Vishal Bhardwaj is probably one of the best directors we have in the Hindi Film Industry. His latest, Rangoon, just hit the theaters this past weekend, but on Monday morning, all we could talk about was the Oscars. Fairly so, because Rangoon had a dismal weekend at the Box Office collecting under 15 Crores across three days. The underwhelming response to the film is quite disappointing, especially to someone like me, who is an ardent (read almost blind) admirer of Bhardwaj. With the Oscars, our perennial obsession with Hollywood takes over and no matter how many awards they get wrong every year, our media and we, the people, crazily follow the ceremony with social media timelines getting spammed with every miniscule event occurring at the Kodak Theater. Incidentally, we don’t see such madness for any of our award shows, under the pretext that our award shows are shit because they always get them wrong and eventually the trophies are handed out to people who did not deserve it but lobbied enough to get one. But then Oscars are no different. If it isn’t lobbying, it could be something else but the end result is that the trophy does go to the non-deserving nominee quite often. If that were not the case, Spotlight would never win Best Picture over Mad Max:Fury Road in 2016 and Di Caprio would have gotten an Oscar much before his far-from-best performance in The Revenant.Continue reading “The Case of Rangoon”
Vishal Bhardwaj! 2 words that are enough to grab the attention of anybody who possesses a deep, undying love for Bollywood, for he’s a film-maker whose brand of cinema may be rooted in a filmi duniya, but when he narrates a tale, it breaks almost every rule that Bollywood throws at it, right from the narrative, to the characters, to the music and almost everything else that he throws into his filmmaking process. After hitting a high note in his last outing, his adaptation of the Bard’s Hamlet, set in 90s Kashmir, the announcement of his next project being a period drama, set during the last days of the freedom struggle did create some buzz, and with him casting Saif and Shahid, 2 actors whose best performances have come under his direction, and the mercurial Kangna Ranaut, one might look forward to a spectacular cinematic experience. But is Rangoon the VB magnum opus that we’ve all been waiting for?Continue reading “Rangoon Movie Review: Bloody Hell of a Show”
If only a gifted actor and a promising idea could guarantee an engaging film – Madaari would have gone down as a winner. But alas, gifts and promises are not always a precursor to happy endings. Are they? And in that sense, films and relationships have so much in common.Continue reading “Madaari Movie Review: Why not stay with Irrfan and his haunting eyes? Revolution could have waited.”
This review comes in a bit late and by now most of you have figured out what the movie is based on. For those who haven’t been in touch with the digital world for the past week (like me), Talvar is based on the 2008 Noida “double murder” of Arushi Talwar and Hemraj ( Get the title now? So so subtle right ?. More on the title later). I had seen the promos of this films a while ago and to be frank they didn’t quite impress me. It seemed like one of those films whose whole purpose was to cash in on the hype. But back then I didn’t notice that it was written by Vishal Bhardwaj, for whom I have high regards. If that was not compelling enough, the movie has got some good reviews overall. So coming to the question that matters,is this Talvar sharp enough to make the cut ? Read on to find out.Continue reading “Talvar Movie Review: Is it sharp enough?”
I wanted to take some time out after watching Meghna Gulzar and Vishal Bharadwaj’s Talvar earlier today before I write about it, just to consolidate my thoughts. Now, we all are very well acquainted with the Aarushi Talwar double murder case of 2008 which is still ongoing. Her parents are still in jail and fighting for innocence largely due to a botched up crime scene and lack of factual evidence. If anyone has not heard about it, it is might as well suggested to take the subscription of latest newspaper daily with immediate effect, or alternately, just open your eyes and ears to the world. Continue reading “Talvar Movie Review: Oh, What A Film!”
On a Thursday evening, in a cafeteria in Bandra, I met Raja Sen – with a dense crop of hair on his head, a rather zamindari moustache, and a very broad smile – hardly the image you would gather from his rather passionate reviews. In his T-shirt and jeans, he doesn’t come across the guy who would say “Amrita Rao plays a Cow” or give 5 stars to Lootera. But in our rather long and free-wheeling chat (that’s what happens when two Bongs who love talking meet), I discovered that underneath the shield of a critic lies a fanboy – a man who loves movies and whose ardour or disdain stems from his strong affection for the world of cinema. From an avid F1 enthusiast to one of the filmmakers in the upcoming feature “X”, he has come a long way.
