Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Arth: Reel v/s real meaning

August 6, 2017

The subject of how to judge a film based on real (usually ‘historical’) events is debated heavily in cinema circles and I have been part of a few such discussions on the blog of film critic Baradwaj Rangan.  The discussion usually centres around whether focusing too much on the film’s inaccuracies in portraying events is missing the forest for the trees, considering that a film is after all an artistic expression (assuming film as fiction as opposed to a documentary).  That facts may be altered slightly or a little more than slightly to further the filmmaker’s beliefs/ideology (by whatever name) is another aspect that is often debated.

This subject is particularly pertinent when it comes to Mahesh Bhatt’s landmark film Arth.  As is well known, the film is based on his relationship with the actress Parveen Babi even as he was married to Lorraine Bright.  He parted ways with both as it were and married Soni Razdan in 1986. In a tribute to Babi after her death (the tribute was published on Outlook), he expressed profound sympathy for her plight.  He also mentioned that she had in fact inherited schizophrenia from her father.  So why is it then that in the film, Kavita’s mother tells Pooja that Kavita is paying for her sins through her madness?

In fact, it is interesting that a film purportedly about the Bhatt-Babi affair is told from the wronged wife’s perspective.  From this perspective, the husband Inder falls prey to lust far too easily to give her any semblance of security and utterly fails to make decisions until he is pushed to the wall (by which time it’s too late).  Kavita is, until the end when she finally “sees the light”, a mostly unsympathetic and insecure woman who responds to Pooja’s entreaties to leave her husband be by doubling down on pulling him away from her.   Inder’s assistant Harish respects Pooja and disapproves of his master’s extra marital affair but ultimately has to be loyal to Inder until the latter makes him perform an errand that finally gets him to tender his resignation in utter disgust.   Anil is well-intentioned and extremely helpful to Pooja in her time of need but his unstinting faith in the institution of marriage comes across as bizarre given a husband who is hell bent on severing all ties with her.  A prospective employer of Pooja molests her and would have raped her had she not escaped in the nick of time.  Basically, in the world of Arth, the sensitive ghazal singer Raj is the only man of much use to Pooja as his support is entirely unconditional even in the face of unrequited love.  A feminist treatise, in other words, culminating with Pooja walking away with a child who is not hers but who, as she says, will give her company in the solitary existence she has now chosen for herself.

That is, until you consider the plot line in light of the real events it is based on.  How exactly did we traverse from a supposedly hereditary psychological disorder to the curse of a woman scorned?  To be fair, the film does give us an early indication that Kavita is troubled and seeks shelter in Inder’s, ahem, reassuring embrace.  Still, when her mother says her near-insanity is but well deserved punishment for what she did to Pooja, it raises the question whether she is really the only guilty party here.

Yes, she made love to a married man.  And, driven by her insecurity, pushed him to part ways with his wife.  But he is an adult, dammit, does he not have agency?  It was he who consented to do whatever she asked of him, smitten as he was by her.  So where did that leave him at the end of the story?  Deprived of both the women who had once loved him.  Too bad, but is it such a bad deal compared to schizophrenia?

Let us bring in the real events here. Parveen Babi was one of the leading actresses of Bollywood at the time of her affair with Mahesh Bhatt (as also depicted in the film).  Schizophrenia robbed her of a successful career whereas Bhatt won critical acclaim for Arth and went on to make many successful films.

And make no mistake, the jarring background score is the only false note in this unusually sensitive, grown up film.  Rarely are films of such quality made in Bollywood (though, strictly speaking, this was parallel cinema and struggled to find distributors willing to take a punt on it after it was made).  So nothing said here is intended to take away from his success.

But the ‘real’ takeaway from the film seems to be that the punishment for a homewrecker enchantress is mental breakdown whereas that for the unfaithful husband is untold success.  This is in stark contrast to the inspirational yet realistic reel ‘takeaway’.

There is, of course, no compulsion for the filmmaker to have his fictional characters do what their real life inspirations did.  Yet, the stilted portrayal of Kavita remains an unresolved aspect in an otherwise finely balanced film (as between the three main characters).

Kulbhushan Kharbanda, who essayed Inder’s role, also touches upon this aspect when he says that they (the makers of the film) had essentially taken the easiest way out by narrating the story from the perspective of the wife when it could have also been done from that of the love interest (a good example of the latter is Bajirao Mastani).   Kharbanda also alludes to the societal difference in the way sexually overcharged men and women are regarded, saying the former is called casanova (which almost sounds like a compliment) whereas the latter is called nymphomaniac.

