Jab Imtiaz Ali met SRK

You know how they go on and on about Imtiaz making the same story again and again and again — well thats true. Imtiaz does film the same story repetitively but the people inhabiting his story and the journey they undertake are different .Over the course of a decade , I’ve come to enjoy watching these messed up people fight between their heart and head , spectacularly self-combusting thanks to some external catalyst and then trying to pick up the pieces and move on. The reason why I’ve enjoyed this over and over again is because these people are messed up , quirky yet real and relatable. Harry and Sejal are no different , at least on paper .  But in trying to fit SRK in his world , Imtiaz has compromised with his characters and writing and this is the one thing that makes JHMS his weakest film till date.

On paper JHMS is a brilliant film with a cruel , stupid and stubborn woman finding love and kindness in the most unlikeliest places , when she is least looking for it. Sejal , the lawyer runs out of the Amsterdam aiport , catching Harry her tour guide unaware. She has misplaced her engagement ring and wants Harry to take her back to the hotel where she is sure to find the ring. Harry can see that she is visibly upset and tries to reassure her while also politely trying to lay it out that  he is no longer obligated to accompany her as the tour has ended. She reacts horribly , questioning his audacity to refuse her , putting him in the place of a lowly employee who should absolutely follow his employer wherever she deems fit. Sitting in his BMW car , she so casually says ” So its all about money” that you react the same way Harry does – with incredulity . She does not change a bit even when she falls in love with Harry.

Take for instance  , the cafe sequence in Budapest – she is clearly attracted to Harry and half in love with him but there is this classist , snobbish part of her that is repulsed by Harry’s job of a tour guide. She instructs him to act like her fiancé and the fool that Harry is , he acquiesces to her request and almost comes close to asking her about the next step when she puts him down with a cruel ” I’m not that kind of a woman who leaves her fiancé for a tour guide” retort  . Its Harry who is the hurt here despite his tall claims of being a rake and womanizer of the worst sort.

Consider the yaadon main sequence before they are kidnapped by Gas. They are in this club , having an intimate dinner and Sejal is in tears , listening to the sad story of the woman yearning for her beloved who left for India , in search of riches . Yet it is Harry who is the most affected. He knows that Sejal will leave him for the established fiancé and the stability he provides and that he “Harry” will be left yearning for Sejal . Some time later , by the beach he talks to her about his first love – Kulwant Kaur and almost confesses his feelings by expressing his angst at her inevitable departure and she doesn’t get a chance to react at all. Even at a later point in the film where they seem to gel like spouses do and are clearly in love with each other , she claims to be in a dream world , emphasizing that she would give up an ideal partner and ideal life with him and return to the real world. No wonder this hurts Harry and he acts out on his hurt , giving her an out to leave him.

What is so fascinating about Sejal is that she is so casually cruel to Harry and at the same time , keeps looking up to him for validating her self worth . She compares herself to Harry’s ex , the stripper they meet in their search for her ring , random women that she has heard about and cannot stand the fact that Harry finds her ” sweet , beautiful , china vase types”.  She realizes that he is her ideal partner and yet keeps reminding herself and him that women of her class do not fall for a tour guide and keeps bringing up the fiancé who never bothers to stay in touch , when her moments with Harry get too difficult for her to handle. I was fascinated with this woman , her classist , snobbish nature , that messy superiority and inferiority complex that she seems to suffer from , her decision to have a honey moon fling before she settles down as a proper Gujrati wife and the moment that made her come to terms with the inevitability of love. Sejal with all these facets and quirks is criminally ignored in the movie which is about her , because Harry is played by none other than the SRK.

Because Harry is Shahrukh , we don’t see enough of the character’s vulnerabilities and hurt . Heck we don’t see him as Harry even : there is that DDLJ wall Raj hangover around him which he is unable to shed , despite trying hard to achieve that feat. I almost wish that Imtiaz had casted a lesser known star as Harry – Diljit for instance . Diljit would have played Harry the way Harry was meant to be played – a second fiddle , catalyst and love interest to Sejal who grows up , becomes confident, falls in love with herself and Harry and learns to look beyond the social tags associated with people and identify them for they are – fellow humans who need respect , kindness and love . Alas , Harry is played by the Super Star SRK and we are left yearning for the movie this could have been – A story of a woman coming into her own and growing up. Better luck for the next one Imtiaz Saab , but I really liked this one too.

