Thursday, May 25, 2017

Every year around this time...

books covered and ready for school
Every year around this time I sit down eagerly to cover the childrens schoolbooks and pronto: Vamankaka comes visiting me.
The smell of glue and paper of the new books is an invigorating memory filled fragrance, which propels me back as I diligently slice the paper and fold it around the hard covers.
Around this time, every summer holiday, Vamankaka would return home from the Sachivalaya (The secretariat), change into his “vesty-lungee” & half sleeved banyan, spread the bullet hit limp leg (He was shot in a police firing during the freedom struggle) across the floor and assemble the books with the help of his walking stick and draw them close to the neat pile of brown paper covers.
We would return from our evening play, wash up, change and gather around him with our comic books and the new tv remote.
Vamankaka would continue dexterously covering the books crease-lessly, as he spoke to us about our day. The aroma of the freshly made many layered rotis (papudras-polees) would waft in from Shaku Kakus kitchen.
The neatness of Vamankaka's actions were impeccable, and Sharad, Bandu, and Munnee had the best covered books in the school for the year.
Watching Vamankaka cover the books reminded us that the summer holidays had come to an end and the time to return to Pune or Vadodara from Bombay and the round of adventures had indeed come.
By this time, Vamankaka had taken us to Kohir, to Manyarpalli and to Hyderabad in his favorite ride; the white ambassador with white turkish towels smelling of some Andhra dhobhi-ghat soap.
By this time we would have had our fill of mangoes from Shankar anna, enough bullock rides, loads of well swims, and farm romps.
And along with the umpteen train rides, cycle rickshaw rides, gorged sambhar and muddipallya from Vatsala Atyas Adikmet house, an eventful holiday with our myriad cousins from Karnataka, Andhra, and Maharshtra had been had.
It would be dark by the time Vamankaka finished covering the books. We would light the Diya and intone “Shubhankaroti Kalyanam” & “Divya divya deepatkar” loudly, stomachs cringing with hunger and in anticipation of Shaku kakus great dinner.
Invariably, some elder cousin would drop in; Arun dada from Ambernath, or Ramesh dada from Thane, and stay back to escort us back to our homes the next day.
So every year this is a ritual that I lovingly dabble in, with Vamankaka next to me; albeit without the accompanying young brothers and sisters.
I could list a few dozen things he could do with his walking stick, or a few hundred ways he expressed his love as we grew up, but that wouldn’t surmise the teardrops on Veer’s book right now.
So till next year kaka, adieu!

Saturday, March 04, 2017

On the other hand…

Vishal Bharadwaj’s Rangoon
One needs a while to gestate the various layers and subtexts of this movie. By virtue of the fact that it takes a while to soak in this film, it becomes a significant movie by a commendable filmmaker, in spite of it’s disastrous box-office collections, and the accompanying copyright controversy.
Love in the times of war – An oft-used theme in European & Hollywood films. The rich material of wartime strife keeps throwing up storylines that are irresistible for novelists and filmmakers alike. So Vishal Bhardwaj deviates from his rich ouvre of Shakespearan literature and attempts a historical-musical meshed with a love story. While earlier Vishal had peg points of story, conflict, resolution, etc., here he has had to build an entire story and script with different tracks.
It is a simple tale; a swashbuckling femme fatale of the Bombay film industry of the forties (Kangana Ranaut as Miss Julia) is invited by the resident British Commander Major General David Harding to entertain his forces at the border in Rangoon. Jamadar Nawab Malik, played by Shahid Kapoor is assigned as her escort, and on the way, one adventure leads to another & they fall in love with each other, thus threatening Kangana’s own love interest with the Bombay Producer (Russi Bilimoria, played by Saif Ali Khan). Russi follows her to Rangoon to spoil the romance with Shahid and spur the subplot. Alongside is the story of Subahsh Chandra Bose headed INA garnering arsenal and recruits with nationalist fervor.
Within this tapestry Vishal weaves a tale of intrigue, love, betrayal, and nationalism. This seems like a formula for a commercial success, and so believed even the trade figure pundits and pulse-of-the-audience-barometers like Sajid Nadiadwala and Ajit Andhare.
Till the Friday debacle.
I for one was drawn to the film due to Vishal Bhardwaj, the trailer, and the cast & crew list which held the promise of a spectacle mounted with deep thought, perseverant passion, and unmitigated inputs by crew and cast alike. They had suffered hardship in un-film-friendly locations of the Arunachal Pradesh.
Vishal introduces both Kangana and Saif in a befitting manner as hero and heroine. Kangana’s humble past and her current ambition to be Mrs. Billimoria is revealed. And the “rosebud” (Citizen Kane) of the film, the royal sword is unsheathed.
The camera lifts off to fly, depicting magnificent Art Deco/ colonial dome, it hovers over beautifully art directed (Subrata Chakraborty & Amit Ray) interiors, detailed to bespeak the forties Bombay opulence. Pankaj Kumar balances the bright glitzy lighting and lensing of Saif’s speech at the theatre with the patchy realistic lighting of Harding’s room and the INA office room. Through the film, Pankaj unleashes breath taking imagery, angles, and lighting up until the last climax on the bridge.