So, did Raja Sen always envision a career related to films? No, he confirms, it happened by accident. He grew up in a Delhi based Bengali family that was culturally rooted and loved films. The fact that his father was a documentary filmmaker also contributed to his exposure to all kinds of movies – as he says, “from French New Wave to Ray & Ghatak”. Despite this strong affinity for the world of cinema, Raja did not envisage a career in them. He was actively into advertising and copywriting, post which he went to pursue further education in Warwick. However, when he returned to India, Raja had made up his mind to not continue with advertising, though he did it for a short while to earn his living in Mumbai.
From copywriting to Sports: Raja says that it was during his early period of stay in Mumbai that he started blogging about Formula One Racing and occasionally about Cricket. Whether it has anything to do with his Bengali roots is uncertain, but Raja Sen’s first calling came because of a blog that he wrote to abuse Rahul Dravid. He even called Dravid “ingrate” – of course in context to the declaration when Tendulkar was on 194*, but the sheer joy of calling The Wall by that name must have pleased many a Bong heart. A friend of Raja’s forwarded the blog to Rediff, which then approached him to write to write for them. Raja was keen to write about F1, and Rediff agreed.
So, the lingering question is, how did films happen? It was soon after he had started writing about F1 that Rediff advertised vacancy for full time writers. It seemed a good opportunity to him – write about different kind of sports, and possibly (he grins and adds) meet Sachin (which he then says hasn’t happened yet). But when he went in, Rediff said that they wanted someone to write on movies. He was unsure because he wasn’t regular into movies. He had already written a couple of essays on movies earlier – on Spiderman 2 and on Marlon Brando after the legendary actor passed away – but those were on a more amateurish level.
“They made me write a review on the spot,” he says. For some time, he pondered over what to dole out and then decided to write on the Milan Luthria debacle “Deewar: Let’s bring our heroes home”. Anyone can guess how caustic would have been the handwritten review that impressed the honchos at Rediff and convinced them to hire him full time.
At the end of the day, what is the purpose of a review to him? The whole aim, he says, is to try and initiate a discussion. As he refers to some of his favourite reviewers like Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice or Wesley Morris of Grantland – Raja points out that the quality of writing is very crucial. So, when I ask the oft repeated question “What makes reviewers so special when a review is essentially an opinion?”, he clarifies that a good review is a much more informed opinion. He asserts that a bad reviewer will just slam a movie, which is okay, but a good reviewer will explain which aspects make the film bad.
Does he receive spiteful comments? His expression says it all. Raja reminisces that within 2 or 3 months after his joining Rediff, the website opened message boards for people to comment. And there came in a whole barrage of hatred, which bordered on being violent. “It’s scary how regionalism and fanboyism come into picture every time,” he remarks. That is hardly surprising given the fact that people in India take films very seriously. He draws an analogy between his F1 posts to Roger Ebert’s page, and says that he often found very erudite comments when he wrote about F1, some even added to his knowledge – but movies just multiplied the number of readers manifold without a tangible increase in quality.
In an industry, where the competition is measured less by how good reviews are than by how quick reviews are, how much do market pressures eat into his writing? Honestly, I expected Raja to rave and rant about how deadlines adversely impact the quality of reviewing, and how he would be more satisfied if he had more time, but he is anticlimactically cool about it. He says that he has always been accustomed to the idea of submitting a review on the day of watching the film. While his friends (Mayank Shekhar and Rajeev Masand) were writing for newspaper, Raja was in the groove of a website, which was always prompter in publishing a review.
What about the number of “stars” – the all important factor that everyone discusses at the end? Now, that is a pain, he agrees. It’s a simplistic tool and becomes more important than what has been written about the film. Also, he says, people take those “stars” very seriously and remember them.
