On ‘Pagglait’ and the existential duty of life surrounded by death…

(Spoilers ahead)

‘Pagglait’, in a crude way, is a North Indian slang and stands for a ‘different’ level of crazy. In a way, it is the equivalent of the English language’s ‘bat-shit’ crazy: Mere ‘crazy’ is not enough to define the wide gap; like the difference between a Ranveer Singh and Mika Singh. It can be inverted and used or misused in any which way one wants. In a colloquial sense, it is used to define or stereotype someone going against the grain. Sanya Malhotra’s Sandhya Giri, then finds herself labeled the same, at least in her subconscious being, when she observes, and inadvertently, forced to see the behavior of distant-relatives/friends/blood-relatives and, well, the ‘other’ woman.

The plot revolves around Sandhya’s coming to terms with the death of her husband just five months after her arranged marriage, and her coming to terms with the fact that there was hardly any ‘love’ in this ‘arranged’ marriage. That’s the fact she’s existing in; with an additional layer of existentialism that she’s got to go through the 13 days of rituals and expectations per Hinduism. That’s hardly the problem; the problem is dealing with folks that come in with their baggage – literally – with no idea of the level of tragedy the affected are dealing with. The kids are fine, they want their own shining ‘Toilet-Ek Prem Katha’, but it’s the adults that get on one’s nerves. As days transpire, as the calendar dates pile on within the timeframe of 13 days, the masks come off, and folks start revealing their true intent; or at least, the amount of empathy that the tragedy/situation deserves. The women start gossiping as to who has child-bearing hips and as to whose husband has the greatest reach in government offices to get the job done: The men just want to be there for photo-op. [In essence, the ones that care more about how the picture of a dead man hasn’t has his mustache photo-shopped while they turned a blind eye when he was shouting that he had to visit the toilet…]

It is easy to blame people, but as the corny line goes: The Show Must Go On. So, if you don’t have the thick skin to deal with EMIs, loans, life insurance claims, someone must deal with it; so what if one gets some ‘cut-money’ or a ‘forged’ relationship in accomplishing these ‘future-securing’ tasks. You can blame the ‘taujis’, the ‘mausas’, the ‘mausis’, ‘phoopajis’ all that you want; someone must do it! The movie is an expose of how the seriousness of the tragedy starts withering down as the dates keep adding on; how one’s heart and especially one’s mind ‘expands’ to start thinking of the next steps. Of course, one must show the so-called ‘hypocrisy’ of elders who claim that nobody can eat onion or garlic for 13 days: but drink whiskey and youngsters smoke.

And amid all this, is stranded Sandhya, who’s unaware of how to feel, or at least, she knows that she felt more for the pet that was driven over by a car than the death of her husband (Ah the ways of this world: When Modi said the same thing, he became a rabid communal equating a certain community to pets, on-screen, it becomes a ‘beautiful’ observation and ‘art!’) She’s completed her Master of Arts in English, and she’s married into a middle-class family that has a house named ‘Shanti-Kunj’ that has everything but peace missing in it – at least for those 13 days. She tries her best to ‘feel’ for her husband Astik – who was named thus as that’s an opposite to ‘Nastik’ as re-iterated to his ailing Mom by a supremely under-stated Ashutosh Rana playing the father – but discovers he had his own love during his college days and that he worked with the same woman till his death as well. There are finely etched scenes where she is so desperately lost and tries to find ways to love her husband of five months through her husband’s erst-while lover [as per the lover.]

There are scenes where the ‘homams’ are inter-cut with Sandhya enjoying ‘gol-gappas’ or/and Pepsi. They are nicely captured and depict the arc of what Sandhya is going through. There’s a beautiful scene where her brother-in-law wants to write an obituary in English and she educates him regarding the difference between ‘respected’ and ‘beloved’, and between ‘death’ and ‘demise.’ She finally resigns herself to the fact that she cannot take it any longer and just asks him to leave the note and she would pen it.

Every performer, be it Sheeba Chaddha as the mother, Raghubir Yadav as the cantankerous eldest brother, Rana as Shivendra Giri [Sandhya’s father-in-law], Rajesh Tailang as the ‘scheming’ younger brother, Sayani Gupta as Astik’s ex, put in their little bits and gel in finely in this slow-burn dark-comedy. This is highly representative of the North Indian small-town culture but is better-placed than the Khurrana – or whatever his spelling is these days based on his father’s astrology – and is far more genuine. While Khurrana’s films just decided to exploit the ‘landscape’ of North Indian small towns, this film stays away from exploitation and captures the feelings and mindscape as it occurs. In other words, this is a film that is so far, the one that is farthest from the South-Bombay film industry’s typical non-sensical excavation of the Northern hinterland to gain some moolah with some native lingo and faulty one-liners. This is an attempt, at least a genuine one, at what Sircar did in PIKU concerning the Bengali culture and its relation to the crumbling architecture of Calcutta, or the crumbling ‘haveli’ in ‘Gulabo Sitabo.’

Finally, what a performance this is from Sanya Malhotra. What a finely plateaued performance! She is so utterly convincing as a woman trying to ‘feel’ ‘liberating’ herself, and mainly her husband from this ‘birth.’ It is a bravura performance she just conquers every bit of emotion with stunning clinical clarity, but never failing to confuse the audience with her confusions. From being unattached to not being able to understand/fathom, to discovering relatives’ schemes, to discovering her husband’s ‘infidelity, she rolls across with remarkable ease. Even when the film in the final reels takes the typical route of women’s liberation and stymies itself from a rich observational film to a trope, she saves the film with her sincerity. Kudos to her.

My final peeve is with this obsession of placing the Nanis or the Nanas or the Dadis and the Dadas as the pillars of wisdom and modernity: Seriously, get over it – from Sulekha Sikhri in ‘Badhai Ho’ to Saroj Singh in this movie … it’s getting painful already … since everyone knows that’s a gimmick.

And of course, the soundtrack is a delight: I leave it with this

Khud Ko Toda Khud Ko Banaya
Khud Ko Ranga Khud Ko Sajaya
Khud Ka Sancha Phod Diya Hai
Khud Ko Phir Se Jod Liya Hai

I broke myself only to put myself together again
I colored and beautified myself as well
I shattered my own mold
I held and joined myself together again.

Phenkh Mukhauta Chehara Dekha
Bhes Hai Badala Dheera
Toote Lafzon Ko Joda Hai
Kavita Kar Lega Kabira

I de-masked and stared at myself
And gradually de-mystified it
Realized have the power to join broken words/promises
And write poems as emotionally deep as Kabira would pen

On GULABO SITABO and the battle between crumbling traditions and modernity

Beneath the comic musical-beats of GULABO SITABO, there carries a twang of pain for every beat. There’s a reasoning for everything here; why Amitabh was chosen? Why was he made to be a hunch-back? Why was he lisping on about his famous movie ‘Deewal’?

In perhaps one of his most unadulterated movies ever, coming close on the heels of October—that had a bad actor to begin with—Shoojit takes the finest actor-star the Hindi film industry has ever seen, and pits him against an actor who is known to own small-town-actor roles.

This is a film about people not letting go. The irony that Shoojit and writer Juhi Chaturvedi want to focus on is not just the so-called ‘older’ people, but the younger ones too! And that’s Ayushman’s Bankey Rastogi. He’s happy paying 30 rupees rent per month compared to the other tenants’ rent amounting to 70 rupees in an old dilapidated ‘haveli’ in Lucknow. He approaches Bankey asking him to pay 50 rupees per day for parking his bike, an amount greater than the house-rent! What kind of a logic is this? Amitabh’s Chunmun Mirza Saheb—remember, this name is uttered as a full name only in the last scene; and he is terrific there, as he says: ‘Ya I know my name is Chunmun Mirza Saheb, why are you saying the same thing?’

The film is set-up almost like Sai Paranjape’s KATHA, except that KATHA had more mischievous and some-what less tragically-oriented interferences with day-to-day life interactions amongst the chawl-folks. There’s a hilarious scene when Bankey wakes up in the morning and screams: ‘अरे यहाँ लुमीनिूम की हंडियन पड़ी थी, मिर्ज़ा के चप्पलें पड़ी थी, दो बकरियाँ बांड पड़ी है, साला हमारी ही बल्ब मिला निकालने के लिए! [Of all the aluminum vessels, of Mirza’s chappals, of the goats tied here, only my house’s bulbs were available for stealing!] The Begum [Mirza’s wife, played by a fine Farrukh Jafar; 17 years older than Mirza], comments that what’s the big deal with bulbs? Not as if your property has been stolen! To which Mirza replies: ‘इनकी जायडाड़ोवाले सूरत कहाँ??’ [‘Does his face look like the face of a property-owner?’] And it’s okay and everyone goes back to their ‘so-called’ normal lives. I mention this for a specific reason, since Shoojit/Juhi set-up this ‘play’ if I may call it so, well into the first reel of the film. And then that thread knits the scenes through-out the film, the difference being the battle between a ‘haveli’ and a ‘property’ is played out.

I do not want to write much about the story; since everyone already knows about the folk-lore of GULABO-SITABO; a battle between a younger mistress and an older wife trying to ‘own’ their husband. Suffice it to say, Mirza is the older wife [Sitabo] and Bankey, the younger mistress [Gulabo], and the priceless-husband, the mansion, ‘Fatima-Mahal.’ So, let’s just say, it is Tom and Jerry incorporated [shown in the film as well where Bankey’s younger sisters are enjoying the show.]