Vishal introduces the secondary characters, who will bring much color to the film till the end, played with élan by Gajraj Rao, Saharsh Shukla (Zulfi), & Shriswara (Mema). Albeit supporting characters with lesser length and importance, this threesome put in a stellar performance.
The same cannot be said about Richard McCabe or about Vishal’s indulgent interest in making the character mouth protracted and mispronounced Hindi with a heavy Anglicized accent. It is neither humorous nor entertaining and weighs down the irritating scenes.
There is physical proximity between Saif and Kangana as well as between Shahid and Kangana. There are kisses and hugs. There is a scene with a possibility of great tenderness between Saif and his father.

However, all these individually and together do not set the audience’s heart’s aflutter or make their eyes moist. Is it because Vishal’s treatment resorts to a theatrical mis-en-scene, with characters repeating each other’s dialogue, distancing the audience with a Brechtian unfoldment.
On the other hand, the tippa song is a charmer. One does not even realize when the tap tap and the rapidly rolling wheel sounds merge into a musical ensemble. Farah Khan at her quintessential best. Look at this talent’s incredible choreography for two songs on the train; 1998 “Chaiyya Chaiyya” and 2017 “Tippa”. Shot in 3 days instead of the planned 5 days.

Vishal is gifted with Gulzar’s tutelage and guidance. He embellishes Gulzar saab’s poetry with great music, situations and direction.
So, the story of adventures takes us into a dilapidated and crumbling structure.
In the lengthy scenes surfeit with Japanese dialogues and a few subtitles, we remain confused and wait for the time when the rain will stop and the story resume. And wonder if this stuck-in-a-dilapidated-place that faintly reminds us of Roshomon an ode to Kurusawa?
On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the changeover in music to the oriental, the moments with the Japanese, and the feel of the incessant rain.
So they (Kangana and Shahid) both hit the mud with a mud fight. They get down and dirty. But without a necessary preamble they smooch?

On the other hand, Pankaj Kumar has managed some amazing shots due to a very able focus puller and steady cam operator in this scene though. And the whole act is choreographed into a stunning spectacle.
Another noteworthy scene is when Saif engages Kangana in a swordfight with great flourish. As the spectators and Kangana, we too are completely taken aback by his rage, and are at the edge of our seats with fear for Kangana’s life. Every slash and hit is like a missive about betrayal, an admonishing of an irreversible deed, and an acknowledgement of defeat. The scene is a beautiful cinematic portrayal of a dispute between lovers.

In the preclimax and the climax, Vishal is masterly in the thriller and action mode. Mema is caught and in a heroic manner Shahid reveals his true identity as he walks bravely through the soldiers singing the INA anthem. Does it give the audience goose pimples and a tingle up the spine? Inspite of the inspirational score, nope!
On the other hand, Shahid is brilliant as the broody, secretive, and aloof mard. He thaws when he is completely in love with Kangana and his expressions are a give away to Saif (In the pre climax).

In the ultimate twist in the tale, Kangana converts Saif to help the INA with the sword. And that is precisely what Saif does. He takes the sword and beats the enemy. He is believable. He becomes the savior of the cause and thus the hero.
On the other hand, Kangana has researched her subject, imbued the traits of yester year’s heroines, their dance steps, etc. She delivers song after song with élan. But while she shows us part of an under-boob or a bare back, she does not seem alluring or alike a femme fatale. When she dons her role as Julia the savior, and stands on her horse, ready to jump from the ledge on to the hurtling train, the CGI smoke filled train’s advance does not seem dangerous, ominous nor her act heroic. Her trajectory from being a mistress, wanting-to-be-wife to feeling love for the first time is a good coming of age story. So her sketch is complete, but it could have been brought to life by dwelling on her duvidha, her mindstate, and her inner victory. So she remains the hunterwali character, without the audience’s sympathy or love. The memorability that she strived for will not be hers as the writing denies it for her.

