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Kurbaan – a Review November 22, 2009

Posted by astralwicks in Bollywood, hindi films, india, Jihad Politics, Personal, Review, Saifeena.
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Avantika, the heroine of Kurbaan finds the truth of her neighbour, including her husband’s evil terror designs by the most facile manner. She is under lock and key supervised by highly motivated terrorist’s who forget to search her. She in fact has a phone on her!

Still interested? Avantika who knows that a plane carrying a special delegation to Iraq is about to be BOMBED does NOT call the cops – inspite of having a phone!! She calls up a journalist who is traveling on the said plane – who like most travelers switches off her phone before take-off.

Vivek Oberoi’s journalist character (with horrible accents that change like calamitous weather) again discovers that there is a terrorist cell in operation about to carry a HUGE operation. What does he do? He decides to investigate on his own – without informing the FBI. And better still – he goes and informs his editor that he has LEADS but is not going to inform the FBI! You would assume that the editor would pick up the phone and call the FBI. But no sir, he doesn’t. All this after 9/11.

There is more. Even after knowing that the terrorist cell is targeting the Metro Lines and even after the 1st bombing – people in America go about their daily lives. The authorities continue to operate the Metro instead of closing it down and sanitizing it so that our plot reaches it logical ending.

The clothes of course are good. And the locations. Couple of scenes work well. But does it justify the lack of careful attention to screenplay-detail? Seems like that. We are cagey in our criticism until and unless there is an ulterior motive. A taut flawless script is no guarantee of a film’s success. I like Rang De Basanti (at least I did when I last saw it). My friends laugh and mock me, but I still enjoy it inspite of the inconsistencies and flights of fancy. RDB has a sincere charm – the emotions of those characters are infectious and accessible. You are ready to gloss over because you believe in the film emotionally if not intellectually.

That is not possible with Kurbaan’s because its politics exist in a no man’s land. A Pakistani posing as a professor, charms off an Indian psychology professor teaching in the US so that he can take revenge on the white man and his politics of oil. The story of his idyll being destroyed by America is told by Kiron Kher’s character. Similarly Kiron Kher and family’s rage has a backstory set in Afghanistan.

The complex web of the Jihad – Wahabism, invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets, the Mujahideen, the Saudi funding of Madrasas, the CIA financing of the Mujahideen, the ISI agenda of funding terror for strategic depth in Afghanistan, the radicalization of Pakistan under Zia, the strangle-hold of the military in Pakistan, the emergence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda – nothing is even remotely touched upon. Kurbaa’s reductionism lays the blame on the door of the US of A. Is it that simple?

Do we see any evidence of what Bhaijaan (Om Puri) constantly asserts – that Ehsaan (Saif) is falling for Avantika (Kareena). NO. It is just a bogey so that when Ehsaan actually does have a change of heart without any reason whatsoever (no it’s nothing to do with the kid that Avantika is carrying) you have to gloss over the obvious lack of motivation. Again Ehsaas, the numero – uno terrorist is surprised by the rigging of Avantika’s bag. Is he a fool or a motivated fanatic?

Is Kurbaan a vivisection of the increasing clash of cultures between Islam and Christianity? NO. Is it a study of radicalization of the world per se. NO. Does India play any role in it? Nothing other than the fact that the film starts in India and the heroine has Indian roots.

Kurbaa’s characters lie in a no-man’s land. Are we supposed to like the film because it features 2 of India’s good-looking, talked-about people who are in a relationship? Good ploy but it fails.






Its Fresh & Official – Marathi Manoos weaker than Women! November 16, 2009

Posted by astralwicks in Bollywood, Feminism, Humor, india, marathi manoos, MNS, Politics, Random, Shiv Sena, violence.
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# 1 on the ‘Soon 2 B Extinct Species’ – Marathi Manoos – championed by the aptly titled SS and its progeny – the MNS

Both these Sena’s have lots of time. And hate. They also possess lots of petrol, stones, hockey sticks etc. They take me back in time to the Bollywood of the glorious 80’s. But let me not digress.

This MM is frailer than your old grandmother, grandmother, orphan, handicapped who is abandoned, on the road, doesn’t have work or relatives or social support – who begs on the streets, at numerous crossings, tapping on your air-conditioned, frost-bitten rolled-up windows of your XYZ sedan.