How much bias can reviewers exercise? If you like a film, he says, you can review it in advance. Like he wrote about “Manorama Six Feet Under” around 10 days before the film’s release. A film like Manorama is good, small, with a low marketing budget and needed the buzz. It was also the case with “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!” that had suffered because of the 26/11 disaster. The idea is, he says, to make people feel that if someone like me is being so gung ho about it, there could be something good about it. They may disagree and consider me ignorant, Raja adds further, but at least they can make up their minds by giving the film a shot. But if he hates a film, Raja says, he prefers to slam it on the day of release. There are stakeholders, he clarifies, who may be adversely affected if bad opinion spreads quickly.
But is he necessarily kinder to smaller films? He firmly says “No”. In what could be deemed a rather controversial statement, he says that there are more “shitty” small films than there are shitty big films. I am not talking about the technical aspect, he clarifies, because a smaller film will always have lesser technical expertise at disposal. He takes a pause, rethinks his statement and states, “Maybe there are more bad big films, but a bad small film hurts more because it shows promise but then disappoints.” So, he has slammed films like the “No Smoking”-s of the world. However, in a few cases, if he happened to watch a small film early and didn’t like it, he typically avoided reviewing it. The exception to this rule, he points out, is that if he is good friends with the man making a film or has prior connection to the script – he doesn’t review it.
We all know that Raja is an ardent fan of Vishal Bharadwaj’s films. But, he clarifies that he is equally sensitive about the works of people whom he likes. He refers to an anecdote when he had met Aseem Chhabra and Anurag Kashyap and a discussion on Raja’s review of “Haider” cropped up. Aseem exclaimed how exaggerated was Raja Sen’s tweet saying that if he had reviewed “Haider” after his second viewing, he would have given the film 6 out 5. Before Raja could retort, Anurag (who didn’t get a favourable review from Raja for his magnum opus “Gangs of Wasseypur”) intervened and said that if one reads Raja’s caustic take on “Saat Khoon Maaf”, one would feel that Raja is so embarrassed as if his father has been caught shoplifting.
I prod him about the rampant use of the word film-critic, because I personally believe we don’t have serious film criticism in this country. Also, a critique is typically more academic in nature, whereas a review is for mass consumption. He agrees but says that at the end of the day a review and a critique are both perspectives, though a review carries the burden of being more accessible. But both of them have to be informed opinions and it’s the reviewer’s prerogative to decide what he wants to highlight. A review should discuss something about the technique, he argues and refers to David Bordwell’s essay on “The Social Network”, in which the reviewer analyses the facial and especially eye movements to describe expressions and emotions. In fact, Raja himself had discussed the shots of the protagonists’ noses in Vikramaditya Motwane’s “Lootera”.
I know people, he chuckles and even adds the name of a very popular trade analyst cum reviewer, who have fixed templates for reviews – for example, one paragraph is based on the story given in the press release, and then one paragraph each on set features like music, acting, story etc. Though such people are honest to their jobs, the reviews can become reductive at times.
Raja Sen can write rather polarizing reviews – his reviews are so strongly worded that there is almost no room or mercy. Unlike his peers like Rajeev Masand and Anupama Chopra who can go a bit surgical in their dissection, Raja can butcher a film if he doesn’t like it. Like he did to Sooraj Barjatiya’s “Vivaah”. He smiles and says, “Even Rajeev threw an egg on the camera.” But that was for Aag, I counter. He says, “Yes, Aag is like the Hitler of Hindi films.”
So, how much of it is natural and how much is an attempt to build a brand? It’s a lot of me in my reviews, he says, and it’s not a conscious attempt to build a brand of reviews. Yes, he loves his slightly ornate style of writing, and he loves that amount of indulgence and gives himself the room to bask in its glory. He loves indulgent people, he says, but no one can be indulgent all the time.
