An ode is a rather tough thing. You have to be very much in love to be able to pay an ode to something. Here we have 4 film makers paying an ode to cinema and their love for cinema is very much visible and palpable. You’d expect an ode to bring out what has been prevalent in the industry but no, here the filmmakers make the movies the way a few movies have come out the last year, a superior kind of movies, movies that have been a breath of fresh air in the industry.
The opening scene of the first short by Karan Johar has a young man Avinash(Saqib Saleem) barge into his dad’s room, rough him and tell him that he is a homosexual and not a eunuch. Karan Johar has our attention, If you think that he is going to treat homosexuality like a gimmick, you have another thing coming. There’s never been a doubt that Karan Johar is a talented film maker but if there was any doubt it was in his ability to ward off the romanticizing he employs in his movies and make a story work purely on the merit of his storytelling and as matter of fact. Here’s the film where he finally breaks away from the meaningless romanticism. Avinash works as an intern at a local newspaper that’s known for reporting entertainment news. On the first day he says to the associate editor Gayatri (Rani Mukerji), “Gale mein mangalsutra aur aankhon mein kamasutra”. He comes out as too brash but we find that beneath the facade there’s a lost boy. He gains a friend in Gayatri who seems to take his sexuality as just another thing. It is refreshing to see such a honesty in tackling sexuality than the gimmick we usually see in movies. Effeminate behaviour is usually characterised by hammy acting. Actors like Kamal Haasan are no different and then we have Karan Johar treat homosexuality so well in this film of his, far removed from his earlier ventures as producer or director.
On his birthday, Gayatri invites Avinash to dine at her house and introduces to her husband Dev(Randeep Hooda) where Avinash picks on the undercurrents running between the couple. Dev is reluctant to communicate with Avinash until he learns that their guest is passionate about music as he is and this is how Karan Johar pays his ode to cinema. It is the music used in films that Johar’s pulling us in with. It is a look at cinema from a distance. There’s a girl with a voice of angel that sings a Lata Mangeshkar song in this film and you are brought down with the simple beauty of the moment. It is that power which Karan Johar captures in his short.
Karan Johar’s short is his best work till date. There are no two ways to say that but this is material for a feature length film and not a short. He handles the story well here but there are many more details that he can make use of and build this short and a full fledged feature film of 90 minutes and show us how capable a director he is. There are a lot of undercurrents in the movie that can be explored in more detail in a longer run time but the emotion is nailed in the about half hour that Karan Johar spends on this venture. In the last scene when Dev sits with the little child on an over-bridge with the girl singing a song. You have a powerful emotion engulfing you and it seems a perfect moment.
The second short is pretty much my favourite off the lot. Dibakar Bannerjee‘s short is based on Satyajit Ray‘s short story “Patol Babu, Film Star”. Nawazuddin Siddique is a chameleon, wonderful one, who can fit any role and he makes this role appear tailor made for him. Dibakar Bannerjee has the enviable quality of being able to capture everyday events without going overboard. He brings the daily events to life on screen and extracts the best out of his actors. Purandar(Nawazuddin Siddique) is a married man with a daughter and grows an emu named Anjali. We see a man who doesn’t need an alarm to wake up, a man accustomed to having sleepless nights, a worried man. The worries are largely financial and we see him going out in the day to look for a job. He ends up getting cast as an extra in a movie which has Ranbir Kapoor as the hero. He is picked out from the people who are in the set and asked to play the role of a passerby who collides with the hero. As events unfold, he asks for some time to practice the scene and he is allowed to go into a place where there’s no one around. Long shots are used to capture the moment of “ekaant” and we truly sense that moment. Nawazuddin excels in this scene but there’s more to come from him. In a sudden development we see his dead father (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) pops up like in Satyajit Ray’s “Nayak” and we move into a conversation between two generations, the disapproving father and the disgruntled son, a classic Indian film cliche.
Dibakar’s short isn’t an ode to the cliches. His is an ode to cinema where individuals are affected by being around cinema, by being a part of them. We usually recount our experience in movies to people who haven’t been able to watch them and Purandar is the kind of father who promises to tell tales to his daughter and he has promised her a‘Hrithik’ story. By being an extra in a film, he has another story to tell and that is his real life fairy tale that he has experienced. When he reenacts the day to his daughter with necessary exaggeration, we have a silent film playing for us. Dibakar Bannerjee draws from Satyajit Ray not only the story and the reference to Nayak but even in the way he sets some shots. The ekaant moment is something you’d see in a Ray film. The scene from Purandar’s hosuse’s verandah is a typical Satyajit Ray shot. There are many such Ray-ism in this short film.
Dibakar Bannerjee’s short is filled with delights. We see Purandar being made fun of by the ladies in his building, there’s a joke about his equipment. There’s a everyday experience brought in which very few directors manage to bring in their films. When we see Purandar trying to read the newspaper over the shoulder of a man in a Mumbai train and the way he is fascinated by a remote controlled car is what makes Dibakar Bannerjee’s film all the more brilliant. Nawazuddin Siddique is simply brilliant in the movie. When you can make the film your own in less than 30 minutes, you have done something extraordinary and that is exactly what Nawazuddin Siddique does, something extraordinary. Dibakar Bannerjee’s stylish and perfect ode is, for me, the gem among the four shorts.