The MM can die of hurt caused by talk of all kinds – ‘I like India’ and bingo they lose a tooth…er you lose it.

If you say ‘I love India’ then entire gene structures of the MM mutate. They vibrate at higher speeds than the 2 particles traveling in the ever – crashing Large Hadron Collider.

‘I like Mughlai’ say you? That could possibly be the last words out of your treacherous mouth.

‘I like a Nude’ and and…forget about it.

MM in fact has come as a savior to the entire women species of India. No longer are women considered the weaker of the species. MM has been categorized as the weakest of the lot. And it is reliably learnt that the SS and the MNS are proud wearers of his badge of honour. They in fact want this exalted status to be made permanent so that benefits can accrue to their scared lot.

Meanwhile Indian women groups are busy putting aside their differences and sending a delegation to Bombay to congratulate both the SS and the MNS for giving the final shove in the centuries old struggle.

They are however only worried about 1 thing – giving up the reserved seats on BEST buses to the Marathi Manoos.

MM can’t compete with the illiterate Bhaiyya coming from UP and Bihar. MM cannot get jobs also when competing with some of the literates coming out of the said backward provinces.

In additional news, which is already being confirmed as unadulterated speculation or rumor, the Big Boss evictee motor-mouth KRK has launched his next film called ‘Marathi Manhoos’ to whip up frenzy, polarize his audience and earn money right on the table. He says he has learnt the art of polarizing from the SS and MNS.

I Con June 24, 2009

Posted by astralwicks in beauty, Bollywood, india, People, Politics, Racism, Random, Writing.
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They are young. They are successful. They are articulate. They are icons.

Sonam Kapoor, the effervescent and nonchalantly retro-charmer of a girl and John Abraham epitomising bulging muscles and quiet dignity both endorse ‘fairness creams’.

Why would 2 seemingly intelligent people of this generation who spout socially conscious sentences at every journalistic intrusion do this? The obvious answer is money. That ancient temptation that has scorched us has beaten us once again.

And yet we tut tut ad nauseum at the attacks in Australia and anywhere else. When city bred youth, ironically in a profession that pays obeisance only at the altar of beauty thereby revealing its illusory transience, cannot take a stance against a skin whitening cream, what hope do we have from people who we say are mired in centuries old superstition.

Endorsing colas is almost divine.

Superstar & Mithya – Twin Reviews February 11, 2008

Posted by astralwicks in Blogging, Bollywood, Culture, Entertainment, Films, india, Movies, Reviews, Thoughts, Writing.
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Saw 2 films this week. Superstar and Mithya. Superstar because a friend, Mahendra Shetty, helmed the camera. Mithya because of Rajat Kapoor’s reputation. One had loved Mixed Doubles. I have not seen Bheja Fry.

Surprisingly both the films have similar concerns. Both are situated in the Hindi film industry in Bombay. Superstar is about a wannabe from the suburbs, struggling as an extra, desperate to break into the higher, rarefied regions of Bollywood. He has a striking resemblance to the son of a famous film producer, who is only concerned with partying and other vices.

So the clever producer uses the struggler as his son’s double. Everything works clockwork till the producer’s son dies in an accident.

After that it’s all downhill. The script, screenplay, everything gets plodding. You lose interest and pray that the film ends.

Mahendra did a wonderful job. Each scene has a quality about it. There is a texture that only good cameramen can give. Kunal Khemmu has never looked better. And one scene, of the producer and his investors having a drink reminds one of Gordon Willis’ work in Godfather.

Rohit Jugraj also is known to me, although I can’t say if we are friends. His debut was James. Famous for the controversies with Ram Gopal Varma. James was a huge disappointment.

Therefore I had little expectations. Superstar surprisingly reveals the best of Rohit. There is a certain element of realism in the dialogues, acting and emotions, which is refreshing. Kunal manages to hold his own and all is fine. Till the interval. After that it is downhill, as I have mentioned.

Mithya is again about a struggler from Noida, extremely fond of mouthing ‘To be or not to be’ from Hamlet. He unfortunately resembles the most powerful Don of Mumbai. The rival mob transplants the extra after killing the real one. Good one liner.

