When I first saw the trailer of Bombay Talkies, an anthology of four shorts to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema (only Bollywood here, though), I was somewhat amused with Karan Johar‘s name next to the likes of Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap and Zoya Akhtar. While Johar has stuck to mostly feel-good, candy floss entertainers (at least in his directorial work), the others have explored a grittier, more realistic side of life in their films. But what I saw in his short Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh, was a pleasant departure from his stories of rich and happy families singing songs together. And while Bollywood stays just at the fringe in this story, it still is part of every scene – gossip in the tabloids, children singing songs and begging at the railway stations, how music lovers bond over their mutual love for old Bollywood music and trivia, how they use these very songs to woo someone they like, and most importantly, how cinema has acted as an agent in changing perceptions of its audience. [The lady next to me gasped audibly when two men kissed on screen, but I overheard her telling her husband during the interval, “Ab kya karein? Aisa hota hi hai. Maan lena hi theek hoga. (Now what do we do. These things happen. It’s best we accept it.)]
Gayatri (Rani Mukherjee) and Dev (Randeep Hooda) are a married couple, who feel no more sizzle in their relationship. Enter a gay intern into Rani Mukherjee’s office — Avinash (Saqib Saleem) — who befriends her, and then comes the twist in her kahaani. How a young man, rejected by his family and, largely, by the society, becomes loud and somewhat playfully brash in his interactions while simultaneously seeking approval and challenging others to question his personal choices is nicely done. Also, there is a streak of jealousy and revenge-seeking, which is quite apt. There is a lot happening here to be stuffed into a 30-minute short, and the friendship between Gayatri and Avinash seems rushed, but Johar doesn’t fail to deliver the message. It is the evergreen love-triangle plot with a difference, one that suitably shows that Bollywood is thankfully still growing.
Star by Dibakar Banerjee is about a common man’s close encounter with filmdom; a man who sees himself as his daughter’s hero after a day’s events change his life. Purandar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a failed actor — and a failed “businessman” — lives life being the butt of jokes of the nosy and noisy ladies in his chawl. He smiles it all away, but in his eyes you see the pain of having lost a dream. His wife loves him but prods him to find other jobs to sustain the family. His bed-ridden daughter, who listened to his stories of ‘Hrithik’ and other stars with awe every night, is also beginning to find him boring.
After failing to get yet another job, Purandar is loitering about on the streets when he comes across a film shoot which is filming a scene on ‘Ranbir Sir’. While trying to make innocent small talk with the other bystanders there, Purandar is asked to play a miniscule part in the shot, of bumping into the lead actor on the street. He goes to a quiet place to practice his dialogue and in yet another moment of disappointment is about to give up, when his father (Sadashiv Amrapurkar, you watch him here and you know what Bollywood has been missing in a while) makes an appearance to push him through till the end of the task he has been given. Enthused and energised, Puranadar infuses his own bits into the shot and delivers it brilliantly. Now, having accomplished something new, he rushes home to tell his daughter about his new adventure, about how he is a star himself. In what looks like an ode to Bollywood’s silent beginnings, Purandar’s wildly-gesticulated and vivid, but beautiful storytelling holds your attention. And while the rest of the world is still the same, that one room in the chawl is illuminated with its reborn Star.
This story is inspired by Satyajit Ray‘s short story Potol Babu Filmstar and has Banerjee’s characteristic touch. The director at the location of the shoot smartly stays behind the camera throughout, only heard and not seen. Then there is that annoying person in the local train who keeps reading your newspaper over your shoulder. The quirkiness is there too – a pet emu!
Zoya Akhtar‘s Sheila Ki Jawaani hits home in a tender way. A lot of us don’t even have to imagine being in little Vicky’s (a very endearing Naman Jain) or his sister’s shoes. “Boys play football and girls play with dolls,” is so outdated an idea, but parents still push it on to us. Vicky hates football, loves to dance, his mother’s lipsticks and all the bling. And while I was lamenting that parents in India take kids to the movies watch crass humour like Tees Maar Khan, I figured it is quite central to the story. Vicky sees inspiration in Sheila’s gyrations and instanly knows what he wants to be when he grows up. While his mother and sister take in Vicky’s dressing up as a girl and dancing with harmless laughter and no prejudice, it rankles his father (Ranvir Shorey) greatly. He keeps asking, “Ye kya bane ho tum? Kya banna hai tumhe?” but doesn’t utter the taboo word at all, for fear that it may come true (as is the case in most conservative families). And thankfully so, the questions of sexuality, gender stereotypes and lifestyle choices are planted into our heads, but not preached about.
All of us have at some point, nurtured a secret dream, for fear of being made fun of or discouraged, sharing it only with those who we know will not judge us. The relationship between the siblings is so comforting here too. The sister is cool, almost disinterested, about her brother’s life in general, but covers up for him when she senses trouble. Their honest sharing of dreams in the glow of the night lamp is sweet – he wants to be Sheila the dancer when he grows up, but apropos his father’s reaction wonders, “ladkiyon mein kya buraai hoti hai (what is wrong with being a girl)?” He also understands when his sister says she wants to travel the world — not as part of her job, but as a “passenger”. And in their childlike innocence, they take on a challenge that sees them take off on their journeys together, with each other’s support.
