The Best of Indian Cinema in 2016: A Perspective

Let me begin by honestly admitting that 2016 was a lukewarm year for Indian Cinema, at least that would be something that I firmly believe in. Be it Bollywood/Hindi cinema or any of the regional language film industries, things were largely subdued for a major part of the year. Be it businesswise or with respect to the quality of output, 2016 definitely seemed to lag behind 2015, forget going anywhere beyond that for a comparison. It’s not that the year was totally beyond redemption, there were some positives as well, but they were not sufficient enough to completely lift up the spirit of Indian cinema overall. Let’s begin by taking a look at Bollywood to start with. 2016 saw only 2 big blockbusters, Sultan and Dangal, none of the other successful films were runaway hits as such. So while Salman Khan and Aamir Khan delivered big time with Sultan and Dangal respectively, SRK came up with Fan which met with a mixed response, while gaining back some traction with one of the better Hindi films of the year, Dear Zindagi.Continue reading “The Best of Indian Cinema in 2016: A Perspective”

Aligarh Movie Review: Manoj Bajpayee’s Poignant Performance Leaves You Thinking for Long

The world out there is a mad sprint. Everyone is running. Running to prove a point, to get the numbers, to make money, to impress, to get to the goals. And in the process, quite a few fail to keep up the pace. Ironically, those who lose out in this sprint are advised to make peace with it – and that’s another mad sprint in itself.Continue reading “Aligarh Movie Review: Manoj Bajpayee’s Poignant Performance Leaves You Thinking for Long”

Tevar Movie Review : Attitude Not Found

So after watching Tevar, which released today, I came back home and my parents asked me the movie I had gone for, and so I told them. Post my announcement, here is the conversation my parents had : 

Dad : Kaun hai is picture mein?

Mom : Arjun Kapoor. Boney Kapoor ka ladka hai na.

Dad : Toh bekaar hi hogi kyu gaye dekhne fir?

Me : I watch every film.

Mom : Uski Ishaqzaade achi thi. Lekin pata hai Comedy Nights mein aaye the woh aur Sonakshi, bilkul hi mare hue. Koi Amitabh ya Shahrukh aate hai toh dekho kya maza lagate hai, yeh toh bakwaas hai. Continue reading “Tevar Movie Review : Attitude Not Found”

Ten Reasons Why You Should Skip ‘Anjaan’

A National holiday or festival is the ideal occasion for a big ticket film release. A potential blockbuster with a leading star who can draw in the crowds and make it work, irrespective of how good or bad the film would be, is more than often deemed to be that perfect festival or national holiday release. Over the years, such star vehicles or films have become an indispensable part of the lives of the movie goers.Continue reading “Ten Reasons Why You Should Skip ‘Anjaan’”

Anjaan: Trailer

Anjaan Poster 2Anjaan marks the coming together of writer, director and producer N.Lingusamy and popular actor Suriya for the first time. Produced jointly by UTV and Thirrupathi Brothers, Anjaan is written by Lingusamy and Brinda Sarathy. The film features an ensemble star cast which apart from Suriya includes Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Manoj Bajpai, Vidyut Jamwal, Soori, Dalip Tahil, Asif Basra, Murli Sharma etc. Chitrangada Singh and Maryam Zakaria feature in item numbers as well. The music is by Yuvan Shankar Raja while Santosh Sivan is the DOP and Anthony is the editor.Continue reading “Anjaan: Trailer”

Satyagraha Movie Review : No agraha for this one

AM_2Language : Hindi | Running Time : 153 Minutes | Director : Prakash Jha 

The great film maker Stanley Kubrick once said :

“I believe Bergman, De Sica and Fellini are the only three filmmakers in the world who are not just artistic opportunists. By this I mean they don’t just sit and wait for a good story to come along and then make it. They have a point of view which is expressed over and over and over again in their films, and they themselves write or have original material written for them.”

 We understand that artists tend to express their views over and over again. I’ll take an example of Ingmar Bergman to explain what this means. Ingmar Bergman would bring theology into his films whenever he wanted to expound it. He was on a quest to find God and be it Seventh SealThe Trilogy of Faith he would ponder on it, try to find answers, provide an insight into his mind and each time it would be a difference experience. That is how an artist works.