Mithya sadly doesn’t have the wit that was almost omnipresent in Mixed Doubles. It is initially pitched as a funny film – swapping identities and humour in danger. In the 2nd half, Rajat further expounds on the ‘To be or not to be’ monologue, the stand – in has lost his memory and actually believes that he is the Don although the rest of the characters are convincing him to the contrary.

The question of identity, so important for us all, is amplified by the character being an actor. Who are we when we ACT out something? What happens when the METHOD takes precedence? When the part becomes US? Ranvir Shorey’s loss of memory makes him completely worthy, able and willing to play the dangerous part of the Don. Inspite of the threats, he is sucked into playing the role.

Rajat had a wonderful conceit to make a great film. Films, actors, the process of creation by erasing one’s identity, the dark obsessions that fuels our passions; these and many more themes linger in the background, wishing for proper attention and exposition, but…

The 2nd half demon visits again. The film repeats itself, the screenplay is meandering and the tragedy of an actor; the tragedy of a love story, the unrequited aftermath of creation; nothing touches or moves. And the loss when the credits roll is real, not Mithya.


Long Live Hindi Cinema February 6, 2008

Posted by astralwicks in Blogging, Bollywood, Cinema, Culture, Entertainment, Films, india, Political, Writing.
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In the 80’s this was how a regular Hindi film played itself out.

 Hero has a family…mother, father, sister.

 They live in Virpur, Shantinagar, Rampur etc.

 They are under the omnipotent feudal lord.

 They common villagers till the land, somehow scrape lunch and dinner and constantly have to protect their ‘izzat’, ‘jaan’ and ‘zameen’; that is self-respect, life and land, in that order. Self-respect is a tame word, in plain words they had to constantly be aware lest somebody owning allegiance to the feudal overlord rapes them.

 Eventually they were raped. The Hero, till the rape, an innocent man with ideals, goes mad with rage. His father by now had also been bumped off, the cattle killed and the land confiscated.

 The Hero, using all his skills of detection, finally manages to locate the culprit…the Villain of the piece is having a ball.

 He is surrounded by girls on all sides who are dancing.

 There is song, dance and wine all around.

 And the Villain is in very august company…he is with the Police Commissioner.

 This cliché was forgotten by me. I thought I had moved on. Assumed that times have changed. That these scenarios happen only in the Bandlands of UP and Bihar and now that I am in Mumbai, memory was no longer servile to itself.

 But all that changed after the MNS supporters attacked north Indians. As the city was burning, well, at least, simmering, and there was fear all around, Raj Thackeray was seen chilling with the Police Commissioner, at his daughter’s wedding.

 Long live Hindi cinema.





Taare Zameen Par January 4, 2008

Posted by astralwicks in Aamir Khan, art, Bollywood, Culture, Entertainment, Films, Hindi films 2008, india, Movies, Reviews, Taare Zameen Par, Writing.
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So, Aamir Khan has made his debut as a director. With Taare Zameen Par or TZP.

I saw it in a multiplex, in Delhi, with a family that has 2 kids, daughters, elder Jayati around 7 and younger Bhavya (the terror) around 3. Their parents were eager to watch the film, but also apprehensive, because of the dark roller-coaster playground, the theater becomes, for their kids and also to others. Demands, complaints, questions, impatience, food, kerchiefs etc that are the very pillars of the age of innocence.

So in we went and the film played itself out.

The kids, to everybody’s surprise, were silent. Till the very end. Did they cry? I don’t know. Bhavya briefly, lost focus, but was back, glued to the happenings. The parents were happy that they could finally watch a film…without any interruptions from their kids. A red letter day almost.

There were a few lumpy moments. Darsheel was good and so was Aamir.

What was I hoping when I went to see TZP? This question, if answered correctly, could lead me to a correct analysis of the film and its director, I thought.

For this we need to go back a bit and analyse the man behind the camera…Aamir.

Aamir the interferer. Aamir the nit-picker. Aamir the perfectionist. Aamir the irritant. Aamir the grandly deluded etc etc. Most directors with whom he has worked, have a tale to tell. About his penchant for perfection. How he irritates them no end.