The movie, mainly then, is about that struggle everyone and mostly ones in a nation like India are facing: Should we re-visit our heritage, reflected through the crumbling walls (or crumbling traditions) and pillars of something like ‘Fatima Mahal’, or should we just go on with the compartments built on the life-is-a-journey-always-on-the-wheels and one should learn to evolve? Malls and multiplexes were the new ‘in-things’, right? The single-screens that used to give us the pleasure of watching movies without any English-speaking/transliterating ‘je-huzoori’ by the usher or the person selling us fried peanuts or ‘batata-wadas’ or ‘cutting-chai’ is gone. [And if not, the CV-19 will take care of their complete annihilation.] There’s a dialogue between Mirza and his lawyer, the ever-dependable Brijendra Kala’s Christopher [not very different from Christopher Columbus as in Hindi parlance, focusing on property dealings, and the reason perhaps his character being named so – ‘Jaana thaa Japan, pahaunch gaye Cheen!’] Christopher keeps referring to ‘Fatima-Mahal’ in the court-corridor/his-office as a property and advising Mirza to sell it before the ‘Archaeology Society of India’ stamps it a national heritage. Mirza keeps responding to him: ‘Kab se aap property property bol rahe hain, hum bata rahen aapko yeh haveli hain, is mein kiraydaar/log rehete hain.’ Now, that’s one telling statement.

With regard to the performances, Amitabh, again, even with a hunch-back and a prosthetic nose, stands tallest as the cantankerous, curmudgeonly intolerable Mirza. He plays a 78-year old man with nothing to look-forward to, but just a crumbling mansion, a metaphor that speaks to his character. He plays that old-man with hardly any irredeemable features, desiring for his own wife’s death [a love-less marriage nonetheless]; locking toile; stealing bulbs [but hardly a bright bulb himself.] He uses his famous ‘hain’ at the right moments, with such a low-pitched voice and deliberately twisting to ‘haaain’ and ‘haan’, it’s hard to imagine who else could have played this character! What’s noticeable is the way he twists it from his mega-hit movies to suit the purpose demanded here. His right ‘chappal’ is torn, he buys a new one, but still keeps the old, left-one stacked in his arm-pit! His mumblings, his curses and his slight-rise-in-anger in certain scenes is conveyed by him with a measured depth, respecting the character’s age. It’s hilarious and painful to see him fall down and get himself-up when he understands how money is multiplied and tries to understand its value. [Again, as I talked about Shoojit/Juhi’s brilliance, Mirza asks for property rates and calculations from a ‘gol-gappa’ vendor, when the camera-man’s glare is right across a bakery named ‘Modern’s Bakery and Store’.] He still doesn’t get it, mind you; that difference between the ‘value’ of money and how it can meaningfully be useful to one’s life; his life. While this is a haunting performance, one shouldn’t forget that he has already played these kind of performances that capture the human emotions, comprising the 7 sins, quite beautifully, without needing any kind of prosthetics, in SAUDAGAR and PARWANA, and many other films!

Khuraana as Bankey plays the perfect foil to Mirza, and it is a joy to see him threatening a lisping Amitabh when the latter tells him, ‘Hamale aur Hamale haveli ke beech aana na.’     [Don’t step between me and my mansion.] Or his nonchalant, matter-of-fact reply to his live-in-wheat-mill-store girl-friend, Fauzia, that if she were to marry him, she would have to share a ‘jainnt laatrine’ with Mishraji’s family. And then there’s a microwave-oven in his home to heat up ‘biriyani.’ Cannot say much more on the dichotomies/ironies captured here but, there it is.

All the other actors, Vijay Raaz, Bankey’s sisters, Sri Prakash Bajpayee’s Pandeyji, Shrishti Shrivastav, have done a fabulous job here. And of course, how can one forget the double-sided ‘sutradhar’ of this film, Nalneesh Nail’s ‘Shekhu.’

Where I felt disappointed a lot was when Shoojit finally decided to ‘ease-up’ and went over-board with the climactic scenes regarding Shaukat Aapa’s birth-day celebrations, nick-named, ‘Fatty’. That scene was a too-much-in-your-face decrying the contradictions between modernity and traditionalism that Sarkar and Juhi captured so honestly till then. But then, that can be forgiven, with three brilliant scenes; which prove the intent of Shoojit and Juhi: a) The azaan and temple-bells musically play in unison when-ever there’s Mirza walking on the streets of Lucknow;  b) Bankey and Mirza, sitting astride, for once, honestly bare their hearts and talk as to why Mirza married Fatima and what was it that she saw in him, and c) Begum leaving a dilapidated house to Mirza, inspite of all the quibbles, where the only ‘property’ that Mirza carries away painfully is a ‘khandaani’ chair, that he sells for 250 rupees, and it ends up in some auction house in Bombay for it to be consumed about for a vulgar amount, but lowered in value.

And as I mentioned before, this is again that contradiction regarding the human of letting go versus sticking-on; and that’s what eats us up.



Gulabo Sitabo:

क्या  लेक आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा?

क्या लेके आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा, ओ बंधु

क्षण भंगुर काया, तू कहाँ से लाया?

गुरुवन समझाया, पर समझ ना पाया

ये साँस निगोड़ी, चलती रुको थोड़ी

चल-चल रुक जावे, क्या खोया, पाया?

क्या लेक आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा?

क्या लेके आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा, ओ बंधु

क्या लेक आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा?

क्या लेके आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा, ओ बंधु

ओ मन सुन जोगी बात, यहाँ माया करती घाट

आतम भी तर समझात, मूरख ना समझे बात

है ईश्वर तेरे साथ, काहे मन मा घबरात

हो राम सुमिर दिन-रात, कष्ट समय कट जात

Richard Jewell

Eastwood just seems to enjoying aging and being that old wine that just gets better and better with age. His latest, ‘Richard Jewell’, is a fine testimony to this. This is a fine achievement: He manages to shove-in his love of the NRA and the Republican party, but subversively, and in spite of this, he manages to direct and narrate a true-life story very hard-hittingly, and more importantly, humanely of person wronged by over-zealous security system.

The story is well-known so there’s no point in going over it again: In brief, however, it’s the true-story of a security guard at the Centennial Olympic park in Atlanta, Georgia, working at the 1996 Olympics event who saves lives with his timing, is praised for just about 3 days and made a national hero, and then hounded by the press, the FBI, and the US Government for 88 days as the planter of pipe-bomb filled bag and faking discovering the bag and hence, falsely-earning a hero’s place.

Eastwood directs the film almost as a docu-drama: There are grainy news-reels, the old television sets, those cell-phones, the days folks used to remember their friends’ and folks’ phone numbers and not dump them into the ‘Contacts’ section. He gets all the technical and visual aspects of the ’90s America right as well as the pop-culture references, including Kenny Rogers performance at the Centennial Park. On the screen, things move on as they would have moved on in an otherwise unexciting life of Richard Jewell; slow, steady at first, and then, a tumultuous ride – but a ride that is experienced by Richard as per his life’s experiences, his nature, his body-language, and his emotional reactions and outbursts; not at our greedy expectations of the cinematic medium.

Paul Walter Hauser’s performance is so economical, so controlled, it’s a delight to watch. It’s so difficult—at least from what I have learnt/seen from the movies that I visited over the years—to play a normal guy: In the sense, what is it that the actor can give to the audience as memorabilia? What Paul gives here is the hidden restlessness of every common man to take home: On the surface, a guy over-eager about his country, patriotism, law-enforcement, but inwardly, still aware, and still struggling with, and perhaps, probably fully aware, that he would be like that till his death. His reactions to when some New York publisher wants to publish a book on his ‘heroics’ are priceless and convey the exultations of a person who’s been always a ‘common’ man just doing his job. The scene where he first shows his inner pain, when his lawyer asks him to feel angry is so brilliantly enacted and shot: When Sam Rockwell, playing his lawyer playing Watson Bryant, asks him to show some ‘anger’, Richard just explodes; and it actually feels like an implosion rather than an explosion and a culmination of what’s been going on in his life. Apart from the insults to his physicality that he’d been facing throughout his life, his inner troubles of facing the usual brunt of societal conclusions, for sure in the American way – a) Not yet married? Homo-sexual b) No girl-friend? Homo-sexual c) Still staying with your mom? A serial-killer or a pedophile – of fitting the profile of being a ‘white frustrated male.’ It is both tragic and hilarious to see him help the very authorities, the FBI, who are out to tarnish him! When the FBI comes swarming into his home, he tells them to let him know if they need to find anything in his house!! And Sam Rockwell’s face is a treasure-house of frustrated emotion! What the hell do I do with this guy? But all that Richard embodies and believes in is: ‘I have been raised to respect the authorities.’ [Also, look at how Richard stands when Walter walks with him to the Atlanta Journal office; through-out, he stands with his back to Olivia Wilde’s Kathy Scruggs! Amazing!]

Kathy Bates is dignity personified, and it’s a superb act by her as the mother of Richard Jewell. Her performanc- arc portraying the joy from being the mother of a ‘hero’ for 3 days to being the mother of a so-called villain is highly impressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if awards were reserved for her, for she deserves some at least. Through the usual mechanical cores of baking, of watching a show on a TV, of answering the door-bell or the phone, she conveys all that’s needed to for the portrayal of an anguished mother. [Eastwood, again, uses her very effectively; during the press-conference speech, she tries to but controls her tears, and when she pauses for a few-seconds, the clicks of the cameras go wild – more clicks when the victim is crying rather than when she is talking: Get Eastwood’s middle-finger at the press?]

Rockwell rocks as the almost case-less lawyer happy eating pistachios and walking around in shorts. He molds the character as a ‘seen-that’, ‘been-there’ performance and does it superbly. With his glasses almost always falling down on his chin, he manages to instill in you the same frustrated faith that he instilled in Richard Jewell; some-where, this might be the guy who could help Jewell get exonerated. Jon Hamm is good but his usual self as the guy caught between his belief and need that he wants Richard to be the planter and his conscience that this guy can’t be.