So every time that Vishal goes overboard and attempts ‘filmy’, he falters. That is not his language or his forte. But when he engages us with his own language of entwined tales, when he ensnares us in his thrilling storytelling, when he hypnotizes us with his magical music, song and dance, he wins us over. So maybe Vishal should continue on his journey with his interpretation of established masters such as Shakespeare. Because when he attempts other methods, the audience is at a loss to fathom his story, despite craft, passion and years of efforts.

Thursday, September 25, 2014 is up and running!

After months of frustration - phone calls, emails, and what have you with the primary vendor, the website is up and running. Feel like screaming with joy. It's a relief!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Consider this...

           Shahid, a film by Hansal Mehta

           "From reluctant jihadist to crusading lawyer, the life of Shahid Azmi was a remarkable one. Gunned down while defending accused Mumbai bomber Fahim Ansari, Azmi was transformed into an unlikely martyr. But Hansal Mehta’s new film is much more than a biopic; Shahid captures the zeitgeist of a generation.
Shahid’s story began in the slums of Govandi in eastern Mumbai amid violent riots between Hindus and Muslims. A young witness to injustice, Shahid fled his home to a jihadist camp deep in the mountains but, never a dedicated soldier, he deserted as a teenager and returned home — only to be imprisoned on terrorist charges. Tutored by older political prisoners, he resolves to fight injustice upon his release. Finding work in a law office, Shahid struggles against a system steeped in contradictions and hypocrisies, defending clients labelled "anti-nationalist," "radicals" or "terrorists."
Hansal Mehta’s Shahid is as much a testament to a remarkable life cut tragically short as it is a cathartic journey through a city filled it seems with equal measure grave injustice and great idealism."
Cameron Bailey
Artistic Director, Toronto International Film Festival.
Consider this: By the time he was gunned down, Shahid Azmi had at least 17 acquittals to his credit, a great benchmark for the small span of time he was an advocate.
So why am I writing about this film? Or rather, why am I compelled to write about the experience of this film? Because the film is as close to a real tale as I have seen. The real story of the film concluded with Shahid’s death but just 2 years ago. His strife is still fresh in our minds. It is a Mumbai tale that Mumbaites know. Difficult to satisfy a critical Mumbaite filmmaker’s mind with a Mumbai story.
In the film, the protagonist is a young lad from the FTII stable of actors, Rajkumar Yadav. Leave aside the fact that the bloke does not age through the 2 decades that the narrative unfolds. This fact does not bother me and has not bothered others while watching his stunning underplayed performance. All the other characters (Casting Director Mukesh Chabra) move through the fabric of the film story with finesse  (Prableen Sandhu, Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, Baljinder Kaur, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Kay Kay Menon, Vipin Sharma, Shalini Vatsa, Vinod Rawat, Suvinder Pal, Pawan Kumar, Vivek Ghamande, Paritosh Sand, Prabal Panjabi, Yusuf Husain)
Their mannerisms and expressions are palpable, the interactions are humanly common stance, and the scenes make me angry, make me cry, make my blood rush through my temples, and sometimes make me smile, even squirm with discomfort.
Hansal’s approach to acting as well as most things in the film has been organic in nature, and bereft of conventional method. Many scenes, even dialogues have often been reworked on location. It is a dangerous terrain for a Director to operate because an actor can easily bend a scene in a fashion that could alter the earlier intent. Hansal chose a difficult route to extract from artists what they felt was the most honest delivery. So in the court scene, when the judge too becomes argumentative with the advocates and the accused, the theatre split into laughter, or when the naked Shahid is tortured in the Lodhi Police Station Cell, the viewer in the next seat clenched his fists.
There are other reasons too why this impact is astounding. The Cell is lit by a single tube, and does not light up the protagonist in agony.
Consider this: The DOP (Anuj Dhawan) saw the location (A friend’s godown in Andheri) and said, “Perfect! Lets shoot!” And Hansal as a Director had the balls to do exactly that. Hence the spaces become volumes that the viewer can relate to and inhabit.
Consider this: Shahid’s house in the film is Shahid’s own house, and Shahid’s office in the film where he was shot dead, is in actuality Shahid office. A year after his murder, when they were shooting in her house, Shahid’s real mother asked to meet the actor. She just wanted to see him…For her Shahid was still a part of her ‘present continuous’. Her other son, Khalid Azmi (Played by Vaibhav) has gone on record to say that the film is 95% close to the real story.