The third short is directed by Zoya Akhtar. It is a tale of how we’ve come to idolise stars and their influence on us and our dreams. Zoya Akhtar’s tale is about dreams while growing up and she uses a film and it’s star’s influence on a kid to show us her ode to cinema. The film opens with a montage of various kids telling the world what they want to become when they grow up and they involve everything from the idealistic becoming a lawyer to a kid mentioning that he wants to become Spider-Man. It is a beautiful, touching montage. Zoya Akhtar’s short is full of such moments of innocence and beauty. In India kids from the middle class aspire a lot of things but hardly get it and are forced to do what their parents want them to and Zoya Akhtar’s film shows that. Here, Vicky(Naman Jain) wants to be a dancer but his father wants him to become fit so that he can do something manly in his future. You have wonderful scenes with the boy and his sister where the sibling understanding and love is used beautifully to capture our hearts. Ranvir Shorey as the father is a wonderful piece of casting. He plays the dad of India’s patriarchal society to the T. There’s a scene where the entire family goes to watch “Tees Maar Khan” and the young boy is captivated by Katrina Kaif‘s Sheila and it is in no way sexual. For probably the first time that song was seen in a whole non sexual way by the audience and we see it through the eyes of Vicky. For him they are merely steps, the sway of the hips are just another step in the dance. When Vicky enacts such a dance sequence dressed in his sister’s clothes and wearing his mother’s make up, instead of being cheap and disgusted that the kid was doing such suggestive gestures, there was a liberating nature to it and it is largely due to Zoya Akhtar’s handling.
The story has everything in it to be sappy and could have gone horribly wrong but Zoya Akhtar brings humor into the situation and Naman Jain’s brilliant performance as Vicky makes the short an almost even match to Dibakar Bannerjee’s short. When Vicky tells his mother that he doesn’t like football, his mom’s reply is a nonchalant all boys play, you’ll have fun. There are many such moments in this short where the patriarchal society’s misgivings crop up and Zoya Akhtar brings a certain humor to the situation which makes Vikcy’s dance in the end all the more liberating. It could very well have been the gem among the 4 shorts if Zoya Akhtar hadn’t resorted to trying to literalise Katrina Kaif in the form of an angel.
The fourth and final short is that of Anurag Kashyap. His short is about trying to meet a star. It is about interacting with stars. The star here is Amitabh Bachchan, the scion of Bollywood. Vijay(Vineet Kumar Singh) travels from Allahabad to Mumbai to meet Amitabh Bachchan and have him eat half of a “murabba” because that happens to be his father’s last wish. His father spins a tale about how he went to Mumbai to meet Dilip Kumar and have him dip his finger in a bottle of honey and eat it because that was his father’s last wish. He wants his son to meet Amitabh Bachchan and do a similar thing with the murabba for him. It is a nice enough premise and the struggles Vijay faces in Mumbai and the adulation that Amitabh Bachchan enjoys is Mumbai is well documented here but there’s a lack of the same brilliance that Akhtar and Bannerjee’s shorts had. Kashyap handles the style of the film well, like he always does but there’s lack of involvement from us because we aren’t invested in the plot as much as we were in the last 3 plots. Kashyap has always had this problem because he has always been too much in love with the style of his film than the story and his short suffers the same problem that his films suffer from. That doesn’t mean that this short isn;t enjoyable, it is. Vineet Kumar Singh brings life to the character and when he isn’t enough, Kashyap fills the screen with Amitabh Bachchan posters, an impersonator and dialogues from the legendary actor’s movies to keep us glued and we enjoy it but it doesn’t come close to the three shorts. As a finale, it doesn’t work. It does have a very fine twist and it is an enjoyable one but after the first three plots, this seems poorly executed.
I loved the film a lot. This was a film that pays a very nice ode to cinema but it could have been made even more better if the plots were arranged differently. I’d have loved to see it in the order – Karan Johar’s, Zoya Akhtar’s, Anurag Kashyap’s and Dibakar Bannerjee’s. Cinema touches you from a distance, A star influences your dreams, You meet a star, You have your two seconds of fame by being part of cinema. Works as a pretty nice series from what I can see. Another reason being, Dibakar Bannerjee’s gives you the moment you want to take back with you, or interchanging Akhtar’s and Bannerjee’s doesn’t make much of difference because these two have the most liberating finales of the four plots and these are the moments you want to take back with you. These are the moments that make watching cinema a joy. You don’t want a fine twist but a moment that touches your soul to remain with you as you leave the hall and yes, do leave the cinema theater as soon as the last short is done. Don’t wait for the tacky song that they say is paying tribute to cinema. It isn’t and it isn’t the memory you want to hold on to. Hold on to all the wonderful memories that the four shorts give you and run away from the theater as the song starts. This is one fine movie watching experience.
Rating – 3/4