The one place where Clint is facing the heat is the portrayal of reporter Kathy Scruggs. Her character does come across as an arrogant snob who uses her beauty to get information any-how. Her calling Richard a ‘fat-f!@#’ who lives with his mother’, amplifies that and in general, tells one what America thinks of people who love and live to take care of their parents.

In the end, this is the film made by a skilled film-maker who very smartly marries his politics in a way that doesn’t come across as cheesy. Walter asks, ‘Are you a part of any fringe groups, like the KKK or NRA?’ Richard replies: ‘Is NRA a fringe group?’

P.S.: The only thing that bothered me was the blunder of FBI. If a news reporter and a lawyer can deduce that it couldn’t have been Richard who planted with just a timed-walk, how couldn’t they? Was it because they just wanted a scape-goat?


On a Joker.. as per this world

Spoilers ahead

Warning: One scene of extreme brutality involving a scissor, but very effectively used in the context of the film’s build-up.

There’s a scene in JOKER where Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) mother says to him when he keeps telling her that he wants to break into the ‘comedy-club’ scene: “But don’t you have to know to fight to be a comedian?” In essence, if one explodes this line into a film exploring a nihilistic look at life, what one gets is a trouble-some, dark, and truly grim JOKER. Not everything is what could-be; or should-be. Arthur’s thoughts are too sensitive for this world; too sensitively-stupid in fact, while all Arthur is wondering about is what’s happened to this world? Why are people behaving this way? Why is there no civility? And you wonder, if one is living in a grimy, dirty, filthy NYC passed off as Gotham City of the ‘70s, could anyone even afford to be sensitive, unless there’s something really wrong with one’s mind. Arthur thinks one should be civil in life, ‘wait’ for one’s turn at the subway station, wait for one’s turn in life: Alas, that’s not the Gotham city reflected here. It’s a cynical, depressed, brutal world where the rich are busy laughing with and at Chaplin’s Modern Times while the poor are outside surrounded by cops and garbage bags lying around for weeks and, well, super rats!

Joaquin’s Arthur is a clown by day and an aspiring stand-up comic by night. He is so weak and well-behave—inspite of a neurological condition that inadvertently forces laughter out of him even in the grimmest situation—that even 16-year-old kids can snatch a sign-board that he’s clowning around with and beat the hell out of him. And then nobody, including his boss, believes him that he was robbed of a sign-board when he was twirling in front of an out-of-business store! One after the other, Arthur keeps landing into situations where he’s taken for a ride and is faced with betrayals, including the secret of his birth, and the fact that he is on seven different medications for mental illness and that he needs to take care of his old mother [who’s mentally ill too, but Arthur doesn’t know as yet] just compounds his problems. [Social services shuts down the Department of Health due to funding issues, so he’s off his meds; and his case-worker says, “Arthur, the fact is, nobody gives a shit about people like you, and about people like me. Get used to it.”]

One night, he is fired for accidentally bringing a gun – which again is a ploy by his colleague who wants to take his place as the clown – to a children’s hospital. When returning on the subway, three boorish bankers molest a woman a la Shakti, and Arthur – isn’t quite Amitabh Bachchan, but someone who starts giving-in to his condition of uncontrollable laughter— part accidentally, and part in frustration, shoots all the three of those ‘educated’, ‘decent’ members of society. Life then spirals out of control and his transformation begins, and the sinister side begins to dominate. He feels the joy of reacting against a society when he first kills those three, and slow-dances in a dirty, abandoned restroom, as though he is rehearsing for a ballad performance.  After that, there’s no stopping, even if it means inciting a revolt in the city. He’s fine with it.

Director Todd Phillips tries to conjure a world that’s full of realism but has unrealistic/comic-book characters like the Joker and the young Bruce Wayne at the center of it. It’s a brave attempt, an unsettling universe in which a comic-book character is hardly comical and says, “All my life I thought my life was a tragedy, infact it is a comedy!” There is a firm reference and reverence to Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin – and in a subversive way, Robert De Niro now plays one of the ‘animals’ that come out at night— and a vigilante mood built up with a terrific slow-burn feel. There’s fine aerial cinematography of the city’s landscape with a train running as smoothly and slithering as slickly as a snake: One has the working class; and one the upper-class – it’s a remarkable scene when one contrasts the subway scene and the train Arthur takes to meet Thomas Wayne; the former is filthy with graffiti all over; the latter has folks all suited and booted. It might come off as campy in any other film, but here, with the terrific back-ground score and Joaquin’s intensity, it’s one hell of a contrast.

Above all, like a pyramid’s top, this is dominated by Joaquin at his peak. He is the jewel in this crown: Even if in this film as a whole, there could be some jewels that could have done with some polishing. This is an incendiary performance burning through the screen. His first scene, he’s facing the mirror, and we face him. He stretches his lips and cracks his mouth into a fake smile, it sends shivers down your spine. And then there’s a scene in close-up, the camera literally crawling all over his face, for a full 2-3 minutes maybe, and he is just laughing, guffawing, inward, out-loud, choking on his own laugh, trying to control his laughter, trying to whittle it down, and the camera just won’t leave him, and our eyes won’t leave the screen, as our bodies sit still in fear, in awe, in anticipation of what’s going to happen next. He captures you from that moment, and then on, it’s a sordid love affair between the audience and Joaquin: A love affair you know is addictive, is brutal, and dangerous for you, but you want to be in it. You try to look away from Arthur’s bleak world, but you cannot look away from Phoenix’s Arthur. It’s as though he has put you in a meditative stance, you just want to sit there, not come out of it! It’s grim, dark, it’s visceral, but hell yes, it’s addictive, and it’s a drug that won’t leave your system till you are with him on screen and several, several, hours and days after. He dances elegiacally after the first brutal spurt of violence on the subway, as if he’s lost his/her virginity, as though he now belongs to this world, and ow cannot be socially-ignored. In a yellow and red coat with a clownish get-up – we know what all of America and all of South Bombay/Delhi are going to wear on Halloween this year – he dances in ecstasy after two brutal murders while two detectives look at him from the top of his tenement. It’s in slow-motion, and it’s as though one’s watching a bloody Broadway musical! [He repeatedly keeps doing this dance in his tighty-whities, with his skin protruding over his bony, emaciated frame, and that’s both a horror and joy to watch. In the pre-climactic scene, when he is goaded on by masked vigilantes, he is shattered to the bones after an accident. Slowly, he coughs up blood, he hears the roars of revolt around him, gets up on the car, very slowly, taking in each and every moment and begins his elegiac dance, as though he is the leader – well, if not a leader, the usherer, of a new world. As he gets up and starts dancing, you want to get up on your seat and dance with him and bow down to him for this performance. The rousing music, compounded with Phoenix’s act, gives you goose-bumps and shakes you to the core.  Somewhere in a by-lane, a quiet Bruce Wayne stands shocked looking over his parents’ bodies shot-dead.

The best scene, for me, is the one where he smolders inside, and yet, ever-so-gently as the always-happy boy as his mother used to remember him, replies to the routine questions of the case-worker, and I paraphrase:

You don’t listen, you people don’t listen, do you? Every-week, you ask me the same questions, the same time, about my thoughts: Do I have any negative thoughts? All I have ever had in life are negative thoughts, yet you ask me the same question!! Why isn’t anybody in this town listening? What’s wrong with you?

The searing pain in his eyes, that’s the pain of a life-time. If you thought you had seen all of Phoenix in WALK THE LINE or THE MASTER, you are in for the joke of your life. He simply blasts the joke out and gives us a Joker that is hardly a joking matter.


“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”

Mild Spoiler alert


Quentin Tarantino’s [QT] latest might be his mildest and one of his most light-hearted movies in terms of execution since, mainly, it starts off as a love-affair with the golden age of Hollywood. The year is 1969, and ‘‘Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood’’ [OUATIH] starts off with its intent crystal clear – nostalgia is the word, and Hollywood at the cusp of its golden age is the gaze. That gaze is quite explicit and pulls you into that age through neon-lit street signs, the clothes, fashion, cars without seat-belts speeding down the narrow roads and the inter-state, cinema theater signs, throw-back to TV interviews, voice-overs, posters of TV shows, the drive-ins,  and movies and television shows (shot in news-reel grain to boot) post WW-II and what have you. And at the center of it all, he places two very interesting middle-aged; winding-down artists – one an actor [Leo’s Rick Dalton] and one his stunt-double [Brad’s Cliff Booth] and concocts a slow-burning, languid tale of their personal/professional relationship shaped mainly by the common profession they are in. While they represent the wane of Hollywood at its grandest, Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate represents that link – through her husband, Roman Polanski— between the pre- ‘70s studio-Hollywood and the more personalized shape that Hollywood had begun to take in terms of story-choices, story-telling, and execution, or even relations, friendly or other-wise. [There’s a scene in which Rick rues that he has Polanski as his neighbor but still can’t get to act in one of his movies!]