We then come to Murabba. This is Anurag Kashyap‘s story of how we have deified our filmstars beyond logic. And even though we know something is not quite right about this worshipping of actors, we cannot help but become tongue-tied in their presence and look up to them with awe. Out to fulfill what looks like his father’s dying wish, Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) travels from Allahabad to Bombay and spends day after day waiting for his father’s idol, Amitabh Bachchan, to bite away half of an only murabba (whole fruit pickled in sugar syrup) left in a glass jar and leave the other half for his father to consume before he leaves for his heavenly abode. As the wait stretches, you begin to shift in your seat and feel the desperation. And when it ends, it is a gleeful barrage of this mega star’s dialogues that fill the theatre — quite a wonderful sense of relief. Then again, the story is so folksy in nature, there is a twist to it. Vijay chose not to take the easy way out initially, but having gone through the ordeal of his endless wait and with no solution in sight, he ends up having to take the easy way out. But you know what they say about wisdom coming with age and experience.
The anthology has its moments of greatness and is a fine way of introducing our cinema audiences to the idea of short films. It isn’t earth-shattering as a centennial tribute to Bollywood, but certainly one that deserves attention and credit.
I had promised I’d watch Jab Tak Hai Jaan as a mark of respect towards Yash Chopra. I did. I am not overwhelmed. But I am not sorry either.
All the recent films that Yash Chopra has directed require a great deal of suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part. Yes, it is my blind prejudice towards the man and his body of work (Daag, Trishul, Deewar, Mashaal) that makes me so stubborn, but in his defence, he also created this genre of fairy-tale romance and defined its elements. All of us know what his films have lately been about. Don’t like them, don’t watch them. But don’t complain if you do. It is silly of you to expect a neo-realist fare from the house that now sells romance, dreams and happily ever afters.
It is for this very reason I am not going to complain about the multiple basic inconsistencies in the film, like – How is an Indian Army officer allowed to sport a stubble? What are Olympic decorations doing in London stations in 2002? Why was a bikini-clad Akira (Anushka Sharma) surprised when she dived into a lake in Ladakh and found it freezing enough to kill her?
The plot is out there for everyone to know. Poor boy meets princess, they become friends and fall in love, until one vaada leads them to separate. Boy joins the Indian army, meets boisterous and aspiring documentary filmmaker, politely spurns her advances, but stays her friend. One thing leads to another and ultimately, the happy “the end”.
With hardcore SRK fans calling it his best performance ever and others hating him (because it has become a full-time hobby now), people with non-committal feelings about him are finding it difficult to take a moderate stand without feeling jostled. I’d say, he is among the better things in the movie – because Katrina, playing Meera, is still somewhere on the learning curve in terms of her acting and Anushka is annoying. It’s time she played someone that isn’t like her in Band Baaja Baarat, Badmaash Company or the Reliance Mobile advertisements. No one in recent times has managed a chirpy, happy-go-lucky character as well as Kareena’s Geet in Jab We Met. Everyone else just plays it over the top.
His chemistry with Katrina seems forced. And he is so elder-brotherly towards Akira, that any more intimacy and it’d have felt morally unpalatable. So it’s like saying a veteran beat two amateurs at the task. Big deal.
Having seen SRK in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, DDLJ, Swades and Chak De India, I long for another such performance from him. Here he seems unsupported and stifled by lesser competent co-stars, old-style Bollywood dialogue delivery and a long, loopy plot. His Samar Anand is made to flit between a threesome among boyish and love-struck Sunil (KHKN), confident and cocky loverboy Raj (DDLJ) and brooding man on a mission Kabir Khan(Chak De). But the magic of none of the character s blossoms fully enough to create a long-lasting impression.
The frames are beautiful. You really can never go wrong with framing shots in London and Ladakh, even with a Kodak KB-10. But that is not to take away from Anil Mehta’s good work. The music is absolutely non-Rahman, not in a complimentary way. Even Gulzar Saab’s work feels uninspired. And I must have said this a few hundred times by now. Katrina looks like a Yashraj princess, but she has a long way to go before she can carry off a instrumental-dance solo/duet like Sridevi (Lamhe, Chandni) or Madhuri and Karisma (Dil To Paagal Hai) did. Vaibhavi Merchant is definitely no Saroj Khan or Shiamak Davar. She shouldn’t have been hired by YRF for the job in any case.
The dialogue by Aditya Chopra is sore. But in a smart way, the father and son duo have used it to subtly poke fun at what we as an audience loved earlier, but now cannot stand. The younger Akira keeps talking about the older generation, their choices, preferences and idea of love. We are caught wondering whether we want to be there or here. Also, for some good reason, Samar voices for logic and practicality over a deal with “Sir Jesus”. That should have just happened earlier to save us at least an hour out the three that this film runs for.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan is the kind of story that all of us grow up wanting to be part of (at least most of the women do), and continue to want to believe in. How much of it we like or dislike depends upon our view of romance and relationships that is shaped in our minds as we grow older and live through our own experiences with love. In my opinion, I am more on the cynical side to be able to appreciate the film the way it is meant to be. But it will work for the incurable romantics.
Yash Chopra was a shrewd filmmaker. After Veer Zaara, he probably knew that his audience had shrunk. It was beginning to delve into films with darker subjects and “real” plots. Which is why he probably took this long to come back to the job to make a last statement. And also maybe that is why he had announced that Jab Tak Hai Jaan would be his last film. He had made the right call. For while better than Veer Zaara, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is no where close to his masterpieces. But no regrets as we will always have his best work, to remember him by.