When it comes to expectation, I ask, how much is the intent of the filmmaker or the zone in which the film is crucial? Shouldn’t we restrict our expectations based on the promotional material or what seems to be the target and idea of the film? To understand the filmmaker’s intent is difficult, he says insightfully. Like for Talaash, if you thought it’s a police procedural, you would be disappointed. But any film should tick the correct boxes for whatever genre it caters to. He exemplifies it by saying, ‘Like Anurag Basu’s “Gangster” was compelling or the Spanish film “Orphanage” was scary’. Whatever you may have thought of the trailers or the past work – there’s always a hope. After all, he says, the guy who made “Aladdin” also made “Kahaani”. But then, someone like Mohit Suri knows how to block a shot more than 80% commercial filmmakers yet makes bad films. He doesn’t want to make a great film. Our expectations are so low that it has become depressing. There are not possibly 5 filmmakers who excite us. A film should respect us. “Delhi Belly” & “Grand Masti” are both stupid-comedy genre films. While the former demands a nuanced argument, the latter is purely shameful. Just like when Gus Van Sant remade “Psycho”, he did a shot by shot translation, and it’s sad.
I take the example of arguably the most successful director of today, who isn’t liked by the critics. Rohit Shetty! He is someone, I say, who repeatedly hits the right notes. So, does Raja Seen feel that maybe Rohit is doing something right that most reviewers are not able to gauge? No, it’s not that, he says but relents. Yes, he is doing something right and he has cracked a certain formula, Raja agrees, but it’s just boring. Given a choice, I wouldn’t review it, Raja says, and it won’t make much difference. Or I might as well copy paste the review of the previous Rohit Shetty film and change the hero’s name, he adds. However, all said and done, Rohit doesn’t make tacky films. Eventually, it’s just a better lollypop, but still a lollypop at the end of the day.
In case of reviews, how deep is the impact of the original on the review of the remake? One of the mistakes our filmmakers make is that they acquire the rights and then change the film fundamentally. Like Abbas Mustan wanted to merge both “Italian Job” films while making Players, or Ek Villain merges the romantic angle with the Korean film “I Saw the Devil”. We have to live with remakes because they will be made all around the world. The problem is that they have to be made with some good sense, just like Mahesh Bhatt made Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin from “It Happened One Night” but kept the essence and the spiritedness of it. We may not always have seen of the original. That said, the remake should have been some good intent.
So, the harsh critic that he is, what motivated him to act in Sudish Kamath’s “Good Night Good Morning”? The only good reason was that he is good friends with Kamath himself. According to Raja, it was a funny experience though his only connection to acting is some college level theatre. But the advantage of doing that film is that he had to be high and stoned throughout the film, and he could try to indulge in some method acting for a good part of it.
Raja Sen’s next career milestone is the collaborative film “X”, in which he is directing one of the eleven segments, while all the other parts are being made by people with prior filmmaking experience. Joyfully, he puts the blame on Sudish Kamath again. It was Kamath’s brainchild. Shiladitya came on board very early, and wanted to make it his independent production, and got Manish Mundra to present the film. The idea was that everyone would have something to shoot for one day each and make a film together. Everyone had a different take, Raja talks about the directors, and they wanted to accommodate each other. There was no focus on stylistic uniformity. After all, the film deals with the various memories of a filmmaker, with each flashback being about an ex-girlfriend. So, each director could take a separate style, and could also mix up genres. However, at this point of time, Raja claims to have zero objectivity on his segment. Like every other filmmaker, it has come to a point where opinion of others is the most important thing.
X has already been to festivals but he wants fellow critics and the Delhi & Mumbai audience to see the film. By early February, there should be a new theatrical trailer, and then a release date. With 11 directors, everyone is a captain of the ship, and they have different visions. So, they may even end up making different small trailers of the film.
Though Raja is a novice to filmmaking, he has been writing for films, albeit occasionally. In the early part of his career, Raja had met the late Sourabh Usha Narang (director of Vaastu Shastra) who insisted on Raja writing a horror film for him, but it got stuck with UTV in the development stages. As for Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, Raja had met the director duo through their writing partner – Sita Menon – who was Raja’s colleague in Rediff. His Delhi-ite Hindi gave him an advantage over Raj and DK, who wrote primarily in English. As for Go Goa Gone, he loved Saif’s character when he heard the story and insisted that it should be fully fleshed out. In the first draft, Saif’s character Boris is actually Russian and never speaks Hindi. But it was upon his idea that the director duo decided to make modifications to the script. He came on board primarily to write dialogues for Saif, but then took a dig at the lines of other characters, too.
So, what next? There are two films he is writing right now – one is a youth flick about 4 guys in Delhi, and the other is a drama about cinema. Raja says that it’s a very ambitious script which excites him but he doesn’t have concrete plans about it yet.