The film ambles its way through these set-ups and characters and spans only a few days. One of the awe-inspiring scenes of OUATIH is a terrific stretch that has its eyes, distinctly, on the 3 main characters’ and it’s all in a day’s work. It’s here that, once-again, QT’s enviable skills at placing a longish scene comes into full fire-power. It’s not just the length of this stretch, but the vast amount of incoherence and differences in the lead characters’ lives that’s imprinted on the viewer’s mind. It’s a pathetic day at work for the down-ward spiraling career – he’s now reduced to playing episodic villains in TV shows— of Rick Dalton. He has a hang-over, his stammer is hindering his performance, he isn’t able to get his lines right, and then he has the show’s main lead , Timothy Olyphant, rubbing it into him – though inadvertently of course – making him remember and retell the fact that he lost James Sturges’ THE GREAT ESCAPE to Steve McQueen by a narrow margin. And then, he has an intimidating conversation with the terrific kid Julia Butters who teaches him, or rather, reminds him, of a thing or two about the ‘art’ in acting and staying true to character! It’s both a hilarious and meaningful conversation at the same time, and it’s a credit to terrific writing and acts by Leo and Julia. At the same time, a matrimonially-satisfied Sharon Tate ventures out and decides to visit a theater screening movie in which she plays one of the roles; a ‘klutz’ as she puts it and gets only the ticket-seller and the usher—after her pursuit to force-fully recognize her— to get to take a picture with her. She walks into the theater, takes off her shoes and places her feet on the seat the next row, and watches the audiences’ reactions to her appearances on the screen and just soaks in the radiance, and reveals it through her ever-widening eyes and her smiling countenance. We might look at it as silly; as-in the folks are laughing at such silly scenes of physical comedy, but she’s enjoying it, and so are the audience of that film. That, for us, the audience, is Tarantino’s love-affair with the movies. We are  then reminded of Tarantino’s controversial snide at the critics and public alike who categorize films as A-GRADE or B-GRADE movies. [Hell, here he showers even the B-grade movies made in Italy with a meaning!]. Sharon Tate’s scene, is then, a great homage to the withering grand-standing Hollywood and its wistfulness through the eyes of an audience that loved this Hollywood. Now far-removed from the cinematic world, on the sunny streets of California, you see Clifton giving a ride to an under-age hippie with a hairy arm-pit nonetheless who offers oral sex to Clifton while ‘driving.’ He is tempted, but still has the wits and ‘decency’ about him to ask her age, and gently snubs her offer. He then enters the Spahn Ranch and smells something fishy with the way the former studio has been dilapidated and is now the ‘hang-out’ for these hippies. As he ventures to discover more regarding the owner, George Spahn’s condition, the hippies’ turn from, ‘Charles will dig you’ to an unkempt hippie stabbing Leo’s vehicle’s tire with a knife. Clifton lets loose his fists on the hippie, gives a bloody nose and broken teeth in full-force and forces him to fix the flat tire. It is a remarkable scene not for the violence, but for the way QT builds up the tempo to reveal Clifton’s hidden tendency for violence. He is  earlier shown driving the vehicle recklessly at break-neck speed with scant respect for safety of others on the road; then a scene indicating he might have killed his nagging wife, and then this scene. After that, there’s no stopping him, and under the influence of a joint, he goes on a violent spree in the last one hour of the movie, revealing himself to be not any-less violent than the frenzied cult-absorbed murderers. [Even his dog, Brandy, is well-trained in violence!]

And that is the cinematic form of QT, and he revisits his penchant for ‘revisionism’ as in Inglourious Bastards and Django Unchained in which he metes out justice per his view. Just as Brad’s Clifton reveals his temperament later in the day, so does QT building a sea of seemingly still waters, but later, in the climax he drowns you in turbulent, violent waters that you had all along sensed, but never thought could actually happen, because you were so absorbed in the idyllic love-affair that QT was having with vintage Hollywood!

It’s wonderful to see Leo and Brad contrast each other with exuberance and minimalism respectively in their roles. Leo is always on the edge, external in emotionalism, and always a step closer to his nihilistic doom: Brad, on the other hand, as the ‘more a brother than a wife’, is laconic, with a wry-smile, still not comfortable giving up, and used-to-his trailer-defined life. This is the best one has seen this star use his stardom. He has adjusted himself to the choir-boy routines he has to run for Leo and manages to find some good in it. It’s a treat to see these two being in a frame and brining out the best in each other.

It’s also great to see that QT conceives only these two characters as imaginary ones, while all other film personalities are true film-personalities like Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, Bruce Lee. [The fight-scene between Bruce Lee and Clifton Booth is hilarious and the conversation about martial-arts and manslaughter is up the roof; while Mike Moh as Bruce Lee is superb!].

And then, as notoriously famous as QT is for his revisionist and anachronistic fetishes, which are nothing short of a cultural war through the eyes of history,  one wonders, through-out the film, or maybe after, why is his stand so much in support of a stable culture, an almost tacit approval of sorts to a hierarchy, whether in cinema or society and against counter-culture?


Pleasantly surprised by SUPER 30’s first half. It’s a 70% effective movie, and Anand Kumar and Hrithik Roshan (HR) have more to do with it than Vikas Bahl. Vikas takes the age-old template of masala and shoves Anand’s story into it, with remarkable ease in the first half and then goes hay-wire in the 2nd half.


This story is known to one and all; with AK’s appearance in KBC and news et. al. What one — I — wasn’t prepared for was the unabashed embracing of ‘masala’ tics that the likes of Kashyap’s buddy Bahl and Co., always vented on. The first half is an unabashedly masala movie; it doesn’t matter if Anand Kumar as real life person existed or not, with due respect to him and his condition. You could very well play-out Anand Kumar as a fictional character and it would still pierce one’s hearts; depending on-course, on the heart-hardened-quotient embodied in life’s turns and twists.

So, you can watch the movie for its proceedings and its known denouement; but the path – until the intermission; is damn arresting, and it should be mainly credited to HR’s consistency. He looks remarkably young with no stooping skin when he wins the Ramanujan award and is courting a rich guy’s dancing daughter. He is utterly convincing when he just slaps his ‘gamcha’ on the floor of his terrace when his post-man father [an exuberantly effective Virendra Saxena] announces that he’s been gifted an admission to CAMBRIDGE. And as he goes on with his mission of identifying his ‘task’ in life—unbeknownst to him of course –he takes us along a roller-coaster ride. He makes us believe in him when he rejects a kid nonchalantly saying there’s no provision for ‘socialism’ in EXCEL coaching classes [an inherent taunt to Mr. Akhtar’s nepotism-riddled production house?]. He them comes out of a party hosted by politicians and the education-mafias, a.k.a. coaching classes’ honchos, tries to turn on his motor-bike ignition and fails: He then ventures to a kid who he thinks is reading ‘MANOHAR KAHANIAYAN’, and then realizes the kid is solving equations. And then, right then, the borrowed masala-exuberance of Bahl’s kicks in and there’s a cycle-rick-shaw wallah who asks him: साब, आप को मंज़िल पहुँचा दे? And as HR goes through a tunnel, it hammers into his mind, and that encounter with the kid nudges him toward his true ‘MANZIL’! What else can be more masala than this? Everything, every action that HR takes going forward, has a root-cause to this encounter with the kid and the ride with this cycle rick-shaw wallah!

And what’s stunning to discover, more rightly, to re-iterate is the impact of masala movies on movies rather than the masala in life!! SHOLAY is literally re-lived here, in broken English, in a sequence that is profound in ideation and a bit of execution when it begins but loses its steam at the end. This ENTIRE scene, is again, equivalent in spirit to that talk in LAGAAN that Aamir has with one of his batsmen/bowlers and I paraphrase here – इन गोरों के लिए यह तो खेल है! हमारे लिए अपनी ज़िंदगी है! 3 सांल का लगान माफ़ – सोचो! And then HR’s Anand Kumar is convincing the kids when they are ready to leave in the face of a competition and inferiority complex by the ‘English’ language: खोने को क्या है तुम्हारे पास?

There are terrific masala moments, like when HR hood-winks the restaurant-owner with ‘numbers’: Remember Soorma Bhoopali? And when HR is first knocked-down by an ‘air-conditioned’ Contessa belonging to Aditya Shrivastav’s (AS) character, it’s a hoot! The scene has HR picking up coins and rupee notes, with the utmost concentration that even the trio of Rambha, Uravashi, and Menaka can’t dilute, and AS’s characters places HR in that car and asks his assistant to ride the ‘papad-laden’ bi-cycle to its destination: HR ejects his head for a moment outside into the heat, there’s the car’s exhaust billowing, and then, the windows roll-down, and he is in an AC car, and then, an AC room: From a smoke-billowing, heat-laden atmosphere to an AC room [And AS makes it very, very external – He keeps using the AC remote at every chance he gets!!] And a few scenes later, he’s on the cycle-rickshaw-waalah’s vehicle, who’s asked him, ‘साब, आप को मंज़िल पहुँचा दे? You get the cyclical/cynical drift? There’s घनन from LAGAAN and then there’s HR’S AK telling Aditya Shrivastav’s Lallan Singh, लगता है बहूत बड़ा तूफान आने वाला है, संभाल के रहिएगा लल्लन सिंग जी| The corrugated tin-roofs tremble in unison! Lallan Singh takes his ‘geometry-box’ offerings and just…leaves!


The film goes miserably hay-wire in the 2nd half with the over-usage of masala: And it’s terrible to see such a fantastic departure and journey from a railway-station never to reach its destination. There’s of course, a clap-worthy moment mid-way when a hospital assistant psychologically slaps a ‘donation-doctor’ and arranges for the recovery of Anand Kumar!

Of course, the irony is not lost when Hrithik Roshan, himself the advantaged product of a film-family utters, अब राजा का बेटा ही राजा नही बनेगा; राजा वोही बनेगा जो हकदार होगा!!

And what does one have to say in these days of #METOO movement, when a former-lover says, ‘MY TASTE IN MEN HAS ALWAYS BEEN GREAT.!’ And the husband smiles!!


Mild Spoiler alert

Thugs of Hindostan (TOH), irrespective of whether it goes down as a money-maker or not, will for sure go down in the annals of Hindi cinema as one of the films that divided the critics/audiences to the maximum extent possible. An audience that has grown up on the masala traditions/tropes, and even more so, those who have grown up listening to those stories that one heard from one’s grand-parents as a kid, is bound to like this film; if not love it. More than anything, I was pleasantly surprised that Victor of Doom 3 fame managed to get his bearings almost right and understood and presented the ’70s and ’80s cinema for what it actually represented.