P.S. Its a criminal offense to release such a wonderful soundtrack the day the movie released. Its one of Pritam’s best so far and needed more air time before the release.

P.P.S. Imtiaz has used the songs brilliantly to underline the narrative as usual. Take Radha for instance . The punjabi lines rendered by Shahrukh , talks of a lotahrio who keeps flitting between lovers , yet he is at that point , irrevocably and subconsciously in love with Sejal . The Hindi lines rendered by Anushka talk of Radha and her undying devotion , yet there she is , flirting with Harry , despite having every intention of going back to Rupen. Kudos! Irshad and Imtiaz, Job well done !

P.P.P.S. Movies can be read differently by different people and hence their views can be different. Please give this movie a chance. It doesn’t deserve the vitriol and absolute hate that it has been receiving from most quarters.

P.P.P.P.S I will try to come back and write about some sequences from the movie that I really liked and about Chandan Roy Sanyal’s Bangla gangster at some point.









Baahubali – The Conclusion

Like most film fanatics , I  caught Baahubali 2 on the day it released . For almost two years I had waited for the sequel wanting to know the answer to the most important question “Why Kattappa killed Baahubali”. Like most people at the movie hall , I left behind all the conspiracy theories , questions and doubts as the movie started only to come out oddly dissatisfied . If I could compare this feeling to anything at all , I would compare it to a Kalayaana Saapadu that was bereft of the king of desserts , the Ada Pradhaman.

Almost everything in the sequel is an improvement over the prologue. The acting is top notch and the VFX is way better.   The canvas is grander and the characters are fleshed out lovingly , with every important facet of their nature being highlighted as the story twists and turns towards it’s thundering end.

The movie begins with a bang where the queen mother is all set to coronate the deserving son and get him married. Said son falls in love and like the ultimate do good guy decides to win the damsel over without revealing his background. The damsel is a revelation — brave , quick to anger , brutally honest and righteous to the bone , she wastes no time in winning the son’s heart and shunning the mother away.  From here on , the film starts cruising to the end we are all familiar with – Mahendra avenging his father and gaining the throne and boy oh boy Rajamouli takes us on an unparalleled joy ride through this journey .

The sequel retells the now famous tale of Ramayana and Rama’s Vanavaasa in a largely linear manner with a few clever tweaks and assumptions.  What if Bharata was ambitious and evil ? What if he fueled Kaikeyi’s apprehensions to total hate towards Rama? What if Sita was feisty , quick to anger and human ? What if it was too late by the time Kaikeyi realized her folly ? What if Rama’s son avenged him and won his kingdom back ? All these what ifs stringed together embellish the familiar tale with amazing cinematic moments but with one jarring flaw – which is in how some of the characters act and behave out of character.  In an effort to underline the Ramayana influence , Rajamouli makes the two chief characters in the Mahishmati universe behave in ways that is so alien to their nature.

The prologue set up characters with strong and wide brush strokes. Kattappa was the grim and dour warrior married to duty. Sivagami was the shrewd , politically aware queen mother and when these characters stray from the established arc for the sake of narrative , you are jarred and it takes a while for you to get over that annoyance and sink into the movie and that to me is an unpleasant experience.

That said , this is a movie that must be watched on the big screen and cherished on DVD.  There are moments that make you applaud , moments that make you remember the glorious movies of the past , moments where you know what is going to happen next but  not how it happens and this is where the film maker wins.

If I had to summarize Baahubali the conclusion in a line – I would call it an exemplary well written , OOC harry potter fan fiction . It has all elements going for it but the OOC factor results in a slightly unpleasant after taste.

PS : Most fan fiction readers would recognize OOC. It stands for Out of Character and is used to denote fan fictions where the characters act and behave in a manner that is totally contrary to their character arc established in the books / movies or canon universe.

PPS : Anushka is awesome as Devasena. This is one actress who was born to play a queen. Please cast her as Kundhavai whenever Ponniyin Selvan is adapted to the cinema screens.

PPPS : I missed Sudeep in the movie. Terribly so , because the first movie drops a tantalizing hint that he would come to Mahendra’s and Kattappa’s rescue when they are in dire need of arms , ammunition and other things.

PPPPS : Rajamouli should bring Mahabharata to the big screen . There is no other film maker who can do better justice to war sequences I tell you.



