Friday, December 26, 2008

Why did the audience embrace Rang De and showed the door to Swades…?

Originally written for The article has been originally published here.

I despise comparing films, and neither does this article compares Rang De and Swades( it does a wee bit in the end!). But, it is my take on the two movies( mostly independent), though coupled with how Indian audience perceives patriotic movies.

Rang De Basanti is the story of four youngsters, who are indifferent to the current state of affairs in our country. Graduall they discover what their country was, what did the coveted feeling azadi meant to the Bhagat Singhs, Azads, the Sukhdevs, and are enlightened when they see the present situation with reference to sitting in the CCDs, Baristas and complaining Is Desh ka kuch nahin ho sakta.

The movie opens to a typically brash, fun loving college going kids who are not concerned about anything but their own nothingness, their own small world, where they are the self confessed kings, and care two hoots about the whole world. Their shallowness dictates their life, until they meet Sue, a documentary filmmaker from Britain who is here to make a movie on India’s freedom fighters. Their face to face with India’s history makes them realize what India was, what India has become, and what it should be. The death of their friend and the system’s apathy towards the same is a triggering factor for them to want and enforce a change.

Swades is about Mohan Bhargava, a scientist in U.S.A who comes to India to take his nanny back. In a queer way, Swades is also about the realization of its chief protoganist, though here it is via witnessing the things first hand and then contemplating. The tranisition of Mohan is very much slow and hence, believable, though accused by everyone as very documentarish and slow.

Mohan goes through and sees a myriad things, before transitioning to drinking water from kulhad at the unknown Ankola station for 25 paisa. That is not even 1 cent, Mohan’s own plush life in NASA meets a contrasting life of wretchedness in a totally heartfelt manner. If, one strips himself of all humane values, and sees the movie ‘objectively’, it is nothing but a documentary, where Mohan moves from one place to another and ‘preaches’ the gaonwallahs about the boons of education, self reliance and other socially relevant topics. But, Mohan’s traverse through the villages, India’s most talked about problems places Mohan with respect to his country on a different plane.

In Rang De Basanti, I absolutely loved the character’s re’discovering’ India’s glorious past and connecting with the morals and the struggle of the freedom fighters amidst the mindless fun. The protoganists are shocked to find the system’s indifference to their friend’s death, and they are shocked only because they know what is and has been going on. Because, the system had been an eunuch for long. It is only of late, they found that. Now, a major issue regarding projecting a problem is to also give out its solution. Though not necessary, that is how most hindi movies are chalked out. And that is where Rang De Basant frittered it all away. For me. Though the very same climax heightened the crescendo of emotions triggered earlier in the movie by the Khoon Chala song. Had the last half hour or so would have been considerably less loud, and hence, less self defensive in approach( humein pata hai, humne jo kiya wo sai nai hai) and also not preachy( Koi bhi desh perfect nai hota, use perfect banana padta hai), the movie could have clinched it for me. Although all said and done, Rang De Basanti was still a good entertainer(some of the highest grossers of 2006 were Dhoom2, KANK, Fanna..well, well, well!). But, RDB did manage to impress, numb, and made everyone to contemplate because the climax had the ’shock’ value, the thrill, the snapping of emotional chords between the audience and the characters. RDB gave it with glee, what the audience expected and demanded. That is why it went on to become such a huge hit.

Coming now to Swades, it is a movie which can be so typically put under the common ‘Bollywood’ watching audience’s parlance, a movie, where ‘nothing happens’. And according to me, that is how it should be. Have you ever realized something in your life? Be it of any importance. We all have realised things in our insignificant ways. And how did that realization come? Not through some background music, nor was it followed by heavy down handing of massive dialogue(s). To portray all this on the celluloid was very difficult, almost as difficult as realising a difficult looking story like Lagaan onto the silver screen. But, Gowariker did it.

The once cynical Mohan now believes that something can be done. Something should be done. And he feels the onus is on him, he feels the ‘guilty’ are they and also ‘us’, if we don’t do anything about it. The ‘us’ of RDB also tried to take the baton, although what they did eventually was as immature, rash and so consistent with their character is a different thing all together.