Will Aamir who is so obsessed with being right, perfect, bang-on be able to find the mean? Will he able to direct himself without losing focus? Will his craft-obsession be the cause of his downfall? Most industry-wallas, I am sure went and watched the film to see him fall. The critics sharpened their pens, pencils and alas, the keyboard nowadays. All in anticipation for the man to falter so that they can wreck vengeance on the man with too high a standard.

But TZP has managed to hold on to itself. The family audience, the very pillar of a films success is going, crying and recommending it in droves.

People ask me if I cried during the screening as if an affirmative answer would somehow humanise me.

It is a sensitive film.

It doesn’t assault us with the hated kid character, so long a staple of popular Bollywood enterprises.

It doesn’t speak down to the audience.

A well-made film certainly. Not a great film.


Because there is almost ZERO relationship between the teacher, played by Aamir Khan and the dyslexic kid. He diagnoses the kid’s problem and solves it. Not like Little Man Tate or even the facile relationship that Wolverine has with Rogue in X-Men. Darsheel and Aamir don’t have a single teacher-student relationship. Busy with pinning and slamming the boy’s father with guilt, the entire chapter of the boy reganing his confidence, spirit and sense of self, was either explained away in songs or…IT IS NOT THERE. Only if…or will we see a redux edition some time later…?

What was Aamir’s confidante at the School, the young girl, doing? Why was she there?

I am a nit picker as is obvious. But kudos to Aamir for making the film. Without trying to run it on his own steam, like a megalomaniac…and sometimes O.K is enough.

Khoya Khoya Chand – A Review December 11, 2007

Posted by astralwicks in Blogging, Bollywood, Criticism, Culture, Entertainment, Films, india, Khoya Khoya Chand, Movies, Personal, Random, Reflections, Reviews, Shiney Ahuja, Soha Ali Khan, Sudhir Mishra, Thoughts, Writing.
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In the season of time travel in Bollywood, Sudhir Mishra’s Khoya Khoya Chand, is another tourist. Farah went no-holds-barred, irreverent retro in Om Shanti Om. Sudhir Mishra veers off in a different direction. His eyes are reverent, nostalgic almost awe-inspired. Who isn’t by the pristine, sepia-tinted image of Bollywood when actors, directors, lyricists, composers and other associated technicians had idealism, madness, got drunk, and were unapologetic about leading the life they lead?

KKC is an Insider’s film. Somebody who knows the mores of the industry. The vicarious twists of destiny that an artist is vulnerable to…human and divine. The crest of success and the lows of failure come unattended and the best laid plans are unwoven overnight. Where ambition reigns supreme and compromise is often everybody’s middle name. Where friends and enemies don’t know the definition of either word. Where love is as vacillating as the fortunes at the friday box office.

Mishra knows about all of this. Mishra is also good at something else. History. History and his own place in the space time continuum. He knows the pulse of the time, for sure. Ye Wo Manzil To Nahin and the loss of Nehruvian/Socialist Idealism and Innocence. HKA’s romantic look at the 70’s was a follow up to the darker YWMTN, with a little bit of hope thrown in at the end.

KKC once again locates its story and characters in the Past. A past that is innocent, idyllic, romantic. The characters are all an amalgam of your favourite heroes and heroines from the past. Think Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis and many more. The same with the heroes, directors, script writers…your basic mix of all exploited, angst-ridden, mis-understood, man on a mission kind of character whom we love to see, root and clap for but will never become one. Very appealing on the stage or screen.

So we enter the world of Nikhat, Zafar, Khosa the producer, Prem Kumar, Shyamol, Ratan Bala, Nonida etc. We revel in this world…a world where the Bachnalian spirit seems to rule. Where success is the only mantra and men and women, inspite of their good intentions are seduced by their artistic higher-calling, money, security or plain old weaknesses. Such good fodder where all men and women are morally ambivalent, possibly corrupt but in the end they all possess a halo of…being human.