TOH is a simple enough story of rebels versus the Company; of a stoic, metaphorical figure (Amitabh Bachchan) representing freedom; of a turncoat using one’s wittiness (Aamir Khan) to slither toward riches in life and then toward a cause, and more importantly, of achieving poetic justice that is beyond the self’s life or death, all moulded within the masala tropes with the respect the masala-tradition of story-telling of the Hindi films of yore command, not demand.

More than anything, this is a very good tribute to the man who heralded and soared to unconquerable heights in this tradition, Amitabh Bachchan. Both Victor and Aamir have utmost respect toward Amitabh and they show it—Aamir through his eyes—sometimes subtly, mostly unabashedly. There is an Allah-Rakha-esqe falcon as in Coolie—heck, there’s even a throw-back to Oberoi’s cool sun-glasses—that protects the rebels here as a forewarner and flies around whenever Amitabh’s character and/or his gang is on screen; there’s a great tribute to Amitabh’s refusal to pay हफ़्ता from Deewar with Aamir’s introduction shot[very smartly, Victor/Aamir include a sub-tribute to Lagaan via the tax back-drop that’s used as Aamir’s introduction scene right here]; there’s Amitabh’s Bhagwan Dada-inspired steps in the Vashamalle song, there’s Amitabh in shackles as in Kaalia; there’s Amitabh singing a lullaby to Fatima’s Zafira, and of course, there’s his name itself – two of them in fact; Khudabaksh and Aazad.

Aamir salutes [aadab] him in the first scene, and Aamir again does that in one of the pre-climactic scenes—symbolically signifying and accepting that this is what we loved about Bachchan’s films when we saw them the first time; and this is what inspired the masala tradition—where he tries to fall at his feet but then Amitabh asks him to hug instead. The film is sparkled with many such homages and it’s a delight to spot, see, and enjoy them.

Needless to say, with less screen-time but with the most impact, in all probability, with Bachchan’s last outing in a masala avatar, this is a treat. And this is indeed a fine homage. This isn’t the Buddha Hoga Tera Baap collection of scenes project from Amitabh Bachchan’s films’ homage/disguised as postal-stamps stuck in a museum shout-out; it’s a true, sincere, and from-the heart reverence to story-telling in this format and what Amitabh meant to that format. It’s simply thrilling when Bachchan speaks and espouses freedom with the dignity and aura which inspires followers and makes each one of them leaders. His introduction scene is an ultimate ode to his grand entry styles from the ’70s and ’80s flicks and a goose-bumping one at that.

Aamir is truly enjoying this outing, and stays within the ambit of the genre, rarely getting trapped delivering a false note [note, he is on Amitabh’s turf here; age notwithstanding], except for the Chaplin-esque dance during the सुराय्या मेरी जान song. Katrina is wasted but she dances brilliantly and has oomph and lightning rising through the screen till the theater roof [having a lightning rod on the theater roof-tops might be a good idea to prevent getting scorched]. Her dialog-delivery is flat as usual and unfortunately, the British generals speak better Hindi than her. Fatima has a small role and can be called the weakest link but she doesn’t have the lines that’s grand-standing.

The action scenes and battles on the ship are very well-staged in slow-motion–which was the bane of Dhoom 3–are inter-mingled smartly with live-action, coupled with a thundering back-ground score to convey the energy required and to be savored by the audience. Boarding onto the enemy ships by ropes, by ladders, and the usage of a ship’s props in the action sequences are finely used. Frankly, they are on par with the Babhubali’s action scenes: At least, they look better on-screen.

The songs—there are 3 of them—are a big let-down; only the VASHAMALLE song is better but is way too short. Katrina’s introduction song was supposed to be a fire-cracker but it fizzles out. But Manzoor-E-Khuda song again harks back to the usage of a song with the hidden intention of showing some plot happening in the back-ground. [If you notice, the wooden set that is constructed is in the form of a falcon; the leitmotif that’s through-out the film.]

The first half flows like a breeze. It is in the 2nd half where Aamir’s chameleonic act/role gets a bit comedic, monotonous and out-of-sync when it comes to the totality of the movie. His flip-flops get a tad monotonous. But the face-off moments between them are finely staged.

If you don’t understand — don’t want to understand/see– that Bahubali is Chandamama, while TOH is pure Hindi cinema masala, then think twice before watching this movie. And if rather than enjoying the wholesome poetic justice and flow that the film provides/symbolizes, you are going to focus and fret on how Fatima’s eye-brow scar keeps changing its size, or how anybody can survive a ship-collision, then stay at home and watch, as Box Office India puts it, European cinema. Holistic, over-arching emotional crests and troughs are the hall-marks of masala cinema, and if you don’t enjoy this form of story-telling and movie-watching, well, this is not for you. If the navarasas from Natya Shastra are neither your cup of coffee nor tea, drop the idea of watching this. If you have formed an opinion with the preview— that ships floating on high seas means this is a re-hash of Pirates of the Caribbean, well, you clearly missed the boat; and it’s for you to decide whether it was a boat worth riding-on or missing. But if not, this movie is a fun ride.

And no, I don’t feel Aamir has lost it. He’s much smarter than we – the lovers of cinema. This is a true homage, and not a replica of the ‘70s and ‘80s. And if we are not as fond or reverential as him to these tropes, well, the shortcoming is on us; not him.

Rating: 3/5

Sanju: One man; NOT so many lives

Opened: 29 June 2018
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Manisha Koirala, Dia Mirza, Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Jim Sarbh
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Producers: Rajkumar Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Rating: ★★★

So Hirani finally writes and directs a movie post his successful Aamir-phase and works with an actor who’s still relevant, but’s coming off of a slew of flops and on the verge of being passed off as another side-effect of ‘nepotism’ in the Hindi film industry. He goes back to the story of the actor with whom he tasted success first, Sanjay Dutt, and tries to portray his life in a reverse mode; reel versus real versus reel. He also attempts to visit the Rashoman effect, in a very diluted way of course, via narratives from different folks, be they the media, his biographer, or a newspaper editor or his father and finally, Sanjay Dutt’s current wife, Manyata Dutt. And in the process, inspite of the known fact and that needle pricking at the brain of the audience’s mind that this movie is being helmed by a guy who’s close to the protagonist, Hirani does prove what everyone wished to be the truth in their hearts, but were skeptical owing to his association with Aamir; that Hirani is, basically, a fine story-teller and that his association with Aamir’s audiences’ pulse-grabbing instincts and respect to the real heart and art of movie-making, that of holding-in the viewers with  the art of marrying story-telling to the visuals, only added to Hirani’s innate strengths, and not hid any weaknesses.

 Ranbir Kapoor is PHENOMENAL in the film nailing each nuance with aplomb

Ranbir Kapoor is PHENOMENAL in the film nailing each nuance with aplomb

Hirani takes the route of tragi-comedy and comes up with an engrossing film – for the most part. At a 168 minutes run-time, there are times when one’s exasperated at the lengths – literally and figuratively— to which the movie tries to depict Sanjay Dutt as an emotional, easily squeezable life-sponge that would pour emotions out at every fate-screwed machination life threw at him, albeit, with a strong exterior of a body-builder that deceptively cried/cries ‘macho.’ (This is a man who supposedly slept with 350 women and never had a case of Herpes or any STD; go figure.)  But then, Hirani also leaves no stone unturned in showing that whatever problems Dutt faced, he was a privileged person when he started out and even during his later years! A scene from the Rocky shoot has the senior Dutt admonishing Sanjay that he’s enjoying life’s riches and privileges since he’s been given that on a platter, and smoking and drinking would, one day, reveal his true self since the camera never lies, and it’s all going to show up on his face. However, Sanjay still smokes thanks to his buddy, a lisping but effective Zubin Mistry played by Jim Sarbh. And Sanjay’s first-world problem is, of course, the fact that his father supposedly humiliated him in front of the entire set due to his poor lip-syncing abilities: Or the fact that his sisters got the praise when he hit sixes while they scored fours in the family cricket match-outing.   (The Rocky shoot scene is actually a brilliant one where Hirani again succumbs to his inherent story-telling capabilities in a tragi-comic mode and makes a spot-boy named Ganpat act literally with feminine movements and reactions.) Hirani scores two goals there: 1) If a spot-boy named Ganpat who obviously is poor can conjure up feminine reactions inspite of his stomach-growling because he has to do whatever the boss tells him to do to retain his job, why can’t a privileged brat like Sanjay act properly? 2) Sanjay Dutt fell prey to drugs/alcohol way sooner and thought he could achieve greater heights professionally  and personally since he was able to romance even Gabbar Singh after a smoke! That made him see God!). Hirani is actually relentless in hitting home the fact that Sanjay’s got chances after chances; life after life— personally, professionally, and politically.

As mentioned before, Hirani leaves no stone unturned in depicting Sanjay as a troubled-soul but someone who knows his worth; And so, we are hammered with that initial scene where he gets a biographer to write about him and he compares Sanjay with Gandhi – no, not the off-shoots of Gandhi surname, Feroze or Indira Gandhi, but the original Gandhi, the Mahatma. He hits him with chappals and burns the book, and then tries to commit suicide. Takeaway for the audience? Sanjay knows that he is an incomplete and damaged human being, YOU get to know that too and it’s high time you stamp it on your mind.