Mohan embraces us, and contributes whatever he can to kill the deficiency that is plaguing his village. An engineering dispelling the darkness of his own village, if that is not ‘awakening’, what else is? Swades is discovery of a man’s roots. Both films( and almost every second hindi film) can be accused of being impractical, but, what is more impractical? Gunning a minister for venting out one’s frustration in the garb of patriotism, or an educated giving something back to the country? There have been people like Mohan who have came back and delivered( whether you want to scoff at them for they being impractical is your take). The point is not about a movie mirroring the real life more closely. The point, I’m trying to drive home is something else. Audience. And its choice. Rang De Basanti was an entertainer and the bonhomie of its college going characters, characterization, dialogues, almost hit the bull’s eye. Songs bound with the narratives, and Joshi’s words danced to Rehman’s tune. I take nothing of that fact away.

But, why did we shoo Swades of? A film that was so rich in its message, a film that had soul, a film that had Shahrukh(’ King Khan’) in his career’s best performance, a film which talked about something which so happens, though without being preachy. You can sleepwalk over its documentarish structure and may not even realize it is patriotic. Because, it talks about the problems within( both inside us, and in the country).

Why was Gadar the top grosser of 2001? Because, it had the so obvious Anti Pakistan references? I know Swades wasn’t cool, I know Swades didn’t have ‘Behen de Takke‘, I know Swades didn’t have ‘Hindustaan Zindabad’, or ‘xyz murdabad‘ and the thousand in your face facets of patriotism, it wasn’t hilarious in parts either. Jo log behre hote hain, unhe dhamaake ki zaroorat hoti hai. Swades had no dhamaka, it had no blockbuster elements, is that why the Indian audience didn’t listen?

For the mere selfishness of watching good hindi movies in future, I just hope that Swades finds its audience someday. Because it our choices of today that is going to determine what is going to be made tommorow.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bollywood in 2008: The movies I loved.

Originally published on The article has been originally published here.

It is that time of the year again when we look back at the year and analyze the year’s movies we loved. I don’t watch many movies in a year(or let’s put it, not being able to), so this is the list of movies I loved amongst the lot I watched. Since I couldn’t watch some of the most talked about movies of the year like Aamir, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Welcome to Sajjanpur, Dostana. So, they don’t make it to the list for obvious reasons.

They rocked it. And how! (Rock On!!)- After a spate of failures, Excel entertainment finally delivered with Kapoor’s Rock on. The poignant story of 4 individuals discovering themselves when they have ‘moved on’ in life and ‘compromised’ with life. Beautifully understated and surprisingly subtle, Kapoor’s story telling ability showed huge improvements since his forgettable Aryan. Farhan Akhtar looked very assured in his first stint in front of the camera, while Shahana’s portrayal of a frustrated wife was commendable too. The soundtrack of the movie left a lot to be desired, and Farhan’s voice received an emotions of mixed hues, I found it to be strictly okay. For me, it worked within the context of this film, it won’t anywhere else. With due respect to Javed Saab, the lyrics were pedestrian to say the least. Sindbad the sailor, and Na na na na were the only two songs that had those truly cool, zingy, carefree moments . Socha Hai tried too hard to impress, and so did the rest, though Phir Dekhiye was sung soulfully by Dominique. Kenny being diagonised with cancer and all that associated drama were the only staring blemish, the movie was going beautifully till that point dictated by the demands of the characters and setting, not by any formulaic structure. The movie could have still fallen after that cliched angle, but was deftly handled thereon and turned out to be quite decent in totality.

No Good bye to a movie like this. (Dasividaniya). - Vinay Pathak plays Amar who discovers that he has only three months to live. The subject of the sort has been handled in many movies( though only as direct and explicit in method like Bucket List), but the way Vinay Pathak portrayed the hidden, unexplored desires of an ordinary middle class guy was exhilarating to see. Almost every wish of his is sewn with some really beautiful scenes and the moment you think the movie is going into the maudlin and itching to become sugary dramatic, it snaps out and comes back on track. Although, I believe the movie lost all its impact towards the end. It could have easily been 15 minutes short. When Vinay and his brother are having a conversation in the balcony about life and how we miss the minute details only to repent it later, was heart warming. Then, Vinay says yeh zindagi kitni khubsoorat hai na bhai…The movie should have ended right there. Right there. To see the movie end on a detatched note was a tad dissapointing.