So we go through the gamut of emotions that artists supposedly undergo…elation, rejection, artistic bouts, the search for one’s muse, unresolved grief and unannounced epiphanies. The world in KKC follows a cyclical nature. You love, you lose, you regain love. You give a hit, you make a flop, you are banished and then you are welcome once again. A friend turns into a foe, an enemy and then becomes a friend once again. The large hearted producer becomes a miser, abuses and then again regains his old self. The casanova hero exploits one woman, falls for another, is unfaithful, has a golden heart. Wonderful world of people who are all fallible, human, make mistakes and are therefore identifiable.

So all the characters in KKC are good. The old Bollywood is populated by larger than life characters who wander, waver and then redermption visits them. Everything and everyone is hunky dory in KKC. and Mishra’s world. There are no villains. But so does Ray’s films. So Ray and Mishra are equals in their love for their characters and therefore make great films. Alas, thats not the case and thank god it is not that simplistic.

What is KKC? Is it the search for love? Both Zafar and Nikhat are abandoned…Zafar by his father and Nikhat by her mother. And both know that they are made for each other. The moment they resolve their personal demons of ambition, self-destructive death – wish and selfishness, they would have gained their paradise.

The film ends on an orgiastic high for Nikhat before the tacky card comes and announces that Nikhat died in a years time. So the film, if I understood correctly, was set up for the realization of love between its two main protagonists. Like any good story, the hero and heroine tumble and fall and then realize their catharsis via each other just before its too late.

Nikhat along her journey cries, laughs, acts innocent, manipulative, stands her ground, becomes a drunk, a lover and a mistress. Same with Zafar, her conscience, who takes a beating when ambition comes calling. Both love each other because of the other’s weakness.

Then why does the film fail?

There are a few scenes that makes one smile, wonder, laugh…Rajat Kapoor’s confession that he is a rake and can’t help it. Sonya Jehan teasing Zafar (the only other consistent performer along with Rajat) when he offers Nikhat’s role to her. Saurabh’s ‘Khosa’ in most of his scenes. And yet?


Soha looks pretty. Great styling. Costumes by Miss Anand are thought out. But these are external add-ons. Tulip Joshi was used brilliantly in Matrubhoomi, she had two and a half words or something. Soha here, unfortunately has to speak a million lines. Ironically, in Urdu, which is her mother tongue. And the labour and effort shows. If only she could have accented where it mattered? But she fails and how. Shiney has a different problem.

What you see is Shiney labouring to play the angst – ridden Zafar. Shiney the actor pops up time and again to remind us that ‘hello, here I was thinking about the time my father scolded me when I was in grade 2’ and I am using that emotion to say these lines etc. Shiney is overpowered and defeated by the very technique that great actors use in an almost subliminal manner.

He should have learnt from the other good performers in the film…Rajat, Saurabh and Sonya. But unfortunately the film doesn’t run on their shoulders.

What Mishra ends up is almost like an apology for the film industry? Just like the film industry is populated by semi-corrupt people who are basically all-right and can be your drinking buddies and all is forgiven when the hangover ends, same with the film. Look at it tenderly, kindly and forgive the follies and mistakes and compliment it for the passable, the moderate, the just-about and as industrywallahs say ‘for the effort’.

Will wait fot the next one Mr. Mishra.













Tale of Two Movies – Sawariya & OSO November 12, 2007

Posted by astralwicks in Bollywood, Culture, Entertainment, Farah Khan, Films, india, Movies, Om Shanti Om, Personal, Ranbir Kapoor, Review, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Sawariya, Sonam Kapoor, Writing.

Welcome to 2 films that are similar and separated at the same time. Both are loud, over the top. Both peppered with songs. Both introducing the future stars of the industry. Both by one time choreographers who are now directors. One is Bhansali and the other Farah.

Sawariya and Om Shanti Om have hit the silver screen. OSO is a runaway hit as expected, whereas Sawariya is trudging along, although Sony Pictures who debut in India with the mega-hyped Sawariya, would make us believe otherwise.

Bhansali is considered an Auteur…in India and abroad. He shares a love – hate relationship with the critics for various reasons. His films are anticipated with bated breath…right from casting to music to publicity and release. It’s an event in the cinema – calender of the country.

Sawariya was no different. It was the launch vehicle of Ranbir Kapoor, the 3rd generation of the Kapoor Klan and Sonam, another Kapoor, but daughter of Anil Kapoor. A star son and a star daughter being launched by presumably the biggest film maker in the country; a healthy budget, a Dostoeivsky short-story as original content and songs…the forte of SLB…all in one film. It couldn’t have been bigger than this.