The first-half of the film is devoted to Sanjay’s troubled life. His devil-may-care attitude and his getting sucked-up into a vortex of his own wrong-doings where he doesn’t see or care for anything beyond his own life of getting high. The second half, finally, deals with the father-son relationship and underlines what Hirani has been talking about: that this’s essentially a father-son story. And that is actually the undoing as well as one of the more honest points of the movie. Sanjay’s relationship with his mother, Nargis, as portrayed by Manisha Koirala is shown so pathetically that it is painful to watch. Hirani makes it painful to watch her, especially when trying to depict her act where she hides her disease by saying that she’s got a role in a Hollywood movie and is going to New York. (Koirala was always a mediocre and continues to be a mediocre actress: She was only hyped up due to her association with the likes of Vinod Chopra, Bhansali, and Mani Ratnam. And to think that once upon a time she was seen as competitor to someone like Madhuri Dixit is laughable to its core.) Half of the blame, of course, lies with Hirani and Joshi who write such a half-baked role for her in order to make this film a ‘father-son’ saga.

 The film loses steam midway and omits important aspects of Sanjay Dutt's story

The film loses steam midway and omits important aspects of Sanjay Dutt’s story

The second half of the film is then devoted to the father-son relationship and keeps focusing on Sunil Dutt’s attempts at fighting for his son to not being labeled a ‘terrorist.’ Here, the film is kind of in the doldrums where it veers between what Kumar Gaurav look-alike Vivek Kaushal’s perspective of Sanjay Dutt would be like and the public’s. Hirani here, literally, after trying the Kurosawa route, tries ‘Sex-Speare’ route via Kaushal’s Kamli hearing only a part of the entire narrative and staying away from Dutt for a decade. Hirani goes into the caricaturist mode and gives Dutt a clean-chit with regard to his dealings with the underworld. It starts with random folks calling him up and threatening him, his ’Dad’, and his sisters. So, he calls up his gansta-friends and tells them that he needs the AK-56 rifle ONLY till the riots last and he doesn’t need the ‘extra’ ones. So you  decide? Was Sanjay dumb, emotional, or simply a crafty criminal? Hirani knows, and wants you ALSO to believe in that; but he deceptively throws up that question to you as though  it is a question!  Hirani also goes down the path of false equivalency—something that he already accomplished in PK where he equated Islamist terrorism with rightwing, ‘Hindu terrorism.’ Here, he tries to again haphazardly bringing onto the screen the ‘wedding’ of the under-world. So you have ‘serious’ criminals like Abu Salem who are equated with cartoonish ‘Hindu’ Dons: One is named Bandu Boss! (Was Hirani trying to rhyme a Hindi-language abuse?). And to top it all, it’s played by Sayaji Shinde – another brilliant actor who we have lost to the horrific Telugu film industry – playing one of his umpteen robotic roles in Tamil and Telugu films with a prominent red ‘tika’ on his fore-head. (Remember the phase in the ‘90s when Chotta Rajan was projected as a ‘Hindu’ underworld answer to the ‘Muslim’  Dawood Ibrahim-Kaskar, whose unknown address was in Clifton Road, Karachi?)

Coming to the technical aspects of this film, this is one of the ‘richest’ Hirani films in terms of technology. Ravi Varman’s cinematography is brilliant in the way it captures and oscillates between Sanjay’s drug-pumped, mind-exploding psychedelic adventures on the neon-lit streets of Bombay of the ‘80s and the normalcy of life in Bombay’s Nargis Dutt Road or the humble abode of Kamlesh in New York’s suburbs. (The title credit-sequence itself has SANJU transcribed over the sea-waters of the Arabian, indicating a wave-flogged, turbulent life.) However, there are some gaffes when one shows NO twin-towers in the ‘80s of New York City while there’s one single-tower standing after 2001! (Varman literally captures beautifully the craziness of a drug and alcohol-drenched mind; the scenes of Sanjay riding a plant or flowers blooming astride his imaginary mind are both reductive and enthralling cognizant of the fact that we are talking of the ‘imagination’ of a drug-induced mind in the ‘80s!)

Coming to the performances, Ranbir is great in the initial portions of the movie when he plays the young Dutt uptil Dutt’s Khal-Nayak phase. He gets everything bang-on; the swag, the accent, the slant-walk, the fake-machismo. Once he starts venturing into the jail-stuff, he lets slip a little, wee-bit little, where the Dutt-skin sheds and the Ranbir skin takes over. Of course, he recovers via mannersims, like the scene when he walks out of Yerwada jail, but by that time, one feels, the audience has noticed some kind of a slip. Overall, after his brilliant turn in Tamasha, this is one of his most recognizable performances. Kudos.

Vicky Kaushal, however, takes the cake here: And may I dare to say, he excels, on an equal, or at an even greater wavelength than Ranbir. I never thought, in my lifetime, I would see an actor as brilliant as Amitabh in a drunken scene. Kaushal here, in one scene, if not better, has definitely equaled Amitabh. His scene where he confronts Sunil Dutt drunkenly begging him to talk to his son as a friend is a master-piece. His mental dislocation, his pain, everything is brilliantly conveyed through his act. This is a masterclass in acting for decades. Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt is good, in the sense that he essays a text-book do-gooder. But then, maybe that’s the pressure Sanjay Dutt was under: To be as unblemished and productive as his father. While that might have inspired him in later stages of his life, Sanjay might have wilted under the legacy of Sunil Dutt during his younger days. Anushka Sharma is passable with a fake-British accent. Dia Mirza too, is passable: However, even in her few minutes of screen time, Hirani is good enough a filmmaker to convey that she is someone who has accepted Dutt for who or what he is.

 Vicky Kaushal manages to steal the thunder in a few key scenes

Vicky Kaushal manages to steal the thunder in a few key scenes

The biggest controversy, or the biggest hint that this film is a ‘whitewash’ for Sanjay Dutt would be Hirani’s over-drive in blaming the media for labeling Dutt an anti-national or/and a terrorist. For the last 30 minutes of the movie, Hirani literally goes into an over-drive talking of how the media treated Sanjay Dutt, and how the media IS WRONG. Sanjay Dutt from Yeravda hosts a la-Munnabhai talk-show, where he talks of the ‘masaledar’ news-shows and people passing judgements through small, ‘shouting-windows,’ where folks don’t understand the difference between a question-mark and a full-stop, and where, a certain guy from the media, just because he doesn’t get a picture from Dutt after he walks out from a jail, calls him a ‘terrorist’ to get his attention and a photo. To top it all, rather, to make it worse, Hirani has an item song during the end-credits – I don’t remember Hirani having an end-credit item-song in any of his other movies; do correct me if I am wrong – with ‘white’ women of-course, trashing the media on walls, and well, calling the fourth-estate something that deserves to be dialogued on a potty. After 140 minutes of better film-making, Hirani and Dutt and company decide to go on an over-drive blaming the media for not able to take a decision between a question-mark and a full-stop. And that is where people would – and rightly so – doubt Hirani’s credibility when it comes to portraying an ‘honest’ depiction of Sanjay Dutt! But then, if this is Sanjay Dutt’s ‘perspective’ and Hirani’s absorption after his late-night visits to Sanjay’s house, how can any viewer complain or diagnose?

‘Observations’ on ‘SAIRAT’

In SAIRAT, Nagaraj Manjule is all over the place – but in a damn good way. He gives homage to almost every style of craft exploited through the medium of cinema in the genre of romance and societal/parental opposition; in the milieu of the Montagues and the Capulets: And he does that at different points in his 2 hour 53 minute ode; as an audience one might get a bit frustrated at the rhythm with which his almost-operatic film operates, but the end result as one walks out of a cinema-hall or when one switches off the telly, is the enormity of emotions that are a result of a rich wedding between the screen and one’s personal experiences of life.

Sairat’s like a pizza you order on any pizza web-site; you know, one that has less of jalapenos to the left; more of onions to the right; hell, a plethora mushrooms or onions or what have you on the entire pizza. You choose, and you get it: Here, the director has arranged the permutations, and you have to go with that. You got to devour and experience it the way he has laid out the crust, and the toppings. And it’s in these toppings that Manjule subtly but superlatively puts in all the Dalit references, the upper-lower caste unending fight, the hypocrisy, the Hindu-Muslim unity [the male lead’s neighbor belongs to the Muslim community], and then, the ones who are unluckier within the unlucky group.

This is in complete contrast to the director’s ‘Fandry’, where it was one flavor all over; that of the pain of oppression. Manjule is in love with Hindi cinema and its masala-esque contribution to the Indian traditional story-telling, and it is more than evident in the first and fore-most important tribute to it through films like Mughal-E-Azam—in terms of the ‘royalty’ difference; at parallel is the tribute to the life-buoy fresh ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ [QSQT];one can add ‘Betaab’ or even ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ to the list,  and finally, to Mani Ratnam’s ‘Alaipauthey’, when the rigmarole of joint-living—sorry,  live-in-relationship –  or marriage take-over after the euphoria of first-love.

Right from the first shot, Manjule makes it clear that we are in for an orchestrated roller-coaster ride to a cinematic experience: There’s that part in the beginning, a Bitternagar – no pun intended with the word ‘bitter’ of the English language’— Premier League match [BPL], where, the winner would walk away with 11,111 Rupees, while the second-runner up would walk away with 7,777 which would be sponsored by the ‘esteemed’ citizen of Bitternagar, who is described by the commentator as the one who respectfully owns a HOOCH store! There’s a literal homage to rural Marathi folk-lore as well as R. K. Narayan’s ‘Malgudi Days’, when the grand-mother of a guy—who happens to be the ‘dancing’ umpire; a la Brent Fraser ‘Bowden’ who signals dramatically the fours and sixes and all other decisions—comes and thrashes him with a stick as to who’s going to herd the sheep! And this guy is supposed to be the father of two kids!!