To that extent, perhaps, Arth is true to the society it reflects.  But considered this way, it is a more bitter pill to swallow than a plain ‘unbiased’ (by real events) reading of the film’s message would leave one with.  Its message then is not necessarily that a woman can and should fight back against her unworthy, disloyal life partner and lead an independent life if she has to but that even if she does all these things, she is still only a woman in the eyes of society.  A distinction that Pooja implicitly reminds Inder of when he asks that she forgive him.

P.S:  Mahesh Bhatt also suggests that had he remade the film, he would have characterised Kavita as more humane than in the original film.

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Deepika Padukone v/s Times of India: Of captions and cleavage

September 22, 2014

Deepika Padukone, she of Finding Fanny, Ramleela, Chennai Express, Cocktail, Om Shanti Om and variously fame, is in the news for taking on the leading English daily of the country, Times of India.  She lashed back at a twitter post of TOI captioned “OMG so much cleavage” and later told NDTV that she felt violated.  TOI haven’t been wont to lie low.  They retaliated, first through an opinion piece penned by Pooja Bedi and then through this here article: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/Dear-Deepika-our-point-of-view-/articleshow/43084705.cms?.    Deepika’s stand against the big bad newspaper has received much support from the film fraternity.  She has pointed out that when she reveals skin in films, it is because the role demands it.  Indeed, if there ever was a time for her to act in a film that depicted the sexist underbelly of Bollywood, this would be it.  Perhaps, she could produce it herself if the subject finds no other takers.

Or perhaps such a film, or something to that effect, has already been made.  The Vidya Balan-starring sleeper hit of 2011, Dirty Picture, portrayed the life of Silk Smitha.  In the early portions of the film, the young, aspiring Silk is shown as trying to get an audition but, finding nobody willing to give a rank outsider and rookie a chance, goes down the skin route to find success but, ultimately, disenchantment and discontent.  My memory does not serve me well but it was probably in the 2012 Filmfare awards ceremony that the host, probably Shah Rukh Khan, joked that only Khan, Karan and Kleavage sold in the industry.

Maybe you should blame it on my memory again but I remember nothing but complete silence from one Miss Deepika Padukone on that subject at that time.  Sure, everyone knew it was a joke but following the logic put forth in the last week, was a joke on cleavage really necessary?  And was it not a cheap shot at an actress who had attracted the audience to her film for the quality of her performance and not her skin show?  And was it perhaps a subtle hint that an actress can only be defined by her cleavage even if she can carry a film on her shoulders purely on the strength of her acting skills (I may be reading too much into it but isn’t everybody doing that just now with regard to the cleavage controversy)?

So, is Deepika Padukone willing to be a spokesperson for the fight by Bollywood actresses against big bad media and their objectification of women?  Or is she only concerned when she herself is the target?  And if it’s the latter, should anybody other than herself and TOI really be interested in it at all?  And is she ok with any number of cheap jokes by fraternity members, especially if they are influential and she has reason to be loyal to them?

Readers have complained about the perceived arrogance of TOI in loftily declaring BCCL one of the largest media houses in the world in the above article and questioned their lack of responsibility as a leading daily.  That, I am afraid, also raises troubling questions about the tastes of the English news readership in India.  I do not recall a newspaper like The Hindu getting into trouble for printing distasteful captions.  So why is it that TOI enjoys such a massive lead in readership in the country if their standards are so bad?  Is it, ahem, because of such captions and, ermmm, the accompanying pictures?  Again, I am fully aware that I am simplifying it.  But it is precisely such simplistic logic that has been put forth in rants against the newspaper in the last week or so.

The other issue such a stand raises is:  are standards to be maintained only by news media?  Are the film industry and its performers not beholden to standards of any sort?  Yes, I get it, Deepika Padukone has the right to do as she pleases in her roles.  The question is does she necessarily HAVE to indulge in skin show? We have been hearing about this being a new golden age of Bollywood. So why is it that neither production houses nor directors feel assured that roles for women that do not have to involve a pretty face or require skin show can be written for actresses willing to perform them?  And there would surely be plenty such actresses in this new Golden Age, raring to take on roles with depth and substance?  In the apparently less golden 90s, I do not recall the actress Kajol being particularly renowned for either her looks or the alluring appeal of her embodiments.  So why is it that the leading ladies in Bollywood today rely heavily on their looks to grab roles?

