Bombay Talkies (2013): A girl on a railway station who croons Lata Mangeshkar’s songs with aching luminosity, a stoic gluttonous ostrich, a flirty cocky gay entertainment journalist, a closet actor, a little boy who likes to dance like Katrina Kaif and a man from Allahabad who just wants to meet Amitabh Bachchan for a few seconds...Such are the engrossing characters that populate the unforgettable world of Bombay Talkies. Such are dreams celluloid dramas are woven of. So how is it that we rarely ever get to feel so good about the movie-viewing experience?
Bombay Talkies is that rarity which makes us thankful for the gift of the movies. What would life be without the stolen pleasures in the darkened auditorium where life’s truest notions are melted own to emerge in moving images that have defined lives for generations in one way or another. Four stories directed by four of the most important contemporary Bollywood directors emerge and merge with seamless splendour into a pastiche of pain and pleasure. Like four scoops of ice cream, one yummier than the other, Bombay Talkies serves up a flavourful quartet of delights that leave us craving for more. It’s like that song written by the immortal Sahir Ludhianvi: “Abhi na jao chhod kar ke dil abhi bhara nahin”. No, that song isn’t part of the film. But there are songs of the melody queen Lataji which haunt your senses as the restless edgy protagonists, each in search of an emotional liberation that strikes them in unexpected ways at the end of every story, seek a slice of cloudburst to nourish their parched spirits.
So on to the first and my favourite story directed by Karan Johar where a sterile marriage between an urban working-couple played by Rani Mukherjee and Randeep Hooda is shaken by the arrival of young ebullient homosexual who enters couple’s frozen marriage in a most unexpected way. This story more than any other, pushes Indian cinema to the edge to explore a theme and emotions that have so far been swept under the carpet by those who decide what audiences should and should not be given to experience. Johar who’s most brilliant film ‘My Name Is Khan’ was also about a marginalized community, strips the urban relationship of all its shock value. He looks at the three characters’ frightening spiritual emptiness with a dispassion that was denied to the characters in Johar’s earlier exploration of crumbling marital values in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Thanks to the unsparing editing (Deepa Bhatia), a gently arousing background score (Hitesh Sonik), deft but credible dialogues (Niranjan Iyenger) and camerawork by Anil Mehta that sweeps gently across three wounded lives, Johar is able to nail the poignancy and the irony of his urban fable in just 4-5 key scenes. This is his best work to date. Rani delivers another power-packed performance (and she looks gorgeous too) .It’s Saqib Saleem who steals this segment with his unmitigated spontaneity and reined-in ebullience.
The second story directed by Dibakar Bannerjee features that wonderful chameleon actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a man who would have been an actor if only life’s drudgery had not overtaken his life. Dibakar is a master-creator of vignettes from everyday life. Here his detailing of chawl life is unerring. Nikos Andritsakis’s cinematography doesn’t miss a single nuance in Nawaz’s sad yet hopeful, bleak yet bright existence. The sequence where Siddiqui washes clothes with the chawl’s women is savagely funny and poignant, as is his life-changing moment when Nawaz gets to perform one shot with Ranbir Kapoor. No we don’t see Ranbir, we just FEEL his presence, and we also HEAR filmmaker Reema Kagti giving orders from the directorial chair but we don’t see her. Nawaz in Dibakar’s deft hands, takes his character through a journey of profoundly saddening self-discovery without any hint of self-pity. This segment is quirky funny and tragic. Nawaz’s dialogue with his mentor (played by Sadashiv Amrapurkar) on acting and dreams is written in a caustic ironic tone where the element of tragedy is sublimated with tenderness and subtlety. No one is allowed to feel sorry for Nawaz’s character. Not even Nawaz.
Ebullient and enchanting are the descriptions that come to mind while watching Zoya Akhtar’s film about a little boy (Naman Jain, brilliant) who would rather dance to Katrina Kaif’s song than become a cricketer or a pilot, as per tyrant papa (Ranveer Shorey)’s wishes. Shades of Ronit Roy from Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan in Shorey’s character do not take away from the stimulating freshness of Zoya’s treatment. The household brims over with song, dance and giggles between the Kaif-enamoured boy and his sibling and confidante (a very confident Khushi Dubey). Charming warm humorous and vivacious Zoya’s film serves up a very gentle moral lesson. Let a child grow the way it wants to. Zoya’s film makes our hearts acquire wings. And yes, it immortalizes Katrina Kaif.
Finally Anurag Kashyap’s homage to the unmatchable stardom of Amitabh Bachchan. A simple fable of a man journeying from Allahabad to meet the super-iconic Bachchan this segment of the story is more baggy and loose-limbed than the other three tightly-edited stories. This is not to take away from its power. As played by Vineet Kumar Singh the Common Man’s devotion to the Bachchan aura is manifested in the tongue-in-cheek spoken lines and the casual energy of Mumbai’s street life. Kashyap captures the sometimes-funny often-sad bustle around the Bachchan bungalow with warmth and affection. This segment certainly doesn’t lack in warmth. But it could have done with a tighter grip over the narrative.
Long after each story ends we are left wondering what would happen to the vividly written characters. No, that’s not a good thing in this case. For the story after the first, and then one after that, require our undivided attention. Bombay Talkies is segmented and layered, yet cohesive and compelling from the first frame to the last. While unravelling the magic of cinema and its impact on the minds of audiences Bombay Talkies also displays how much cinema has evolved over the generations. This is a beguiling, beautiful and befitting homage to 100 years of cinema. It’s also proof that different stories in an episodic film could comfortably have directors with different sensitivities staring in the same line of vision. If you watch only one film a year make sure it’s this one. Yup, thank God for the motion picture.