Om Shanti Om, in contrast is a tongue in cheek film about the Hindi film industry…it jokes about yesteryear actors, acting styles and the innumerable Bollywood cliches that we love and hate. It is also a tribute to a narrative style that many say is on its last legs. OSO is a nostalgia laden roller coaster…at least in the 1st half. It has many a moment that congratulates Farah Khan, its director. Shah Rukh, playing an extra, is memorable. Deepika the lissome lass, all agree, is here to stay. The 9 minute star – studded song is grating and unnecessary but Hindi films have never been known to have strong 2nd halfs.

So one doesn’t mind OSO. One appreciates the Devil’s sense of humour.

Sense of humour is something that Bhansali doesn’t seem to have. Bhansali’s aesthetic is one of EXCESS. In laughter, tears, song, dance, melodrama…his leitmotif is excess. Excess can and has been an aesthetic. Film makers, past and present, have taken recourse and make memorable films. The same holds true for Bhansali.

From the fantastic palace setting of an Indian classical musician in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, its hyperloud Salman Khan to the prurient Aishwarya of the same film; Devdas’s melodrama in style and content; to the caricaturish Rani in Black to Ranbir’s imitation of Raj Kapoor (his grandfather) and the BLUE that pervades the entire film…Bhansali can be equated with a kitsch that is unique but sadly deliberate.

Sawariya takes place somewhere in sometime. A train, a guitar and what are they called ‘mirchi lights’ that decorate the pubs in this fantasy land give clues that this is located, rooted in…god knows where? A Buddha statue there, a mural here, a gandola, a bridge, a jazz pub, some whacked out (literally) prostitutes and fleeting extras inhabit this Tim Burtonish landscape. I think this idea of being Tim Burton might have weighed heavily on the film maker. Fantasy.

Fantasy. Place the film in a land and time that nobody knows. That land and time has its own rules; its own mores; its own customs and its own idiosyncracies. Nothing wrong with that. So Sakina and Ranbir the singer meet on deserted cobble-stoned streets that could be Venice. They meet, talk, share sweet-nothings and sing songs and pine…Ranbir for Sakina and Sakina for the mysterious, boxing bag weilding Salman Khan and Gulabji rooting for Ranbir.

Ranbir the lover falters in love and the 2nd half is him trying to redeem himself…with a little help from Rani, the prostitite with a conscience. You need a climax to end a film and as things would be Sakina is on the verge of falling in love with Ranbir when the bag weilding Khan called Imaan enters once again muttering ‘Masha Allah’ and all’s well. Er…not really.

By then you are BLUE. Blue is the reigning color of the film. There is enough Blue to last a lifetime. Who is an Auteur? One who has a vision or one who imposes a vision? Is it a way of making a film? Is it an approach to art? Is it an approach to the language of the medium? Is it in making one’s own distinct dialect?

Bhansali’s films are Bhansali’s films. And so is Karan Johar’s and Rakesh Roshan’s. Means that everybody in India is an auteur. Is it so?

Bhansali’s are angst ridden tales of unrequited love, great suffering, masochistic heroes, sacrificing heroines, unreasonable emotions…his films have grand passions and grander settings. True. But grandiose ideas, a big budget, a stellar cast maketh not a film.

Bhansali no matter what his problems was a great choreographer. I say WAS, because with Sawariya, Bhansali has reached the nadir as far as song picturzation is considered. The Rani + gang song is one of the worst in recent times. The Id song is bizarre to say the least.

Bollywood makes musicals. Sawariya too is a musical but what went wrong…?

Is it a showreel gone wrong? Or is it about a director who is overwhelmed by his IDEA about HIMSELF. It has happened in the past. Your own art and craft or one’s assumptions about one’s art becomes bigger, more important and powerful so as to blinker the maker’s vision.

Why do the 2 shots of the sprawling city with a train chugging exist? Does it represent something? Is the director hinting at something? About the caged existence of Gulabji, the prostitute, and the forgotten Parsi/Christian landlady played endearingly by Zohra Sehgal? Why does the cardboard wall of the set move when Ranbir writes Sakina’s name for the first time?