So Hansal’s choices, or democratically speaking the crew’s and the cast’s choices were nakedly honest. Hansal was able to guide them through to keep the story of Shahid alive and true. It is one thing to say, fine, I do not care that the actor’s face is not lit up in a scene, and yet another to accept that different digital cameras will land on the shoot on a regular basis.
Consider this: They get a RED MX camera one day, a Red One on another and the next day an Alexa. On some days all they had was a Canon 5D. Hansal and his DOP (Anuj Dhawan) have the guts and gumption to mount it and shoot, to make the most of the time available with the given location and the cast on roll call. What a nightmare for the DI artist and the Post Production technical crew.
It looks like a film about the muslims for the muslims by the muslims. However, there is not a single crewmember except the artist Arif and the Professor (Played by Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub and Yusuf Husain respectively) who are muslims. Not the protagonist, neither the Director, nor any of the artists, nor even the writers. And the film is about the plight of the muslims in India. Or perhaps anywhere and everywhere in the world. Simple folk who are pious, righteous, and who wean through the hard struggle of life. Muslims who are wronged for the only reason – that they are Muslims.
And yet, the story could be of any community, as one never becomes conscious of the ‘religion’ in the story but is sensitized only to the situation and the events. Go see any other film about the Muslim community made with adequate or handsome funds and compare. Which is the more engaging, which is more honest, which is the tougher film to make, which is bringing a truer story for the audience’s appetite in today’s time of the RTI, which has more layers, which sets you thinking, which churns your bowels, which makes you feel guilty, helpless, angry, which is the one not biased, which is the one that makes you more aware, more empowered, which is the one non exploitative?
So there is no definite genre that the story can be pinned by. It is neither a courtroom dram, although the crucial scenes are set in courts, neither is it a romantic tragedy, although Shahid’s supportive wife leaves him and then he dies, nor is it a martyr heroic film, although Shahid ends his life as a martyr for a cause…In fact, it is all this and more because Hansal does not steer it to a dramatic fictional tale but insists steadfastly to narrate the story of an individual with all the truisms intact.
Consider this: Shahid was supposed to be a well-funded film by a corporate production house with a star in place. Hansal and Sunil Bohra (Producer) chose the other route lest the shenanigans of the star system or the numbers game shackle them. And they embraced the hardship with a tougher stance of honesty to make a moving, compassionate film.
For any Director to touch and mould his material with a humanitarian approach is one of the most difficult directing tasks. Hansal has not just immersed himself with the material but internalized it, forgotten his leanings, left aside the grammar of filmmaking that he learnt through his earlier seven feature films, as well as rid himself of easy shooting or post production solutions.
Consider this: The Editor Apurva Asrani also co wrote the film. The earlier decision was to make a non-linear narrative as the world over, the traditional linear narrative is considered to be passé and not smart enough for today’s times. Apu is also known for drastic usage of NGs (No-good takes), jump cutting, and edgy editing styles. With the material in front of them, they both opted to be dumb but true to the material and formed a linear narrative! Apu’s edit does not leap out of the screen at you but lets you immerse yourself in the development of the story unhindered.
Consider this: A veteran artist has reservations because her role seems to be just 3 pages in the courtroom. So she decides nearly 8 hours before the shoot to decline. She has doubted the Director because he has said that we will improvise the scene and the dialogues as we shoot. But that is the organic way that Hansal wanted to make the film by involving everyone concerned with the scenes.
Consider this: When the village in the hills threw up extras that were Hindus, the lead actor Raj Kumar Yadav had to train them stepwise (12 steps) how to do Namaaz. The Director read numbers in order to get shots with movements in cohesion from the group. The sound recordist had but just one assistant for the schedule. That is brave for a film with live sound (Sound Recordist: Mandar Kulkarni).