I had a great time talking to the irreverent Raja Sen – he is spirited and extremely candid. When I saw Rajeev Masand on the AIB Roast of Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor, my first reaction was “Shit! Raja should have been there instead of Rajeev”. Someday, I would love to see him Roasting others, though the question will then be “What invectives would he hurl that he hasn’t already?” As of now, I only wish him the best for “X” and his upcoming projects.
Happy 2015, it seems the world is still the same as we have people who want to ban films and books and in some cases kill cartoonists. It has been a great journey since the start of this portal,we have completed three years in 2014 and are still going strong. Thanks for your support and for reading our posts. In 2015 we hope to have even more better posts and continue our discussions on cinema across the world. For now we present you some of the best loved articles of 2014 which you people enjoyed.
Continue reading “The 14 Best-Loved Madaboutmoviez.com Articles of 2014”
Ever since the release of the third film in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Shakespeare trilogy “Haider”, there has been a lot of debate about the movie’s ostensible representation of the Indian Army as the villain in the 1990s disturbance in the Kashmir valley. While there has been less dispute about the artistic merit of the film, viewers have been equivocal about the way Haider decides to perceive the then government and the armed forces, which include the Kashmir police and the Indian Army. It is no news now that a lot of people on Twitter had called for boycotting the film for the mere reason that they found the portrayal of the Army disdainful.Continue reading “Why the Haider debate on anti-nationalism is misplaced!”
In early 2000s, when a music director, known mostly for his work in niche Hindi films, began travelling to festivals for his exposure to international cinema, he chanced upon his nephew reading a “children’s version” of Shakespeare’s works. Little did he know that what began as a leisurely reading exercise, would, almost a decade and a half later, culminate into one of the most accomplished trilogies on Shakespearean literature ever.
What is interesting to note here is that what the world saw as a master stroke, with the Kingdom of Scotland being replaced by Mumbai’s underworld and the witches by corrupt policemen, to contemporarize Macbeth, was born largely out of ignorance. Had the creator felt intimidated by Shakespeare’s standing in world literature then perhaps we wouldn’t have witnessed this ‘chutzpah’ in his adaptations.
Today when we see Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool, Omkara & Haider, unless told otherwise, we might not even think of them as adaptations of Macbeth, Othelo and Hamlet respectively. As his frequent collaborator, Gulzaar, points out “Vishal simply uses the name of Shakespeare for marketing gimmick. They are all but original works” This remark garbed with sarcasm is perhaps the best compliment one can give to his trilogy.
“Shakti ka santulan”
Like most trilogies, it is very easy to notice a similarity in the screen-writing pattern in all the 3 movies. We are already familiar with the names of his characters sounding similar to the ones in the play (Gertrude becomes Ghazala, Iago becomes Ishwar ‘Langda’ Tyagi). The supernatural elements get conveniently replaced with their contemporary avatars (King Hamlet’s “ghost” becomes a man carrying Ghost IDs – aptly named Roohdaar). The major plot points in the play always make way into the final adaptation (Desdemona’s handkerchief makes way for Dolly Mishra’s Kamarbandh but nevertheless remains pivotal to the final doom)
However, the similarity does extend to minor character peculiarities as well. The central character always gets a closely cropped haircut (while Irrfan & Saif got a Caesar cut, we saw Shahid’s head getting a complete shave-off). There is slight touch of an english song or a phrase to add the quirk to a narrative rolling out mostly in local dialect (much before the wordplay between Chutzpah & AFSPA we saw Kareena’s hindi medium educated Dolly learning to sing ‘I just called to say’ for Omkara always addressed as ‘My dear O’ in her love-letters).
And if you thought we had exhausted all the points, take note of how every romantic ballad, between the lead pair, paves way for the first in the series of events that would finally culminate into the tragic climax. (Nimmi lays the germ of killing Abbaji in Maqbool’s mind after ‘Rone Do’ | Indu steals the cummerbund towards the end of ‘O Saathi Re’ | Haider discloses his plan of avenging his father’s death to Arshia after ‘Khul Kabhi To’)
There might be many more similarities. We just need to keep looking!