The common fear of unknown faces. (A Wednesday) - A dynamite debut. Neeraj Pandey. A tight gripping thriller that almost never sways off track, barring few amateur dialogues, and a couple of minor inconsistencies here and there. People will always debate how practical and logical the whole thing was. The make up of the common man can be debated and so will be his motives. If not for anything else, if his motive can be looked as a symbolic representation of everyone’s anger that is seething within, that too in wake of recent bombings, we can appreciate what A Wednesday wanted to say. Also, A Wednesday never tried to spell a solution, it was just an exaggerated version of the latent anger. If this continues, something is gonna break, that’s what A Wednesday was about. Naseeruddin was the Shah of the movie, while Anupam Kher is as always was a delight to watch.

So when can the most cliched story be entertaining? (Jaane Tu..Ya Jaane Na): Okay. It can be argued that he might not be the same Tyrewala who wrote the Main Khuda of Paanch, but even on his bad days Tyrewala can be fairly sharp and intelligent than most of the people in Bollywood. I had always thought Tyrewala’s first film would be different, but his choice to direct a typical bollywood rom-com flick came as a surprise. The story was cliched as it could get, nor was the treatment of the love story any different. The same we are only buddies, the third one ensuing jealously, etc.etc. But, I never thought the high points of this movie would be the comic element. After a certain point, the movie just ran berserk and was pointlessly hilarious, and ala Singh is King and their cousins, the jokes were not cliched, although bordering on to unbelievable madness at times, the movie was fun. The movie worked for me only because of its mindless humor, you know, dimaag ghar pe chod kar aane wali movie. I enjoyed it like I would enjoy any ‘good’ Govinda-David Dhawan flick. Romance and the lovey dovey scenes( or their effect) was conspicuous by its absence. Also, Kabhi kabhi Aditi was reason enough to throng the theaters.

God was with this movie till he was not in the movie. Rab Ne Bana di Jodi(only the first 40 minutes): We all knew Aditya Chopra could do it after DDLJ, and we were all waiting for it, with almost bated breath. The movie introduces Punjab in an uncharacteristic Chopra way, and surprisingly, Chopra captures the nuances of the small city in a manner we all had wanted to see for a long, long time. The character of Suri is so cute and sweet, that you feel like saying a girly Aww…cho chweet whenever he says Thani ji. Shahrukh steps out of his King Khan umbrella and delights, dazzles, and sinks into Suri’s Action shoes to provide one of his most believable performances. This movie could have been a different story all together(literally!), had Aditya Chopra plugged in some common sense and a shade of practicality. He killed the movie after that. Well, that is a different thing all together. But, I still can’t get over the first 40 minutes replete with magical moments like Maine to aj tak kisi ladiss se baat hi nai ki, and when he gazes over the new tiffin with Haule Haule playing in the background.

Sarkar Raj: Sarkar Raj is not amongst the Verma’s best work, but, given Verma’s horrendous form of late, Sarkar Raj wasn’t that bad either. The first half was distinctly better than the second half. Abhishek brooded more than he did in Sarkar, while the camera was obsessed with exposing every wrinkles on Bachann’s face. Even though the climax was a bit too easily spelled by the know it-all-Godfather-turned-God, it was still pretty engaging for most of the parts.

Oye Lucky Lucky Oye - After Khosla’s success, expectations were sky high from Banerjee’s next movie. And Banerjee didn’t disappoint. This tragicomedy had some stellar performances from the entire cast, backed by a layered script, and the capital city at its barest best. I had said almost everything about the movie in this article. So, any more adjectives in this space would just be redundant.

And for me the real hero award of this year was….? UTV Motion Pictures for giving home to some of the most varied, fresh and exciting ideas in the industry. One just hopes UTV continues sheltering this new breed of Indian cinema. The Pandeys, the Banerjees and the Kamats have just begun to emerge and aren’t we loving it? We must thank UTV for that.