Although the temptation to turn voyeuristic is huge, Hansal’s camera does not try to barge close to the man who is in flames in the riot filled streets of 1993 Mumbai to sensationalize it, nor does it travel from sunset silhouettes to a frontal of the twosome’s faces up North in POK as they share a happy repartee moment, nor does it underline the most significant moment of Shahid’s assassination in the office with a close up or a long shot. Hansal and the DOP refrain from the usual temptations of over dramatizing the situation. The screenplay (Sameer Gautam Singh and Apurva Asrani), the Mise en scène, the acting, and the editing too blends the subtle manner of telling, aided by a music track that does not interfere with the realism. During the depiction of the love story, the dialogues are as matter of fact as can be, and so are the situations.

Hansal’s ingenious shot division helps us see events in a seamless fashion. This Spartan style of filmmaking lends way to a new language that is close to real life, and not the crafted, arranged carefully kind of a story, spoon fed by loud, crass everything-to-be-said-through-dialogue and underlined by music. The proximity to the material increases manifold and the viewer relates to the unfoldment of the story in a much more integral, much more organic manner. No wonder that audiences in Canada (At the Toronto Film Festival) and at the MAMI waited in long ques due to ‘word of mouth’ to see the film. And no wonder that Hansal has had standing ovations at both places.

Consider this: While Music was being discussed for the film, the sound Engineer was asked what ought to be the music. “Sparse, minimal, hardly there types”, he said. His dictat was followed. (Music: Karan Kulkarni)
Hansal’s directorial abilities were never questioned, and infact lauded several times (Dil Pe Mat le Yaar, Chhal, Jayate, etc.) Nor were his sensibilities (It was his own decision to stay away in ‘Wanvas’ at Lonawala for so many years). He meandered just about everywhere in the Mumbai Bollywood terrain of storytelling. This film has cemented his road. Hansal has to start walking on this path which will lead him to greater heights and us as viewers to greater experiences that he will invoke as a refined old-wine director.
I just hope that the film sees the light of the day and does not but just roam the festivals of discerning viewers across the globe. And hope against hope that the authorities and Political parties do not intervene with their typical horse blinds on release or before…
Consider this: Hansal and Sunil Bohra (Producer) have refrained from censoring the film and releasing it because they want audiences to see the film in this form; the more the better – wonder what will transpire at the censor board.
It is a significant film of our times about our times. There, I have said it…

Saturday, June 11, 2011

rites of passage part 1

rites of passage part 1

Dear Aum,
You will embark day after on a Solo journey of a different kind. It is aptly called "The rites of passage". You might want to go someday to the works of Arnold van Gennep to understand the genesis. But let me make it simpler for you. The Rite of passage is a state of transition induced by a separation or shift from an earlier environment, group, or in your case the family, to a new environment which is your school, and then a a return or a reinclusion...
Learning The first thing that you will learn is that any shift or transition or separation is quite painful for us humans, and it teaches us some emotional skills to tackle the pain. I honestly hope I learn some new skills for what has to come...
It is a very emotional moment for us, and the only relief is that you are going to a school which will offer you much more than this busy, overpopulated, and mis managed city.
When you read this, you would have probably spent some time at the school, "grown up" a bit, maybe sprouted a mustache...
Loneliness The empty spaces, moments, and one way endless monologues will trouble you much more than they will hound us. We both and you have to traverse this path together in order to reach a better destination, a better future. The Mumbai city does not offer that morrow...
That's beautiful. Lots of friends. Some heartbreaks, some shocks. Some relationships that will last a lifetime. Loads of sharing. You will enjoy this Aum, because you are so friendly, helpful, understanding, and appreciative. You also have to learn inclusion. It is a natural progression and will happen. You must learn to nurture relationships because they are a gift. Friendships are the treasures that life offers. There is little else that will give you more satisfaction than this.
More to come...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Well, he did get in.
He is happy and our eyes often get moist at the prospect.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Gurgaon-Dubai Dejavu

Spent better part of the last week in New Delhi.
It so happens that most Advertising Agencies have shifted to Gurgaon bag and baggage. Friends have followed suit and prefer to live in the vicinity of their work spheres.
I am as sympathetic towards them and their kin as I am towards my life in Mumbai. Gurgaon makes fun of history in the most palpable manner;
1. There never was a discipline called “town planning” in India or the region. Harrappa, Mohenjadaro, The Indus valley civilization never existed and thus we do not have a tradition of city planning. The Sydney Botanical gardens are of no use to the populace there. So are all the green areas developed by cities around the world a whim and fancy of some urban planner.
2. Global warming is a myth. Climate change has not made India lose an island recently (Lohachara island). The fact that Gurgaon is in a sensitive seismic area & prone to earthquakes is a falsity. There is no danger to our progenies or us. For generations to come, Gurgaon as a city and New Delhi as the capital of India will continue to exist without scars from the vagaries of weather, disease, the lack of water, or the abuse of the environment.
3. The following “non-issues” do not matter to the deciding authorities
A. The depletion of ground water
B. Increasing air pollution
C. Lack of proper solid waste disposal and sewer system.
Hence the powers of the Haryana govt have decided that 58 more sectors will be developed in addition to the already existing 57 sectors in Gurgaon according to the Master Plan 2021.
On the other hand, you could say that this is glaringly true of any new city in India. Or is it that being a mere filmmaker, I do not comprehend the complexity of issues faced by the builders, the planners, and the decision makers…
& In the same vein, it does not pain me to see this plunder and rape of mother earth. India is shining and winning everywhere.
It is not a recession here but just a slowdown.
I go to sleep a without a worry, a happy man.
Cause the next morning will herald a glorious day of new achievements, newer breakthroughs by Indians, and a vision that continually assures me of the bright future that my two boys will have.