Then come the wooing parts, between Archie [Archana Patil]; and Parshya Kale [‘Parshya’ is common for Prashant as is ‘Narshya’ for Narsimha or ‘Padya’ for Pradeep in Maharashtra]. Come to think of it, in different scenes of the film, Archana keeps mentioning, ’Don’t you understand Marathi, or do you want me to talk to you in English’? This is a case of supremacy-stamping as well as making a classist statement but in a non-derogatory manner. Why is she called Archie? Archana, being a female, cannot be called, Archya! Hence the deceit of ‘Archie’, cleverly symbolizing the gender-difference as well as her arrogance over having been educated in the English medium.

Right from the on-set, Manjule decides to subvert all the gender-stereotypes. His ‘hero’-ine rides a Royal Enfield – although she might sometimes need the help of the hero to kick-start the ‘monster’; she rides a tractor, so much so that Parshya’s mom literally says, in Marathi, ‘लई धाडशी ग बाई तू’, when she’s riding a tractor to go to the farm and making sure that Parshya hears it. When Archi starts staring at Parshya in the class-room, it is Parshya who is embarrassed and makes an excuse to leave the class-room and literally begs her to stop ogling. In another sequence, when the ‘dunce’ like friends of Parshya who are talking about sending love-letters comparing them to letters that Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj sent during his times, Archi stands astride a library card that highlights a book by William O’ Neil. In another sequence, she literally challenges her cousin Mangya to touch Parshya even slightly promising Mangya she would smash his face. And then, later on, in another sequence, she takes the gun and shoots her uncle right in his arm. Throughout the film, she is in the driver’s seat, literally, driving the Bullet, the scooter, or the tractor.

As I mentioned before, there are many parts that add up to the totality of this film. The first part is QSQT at its wooing stage with sweet-nothings et-al and the ‘discovery’ of love till almost the 1 hour mark; then the adults take over and it’s an adventurous escape for the next hour, shot with extreme technical proficiency, and there’s the final act where the film takes the ‘Alaipauthey’ route where the live-in-couple start quarrelling as to who knows how to peel a garlic or how to make proper tea: The difference in the last act being the girl’s difficulty in adjusting to a life of uncertainty and hard-ship owing to her upbringing. [Rinku Rajguru is brilliant in show-casing her torn emotions between her dis-comfort in adjusting to the hard life and her love for Parshya.]

Parshya, on the other hand, is quite happy with his role as Bitternagar team’s cricket captain, as somebody who is madly in love with Archie, and that’s it. He survives within that arc and is quite wiling to be ‘owned’ by Archie. He is the usual happy-go-lucky guy—though with 72% marks in his 12th grade when compared to Archi’s 55% [which she was so proud of till then]. He sometimes helps his father catch the fish, but that’s about it. Other times, he is busy chasing Archi and wooing her. Actually, change that, all the other times he is just wooing her!

The story is as old as the hills; considering, that oppression too is as old as the hills. A lower-caste boy falls in love with an upper-cast, privileged-girl; girl’s influential political family opposes, they elope and finally meet a cruel fate. But where Manjule wins the hearts and also wrings them is the way he brings it to life on screen. As mentioned before, his is a ‘love’ story that’s been attempted numerous times before, but here, he brings the intersection of class and caste and nails that cross in the viewer’s hearts. There’s an arc that he builds with each character that’s so subtle but one that shouldn’t be missed. For instance, the Patil character, the girl’s father, within the first 15 minutes, awards the winning trophy to Parshya and then proceeds to give a talk with regard to district elections and how he’s sure to decimate his rivals electorally: And he says, in his last line, “They can hardly control the women-folk in their family, how can they control a district?” And everybody laughs, including Parshya. Now there’s a woman, a vaguely referenced and named Suman sitting on the dais. Some-where at half-way mark through the film, his son, named ‘Prince’, is disturbing the class playing with his mobile when Mr. Shanbagh, a teacher who we should understand as a Dalit English Professor, comes and pulls him up. Prince slaps the teacher in front of the whole class. [As an add-on, Prof. Shanbagh is talking about modern ‘Dalit’ poets in Marathi like Namdev Dhasal and to his back on the chalk-board, you find scribblings of African-American revolutionary poets and a direct reference to Richard Wright’s ‘I have seen black hands’. An upper-caste boy uninterested in an English class talking of oppression is Manjule’s metaphorical way of telling us the societal neglect, to-this-day, of the overt or covert casteism present amongst us. In a later scene, when the couple has been caught and thrashed, Prof. Shanbagh says, ‘You slept with her, the job’s done; forget her; how many times have they done this with our women?’ This is a Professor speaking! [The sound of one slap, the oppression via a system, echoes a thousand responses when it comes to oppression, and Manjule uses this scene to convey the fact.] Later, Patil slyly tells Prince that he has gone ahead and made his grand-father proud by slapping the Professor! And then, in a veiled but subtle threat, he tells the Principal and the Professor who come to meet him to explain to Prof. Shanbagh – not Prince— as to who’s who in the village so that such mis-understandings do not occur again. In the final parts of the movie, it is revealed that Mr. Patil has lost his candidacy and Suman, the ‘woman’ is now the candidate. The camera pans on a disheveled Patil’s face, as the person commanding the mike goes on talking about the ‘tradition’ of Maharashtra where women like Jijabai and Savitri Bai Phule were equally important figures of authority and morality! It is like Manjule literally takes Patil on a 180-degree testosterone-pumped ride and then thumps him on the ground! Suman is not a candidate now because of her ‘talent’: It’s because Mr. Patil couldn’t control the women-folk in his own back-yard! And note, Mr. Patil is not wearing his ‘shades’ at this function. Or the scene where Parshya’s bow-legged friend— {minority within a minority?}—realizes that he can’t, literally, get the sapna of his life ‘Sapna’, cries for a couple of minutes, and then walks across the street with his bow-legs asking his friends to get up and get going, saying: चलो रे: ज़िंदगी की यही रीत है, हार के बाद ही जीत है! And he sees another crippled man walking across, and asks him, ‘How are you Kaka? All good?’ The guy doesn’t respond. He asks him again. Pradeep wants him to respond! The guy then turns around and says, nonchalantly, everything’s fine! Nothing’s fine here, and Pradeep’s ‘crippled’ character wants an immediate identification and recognition from his ‘type’ that he couldn’t get from Parshya and Salim, though, they themselves identify as minorities! One can go on and on about such references-within-references of Manjule!

Manjule uses Ajay-Atul’s music beautifully. Right from the first beautiful song of ‘Yaad laagla ga mala Yaad laagla ga’ to ‘Sairat Zala Ji’, Manjule makes use of slow-motion-capture of songs fantastically, almost as a tribute to ‘Pehla Nasha’ from ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.’ And he uses the technology of the medium brilliantly: When a soaped-up Pradeep tells him that Archi and her friends are in the well, Parshya dives from his father’s boat abandoning the help needed by his father almost like a beautiful dolphin over-come with a spirit! And the cinematographer captures it in a slow-motioned manner in such a way that the camera almost doesn’t want the dive to stop; it just wants to hang-in there and capture the beauty of the rushes of first, one-sided love. And then, when he and his friends are escaping on a motor-boat, the camera swirls from a silhouetted-capture of the faces when they are still close to the bank to their sun-lit faces as they get away, signifying an escape to a hopefully brighter life. As soon as the couple are in Hyderabad, the camera stops capturing even the intimate details in slow-motion. It is life, a brutal life where the boy drinks water from a water-jug while the girl keeps complaining of dirty water, stinking rooms and bath-rooms. Reality kicks in, and there’s no more slow-motion. This is the rousing power of cinema, of when technology is fused with emotions and the narrative. When Archi is at the police station, the portrait of Gandhi hangs to the left, that of Indira to the right—what an irony—and Ambedkar’s at the center. In the climactic scene—which is shot as a matter-of-fact without any music, and for a reason— too, Archi is drawing a Rangoli, half-drawn, as soon as the dark shadow of her uncle’s slippers cover the other half. Drawing a rangoli marks the beginning of a day, and her family’s shadow covering it marks the end of a blissful life for the couple. Just before the scene, Archi and her baby keep exchanging ‘byes’ repeatedly, as any parent or kid would do, at any-time, and any day, on a normal day, but only at the end you realize its significance on this day.

Manjule has gifted a movie that is to be devoured for decades. It’s a full-blown, unapologetic, masala movie—the Marathi native who comes to the rescue of the couple in Hyderabad is a direct ode to Sunny Deol-Meenakshi’s Damini’s initial introduction in ‘Damini’— with tremendous respect for our cinema’s masala traditions, our oral history, and our vastly rich historical-cloth with huge holes every-where.


‘लई धाडशी ग बाई तू’ – ‘One gutsy girl you are.’











— SPOILERS, MILD or SPICY, depending on your mood–

In one of the pre-release interviews of Dholakia, I had heard that RAEES floated as an idea for an indie film with a few Gujarati US investors who just wanted to make a film on prohibition in Gujarat in the ‘80s. Somewhere, he said, the film grew ‘organically’ into a big-budgeted film with SRK and Sidhwani entering the playground. And I heard this interview after I saw the full-on masala trailer of RAEES. It sounded intriguing, as well as ominous. I didn’t like Dholakia’s PARZANIA for ideological reasons but loved his focused-take on the subject through the mental trauma of a couple. LAMHAA, where he climbed two rungs-up toward commercialism, was a very uneven film and one could feel Dholakia’s uncertainty when it came to welding serious issues with commercial Hindi cinema with stars in their own small galaxies like Basu and Dutt. And then, he decides to leap-frog to one of the Khan triumvirate, Shah Rukh Khan, with a movie that began as an indie! You know, this is no longer the SRK from Mani Kaul’s Dostoevsky’s adaptation of THE IDIOT or even IN WHICH ANNIE GIVES IT TO THOSE ONES: Heck, this is no longer even the SRK form PAHELI: He is someone trying to break desperately into some crore-club. It’s an irony but I don’t know whom to call Dostoevsky’s idiot; Dholakia for trusting that his vision of an indie would remain unfettered with SRK as the hero in his film, or, SRK, for thinking that he would manage to make Dholakia give an ‘engaging’—I am not talking of massy here—film within the commercial diktats of Hindi cinema.