Prakash Jha would like to call himself an artist who is nationalistic and addresses the interests of the common man through his realistic film making. Let me bring some clarity. Neither is Prakash Jha an artist like Bergman is nor are his films realistic. All his films have a common theme. There is politics at large, drawn out of something that’s happened at a national level and there’s been enough debate upon that even Barkha DuttRajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami have grown tired of it. If Rajneeti was a look at the political system in India and a superficial take on the Mahabharata, if Aarakshan was about the reservation system then Satyagraha is about Anna Hazare’s “Gandhian” fight against corruption in the country. Deep rooted within all these politically themed movies is an understanding of the system that people drinking tea on a bench and reading the newspaper have. Just a bird’s eye view of how things work and nothing in depth or sensible.

All of Prakash Jha’s movies have had this issue and this is no different. Satyagraha, starts off with an introduction of a capitalistic Manav (Ajay Devgn) and equality preaching, “Gandhian” Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan). It is rather implicit that we have to form our opinion of them and just consider their ideals at face value. Manav, a friend of Akhilesh (Indraneil Sengupta) is visiting him when he hears of his friend’s impending marriage to Sumitra (Amrita Rao). The dinner table conversation is exciting to get things started but even such a scene doesn’t live completely in your memory as you walk out of the theater. Akhilesh’s untimely death sows the seeds for a revolution. Prakash Jha tries to bring the youngsters’ angst on the social media to the realities on the ground and as he tries to be realistic, he fails to see where his revolution on the ground is going.

For someone who preaches Gandhian principles, Dwarka Anand goes and slaps the District Collector. This is where Manav gets involved in the revolution, in an attempt to release the man. As far as I have read about Gandhi, aggression by force was never a Gandhian principle. If slapping a man isn’t a violent start to a revolution, I don’t know what is. Oh yes, quite a silly thing to pick on one might say but if someone’s going to call himself a realistic film maker, I expect him to keep the ideals realistic, the story can take its own turn as cinema is work a fiction. But if you are going to make use of a man’s principles, one should make sure that there’s enough research in place and only then the script is written to ensure that there are no fallacies when a man’s principles are being expounded.

It is high time that there was some serious research that went in before a film of this nature is being made. In which part of the world is a member of the fourth estate allowed to be a reporter if they are morally compromised and no longer independent minded. Please ignore the paid reviewers or the paid media that the world has to deal with. Or is that what Prakash Jha is addressing here? That people will continue to believe and be swayed by the media run by politicians and so called revolutionaries. It clearly isn’t the latter as neither is there’s any subtlety to bring such an issue forward nor is it too radical as the movie might like to think of itself. So when Yasmin(Kareena Kapoor), a reporter supports the revolution openly and is a founding member of the movement continues to be the leading reporter of the new channel she represents, I didn’t understand why I was still letting myself be made feel dumb by this movie.

Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai must be tired of the character stereotypes they have been playing. There’s very little difference between their roles in Aarakshan and Satyagraha except for a change in profession. Amitabh Bachchan is a “Gandhian” who rises against corruption(supports reservation of a certain kind in Aarakshan) and Manoj Bajpai is a scheming, wily, corrupt, smooth talking politician(teacher in Aarakshan). They have been reduced to playing the same kind of roles in quite a few movies with little or no change and it is rather sad that two of the best actors in the industry are in the danger of being stereotyped or have they been already? They are the two best performers in this movie. Post Sarkar, this has to be Amitabh Bachchan’s best performance, including his performance in Paa. Manoj Bajpai evokes a few laughs with the timing of his dialogues. He has a gift for it and the wonderful actor continues the role where he left it off in Special 26, where I last saw him.

Ajay Devgn has been the man who comes from a position of power to fight against oppression and a character that’s been attached to him almost genetically by the industry. Kareena Kapoor has done quite well as the reporter. There’s very little of hamming and even lesser of the reaction-less face. Arjun Rampal is a big old oak tree. He stands there looking good, facing the camera like a man posing for an underwear ad where he has to show off his good build.satyagraha-1-july-30

I’ve always maintained that a movie with a bad story but good acting or good craft can make a film watchable. Satyagraha has a pretty good cast but everything else about it as good as knowing that your girlfriend has not yet had her period.You are waiting for something good to happen but all you see is being saddled with a burden. Satyagraha is a burden to sit through.
Prakash Jha is to politically themed movies what Madhur Bhandrkar is to movies with female leads and what Karan Johar is to movies about NRIs. They are in their own dream world and neither has any new development to show. Rehashing the same old story and trying to pass it off as something new is not new but it is rather painful to sit and watch something which is emotionally manipulative, opportunistic, superficial with no sense of research or intelligence and “ghanta” rocks for brains. Pardon the usage of ghanta here. If someone’s going to play a ludicrous song like “Jantha Rocks” and also massacres the lovely “Raghupathi Raghav Raja Ram”, even my grandmother would feel abused. The music is too loud, jarring and doesn’t add a bit to the narrative except when they make use of the “Raghupathi Raghav Raja Ram” instrumental.