This is not say either Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif or Priyanka Chopra do not make a sincere effort to bring their characters to life on screen.  But you only have to consider the case of Konkona Sen Sharma to know what happens, eventually, to actresses who don’t win in the skin race.  It is often said that art can only imitate life and films hold a mirror to the state of society as it is. So is it at all surprising that Bollywood is every bit as sexist and just as keen to objectify its actresses as the media?

It has been variously alleged that Deepika Padukone was seeking payments from TOI for a photograph they shot without her permission and this was her way of getting her own back.  Or that she was simply running a cynical publicity drill for Finding Fanny.  I submit that there may well be an alternative, simpler, explanation.  Although it is increasingly used as a publicity tool, Twitter is also (in)famous for knee jerk reactions and celebrity reactions.  Miss Padukone may have only indulged in one such.

Perhaps, her disproportionate rage at something that is, like it or not, rather commonplace in the media, was an outpouring of pent up frustration over the inability of her industry to regard her, even 7 years since her debut, as anything more than a sex bomb who can act (necessarily in that order).  Disgust at the fact that even after reeling off performances that won critical claim, it is indeed cleavage that continues to define her career in the eyes of a certain kind of audience, and a kind that is large in number.

Queen: feminist humour or a mirror that shows us the India we don’t like to see?

March 17, 2014

In terms of timing, Vikas Bahl’s new film, Queen, strikes it sweeter than a Wawrinka backhand.  With rape and sexual abuse becoming a nationwide menace (or finally being highlighted in the media as such) and sexist comments routinely being passed by people in power but out of touch, a film about a young woman confidently asserting her independence was bound to be received sympathetically.  It doesn’t hurt, of course, that it’s a pretty well-made film.  The audience has also been waiting for the right moment to fall in love with Kangana Ranaut, a talented actress searching for some truly iconic roles, and in all likelihood this film could spark a Kangana-wave, much like the Vidya Balan-wave of 2011.  Oh, and it was released on International Women’s Day.  As I said, couldn’t have timed it better.

But is that all there is to it?  Is the film only about treating women ‘properly’ and respecting their rights?  If that is the case, why does Vijay (played by Rajkumar Rao) look so, well, normal?  It is hard to shake off the feeling that he is very much like somebody you probably know and for the most part a nice enough guy to be friends with.  Can his views on what his Rani is allowed or not allowed to do (yes, note the word ‘allowed’) be ascribed simplistically to male ego alone?  Or do we, perhaps, need to dig deeper?  The director helpfully drops a hint to prod us in the latter direction.  In the last passage of the film, Vijay’s mother tells Rani how happy she is to get company in the kitchen and expresses the notion that kitty parties are exciting.  In other words, the thought of Rani taking up a job of her own is inconceivable even to another woman from her point of view as a mother in law.

Consider also the nature of things that Rani finds out she is ‘allowed’ to do when she lands up in the more liberal pastures of Paris and Amsterdam.  She finds out there is nothing wrong with kissing each other on the lips, nothing wrong with enjoying oneself in a pub or a rock show with abandon and without worry of what people might say, nothing wrong with consuming alcohol (apart from what it could do to one’s health, that is), nothing wrong with sharing a room with members of the opposite sex and even striking a friendship with them that doesn’t involve sexual overtures, and nothing wrong, finally, with just daring to dream and daring to live the dream.

The above do not necessarily attack only women-centric taboos in India.  Many of these things are considered a no-no for men too. What you wear, what you eat can be the basis of numerous personal judgments about you made by observers who probably don’t really know you very well at all.  If you are male and wear long hair, you are irresponsible.  If you would like to utilise your personal leave quota to travel outstation to watch your favourite rock band perform, you are irresponsible.  Related to that, if you would like to utilise your personal leave quota to travel outstation to attend the wedding of your cousin’s cousin’s cousin’s in-law whom you haven’t met in a decade or so, you are NOT irresponsible.  Au contraire, you ought to attend if your schedule and bank balance permit.  If you burn money on stylish apparel or a sporty bike, you are irresponsible.  But if you burn that on any quantity of gold, you are a wise man.