So, that was 2008 for me. What movies made it to your list?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

God and Me.

Edit Post: The Author respects the views and sentiments of every religion. He also has no problems with people who are deeply religious and spiritual( though he finds a tad difficult to relate to them) . Indifference and hatred are two diametrically opposite emotions. This is completely my views(obviously!) and I don't intend to hurt anyone's feelings.

I'm a Hindu. At least that's what my second name says. But, if I strip my life to the bone and analyse what being Hindu means to me, what answer would I get? What has religion to do with whatever kind of a person I am? How does my religion affects my life? Let's see, as being a Hindu, I go to temples, I celebrate Diwali, Holi and ten thousand different festivals. The festivals are a nice break, you get to hang out with your friends, meet everyone in your family, general bonhomie and good spirit. Nice feeling. But, is that feeling 'religion centric'? No. The argument, according to me, is not to pass cynical remarks on any religion(mine, your or your neighbour's) in particular, but to objectively analyse what I've gained from it. I have not. Every religion is a parametric function. Going to temple/mosque/gurudwara/church, celebrating Diwali/Christmas/Id, fasting/feasting on some important days and dates.

Cricket, movies and Gods is our country's obsession(not in that order!). People are just obsessed about anything related to religion, painstakingly taking measures to do things according to 'vidhi', not eating, continuously chanting, feverishly praying, and even imposing substantiated by warning of blasphemy. 'Arre, aise mat karo paap chadega.' 'Kaisa ladka hai, pooja bhi nai karta.' Now, let's consider an example, say about a 'Sawan'. Some non- vegetarians who have no qualms about grinding their teeth into meat almost every day of year suddenly develop cold feet during that month. 'Paagal ho gaya hai kya? Saawan me chicken khayega?' Now, this, according to me is 'mother of double standards'. You either do a certain thing, or you don't. Eating and behaving in a particular way for a certain period of time makes sense in what way? What kind of belief is this? That it is a function of some days and then vanishes into thin air? But, people buy that and 'religiously' follow it. Do they think their God is foolish? The point is not about being a vegetarian or a non- vegetarian,( though vegetarian sounds cool on moral grounds) the point is about beliefs and even more than that, it is about showing respect.

People won't do certain things on tuesday or a thursday( or any day which is convenient for them). Why? They would like to dress up their defence by some very pure sounding 'belief'. Conceded. But, have people peeped inside and contemplated whether it really affects them? Yes? Because our ancestors have been doing it , that's why? Do they really own it? But, if these very 'belief' gives someone their peace of mind, then I'm off guard and don't really guarantee a say regarding that. But, even then it is one of the ways of attaining happiness that is in my opinion, bizarre. I would find it difficult to connect with mentaility of that sort. People have manipulated almost every thing according to their convenience to such a bastardised extent that there exists a very thin line between belief and superstition.

Going to temple and praying is also something which escapes me completely. Why do you need a special institution to show your faith? Why has faith been begun to be dictated by some strange laws? Open your shoes before entering a temple. Why? A sign of respect? How? Does the respect comes from our feet or our hearts? Practically speaking it might have to do with keeping a pious place clean, but, even then it is exaggerated to such a degree that it is stifling. And pointless. When you believe in something, you believe in it. True faith and belief never was, and never would be fickle.

So, what does that make me? Am I an atheist? I have really thought a lot about this question. And I know the answer now without a speck of doubt. No. I'm not an atheist. I do believe that there is something which transcends us, but, he doesn't have a name, doesn't tell me to do things in a particular fashion. For me, he is someone, who lets me be me. He is someone for whom I have immense love and respect. But, for that I don't need to go anywhere, chant anything, read anything, recite anything. He doesn't care whether I fast or feast. He is bindass, he is super cool. And I know he would be there for me, when I need him the most. He gives me solace, when I am cornered. I believe in him. I worship him.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Indian Cinema is feeling Lucky.