“Ya to tu bahut badi lool hai. Ya bahut badi chudail.”
When Haider looks at his mother’s reflection on a broken mirror, split into two, he rightly points out her two-faced nature. The classic Shakespearean lady, whose desires and ambitions always leads to the crime. And it is her guilt of the same that consumes everyone at the end.
Does she really love her husband’s godson or is she simply looking for a means of escape from her sexless and hapless life? Why does she steal the cummerbund at the slightest prodding of her husband, without questioning him about it? How can she, still a half-widow, sit and smile beside her new lover, basking in the glory of his electoral win; or are those dark glasses concealing her guilt-ridden eyes?
She is also the innocent victim, torn between her loved ones. She might scream out to push away her enemy. But mostly she weeps and surrenders – taking away her own life or letting her loved one take it away from her.
“Bewakoof aur ch***ye mein dhaage bhar ka fark hota hai”
Vishal really indulges himself in fleshing out the minor characters in Shakespeare’s play. The witches, the spies, the courtiers are not just mere sidekicks in larger scheme of things. They are instrumental in influencing the protagonists, taking the story forward and also providing the much needed comic relief in what everyone knows is going to end up in a tragedy.
Naseer & Om’s Pandit & Purohit in Maqbool, Deepak Dobriyal’s Rajju in Omkara and, the latest addition, Salman & Salman, played by Sumit Kaul & Rajat Bhagat, in Haider have some of the best written scenes in the film for them.
If it has been a while since you watched Omkara, we can recap one such scene for you.
And to all those raving on the performance of the two Salmans in Haider here is a small scene from the film for you.
“Hummara ishq to paak tha naa miyaan”
What is it in the forbidden love, that attracts us so strongly towards it? The very boundaries of relationship that one is expected to safeguard, end up getting violated first. It inebriates us with such a toxic strength that the lines of right and wrong get blurred.
Why else would Maqbool end up putting bullets into his Godfather when he has risked his entire life saving him from those very bullets? What came over Dolly to defy her father and elope from her own marriage for a hard-core criminal, lower to her in both caste and status? Was Ghazala actually in love with her brother-in-law or was just running away from her son lest she starts reciprocating his Oedipus complex?
The forbidden love doesn’t expect the world to understand it. It is continuously judged and condemned, but it continues to be giving till its last breath. Sometimes it is in form of a last peck to her son to salvage his years of desire before blowing oneself up to quench his thirst for vengeance. Other times it is just abject surrender to one’s beloved only to be smothered by him on your wedding night. As mentioned, it continues to be giving till its last breath.
“Hum hain ki hum nahin”
Last, but not the least, Vishal’s films are also about existential crisis. A half-brahmin continuously jostles with those who have been ridiculing his caste to gain power over them. His second-in-command forgets years of friendship when what rightfully belongs to him is usurped away by a greenhorn only because of differences in their social standing. His insecurities are not very different from a Mumbai gangster who continuously feels threatened by a lad much younger to him simply because he is soon going to qualify as his Godfather’s son-in-law. And in a world much more complex than theirs, millions of Kashmiris take sides in a war for reasons that are anything but ideological. Some are avenging the death of their closed ones. Others are following their lines of duty. Most of them are confused and are willing to sideline with anyone who can promise them safety and purpose in lives.
While love, greed, lust and redemption remain integral to the plot, it is the continuous struggle towards protecting one’s own existence that forms the core of all of Vishal’s stories. It propels them to do the unthinkable only to realize the truth when it’s too late. The truth that recurs in all the 3 movies. Whether it is by showing Maqbool giving up arms at the sight of his son being adopted by his enemy or by having Haider forgive his uncle to honor his mother’s last wishes. The truth- that has been articulated with great simplicity in Haider – “Jab tak hum Inteqam se aazaad nahi ho jaate… koi Aazaadi humein aazaad nahi kar sakti”.
Here is leaving you all with the Faiz Ahmed Faiz song that is played through the movie. Set to music by Mehdi Hasan, it is the first instance of Vishal using someone else’s composition for his films. “Chale bhi aao ki gulshan ka karobaar chale……”