But my point is not to rant about Indians and their priorities. Rather, I wonder whether we fully acknowledge that  this is the India we have created.  We have this fanciful image in our head of India being a bindaas, chilled out nation where anything goes, where life is simpler than the sophisticated West.  But is that really the case?  Do we fully appreciate the enormous strain we exert on each other by obsessively judging the other person’s choices?   The point, after all, is not whether you as an individual would like to own a sporty bike or find use for it.  The point is whether it’s any of your business if somebody else would like to.  There’s a word for it: privacy.  When we seek to advice, out of our eternal compulsion to show how caring and well intentioned we are, we intrude the privacy of the other person.

And the reason to start respecting each other’s boundaries is not because it is done in the West and we need to ape them.  It is because our compulsion to judge others’ choices hampers our collective ability to make decisions.  There is a poignant scene in Queen where a chef invites Rani to participate in a culinary competition where she will get to sell her products to visitors and keep a part of the profits if she wins.  Seeing that she is hesitant and apprehensive, he asks her if she has the guts to step out and try (or something to that effect, cannot recall the exact words now).

Right now, the nation does need some political equivalent of that chef to exhort us to step out of our cocoons and dare to try.  When Indians make a decision, they do not only focus on the cold financials or their instinct and passion or both.  They also worry about what other interest groups would have to say about it. And since Indians already have a low appetite for pushing change, they shelve many initiatives that could help improve productivity and effectiveness in a small or big way in the organisation.  Yes, shelved not because it wouldn’t benefit the organisation in the foreseeable future but shelved because the manager might have something to say or the head of some other department would not like it and he/she might rant to somebody else who is in top management and so on.  We are gifted with  great analytical ability, which we use brilliantly to work out the myriad reasons why some long overdue change is not worth seeing through. We are so concerned with pleasing everyone that we would much prefer to inflict a median level of misery on all to be happily endured.

There is a price to be paid for living with inefficiency (and even giving it the name of jugad and celebrating it as an uniquely Indian trait).  It’s called inflation, mehengai. The govt alone cannot be blamed for allowing inflation to spiral out of control.  The govt is only a microcosm of India and its lethargic pace of implementation is not particularly far removed from how Indians, in general, work. When we are told what to do, we attack work with the ferocity of tigers.  But when it’s decision time, we tiptoe back into the cage.  It’s no coincidence that Rani had to run off to Europe to find herself for she probably couldn’t have managed it within India, hounded constantly by relatives and well wishers all too keen to part with unsolicited advice and judgments.

It’s time to make decisions, changes have got to be made.  It is time to truly live up to the ideal of unity in diversity…by respecting the other person’s rights, his/her choices, preferences and values.  It’s time to stand back and let people make their mistakes and applaud them for being brave enough to take the chance instead of laughing at their expense because they were not intelligent vegetables like you.  It’s time to stop clinging onto a set of values the source of which nobody is perfectly sure of and to let the idea of India evolve, through the free will of individuals bold enough to own their choices.

Onaayum Aatukuttiyum and the classification fix

November 3, 2013

Once, an inquisitive interviewer decided to probe me a little bit about my taste in books.  What genres did I read, he wanted to know.  I tried to give answers and found myself getting vague. Finally, just to settle the discussion, I agreed to “Drama”.  But truthfully, I don’t know what genre the next book I enjoy reading would be from.  I was reminded of the interview when I watched Onaayum Aatukuttiyum and considered the reviews.

It’s a thriller, but with a difference, it seems.  It’s not a commercial movie, but still a bit mainstream, apparently.  Mysskin is an auteur but  a crude one.  And so it goes.  My question:  does it matter?  I understand the convenience of neatly classifying art into established categories.  But what if it gets to the point that it paralyses the audience from accepting divergence from the norm?

Because Onaayum Aatukuttiyum does diverge from the norm, and at deeper levels than what classification captures.  I associate Tamil culture with dialogue and plenty of it, often delivered at high pitch.  I remember accompanying a cousin from the United States to the Mylapore Tank and she watched in amazement and amusement as two flower vendors quarreled loudly, reeling off words at some insane speed.

Consider then a film which uses limited dialogue.  It is not however a silent film a la Pushpak.   It just relies more on plenty of non verbal communication.   An unspoken question on the face of a woman who has been shot, demanding to know why the boy couldn’t warn her and the boy looking on horrified as he realises he has helped take the life of a harmless person…that is, another lamb like him.