It is pretty clear SRK was aiming high here with RAEES. Many have commented and written that the pre-interval parts of RAEES are its strongest, but based on what? I am assuming it is based on the ‘relatable commercial’ aspects. Yes, it’s true that the pre-interval parts are massier where the ‘baniyagiri’ and ‘miyangiri’ are more in display and played to the hilt. There are some great clap-worthy scenes like Raees asking the corrupt cop after bribing him to blow air into one of the punctured tires of truck carrying illicit liquor to his initial face-off scene in the station with Nawaz’s dogged-cop Majumdar. And then there are very poor scenes like Raees’ playing a cricketing shot right into the bedroom of his already-smitten lover Aysa [Mahira Khan] and thus trying to enter a Salman’s domain. It falls flat, and how! And an utterly idiotic scene where Raees carries illicit liquor by boats while Nawaz is standing right on the bridge with a cavalcade hunting for Raees’s merchandise in trucks! It is not the idea per se that I am talking of, it is the way it is depicted that is dis-connecting. [And I understand, it’s an era without mobile-phones, but still, for some-one as sharp as Nawaz, it’s definitely humiliating]. Except for the pre and after-‘Bakrid’ scenes where SRK and his compadre Zeeshan Ayub [what a waste of a talent in this film] sow the germ of ‘jugaad’ to grow a ‘dhanda’, and a carom-board scene where Nawaz takes SRK by the collar and devastatingly demonstrates the role of a police uniform, there’re hardly any scenes that are worth mentioning in terms of impact.

Where I differ from most of the reviews and comments is that the second half is not interesting; it’s actually more interesting, and thus messier: Messier, in the sense that it falls into that black-hole of elevating an ordinary boot-legger via the stardom of SRK and concurrently, trying to cut SRK the star to the size of an ordinary boot-legger. This might be just before or after the interval – correct me if I am wrong – but there’s a scene where he gets to know that his own mentor has paid contract-fee to get rid of him, and he sashays angrily into a liquor-party with a horrendous rendition of LAILA ME LAILA with Sunny trying to do with clothes the same thing she did without clothes—the fault is not hers; the fault is with the current trend in Hindi film industry and US – not the United States, we the people of India; if this is considered ‘promotion’ in life, so be it—and picks a huge hair-clip [or whatever the hell you call it]; stabs a stand-by, picks up his double-barreled gun and goes on blasting all the accomplices of his mentor, and finally, with tears in his eyes, his mentor, Atul Kulkarni’s Jayraj. He then comes back home with Jayraj’s blood splattered on his face and trying to wash it off in front of a bath-room sink. We see Jayraj’s blood in the mirror on his face; Raees sees Jayraj’s blood on his face; his wife doesn’t, she just wipes off the blood from his face? Symbolism? That a wife will wash off blood off her husband’s hard-worked ‘dhanda’ and that ‘gunaah’ might or might not occur or that she will stand-by and wipe-off the blood of her husband, irrespective of whatever it is or whomever it belongs to? Raees’s confession of ‘gunaah’ is confusing since he has already treaded the dangerous path of killing with the murder of Salim Contractor [whom he might have personally killed or got someone else to kill – we don’t know]. Then, in the second-half, there’s a scene where he literally incites a riot and supports killing innocent by-standers and burning houses co-laterally just because he wants to take-on a politician who supports liquor implicitly but wants pro-prohibition votes. When one has reached a point where one can do ‘anything’ for his ‘dhanda’ and doesn’t think twice before inciting a riot where women-folk come out and roll liquor-bottles, then, THEN , the question of ‘repenting’ later on that he was ‘innocent’ of bomb-blasts will surely be an open-ended one? The film fails in continuation of the character.

Raees has now reached a point where he goes to individually murder his opponents, incite carnage, and stand for elections, but the film still tries to show he has a heart. How? When there are riots, he arranges food for folks of his own constituency and blasts his subordinate when he says that he is running short of money to supply food to Hindu areas and one should concentrate only on Muslim areas. ‘धनदा करते वक़्त कभी सोचा था कौन हिंदू कौन मुसलमान? तो अब क्यों?’ And this is where the film starts succumbing to SRK’s star-dom. Out of desperation for money, Raees agrees to get gold smuggled from Doha for Musa [a convenient substitute for Dawood], which has, RDX, a new type of explosive in the ‘90s. Hidden within the gold-stack are the explosives which are used to rock 3-4 North Indian cities – not Bombay –and then Raees’s conscience realizes and he weeps and says to his wife, and I paraphrase, “To save a locality, I unwittingly destroyed a city.” And then there’s the ridiculous APNI DUNIYA project [which has a sign-board completely written in Hindi and NO Gujarati – a minor complaint which I observed] to project him as the messiah. When you compare this to Amitabh’s Vijay in AGNEEPATH taking Madhavi out to the slums after he gets insulted in a 5-star hotel [https://youtu.be/lxpzvnFudMw?list=PLMGlRsiub3t8jxxpSBB27R1mr3yZkmYIz&t=6778], one realizes the trajectory that is missing or isn’t properly conveyed. One has taken the gangster onto a path of egotism, where, one’s business is getting equivalent to one’s ego – then, there cannot be a point of return. But in RAEES, to re-establish SRK as the secular super-star, the director goes above and beyond with instances like the one I mentioned regarding the food-camps. And then, he is shown to be completely un-involved in the blasts. His mother’s ‘addition’ – JAB TAK KISI KI BURAI NA HO- is a really mis-timed act in the end just as a desperate attempt at the end to justify the director’s confusion/admission that it is NOT possible to make a main-stream movie where one can show that SRK, the super-star RAEES could actually have known about RDX. In the penultimate encounter sequence, SRK, not Raees, stands tall and tells Nawaz’s Majumdar to shoot him in the chest and that he wouldn’t die with bullets in his back [again, Agneepath –https://youtu.be/lxpzvnFudMw?list=PLMGlRsiub3t8jxxpSBB27R1mr3yZkmYIz&t=1725%5D. One could carry it off with maybe Bajpai in an indie film but with any major Hindi film star and with SRK mainly, given his controversies, one cannot, and while that may help keep SRK’s stardom intact, it weakens the film. In fact, in this film, it almost makes him the martyr! It’s the producers who should sue Abdul Latif’s son for trying to sue them because his sins – accused or true— are completely washed off in this film!!

Dholakia is in good form in parts of the film, while he struggles in major parts of the film. The scene where Raees takes on the anti-prohibition rally and where he throws one bottle in the air and smashes it with a fueled-bottle is a throw-back to that fantastic, born-and-bred-in-Delhi arrogance-filled dialogue from DIL SE to Manisha’s brothers, “I can still break a bloody bottle by throwing another bottle in the air, don’t mess with me!!” while he is getting beaten to the pulp! Nawaz’s control-room scene is finely displayed. And as I said before, the confrontational scenes between Raees and Majumdar are fantastic.

Nawaz is in terrific form as the bad-ass cop: And we know very well he can be a fantastic pain-in-the-butt cop with his portrayal in KAHAANI. Here, as gauged by me at least, he’s obviously cut-short because he is facing SRK’ stardom. But whatever is given to him, be it the carom-board scene, or the scenes facing-off hands-in-glove ministers, or the face-off sequences with SRK or the corrupt cops, he is a treat to watch. Mahira Khan has little to do other than play his wife, which could have been enacted by ANYBODY, who is a woman and who can act. No doubt she is a good actress and very camera-friendly, but there’s nothing in this film that DEMANDS her presence.

Coming to SRK, he is in fine control here. I have liked his performance after a long time. In DEAR ZINDAGI, it was extremely irritating to watch SRK the actor battling SRK the star, but weirdly, in a more commercial format, he is far better! His best scene and the one that shows his control over craft is the scene where Raees loses control over his business and seethes at his friend and his wife! Great act that is! In the next scene, however, Dholakia destroys the impact by making him weep and sleep on his wife’s lap; a totally un-necessary scene because the impact has already been strongly conveyed by SRK in the previous scene! However, let me enunciate this phrase with a qualifier – he still doesn’t seem very in-the-skin all-the-way with commercial scenes; as I have consumed here. He might be better off opting either the multiplex one or the complete commercial one and then gauge the results.

Finally, coming to that sludge-fest that’s going on in terms of ‘Muslimness’: Yes, SRK’S introduction scene is a self-flagellating ritualistic scene; the following action sequence is in a Bakrid meat-market. Beyond these 2 scenes, there’s hardly anything ‘Muslim-focused’ in terms of depiction of rituals or otherwise. The surroundings, of course, are of a Muslim locality with Hindus in tow. I did close my eyes for that action scene, but of course, opened up later and never closed it again except for a scene where he stabs a character with his glass handle! To me, those scenes represented nothing more than this in terms of uncomfort in the brilliant TAMAS –https://youtu.be/NqRuq3PiR64?t=2769 [Again, I am not saying these 2 scenes are similar; I am just saying, ideologically, the TAMAS scene was a more potent and disturbing scene with layers to it than the graphic representation in RAEES]. And I do know that TAMAS and RAEES are in totally different zones; unless one believes they aren’t.

Talking of ironies, I was wondering, why is it that SRK’s self-flagellating act is his introduction scene in a masala movie while that of Amitabh’s in COOLIE, where he plays a Muslim,that of Iqbal puffing and throwing away a beedi and speeding toward a train compartment to carry folks’ luggages? After all, DHANDE SE BADA KOI DHARM NAHI HOTA…AUR KOI BHI DHANDA CHOTA NAHIN HOTA…