Kaatru Veliyidai

@Nagrathnam once told me that one should make it a point to watch movies made by certain filmmakers , regardless about the feedback they receive or the buzz that is made. ManiRatnam to me is one such filmmaker. His films provoked me to care for his characters , to write about them and made me care about films the way I cared about my books and the people inhabiting their pages.

I caught Kaatru Veliyidai on the first day and loved the film – simply loved it. You see , the Mani Ratnam I knew was going through a change and this had been evident in his films since the late 2000s . You see glimpses of it in Raavan . In Kadal , he was like that butterfly trying to break out of the cocoon. In Kaatru Veliyidai , this new Mani Ratnam is preening through the movie , having gotten rid of the struggle between his past and present selves. I loved the texture of the movie , the context and layers he imparts to his characters and the way he paints a love story we have known and heard about in such a way that we don’t even recognize the original story in the movie – but more to come on it later.

Therefore , I am somewhat taken aback by the vitriol the movie is receiving on social media platforms and elsewhere. Can the audience blame a movie and a moviemaker when it is the audience’s failure to concentrate on the movie and its layers? I don’t know and I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. So I am going to do what I know best – try and put down my thoughts on the movie and my interpretation of what I derived from the 2 hr 20 mins of screen time. Most people have a problem with how the movie ended so I am going to start with the end. This post is going to be spoiler heavy from this point on , so if you haven’t seen the movie yet , this is where you favorite my post , get off and come back once you have seen the movie.

Leela is a doctor and that makes her pro-life in a way. So she gives birth to Varun’s daughter . However , she doesn’t inform Varun about their child because she does not know if he has changed . She loves him but she does not want her daughter to get affected by his cruel nature. Even when she introduces Rohini to Varun , she goes “This is Varun ” not “This is your Appa” .  She is very clear here – I love you , I want you back but not at the cost of my daughter. You do not get to be a father , not yet . Prove yourself to be capable of being a father and a husband mister , and then we shall see if we have a life together.

The movie has a lot of time lapses and the story covers 7-8 years in a couple’s life. Rohini looks to be 7. Varun has endured captivity for 4 years and has been back from captivity for 3 years and in those 3 years he has followed her to every RedCross camp , waiting for Leela to notice him patiently , without intruding on her , with the complete understanding and knowledge that she could have moved on or could be in the process of moving on as he waited. Contrast this to the earlier moments in the film . He barges in on her without giving a single thought to her feelings and moods – at her grandpa’s party and later at his funeral. And here he is coming back every year , waiting for patiently , catching a fleeting glimpse here and there , waiting for her to make a move. Is this not repentance enough? Is there a better way to show how much Varun has changed himself than this? I don’t know .

What I love about the ending is that MR does not spoon feed all of this – this information is there in the dialogue , in the costume , in the body language of the actors.  “Tarcheyala” she asks . He shakes his head vehemently and says no and that is when the light bulb goes off inside your head. Varun finding Leela at this camp is not a coincidence or an instance of destiny or fate . He has been dogged in his pursuit and has been following her to every single camp , watching her from the sidelines , knowing that she is alive , maybe content and heck even happy. “Doorathulendhu paakanum” he says. ” En enakku sollala? ” Varun asks and Leela says ” Unakku Rohini Pidikkalena illa enna pidikkalena “and that is when he realizes that his actions has made her doubt his love . She is not confident about her position in his life because he never appeared sincere and did nothing to make her feel secure .

Look at the way this scene is staged . The landscape is dry and dreary like his life and Leela is dressed in a maroon anarkali suit , with the dupatta worn as a ghoongat like a bride , and he does see her as a bride. Chances are Leela has noticed him in the past but ignored him . She sees that he is persistent but he has not intruded and bent her to the force of his will , and she has seen it year after year. Which is why , she decides to approach him that day and talk to him and introduce their daughter and therefore the red anarkali suit is a deliberate choice.  When he hugs her and cries at the end , it is for all those years and memories he has lost , it is for the circumstances that had made him a stranger to his daughter and when she hugs him back , you know she still loves him to bits and is happy but that happiness is tinged with Caution . He is sorry and he has changed. Leela has changed too – she is no longer a doormat , one more stunt from him and he is out of their lives. This single sequence in the movie has so many layers , so many subtle nudges and nods weaved into the music , dialogues and costumes that give you a clear idea about what happened in the time jump prior to that scene.