Moral dilemmas also distinguish the film from the run of the mill.   Through psychological interplay evolving through actions, decisions, choices rather than dialogue, Mysskin gradually blurs the line between good and evil.  It is often possible to see a world with a clearly etched out moral compass in mainstream action/thriller flicks…much like the stated worldview of George W Bush, perhaps.   That is not the case in Onaayum Aatukuttiyum.  With only a few but significant words, Mysskin depicts the lamb as being wrapped up in the same confusion that the audience finds itself in.  He tells the police he doesn’t know if he can trust them anymore.   He initially believes the ungrateful wolf has put him through much misery in return for his act of saving his life but he gradually realises there is no escape route.

The crux of it all is finally clear when the wolf lays the cards on the table in the longest single stretch of dialogue in the film.  And here again, the resolution differs significantly from what we are offered and have come to expect in our films.  The wolf does not appeal to morals.  He does not attempt to justify his acts a la “Avana Nidutha Sollu, Naan Nidutharen”.  There is no recrimination, no blame game, no tirades (more the better).  Instead the wolf simply appeals to humanity.  He makes us believe that the supposedly dangerous criminal and sharp shooter is really now a helpless victim of circumstance condemned to remain perpetually on the run to evade the people who would rather he resume the hunt than seek redemption for killing a lamb.

The last respect in which it differs is the role of Ilayaraja’s background score.  Mysskin is possibly the greatest fan of Ilayaraja and certainly the most expressive of his admiration of the maestro’s music.   However, when it comes to the film, he leaves little room for Ilayaraja to lay out his trademark motifs.   Ilayaraja’s themes are, as usual, rich in emotion but the film appears to avoid elevating the emotions to larger than life proportions and searches instead for a silent intensity.   I think it was director Kasturiraja who once said that if you hand over your film to Ilayaraja for re-recording, he will write his own script through the music and take the film to a place altogether different from what you imagined.   But Mysskin constrains Ilayaraja with his focused vision and, for once, makes the background score subordinate to the overall requirements of the film.  So much for the munanni isai styling, then.  Here then is a film that is simply too good, too evolved to require a bail out from the maestro.

In toto, so many aspects where Onaayum Aatukuttiyum simply breaks free.   It remains true to Mysskin’s vision and there is no apparent effort to compromise the narrative to meet Kollywood box office imperatives.  There is no attempt either to make space for Ilayaraja’s genius (there are no songs either)  It seems that in spite of this (and in spite of positioning the film as a thriller which is not quite what it is), the film has grossed over Rs.9 cr at the box office and made money for the producer (Mysskin himself).    That in itself is a landmark event in Tamil cinema.  Maybe the audience has trusted their intuitions a little more than critics and appreciated the film for what it is rather than what it does and does not fit into.

At last some great commercial Hindi cinema

November 19, 2007

Is the classic Bollywood love triangle still feasible in new India?? Can you still sell movies that are high on aesthetics and low on noise??? Can you earn critical acclaim with a film that has no express social message?? Above all, can a movie sans SRK and/or sex succeed at the box office??? The answer to all of the above is three words: Jab We Met. 

Now, I must disgress a bit before I get back to the topic. I have had a small craving for long: would I be able to see a contemporary romantic flick that would actually be satisfying and at the same time not essentially deviate from the love story formula?? You see, whatever romantic pics I have seen over the years were either not “quite the thing” or they were crossed with a divergent sub-plot,i.e, hybrid.  Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa was probably my first vivid experience of a romantic movie and it was great. After that: Yes Boss – essentially comedy, Ghulam -gangster/dadagiri angle, Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai –  lookalike/murder twist, Dil Chahtha Hai – friendship, Cheeni Kum – age gulf and its perception in society…thus, all these films had something other than the love story to keep them going. On the other hand, classic love stories that didn’t quite do it for me – DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Raja Hindustani.  Yes, I am aware that these films were landmark blockbusters , but every blockbuster is not necessarily a good film; even if it is, it need not have an universal appeal.

