown is that film focuses on the interior intrigues of Shaniwar Wada (Peshwa’s house) as opposed to the Maratha Empire. The character of the Pratinidhi (Aditya Pancholi) thus becomes a little underused because there were many political intrigues that involved the Peshwa and him in opposing factions.

Strangely enough, for a movie titled Bajirao Mastani, Mastani seems to be in the shadows and Kashibai is much more prominent. The filmmaker is sympathetic to Kashibai’s plight because she is the simple-hearted woman who finds her faith in Bajirao shattered by the entry of another woman. She believed that he could never do anything wrong and was a moral, upright man. One of the opening sequences, show her in conversation with her friend whose husband was executed by Bajirao for spying against him. It is Kashibai’s vehement refusal to accept any slight against her husband that makes the scene poignant.

It is then fitting, that a woman like Mastani, whose story has frequently been the focus of erasure or sidelining by forces then and now, should still be cloaked in mystery. Bajirao-Mastani’s love story is affecting because even if the orthodox society of his times chose to see her as his mistress, he saw her as his lawfully wedded wife and did everything to give her and their son, equal rights. Their love story in the film hasn’t been given much time to develop, say unlike the romance in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. This could be a bit of disappointment but then again, it is a film for the 21st century audience.

Interestingly, the film posters give the first clues about the portrayals in the film – the left side of any image is seen as less eye-catching because generally humans see the right side as more dominant. So it is appropriate then that Kashibai is to the left of the viewer, however, her image is more forward-positioned. Mastani is appropriately to the right, yet her image is withdrawn from the viewer’s gaze. Bajirao’s is a centred image, very squarely placed – like someone whose position in history cannot be shaken.

Bajirao’s relationship with Kashibai is eloquently played out by the actors. Their marriage is based on friendly camaraderie and shared confidences. Nevertheless, their intimacy plays out in a rather traditional manner with Kashibai being the recipient of her husband’s desire. On the other hand, Mastani, probably because of her experiences as a warrior, is more straightforward about her feelings and passionate in her expression.

The film performance-wise and casting-wise is impeccable. The casting of Milind Soman as Pant was a refreshing change and his interactions with Bajirao have a drawing power to them. Even the interactions between Radhabai and Kashibai are noteworthy and reveal the extent of their filial devotion. All the characters hold their own in the narrative.

And it is Ranveer Singh’s finest performance to date. He is Peshwa Bajirao in every frame, though the song Malhari is a little discomfiting.  It is a great listen but if he was Bajirao in every frame, in this song he was more of a controlled Ranveer Singh. Pinga however, is actually brilliant, so pay close attention to the lyrics.

A film made for modern audiences; it may seem slightly fast-paced in terms of narrative but still possesses a well-meshed screenplay and flawless camera-work with all the grandeur of a Bhansali film.

Tamasha (2015) #SherylPuthur

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Directed By: Imtiaz Ali

Written By: Imtiaz Ali

Cast:

Ranbir Kapoor – Ved Vardhan Sahni

Deepika Padukone – Tara Maheshwari

Javed Sheikh – Ved’s father

Vivek Mushran – Ved’s Boss

Language: Hindi                                                            Genre: Romance; Drama

Tamasha (Spectacle) refers to the local folk performances of popular oral narratives either from the epics, religious texts or popular ballads. This is a tradition by no means unique to India as every country possesses a tradition of local theatrical performances. These performances work on the fore knowledge of the audience and frequently include artistic deviations.

Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha has these local performances strewn through the film (both Indian and foreign, such as in Corsica there is a local procession). Performance and spectacle is central to the film, interestingly, even in human relationships. What is appropriate behaviour and how should you project yourself in a socially accepted manner.

The film follows Ved (Ranbir Kapoor) who grows up with an understanding that there are two lives to live – one the socially accepted life and the secret pulsating life of dreams. As a child Ved, visits the local storyteller to be transported into a world of fantasy.

So when he meets Tara (Deepika Padukone) for the first time at Corsica, he tries to live his ‘once upon a time’ moment – an escapist fantasy, by projecting his imagined idea of himself. So they decide not to tell each other the truth of their identity, he introduces himself as Don and she is Mona Darling. They spend a few days in Corsica and decide never to meet again. Tara however, cannot get over him and eventually searches him out. But now he turns out to be the anti-thesis of everything Don was. She rejects him and everything spirals out of control.

Like Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, this too is a ‘finding yourself’ narrative and as in both the focus is on the male character. The female character is exuberant and holds a commanding presence on the screen but ultimately is just the muse or the catalyst that sends them on a journey which has destructive consequences but is eventually creative in expression.

The storytelling is riveting and replete with popular culture references. Such as Catch-22 – this is significant, because a catch-22 situation is what underlies Ved’s dilemma.

The performances are compelling much like the narrative with both actors giving mature performances. A special mention – Ranbir Kapoor presents with frightening intensity the cracking up of an invisible character (in fact, a very Fightclub moment does exist in the film). If he in the future chose the role of a psychopath/sociopath – it would be chilling. However, in comparison to earlier films, there is a drop in the exuberant energy that had become almost synonymous with his performance. Deepika on the other hand, has scaled heights as an actor. Coming so close on the heels of Piku, her performance has a riveting fluidity to it.