Aurangzeb (2013): Sapna se badaa apna hota hai...It’s okay to sacrifice one’s dreams for the sake of those you love. This is a recurrent thought in this hard-hitting family drama about fatally flawed people who flock together in search of a happiness that is snatched from them by a fate far more cruel and savage than what we generally see and recognize as destiny. The destiny that seems to underline the lives in writer-director Atul Sabharwal’s drama of family feuds is as flawed as it is rich in resonances. And why not! Perfection is as boring as it is unbelievable. Sabharwal spreads out a hectic hefty horizon of dark grey black and ominously immoral people who share a common genealogy but are not afraid to kill one another for personal gains. Welcome to the world of unstoppable ambitions. Half-realized dreams thread their way through Sabharwal’s intricate plot, much like those gigantic cement-mortar-glass skyscrapers that kiss the sky in half-constructed questionable glory in the film’s excellently-composed frames. The cinematography by N. Karthik Ganesh provides a panoramic view of Gurgaon’s super-affluent landscape .It also provides us an insight into the anxious souls of half-finished lives trapped in the mirage of their absurd aspirations.
Each moment in Aurangzeb tells a heartbreaking story of betrayal and bloodshed, of men and women who have forsaken a life of peaceful sleep to pursue wakeful dreams that leave them famished and restless. At first Aurangzeb seems plotted with too many twists and turns. And then, as you watch the tale of twin brothers (Arjun Kapoor, very much in character) and a stepbrother, played by Prithiviraj, who turns out to be the moral foundation of this empire of quicksand compulsions, you fall into the rhythm patterns of Sabharwal’s quiet volatile and implosive storytelling. The film’s grand design subsumes a scintillating galaxy of memorable moments. Nothing in the film is what it seems. No character is to be trusted. There are illegitimate relationships and business interests jostling with their more constitutional counterparts. The twins-device serves as a vivid indication of the moral ambiguities that underscore the world of corporate deals. Supreme power and supreme wealth are what the characters seek in this film. Funny, how they end up nullified or dead at the end! None, more so that the all-powerful cop played by Rishi Kapoor. A closet-extortionist, this powerful policeman’s family-mafia runs parallel to Jackie Shroff’s vast empire of drugs and other criminal activities.
Arjun Kapoor crosses comfortably into both the nefarious kingdoms. He is the dual mirror- image of the sinner and the victim. Playing the traditional ‘Ram Aur Shyam’ game, Kapoor seems to nail the brotherly mirror-image into a slide show of shifting loyalties. It’s a compelling double-whammy from a sophomore actor who made a sizeable impact with his first film Ishaqzaade. Prithviraj, who made his Hindi debut with the disastrous Aiyya, springs a stunning surprise as Arjun Kapoor’s half-brother. He is the voice of this vast plot’s nebulous conscience. It’s finally Prithviraj who redeems the film’s shifting moral values to recover a moral centre for a world that seems to spin out of control with its penchant for power and greed for wealth. Jackie Shroff plays opposite Rishi Kapoor in this world of crime and the law where the two kingdoms often merge in disturbing alliances. Jackie is controlled, his face a map of generations of endured pain. Every player, big or small, gives life to the tumultuous Shakespearean tale. I’ve to make mention of the very talented Swara Bhaskar who plays Prithiviraj’s wife. The super-talented girl has just two brief sequences. But she wrenches your heart. Tanve Azmi’s motherly act has its moments. Amrita Singh as a scheming she-devil is the traditional home-breaker. It’s a stereotypical bad-girl role, given a reined-check by the actress’ ingrained grace. Seshah Agha in a role clearly inspired by Parveen Babi in Yash Chopra’s Deewaar is cast in a character that deserved a far better and more seductive actress.
Atul Sabharwal’s direction bears ruminative remnants of the mighty filmmaking legacy of Yash Chopra and Mani Ratnam .The script outwardly sounds like a pot-boiler about the shifting equation between the legitimate and the outcast. But the tone adapted to tell this pot-boiler tale is authentic, underplayed and constantly credible. It’s as if Manmohan Desai suddenly decided go the way Shyam Benegal did in Kalyug. The film is a marvel of impeccable casting. Every actor gives off his best, none more so than Rishi Kapoor who as the illimitably corrupt cop pulls off yet another masterly antagonist’s part. Aurangzeb springs many unexpected surprises. It is a work which doesn’t shy away from screaming silences and penetrating whispers. The soft-spoken words delivered in a natural even pitch are often so far-reaching in their implications that we keep returning to the dialogues much after the characters have spoken them and moved on. Yes, much in Aurangzeb is imperfect. The ambivalent tone of authenticity in a plot that seems inspired by the melodramatic blockbusters of the 1970s is really an exercise in self-indulgence. It’s as if the director wants to prove his intellectual superiority over the material he has chosen to deconstruct. But the contradictory tone somehow works in a way we’ve never seen before.
Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi becomes a hotbed of intrigue and drama. But underneath the conspiracies and the killings is a tragic tale of blood unnecessarily spilt for advantages that finally mean zilch in the absence of loved ones to share the loot with. Aurangzeb has an epic sweep to its storytelling. But it’s also an intimate portrait of family values gone to waste. It is really the sound of stifled sobs that we carry home of characters who thought they knew it all only to realize at the end that they somewhere lost track of their inner self in pursuit of distant dreams .
Image source: IMDb
They say the best things in life are free! India’s favourite music channels 9XM, 9X Jalwa, 9X Jhakaas & 9X Tashan are available Free-To-Air. Make a request for these channels from your Cable, DTH or HITS operator.