That said, I went to Jab We Met with absolutely no expectations. I had, as mentioned in my earlier post, burnt my fingers with OSO, though the reviews were universally gung-ho. Plus, I was wary of what to expect from the Shahid-Kareena  jodi. Above all, ironically, it was just A love story, how good could it be anyway. As the opening scenes captured a depressed Shahid ambling down Bombay’s streets aimlessly, my fears appeared to be confirmed. And then, as Kareena jumped onto the train she never missed in life, it suddenly seemed to take off and then seemingly skipped all halts en route to the destination. When the movie was over, not only did I feel it was money well-spent, I felt good and refreshed (though not too good a thing when the movie is getting over at 11 in the night :D). What happened??

Well, it is a love story alright, but one told with lot of conviction and sincerity. At no point did I get the impression that the crew were going through the motions, looking to complete just another romantic flick. On the other hand, the movie was bubbling with life in every frame and exuded palpable energy without getting too boisterous or too loud for its own good.

Ah, that’s the other great thing about the movie. Somehow, in Himesh-era Bollywood, these guys had the guts to actually make a movie that is not too loud, too jarring. Particularly, the songs and the background score are cheerful and breezy without getting on your nerves while even the flow of dialogues is crisp and fast but uncluttered and devoid of overt melodrama.

I also noted a tastefulness in ‘executing’ the frames quite unusual for a commercial flick like this. For instance, the choreography for the songs is graceful, elegant and colourful rather than loud and attention-grabbing. The lighting too finds the perfect balance of the gaudy and the grim – or rather it looks REAL. Most importantly, this ‘tastefulness’ finds its way into the acting – a casting coup, if you will. Everybody seems to be perfectly cast and go through the frames naturally, without the shrill histrionics of perhaps a decade earlier.  Particularly the lead pair deliver a pleasant shock: Shahid and Kareena, whatever be their status as a pair off-screen, share some amazing chemistry.

Wait, there’s still something else. You know what, I was wrong: the conventional love story devoid of sub-plots doesn’t really exist. The sub-text in this movie is in two parts: one being the positive, albeit dreamy, attitude of Kareena’s character prior to rejection, the other being the repeated displays of great character by Shahid. Be it supporting a girl he has never met before to help her fulfil her dream, be it understanding and respecting his mother, be it being honest to the girl’s family and taking on the responsibility of searching her out or be it stepping out of her way to join hands with the man he thinks is her true love.  Perhaps, in our increasingly amoral times, this nice man who does a lot of good things without the pomp that generally comes with it in the movies strikes a chord at some level. For instance, today I let a guy who was in a hurry to get his train go ahead of me at the ticket queue because his need was greater than mine. Let’s face it, one part of us wants to be nice to everybody but circumstances conspire to make us less hospitable, so the rich industrialist scion with a golden heart seems to be a great ideal to look upto?? Don’t know, but what I do know is these moments of great character make the movie stand apart from the mundane, from the run-of-the-mill – it enables the characters to transcend the formulaic and come across as real people you actually relate to.  And when the predictable happily-ever-after ending eventually transpires, you are not grumbling,”Bah, I knew this was how it would end.” You feel happy for the imaginary couple in spite of yourself.

That, there, is the hallmark of good cinema. No, it need not have a powerful message, it need have no impact on society, it need not take cinema places technically, all it needs to do is get you to buy into the story, buy into the dream…for all commercial cinema is just one big fantasy ride. Difference is, most of the rides are boring, some are so awful they make you wanna puke, a very few like Jab We Met leave you with that “Wow” feeling when you’re through. What are you waiting, take the ride and enjoy it whole-heartedly before Yashraj films and Madhuri Nene nee Dixit take you for yet another marketing ride (oh, how I wish they would prove me wrong :/ ).

Yeh k k k kya kar diya aapne Farah ji???

November 11, 2007

So, the word is that King Kong,oops, Khan has roasted the two newcomers from the rival camp (as if they had any chance against the SRK hype machine anyway) and Om Shanti Om looks all set to be a blockbuster (and one of the few of this not-so-great year so far for Bollywood). I haven’t seen Mr.Bhansali, the arty commercial director’s magnum opus-not-quite, but, to my good fortune (or misfortune), I got to catch OSO and I sure do have a lot to say about it, and lot of it not too complimentary either.