Certain sequences in the film were too contrived. The segment in Corsica for instance, was at its worst – unfunny, and the scene between Ved and his father (Javed Sheikh) – unbelievable. The song Agar Tum Saath Ho was moving, with Deepika’s performance leaving you with a tightening sensation in your chest. Strangely though, others in that space do not react to their rather vocal argument which wasn’t very logical but I would like to assume Ali crafted the scene to emphasise the alienation in society.

While absorbing, the storytelling does lose out in the editing, making the screenplay haphazard. Something I found even in Rockstar which makes the story a little scattered.

Do stay to watch the credits to the end because Imtiaz Ali gives a beautiful tribute to the various performers by having the cast list begin with the names of the dancers, musicians etc who are so central to the narrative. To me, that was outstanding.

 

Finding Fanny (2014) #SherylPuthur

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Directed By: Homi Adajania

Written By: Homi Adajania; Kersi Khambatta

Cast:

Deepika Padukone – Angelina “Angie”

Naseeruddin Shah – Ferdinand “Ferdie” Pinto

Dimple Kapadia – Mrs. Rosalina “Rosie” Eucharistica

Arjun Kapoor – Savio Gama

Pankaj Kapur – Don Pedro Cleto Colaco

Anjali Patil – Stefanie “Fanny” Fernandes

Anand Tiwari – Church Father

Ranveer Singh – Gabo, Angie’s husband

Language: English; Hindi                                                  Genre: Dark comedy

Homi Adajania’s Finding Fanny is a dark comedy with ironic undertones, set in a fictional village of Goa – Pocolim. It is a place where everyone seems to be preoccupied with the past, but not consciously. They are living their lives but only half. Time is an important factor in the movie, it doesn’t seem to pass but it passes. Also the characters seem like stock characters yet they grow into more rounded beings.

So when an undelivered love letter lands at Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah)’s doorstep, he recalls his passionate love for this girl Stefanie (Fanny), for whom he wrote the letter – but it never reached her. And the irony is Ferdie is the village postman. Suddenly there is possibility of a romance for Ferdie who lived in rejection thinking Stefanie never loved him but she just never knew. Angie (Deepika Padukone) decides to help him probably because she is vicariously living a romance that was denied her – her husband Gabo (Ranveer Singh) choked on their wedding cake and died.

They need Don Pedro (Pankaj Kapur)’s car so the bait is Rosalina (Dimple Kapadia), Angie’s mother-in law, whose butt is of special fascination to him as he wanted to capture her on canvas. This motley group cannot be complete without a driver – Enter – Savio (Arjun Kapoor) who loved Angie but she had married his best friend. So they take off on this aimless journey which is probably metaphorical.

This aimless journey seems to be a quest. They are all looking for something and each character has something to hide. None of them seem to be what they are except for maybe Angie, who seems most willing among all of them for change to come in.

The group is trying to Find Fanny and that name is interesting because Fanny is also the American slang for ‘butt’ (the British use it to refer to something else but we are not entering that discussion). This might explain why Rosalina has a huge butt.

But what does Fanny really stand for? Is it a metaphor for love, romance or life? There is a Shelleyan preoccupation with death, something like his poem Ozymandias – the partially destroyed statue of a king in a lonely desert with an inscription proclaiming “Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!” but what works?

The film trivialises death – the ever-present phenomenon; in fact in the very first 15 minutes of the film there is a death. So follow the trail of dead bodies to find fanny.

PK (2014) #SherylPuthur

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Directed By: Rajkumar Hirani

Written By: Abhijat Joshi; Rajkumar Hirani

Cast:

Aamir Khan – PK

Anushka Sharma – Jagat “Jaggu” Janani Sahni

Sushant SinghRajput – Sarfaraz Yousuf

Boman Irani – Cherry Bajwa

Saurabh Shukla – Tapasvi Maharaj

Sanjay Dutt – Bhairon Singh

Parikshit Sahni – Jayprakash Sahni

Language: Hindi                                            Genre: Satirical Comedy-Drama

Hirani’s PK has been in the news for being controversial for its take on religion but I think PK can be considered revolutionary for other portrayals.

The premise of PK revolves on the idea that PK (Aamir Khan) is an alien from another ‘gola’ who arrives naked except for a rather garish ‘locket’ that is actually his remote – a transmitter that connects him to his spaceship. In a predictable turn of events, a poor Indian, desperate to make a quick buck, flicks the green locket and makes a dash for it, leaving PK with no hope of return.

Thus begins his efforts to first understand the culture, the language and the norms of the people. The discourse on language and its nuances is quite interesting. Words can mean different things depending on it context which ties up with the fact that words make up only 7% of our communication. The rest is body language and intonation, which can also be cultural. Which means it can be easily misunderstood.