Why do we as audience are unable to willingly suspend our disbelief, wink at the fantasy and move on with the story of love, redemption, pain, suffering and enjoy a catharsis? Why don’t we cheer for Sakina’s foolish belief that Imaan, her love will return. Why don’t we also not root for Raj’s love for Sakina? Clap when he burns the letter. Cry when he feels the pangs of guilt?

Because the idea of ‘OPUS’ smothers love, feeling, emotion, sentiment of the young protagonists. Because the IDEE FIXE of the director is the director himself. And not the story. It’s time Bhansali needed a Knight.




No Smoking – A Review November 5, 2007

Posted by astralwicks in Anurag Kashyap, art, Blogging, Bollywood, Cinema, Culture, Entertainment, film, india, Movies, No Smoking, Personal, Reviews, Thoughts, Writing.

Finally saw No Smoking. It was a late night show that had 60 – 70 viewers. Some of them walked off during the interval. Some stuck around till the end. I was one of them.

Bad press has dogged the film and its director, Anurag Kashyap. Directors, critics, actors, distributors and the audience too to a certain extent dislike him. For various reasons – Anurag is an outspoken outsider who with his sheer writing skills has made a name for himself in the incestuous world of Hindi cinema. He has fought with his mentors, with his producers, actors, financiers, distributors.

He is the enfant terrible and nobody likes them ‘E.T’s’until and unless they become legends. Anurag’s is a strange case. He first came to everybody’s attention after Satya. Then because of his fall out with his mentor Ram Gopal Varma. The fallout was a classic case of two strong personalities not being able to see eye to eye on creative issues. Then Anurag branched out on his own. Paanch was the result. A bloody tale of friends betraying each other. The film is still to see the light of the day.

But it is a cult favourite. Largely because of the sadly unseen performance of Kay Kay. Otherwise the story is an oft repeated one. It is only Kay Kay’s performance that holds the film together. But Paanch gave birth to a legacy; to a persona that represented the lone outsider’s struggle to make it in the film industry; Anurag became a symbol. Of the uncorrupted idealist who pitted against insurmountable odds ranges gallantly and almost wins. It was in the failing that he became a successful icon.

He tried Gulal. And failed. He announced Alvin Kallicharan. Didn’t happen.

And then Black Friday happened. One of the best films to come out of India it again died a premature and tragic death – this time by the courts. Based on the Bombay blasts after the Babri demolition, Black Friday was cinema, documentary, history, analysis and to some a creative catharsis. It never saw the darkness of the theater. Tragic.

Fate has not been kind to Kashyap.

Meanwhile he earned his bread and butter and a penthouse writing good and indifferent films. In the meantime the legend grew. Of a maverick film maker who brooks no interference, takes on the high and mighty, tackles controversial stories, a maestro who while battling his personal demons was maneouvering the big bad world of Bollywood.

And then No Smoking was announced. About a nicotine addict who comes in touch with an underground rehabilitation centre…and things go wrong. I was kicked when I heard the one line. Right up his alley and who better than K to handle it.

And then one day in the month of feb-march 2007, I was surfing and came across ‘Cats Eye’ and things have been a bit different since then. I immediately realized that K’s No Smoking is a rip off of Cats Eye. But then I came down from the high horse and looked around…everybody was copying…Martin S did it with his ‘The Departed’ (paid for the rights) and so why not Mr. K, I reasoned. He might be better at it and spin it in his unique way, I consoled myself. And since then I have waited for the release of the film.

Initially I was aghast at John’s casting. But then I didn’t mind John A’s casting also. Good directors can do anything with a story, actor. So the weight of tradition, myth, legend, anticipation and Bad Press weighing heavy on my soul I entered the theater and watched No Smoking.

K is an inveterate smoker and his life is never the same again after he meets the head honcho of The Lab. Things go horribly wrong for K. And for Anurag K, the Box Office, the producers and well nigh cinema itself.

Here are the WHY’S of that.

Critics love to hate Anurag. They have ripped No Somking. Self – obsessed film maker, too arty, not for the common man, no message, hero smoking all the time, why didn’t it end half an hour after the film began!!! etc etc.

Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that such films should not be made!

They are people who don’t want such film makers or stories to be attempted. That way the status quo on the stories told, the actors signed and the cultural stagnation will continue and they can celebrate. By making ‘NS’ Anurag has axed his own foot. But films can go wrong.

There are also another kind of critics who have praised the film. They have bestowed on the film’s hero and it’s director the kind of praise that you prepare much in advance, in anticipation of your favourite hero because you couldn’t become one yourself. So K, in this case, both Kashyap and the films hero become ‘the narciccist who ends up losing himself in his self – love, the descent into hell, purgatory, the Faustian exchange, the existential dilemma of a modern man who has to fight for the very thing that kills him, the allegory, the symbolism, the decaying city and its effect on the moral fibre etc etc.’

So in between unreserved praise and unbridled criticism lies the truth of the film No Smoking.

No Smoking’s premise is set, explained and plays itself out in the first 30 mins. After that what?…is a question that Anurag K should have asked right at the outset. We travel into the labyrinthine nightmare of K but John A is not accomplished as an actor to portray grief, helplesness, rage, desire…abs don’t act… is a fact. But Anurag like most men and women faltered…at the very first step. You take a non-actor in your film because that person guarantees the one thing that you have not been able to do so far…make a film and RELEASE it. John guaranteed the release.

So what about the other arty stuff that even the art house crazy fans have not understood. Symbolism, allegory, modern archetypes of decay, stagnation and death a la Baudelaire and Eliot and others. Where does Anurag’s descent in hell go wrong?

It goes wrong I think in the fact that Anurag has also become a victim of his own legend and myth. Just like countless others before him Anurag has also thought himself invincible. He made his kind of films – just like Yash Raj makes ‘their’ kind and Ghai makes his ‘kind’. Anurag also seems convinced of his own infallibility. I can and will make the films I want to make and anyways the audience is illiterate so who cares for them? It happens to the high and mighty and Anurag is the high priest of the Bollywood strugglers.

Is No Smoking a venture borne out of an over-confidence that borders on arrogance and apathy? I think it is. It is revenge film making…I can show you what I am capable of kind of bravado. An interesting premise that never had the material to last 120 pages deliberately force-fitted to an incompetent actor and the desire to see one’s film in the darkened four walls.

Brevity is the soul of wit…something that Anurag was good at is never to be seen in the film…in dialogues or in its length. What you witness is a smart – alec director busy with inside jokes that only he and his cronies know (common to Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom) and understand. Pretentious symbolism that Kashyap uses to pay homage to his own intelligence and literate self. And the conviction of a man sure of his own genius; sure footed in his complexity; complacent in his creativity.

There are others who will now suffer. Interestng scripts, concepts and directors will now be shoved aside because of K’s failure. That’s definitely tragic. For Kashyap and for others this time round.

St.Juste September 7, 2007

Posted by astralwicks in 7, Alistair Pereira, Bollywood, india, justice, Nawab of Pataudi, Politicos, sentence, St.Juste, Sunjay Dutt, trial.

I love Nargis and Sunil Dutt. Similarly I adore Sunjay Dutt, the man we all love because of an inexplicable tragic flaw that makes him human, vulnerable and therefore fallible. He did what he did and is now visiting the courts and the temples to prove his innocence. Whenever the courts are close to announce a judgement or when recently they actually did, the Bollywood fraternity is approached for sound bytes. What is your opinion about the sentence, they ask.

The replies are funny. Nargis and Sunil uncle were wonderful people, they say. Sanju has a heart of gold. It was just a mistake. He has suffered enough. It was only Jaggu dada who said the truth – let him live the sentence, at least he can be a free man after that.

Cut to Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi getting caught post a hunting expedition. Sample the reasons – Pataudi is a nawab, old habits die hard, it’s in his blood, blue blood does it etc etc.

Alistair Periera – still a kid at 21, didn’t know that running over people with a vehicle can kill, didn’t know that drunken driving can kill, give him a chance. The judge duly gave him a no sentence. Now it’s been increased to 3 years for killing 7 people!!

Where is justice? What is justice?

There are others who do things all over the country. Shahabuddin, Lalu politicos and priests and others. And we thought…

Where is justice? What is justice?