Ok, what did I like about the film? I thought the cinematography was mighty impressive, particularly the fact that in the first half, the 70s feel was introduced even in the lighting…a rare eye for detail that I don’t generally expect from Indian commercial cinema. The parody of Bollywood by Bollywood itself was very funny (though I will delve on said parody again later). There were touches of a promise that the film could go deeper into the underbelly of Bollywood, particularly in the scene where the actress tells the junior artiste that the best part of shooting for her is “pack-up”. Deliciously cynical!!! What was however more impressive for me was that SRK is seemingly able to get the whole of Bollywood (except the other K, Aamir Khan, oh did somebody say Sallu??) to dance in one seemingly endless party song for him….Shabana Azmi, Vidya Balan, Aftab Shivdasani, Govinda, you name it, they were all there for that one song. What is it, his goodwill in the film world as such, or that he knows how to talk the language of money better, I don’t know, but the output is an impressive feather in his cap, yessir.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, Farah and SRK are not quite cynical enough to believe that making a cynical film about the cynical film industry with a cynical spattering of age-old Bollywood cliches will be lapped up by the not-so-cynical audience. All the cynical potshots at what Bollywood is all about, of which mind Farah ji is very much a part, is enjoyable and all but you can’t make a film on that.

Or, you actually can, if you have a linear, gripping storyline and some crisp direction. When you are randomly weaving together oh-so-filmi-oh-so-funny moments for 2 hours, then you need to give some largesse to the audience for the next half hour so that they don’t whine about money gone down the multiplex drain when they exit. Thankfully, Farah & Co do realise this need and so the film must culminate in a grand filmi finale.

But wait, like Mukesh Mehra’s dilemma in the film, who is going to write it? Remember,this is the new “Chak De” India – everything, from Indian cricket to Hindi cinema, got to be spectacular, we can’t spare no expenses no more,right?? Unfortunately, the well of creativity, atleast for this film’s ensemble, seems to have dried up long ago. So!!! Farah madam got an ingenious idea…why not “uthao” a scene from a good film that was made a good 50 years ago…aakhir people who were old enough to remember that film may not even come to watch OSO…agar aaye aur pata chala, people will say, buddhe logon ko aur koi kaam nahi, wahi puraani baaton me dube huye hein. But what their cynicism cynically prevented them from foreseeing is the existence of connoisseurs even for so cynical an affair as Bollywood. Yessir, I wasn’t born when the Dilip Kumar – Vyjayanthimala starrer Madhumati was made, but out of my own interest in great cinema, I happened to watch the film. And mon ami, the climax of Om Shanti Om is – as we say in Bombay – a chaapa of Madhumati.

I am sorry, madam, but asking me to buy this also as a tribute-shibute of Hindi films is a bit too much. Every little detail, right down to Sandhya arriving late for the climax and missing the magic-wagic, is copied from that landmark film. Now, I know ki many Hindi films are copied from Hollywood and maybe Madhumati was too, but apne hi ghar me chori karna…na re na. It does appear that the pre-release buzz about Karz being the inspiration for this film was the proverbial red herring to divert focus from the asli kahani.

And, either the red herring worked fabulously or movie critics are more cynical than I had bargained for…because I have scanned reviews in the papers, on the net, but nahi, Madhumati yeh shabd nazar nahi aayi . Ironically, reviews on the film Sawaariya have faithfully noted that it is ‘inspired’ by some Engleech peekchar. So, it boils down to the SRK effect, eh?? Even professional critics will bend over to serve the King of Bollywood and allow him to get away with anything – even being the co-architect of a cynical attempt to pass off plainly incompetent scriptwriting as great masala cinema. I won’t stand in the king’s way, no sir, but I have but a little wish….it would be so delightful if Farah madam or Shah Rukh sir read this and it had on their minds the same effect that Sandhya’s mysterious appearances have on Mukesh Mehra in the film….somebody was there to see through your bery bery clever trick…I rest my case here, fully expecting this film to succeed hugely, maintaining the status-quo of literary incompetence and artful deception that is Bollywood..salaam Bollywood, ha!!!!

Edit:  Well, the post-release publicity is still very much in full swing and Farah Madam has now given an interview to rediff.com. When asked how much 70s and 80s cinema influenced her, she said and I quote verbatim, ” I’m not at all inspired by the 80s because that was the worst era in the history of cinema – – the worst movies were made during that time.” Oh really!!! What is so undistinguished about Shekar Kapur’s Masoom and Mr.India or Govind Nihalani’s Ardhsatya, or maybe you decided you won’t be able to make movies like them and so won’t be influenced by the 80s…lol!!! Let the show go on!!! *sigh*


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