Another pet peeve that has been making the rounds is that we are not told why Varun loves Leela .  Why should we know why he loves her and why should it be told clearly? There are clues all over pointing to the when and why. When you see Varun and Leela at the ball – he is gentlemanly , charming and polite. He has heard about Ravi’s sister and his head Ravi’s sister is a class 12 kid who probably wanted to become a doctor. But Ravi died and therefore his sister is still a class 12 kid for Varun. Initially he is flattered by her attention , she is intelligent , looks like an angel and has been in love with him for the longest time . The devotion and love is in her eyes when she looks at him during the flight and then he goes to Leh – where Ravi died , where the memories and guilt chase him for two months until he sees her on that evening , singing Pappihara and wham he realizes he loves her . He has reconciled Ravi’s kid sister with the lovely medico in these two months and he has fallen in love. Fast-forward to that scene set in the snow storm where he says adichu thookittu poven and enakku nee venum. He loves her and hence his true nature has come out. You do not pretend in front of your own and his pretense has come off.  Sometimes , shared history and memories are enough to make you fall in love and at times you fall in love because the other person loves you so much. The problem here is that Varun’s thoughts, feelings and memories are left to our imagination. MR wants us to demonize him and despise him and succeeds in it in such a way that we miss these cues when we see the movie. They come back at a later time , when you keep thinking about the movie , about the splendidly set scenes and the dialogues.

Kaatru Veliyidai is also a retelling of the Dushyant – Shakuntala tale , painting Dushyant as the cruel , chauvinistic , abusive and in love male lead who has to redeem himself to get back to his love. The abhijnana shakuntalam beacons are strewn through the movie – Ravi’s letters , Varun standing Leela up at the registrar’s office , the ending and  the gandarva vivaha moment in the film ,which is another of my favorites. She is dressed in a Maroon Saree in Nallai , he comes and gets her and that cruel she’s still my gal moment happens and minutes later he is spinning her round and round and round with I love you’s going around , chiseled and captured like pheras.

The movie is filled with many such moments that are immersive and brilliantly crafted with so many layers and contexts. In Kaatru Veliyidai , MR has created a wonderful jigsaw puzzle. He gives us all the pieces to the puzzle in the movie and says there , now you go home and assemble it and get the context – the only caveat being that to assemble this particular puzzle , one must pay a lot of attention to the source picture , get immersed and then think about it a lot. The latter is not a chore as the movie stays with you and refuses to leave your thoughts.

Thank you ManiRatnam. Please keep making more of such films.

P.S. This movie has the best AR Rahman score in ages . I will write another post on it , sometime later.




Accham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada

My post is going to start with a confession . I’ve never been a huge GVM fan – so to speak . I’ve seen all of his movies , liked them in parts , been affected by a few of those moments but I always had the feeling that his movies were set in a La La land that I could never be a part of. And that was because to me the average GVM leads were people I could never relate to.

They are not reflections of the society at large . They are slightly psychotic , slightly eccentric and when faced with ordinary day to day situations , they react in an absolutely unreal way  which makes way for interesting viewing on screen .  Take Vinnai Thandi Varuvaaya for instance , it resonated with a lot of people who had been through the turbulence that comes with first love , the angst that comes with heartbreak ,the inability to move on from a break-up and the searing pain that accompanies your life as a result of that. All of us had a friend who had loved and lost in college and the early career years , a friend who loved so deeply but bowed down to society and married elsewhere . But it was not every friend who faced that and it was never the norm. I could enjoy these movies but they never resonated with me and thus I had almost given up on GVM until AYM happened.

in AYM , You have a chubby , jobless MBA graduate who loves his sister’s classmate . She sees him in the buff , he later examines his figure in the mirror and says yeah I looked good but I can lose the belly . He has a posse of friends who are as normal as they come. He has a bike , plans to go on a road trip yet he stays back because Lovreeeee . She comes to his house for a stay and he tries to build a rapport and relationship with her. He wants her to accompany him on the road trip and yet when she arrives out of the blue , he warns her by providing reasons that are a deterrent . There is this lovely scene , where she keeps eating as they ride and he almost rolls his eyes . They are the normal , next door couple you could meet on your next road trip and boy did the first half resonate or what.