Now PK’s locket is transformed into a religious symbol by Tapasvi Maharaj (Saurabh Shukla), a guru who has been tainted by his power and does make rather bigoted statements. So PK teams up with Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) and Cherry (Boman Irani), to fight against the blind fundamentalism that dominates religion and mainly takes on Tapasvi Maharaj.

Through this entire section, there is much on fundamentalism, blind aping of rituals, the biases within us about ‘others’ as well as the extreme emotional attitude that accompanies religion. One thing I did take back is the thought that we see God as the Supreme Being who created us, yet we fight to defend Him. The irony.

But while it is a refreshing new perspective (after all, it is a humanoid alien giving us insight into our internal madness) – it is didactic.

The film seems instructive like a street play – bringing awareness and dispelling ignorance. And that can get a little tedious especially when it is already an ongoing debate that people are aware of. But yes, there are sections of our population that are ignorant. The humour of the film was innovative – ‘dancing cars’, the various mishaps but an overplayed joke ceases to be funny. You can laugh the first few times but at the fifteenth time, it is all you can do to stretch your lips into a ghost of a smile. Even the song sequences – they are like advertisement breaks in the narrative, disrupting the flow of the film.

However, the penultimate scene is the one I consider utterly beautiful and revolutionary. It is what I have dubbed ‘The Phone Call’ which is an apolitical dialogue between India and Pakistan. It is almost like the didactic discourse of the entire film is to deliver this knockout blow. It is of course, Indian cinema at its most surreal, imaginative and dramatic best. And I feel if you step into the theatre to watch PK, this scene makes it worth it.

Ram-Leela (2013) #SherylPuthur

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Directed By: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Written By: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Cast:

Ranveer Singh – Ram

Deepika Padukone – Leela

Richa Chadda – Rasila

Supriya Pathak – Dhankor Baa

Gulshan Devaiah – Bhavani

Language: Hindi                                                             Genre: Romance; Drama

Ram-Leela set out to be the quintessential Indian romance but something stops it from making the mark. It had everything one expects from a Bhansali film – the grandeur of cinema, a visual cornucopia, a romance, beautiful music, great performances – but

And this three letter word ‘but’ peppers any reading of Ram-Leela. I’m going to borrow words from a director friend who described the film succinctly, ‘it is a beautiful film in a frame-by-frame shot – but – where (and this is my voice interrupting) is the logical continuity?

As I was watching I kept feeling that major portions of their romance got chopped up on the editing table because I couldn’t quite understand why they fell in love. The reason why Romeo and Juliet worked (on which this film is ostensibly based) is because of the innocence of the characters. They were too young and not yet jaded by life, so the idea that they loved each other was somehow believable. Ram and Leela are not that convincing.

At the outset it is established that the film is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and especially inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation (guns, modern settings yet culturally appropriate). What is really interesting to behold is that Bhansali has fused the storylines of popular sagas of star-crossed lovers into one narrative and oddly enough they flow well into each other. It is l suppose his tribute to every love saga written. Beginning with Heer-Ranjha, where the hero, a pampered younger son who is a lover of music and does not believe in fighting; to Romeo declaring his love in a garden of statues. It is also Layla-Majnun (Majnun means madman, referring to his madness when he loses her). There is even a nudge in the direction of West Side Story in the sexual assault on Rasila (Richa Chadda) when she takes a message from Leela (Deepika Padukone) to Ram (Ranveer Singh).

The film moves beyond the narrative of star-crossed lovers and I think tries to say something about India. The portrayal of women and the treatment meted out to them. How violence to women is a sport – the most telling incident being when Kesar (Barkha Bisht) is chased by Bhavani (Gulshan Devaiah) and his henchmen. It is set to music and is eerily reminiscent of Aishwarya Rai in the song sequence Man Mohini from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam racing to place the last tile and being chased by the other players.

Unlike Bhansali’s other films, the male protagonist has received a much bigger opening. In fact, the image of Ram dominates the film – the painting on the wall in the streets of the Rajaris, of him in his warrior pose. Is it that the Indian male fails to fit into the mould he created (ideal, just, pure, and kingly)? That they are just parodies who worry more about prowess and are unable to take a stand? Conversely then do ineffectual boyfriends make chauvinistic husbands? It is ironic then that the male protagonist is called Ram.

Or maybe like the recurrent motif of the film – the peacock, it is about the male of the species being showier than the female.

There is much being displayed about male and female power relations within the narrative. Dhankor Baa (Supriya Pathak) the matriarchal head of the Sanera family where the men toe the line and the daughter has a freer rein. But the daughter –in law wishes for more time with her husband but his hands are still knotted to his mother’s skirt. Even within the relationship of Ram and Leela, he encourages her initiative before marriage but then becomes controlling after marriage. And she knuckles under.

It speaks about female desire and here the women take up stronger initiative to fulfil their desire but the men seem to hold back from a real fulfilment and prefer a wish fulfilment hence the preponderance of reference to porn. The film is Indian machismo on display for us. It can be considered a move towards a different Indian sexuality in the uninhibited display of love between Ram and Leela.

As a romance the film does not entirely work for me but if I read further into it, and maybe even do an orientalist reading, I might reach somewhere.