It needs great skill to pull off something which is emotionally manipulative. Satyagraha lacks the craft to pull this off. When dialogues like “bahut bahadur tha Lal Bahadur” are made use of to pull us into the manipulative web that is has woven, the web breaks and there’s laughter in the theater. Even the under cooked theme of rising against a corrupt government is not made use of intelligently. Dialogues of such nature and characters that are made to goof up to induce laughter, a bad attempt at humor, break the emotional manipulation at regular intervals and the important scenes fail to remain in our mind.

Satyagraha is like the samosa you get in a movie theater. On the outside, it is the same thing that you get in your favourite chat shop. Similarly, judging by the cover, Satyagraha is a take on fight against corruption with a great cast. Like the samosa, as you consume it, you start feeling bad for having spent 3 times more than you should have. Satyagraha is a dull, boring experience that one could do without. There are better movies about corruption and there are better socially themed films as well. Get a DVD of a great film and watch it. Lead a satyagraha against this Satyagraha.

Satya: 100 years of Indian cinema, 15 years of the truth

Lie, one last time... I'll handle the rest...
Lie, one last time… I’ll handle the rest…

In “Satya”, directed by the ever notorious Ram Gopal Varma, there is a scene, when Satya, played by a bearded  J. D. Chakravarthy tells Bhiku, played with free flowing relish by bearded Manoj Bajpai, that he wants to leave underworld only because he wants to settle with Vidya (Urmila Matondkar), and that, he doesn’t want to lie to her, and doesn’t feel like being a gangster anymore. Manoj Bajpai insists that he lies one last time, and he will make arrangements for him in Dubai. Immediately after that Bhiku says he’s jealous of him. I have not seen this film for quite some time now. Yet, I remember this scene, very clearly. Because this is the crux of the film. Gangsters are, ultimately, human beings with same good ol’ insecurities.

The film begins with images of a man throwing a newspaper on floor, and shooting it. How much difference does it make? Shooting a newspaper? Does it change anything? The city is burning already… does shooting the newspaper also kill the bad news? No, bad news prevails, every moment, every second. This is Ram Gopal Varma’s world, or, under world. Where there is no good news. Almost always bad news. Anything good that exists, it exists beyond the realms of this world. When these characters aren’t being gangsters, but buddies, husbands, boyfriends. Even in Jail, when they are not gangsters, but inmates, talking personal things, they feel, but they swallow the pulsating, aching veins. Or, are they used to it? Are their lives as messed up as those lives they play with, tease, trouble, and leave them behind, hurt?

A scene from Ram Gopal Varma's SatyaIn a sensational shot, a handheld camera, captures the dirty, rain hampered muddy roads, and Satya enters the city. Cut to the emphatic narration which solves no purpose, but adding just another sad undertone to the film, and to the city, where everyone is always afraid. Of whom, or what, no one knows. The truth is, no one wants to know. This is the truth, was, and forever will be. We are always afraid of something. At-least, of losing what was never ours. Same goes with these people as well. They are gangsters together, more because everyone else is a gangster as well. Given a chance, all would move, away from a fearful life. But then, people become gangsters, so as to become (or, at-least project being) fearless. But nobody ever really gets what he/she wants, from the bottom of his/her heart. This is a film where gangsters enjoy being gangsters not only because they can scare the hell out of someone else and be powerful, but because mostly their best friend (and their worst enemy) is a gangster, and they can’t be anything else rather than being one. Imagine Bhikhu Matrey doing some business, say, running a restaurant. I believe he would still beat the hell out of a notorious customer. While most of the patrons, in India, are notorious. Few can even create an issue if their bread is over toasted. I think Bhiku would never tolerate such nuisance. But he does tolerate his wife’s nuisance, because he loves her, and she is beyond the realms of underworld. But that doesn’t mean she is not associated with it, and that also doesn’t mean when the time comes, she won’t be at the receiving end.

That however happened with Vidya. Nevertheless, Ramu is least interested in all those plot points. Those are all plot gimmicks he seems to be wary of, the only thing he understands is, if I, as a person, am not told, the guy living next door is a gangster, who fixes electric connections on request, who is humble, quite, and his smile is as formal as anyone who has learnt humility from thankfulness, who sees me as just another troubled man, and I seem to see him the same way, will I ever think he is a gangster? He is not very rich, he doesn’t seem fearless. Can he be a gangster? Who shoots, or scares to earn a living? Yes, it seems, because he chose to. Because there is nothing else he can do.