Me and the Mr kept chuckling as our minds went hurtling back to our early days when we dated around , where we did nothing but talk , that trip in Rhode Island where we sat in companionable silence watching the sun go over the cliff , the thanksgiving before the wedding where I kept nodding off because my sleep was ruined etc etc etc. GVM takes the entire first half to underscore this normalcy and BAM right in the middle of Thalli Pogathe throws this normal couple into an extraordinary situation that wreaks havoc in their life . The entire second half is about how this boy becomes a man overnight and how he reacts to this new crazy in an extraordinary way and yet GVM underlines this with a tinge of normalcy. There are no songs in the second half because lets face it who would have time to sing a duet when your existence is hanging by a thread or when your friend has been shot at and killed. The leads don’t make moon’s eyes over each other and they don’t seem to be sure or cognisable about what’s happening with them . They are in a nightmare that keeps getting worse and then there is sunlight. The mood is right , the scenes are set up the right way and Simbu has acted his heart out and yet this second half is so problematic that it has almost derailed the movie for most people.

All that you know of Leela Raman comes from the hero’s view and it seems one dimensional . You don’t hear Leela in the movie , don’t know if she really feels for the hero and hence you are not able to justify why he does what he does for the longest time . He gets into an accident and confesses his feelings and she abandons him in the hospital and goes home . My father has been hacked to shreds and mother has been shot at she says and he goes in search for her because Lovvreeeeee. Even when they meet at the hospital and afterwards , you don’t know what Leela feels because Leela doesn’t tell us. Even the scene where she confesses her feelings is staged from the hero’s POV. Enakku theriyum he says and we are supposed to accept it as a valid justification for the scenes that went past – only that it becomes even more difficult to do that. The movie is about this man called ‘R’ what happened in his life and how that affected him and he is almost always myopic in the way he narrates that and therein lies the film’s strength and weakness. Take for instance the scene where his friend asks R ” If you think you were dying , won’t your parents and friends come to your mind first” and R says ” Yeah I remembered them in flashes but what mattered to me at the point was Leela” and you understand that this guy is myopic in the way he views things . What we see is his retelling of the things that happened so far , the things that are going to happen and its like ek haath ki taali , almost , because he is not narrating each and every moment and he has no way to delve into his lady’s heart. But it is an honest narration and Simbu is terrific as the narrator . He has gained oodles of weight , has lost his good looks , has a beer belly that he doesn’t hide and has finally learned to emote with his eyes. Its almost as if the career slumps he has faced has made him into this no nonsense actor who is here to do his job and he has aced his brief. Manjima is lovely as Leela but given the fact that Leela is told from R’s POV there is very little substance to her – if only GVM added a few extra minutes to flesh her out and if only towards the end Leela and R lived a fairly normal life – him as an IT consultant in a faraway country recounting this incident over a drink in a pub to his friends with Leela by his side but R’s name is Rajinikanth and with a name like that he has to become a cop , get posted to the villain’s precinct and kill him , we feel shortchanged. Next time GVM , name this new normal hero of yours Karthik and give us more tales about the normal.

Gzhand and his girls

No Reader – this is not a post about Gzhand’s numerous girl friends. This is also not about his Krishnaleela (not the movie , but his offscreen shenigans , if one may call it that ). This is not about a DD or beedi wanting a chumban from him and this is not about his so called famous kissing scenes – and for the fans of his creation er daughters , this is not about the baby Gzhands . This is about the women in his filmy creations – women who are empowered and brainy yet surprisingly belittled.

It is indeed a fact that in order to become a superstar in the tamil cine industry , one has to pander to the male chauvinistic attitude prevalent in the tamil society. The hero is an all encompassing entity in his movies and his leading lady will almost always fall for him ( not the other way around) despite his shortcomings – his education , economical and social background , looks et al. She is expected to defer to him – and after being chastised for being rude , uncultured ( never mind that he speaks rowdy tamil and she convent English , never mind that he is poor , uneducated and uncouth and she well-off , well mannered and cultured as per her background) ends up swapping her louboutins for hawai , her louis vitton bags for manjappais , her cool dresses for cotton sarees and enjoys her happily ever after in a hovel , fending for her man and his whims , fancies and drunken binges.

For a long time I was a girl in la la land when it came to tamil movies – I whistled for MGR films , enjoyed the great Rajnikanth’s punch lines

Continue reading “Gzhand and his girls”