The times are surely changing. And for the better. Dibakar Banerjee's new offering sweeps you off your feet. First of all, Oye Lucky.. is not a comedy in entirety, it is a fantastic take on the present society, people's poor soul, the despair of middle class, the double standards of people, the desperation and hence, the fascination with media. And a million little things. It is about life, and why it doesn't appear in monochrome. It is about desperately trying to cling on to certain things, but, like sand, everything slips out of hand. But, still running after them, and even foolishly trying to buy them with money.

I don't know Punjabi. But, I have seen numerous Punjabi families on screen. The affable big breasted Chaddha aunty, the correct chaddha uncle, the sarson ka khet, the kabotars, tractors, shaadis, bhangda pao ji. Oye Balle Balle Pape! It had been done in such an excessive and predictable manner that it was irritating. And boring. But, the way in which Banerjee has shown Delhi and Punjabis is refreshing to say the least. The Punjabi spiced with Harayanvi is a delight to hear.

If Khosla family was a character in Khosla ka Ghosla, here, Lucky is the prinicpal character. And what a character! Lucky as a character is very different from the normal thieves we have seen on the celluloid. While most of the thieves steal to just survive, Lucky's motives for stealing are different. He steals to get a better life, to obtain things he was once deprived of. Manjot Singh, who plays the young Lucky, is brilliant. From a very young age, Lucky shows fascination for leisure goods, when his friends are busy beating a guy to pulp, he is examining his sun glasses. Brilliant scene. This establishes what kind of a chor Lucky is going to be. And a numerous other scenes, waiter trying to demoralise the young poor Lucky in a swank restaurant.

Kyun be Main Nahin kar sakta? This unflinching belief in himself sets Lucky apart. When everyone tries dissuades from doing certain things because it is out of Lucky's Aukat. But, Lucky sets out and achieve them.

Lucky grows up to become a superchor, meets two father figures in his life(both played by Paresh Rawal), they both hurt him, like his father. Even though Lucky is rich and (in)famous, he is still a loner. He still longs for family, for his loved ones, the social respectability. Why would anyone want to steal family photo frames? Greeting cards? That's what Lucky is. Lucky is a fool. He tries stealing things, he could never get in his own life. Everyone manipulates him, uses him, but, have no qualms about receiving money/presents from him. They are reluctant and hesitant to provide Lucky one thing he truly wanted his whole life. That is the double standard of our society.

The movie also takes a brilliant dig at the importance of money in today's time. That scene on the dining table is a gem, where how the attention shifts from the canadian-groom-to-be to Lucky, when he says that he is shortly going to open a restaurant. What a beautiful way to say that, We have started valuing money more than the individuals. Also, a thing about the way Banerjee shows Lucky vs the Rest of the society. Yes, Lucky is a chor, there is no doubting that fact. But, what about the rest of us? How pure the rest of the society is? Kyun lalach kar rahi ho madam. Apka to imitation tha, wo to maine phen diya. Ye inka hai. The man besides the lady now says, Dekha na, Yeh hai sacha aadmi. For some reason, I just couldn’t laugh on that line. It shook me. Completely. Then, that scene which is reminiscent of Lucky's childhood,when Mr. Handa's son wants to ride on Skoda. Mr.Handa declines saying, Dekho pehle apki chadega,phir kahega papa le ke do. Main kahunga beta go to hell, phir churaega, aise hi shuru hota hai. The expression on Abhay Deol's face is worth a million bucks.

Abhay Deol is one actor who keeps outdoing himself, with every performance of his. he has launched himself into a completely different territory, and he need not be worried about any perfectionist, any big or small B, nor about any King or Queen Khan. He has carved a unique place in this industry. Expectations would be soaring high from his banner, the Forbidden Films.

Dibakar Banerjee. What the fuck you have made? And why? You have shown us the mirror and I hate to see that. Why will you not get the Best Director Award at the Uncle-Aunty Awards (read Filmfare Awards)? Not that it matters to any genuine cinema lovers, but still. It is about the best movie of this year. And that Oye Lucky Lucky Oye surely is. It doesn't require the certification of any 'family' awards.

This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by