In such a case who is right? The gangster, or the police, who answer them in their own tongue? When Amodh Shukla (played relentlessly by Paresh Rawal) is shot, he screams, achingly… Ironically Khandilkar (Aditya Srivastava) was there, inside his house… as soon as he goes out, he shouts, he pulls out his gun, points randomly, in places, runs randomly, and shouts instructions uncontrollably, and of course unclearly, but ceases to cross a perimeter… why? Was he afraid that gangsters may now attack the family? Or was he afraid beyond a point he himself may run into trouble? Is it so that by, shouting randomly the killer would come out and say, “Hi… Don’t shoot… I did it!” shivering? The truth is, he himself didn’t know how to react… it was an erratic situation. One that was beyond his control, and his capabilities, and his authorities. His was the dilemma of an ordinary man… subconsciously, he might be afraid of an attack, and he might be giving a damn about the commissioner, rather cursing his fate for being a police officer, or even being a human in the first place. But we can never know what he was thinking. Only thing we know was, he was scared, to his sweating teeth.

The Iconic Scene From SatyaAnd in that world of fear, and insecurity dwelled our protagonists. Who loved, each other, cared for each other, wanted to run out of it, yet stayed for each other. They were jealous, angry, frustrated, and that’s why they drank, forgot, forgave, joked, and laughed. Perhaps, we crack best of the jokes when we are together, with the best of our friends, who are probably equally (Or even more) insecure? Pseudo consolation? May be…

Urmila in SatyaI was not even 10 years old when I watched the film, when this film released. It released on a Sunday (July 3rd), now that I know.  In Kanpur then, In Nishaat talkies they had set up brand new DTS sound system for the film, and hand coloured posters were put up outside the cinema hall. In those traditional single screens, they have a gallery protruding out of the face of the cinema hall. People can walk on it, it is that broad, like an upper lip, only, on a large rectangular face without a nose. Above that gallery, on the face of the cinema hall, they spread out a huge theatrical poster, and occasionally on the face of the gallery, at times, they write the name of the film, with 3D thick plastic letters, or, then, when I watched the film, they pasted a wide, hand drawn poster of the film, covering the face of the gallery. The wide gallery poster exhibited an intriguing forehead clouded with sweaty hair, and eyes through those hair staring right at me. Right next to that forehead (on my right), in its original font, in Hindi, the word Satya was written, followed by a logo of the DTS sound system, and towards further right the letter ‘A’ was written, encircled, telling us the censor rating of the film. It is unbelievable, from almost 10, to almost 25, years have passed by, time stepped further, we have changed, and so have our sensibilities. Yet, this film still continues to work the way it did in 1998. Not that I understood it completely then, but then still, I remember laughing at Bhiku’s jokes, drooling over the song “Baadalon se kaat kaat ke”, being afraid when that haunting background score sounded. I remember that dreadful face shooting the newspaper, and that narration, from that voice softened after being rough for a long time, seeped sadness and loneliness into my nerves, then, or even when I watched it last.

“Satya” turns 15 years old today, and now, it seems more mature a feature than those we are watching and relishing now… or is it a proof that we have become more childish? Accepting circus in the name of cinema? Or we have become more materialistic? Is Satya the greatest film of all time? From last 15 years? The modern Indian cinema? I don’t know… all I know is, Cinema changed after Satya… I remember stepping inside Nishaat talkies… that was a day when people literally whistled, clapped, and cheered in euphoria, not because Salman Khan, or Shah Rukh Khan appeared on screen, but Ramu’s name did. Since then, that has changed as well, rather dolefully.

Satyagraha: Trailer

Satyagraha PicEver since Prakash Jha comfortably turned to commercial cinema with a vengeance with Gangaajal, he started becoming successful and slowly moving away from the cinema that he once stood for.Continue reading “Satyagraha: Trailer”

Satya and Ram Gopal Varma: Whose Truth is it Anyway?

Note- This is the 2nd part of my Satya story. The 1st part can be seen here.

–> Disclaimer: There is a term called ‘The Rashomon Effect‘; in which observers of an event produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of ‘the truth’.

So it is possible, that my truth, may differ from yours…


Satya 1998Sequences from Satya were getting a fabulous response from those that previewed it. We were editing alongside the filming. Ramu was a very instinctive director and was confident enough to alter characters & screenplay as he went along. Continue reading “Satya and Ram Gopal Varma: Whose Truth is it Anyway?”