Monday, August 28, 2006

a few notes

RIP Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Could someone step up and get Musafir out on DVD please?

addendum: [august 29, 2006] an official tribute site is up.

The new World of Satyajit Ray is up and it's a gorgeously welcome stock of eye candy.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


NSFW. [courtesy: The Language Log; and there's some followup here with a touch of detergent]

Falls back to the floor with tears in his eyes

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


[aka cheaty! cheaty! ban! ban!]

Somebody decides to capitalise on the mixed reactions to the language in Vishal's Omkara. This "somebody" might go improperly represented, if the 6 news sources[1] I've read so far are any indication. Three of them (TimesNow, NDTV, Zee News) say his name is "Naeem Khan"; CNN-IBN picks "Naseem Khan" (and IndiaFM agrees) and later settles on "Nasim Khan." Not one to let the general populace forget their coup de vérité with Saat Hindustani and the National Film Awards, DNA chooses the more verbose "Nasim Khan Sajjad Hussain." Pursuant to the tradition of yours-humbly writhing-truly of favouring the 2-letter abbreviation, we will refer to the plaintiff as NK.

His arguments are predictable and only marginally interesting.

In my 18 years of acting, I have not heard such profane language. The profanity in the film will cause grave harm and injury to society and damage young minds beyond repair. Youngsters love to imitate film heroes. It is therefore in the interest of justice that the film be banned. Omkara is a film which is harmful to society at large and the censor certificate must be cancelled.

That's a great example of the cut-up technique at work. These generalisations smack of prudery and only fuel the suspicion that the most likely cause for this protest is nothing but a short-sighted clueless narrow-minded hunger for political mileage.

Should we retort by asking NK if trite simplistic ideas of family, rape, violence and titillating vistas of semi-clad babes are less likely to "cause grave harm and injury to society and damage young minds beyond repair"? Or should we just hope that this mild tremor gets the film some more business?

NK also notes: I was shocked and surprised to hear the most vulgar abuse in a strikingly loud voice, as soon as the National Anthem had ended. I'm not sure I understand this. Do they play the National Anthem at movie theatres? So KANK, which exploited the NRI sentiment to the hilt, was preceded by a song extolling the virtues of a land that scarcely mattered to the film?

As if this was not enough to stir up a dust puppy, NK also believes that the film degrades the word "Omkara", which is backed by the sanctity of religion, respected by all, and defines the highest of all creation. I would be interested in knowing NK's take on the fate of Om in Koi...Mil Gaya. And could he also suggest an alternative for Omkara that would fit into the film, the dialogues, the milieu and the soundtrack? How about mapping Othello to Ataullah? Oh! Now you want my rear for that remark eh? o kaThor!!

Could someone also tell me more about the "50" films that this guy has worked in?

The IndiaFM report seems to relish this move given that it opens with: For all of you who hated the vulgar dialogues in Omkara, you have a reason to celebrate. For those who liked the film, read on.... The report later falters badly though when it says the film is in the Bihari dialect. Wrong! It's the Haryanvi Gujjar dialect and the film is set somewhere near Meerut, UP (although it never, AFAIR, explicitly tells us about the location).

The hearing's been deferred to Wednesday, August 23.

Cheer yourself with Raja Sen's wonderful interview of Deepak "Rajju" Dobriyal. And if you are sick of all those "foul mouth words" (courtesy: IndiaFM), go drool at some Priyanka Chopra photographs.

[1] TimesNow | Zee News | CNN-IBN | DNA | IndiaFM | NDTV

addendum [august 24, 2006]: City Civil judge A T Vaidya has asked NK to explain what he found objectionable in the film and was also asked to produce materials supporting his allegation. This was on August 23, 2006; things reconvene on August 24, 2006 at some time IST. Meanwhile there's a nice interview with Censor Board Chief Sharmila Tagore (conducted by Subhash K Jha). The extract below shows an appreciation of the creative intent evident in the characters of Omkara and Langda; clearly this seems beyond the puny POV of Shri NK:

The film was depicting a certain section of society that doesn't follow the rules of civil society, the law-breakers, so to speak, in a certain community. The difference between the characters of Omkara and Langda Tyagi was that Omkara was a little nobler among the outlaws. Langda Tyagi is more uncouth.

The director differentiated between the two characters of the hero and the villain through the language. That’s how the two baddies ended up being two different shades of black.

And here's something about the power wielded by some Bollywood biggies:

If producers like Karan Johar, Yash Chopra and Rakeysh Mehra have a problem, they directly ring up the ministry and sort it out. But the same problem for a smaller filmmaker needs to be dealt with by us. There’s no collective wisdom to censorship. If there was a uniform code, things would be a lot easier.

ST notes the difference between the censor board and a body of law and order. She even notes how much litigation her office has to deal with, thanks, perhaps, to people like NK. Imagine Paheli, our Oscar entry, being accused of endorsing superstition (instead of being a profound font of ennui):

We're inundated with litigations. One of our office bearers is constantly in court. It's such a drain on our limited resources. We need to take a good look at censorship. If the film industry provides entertainment, it should be allowed the freedom of expression. When we, as an enabling body, find something objectionable we cut a few scenes. Otherwise we just give a certificate. Vishal Bhardwaj preferred an 'A' certificate rather than a 'U/A' certificate for Omkara even though it meant limiting his audience. That was his artistic freedom.

addendum: [august 29, 2006]: The Sessions Court has refused to ban the film. Hope NK's got his thrills for now.

addendum: [september 02, 2006]: The fun never stops. Now there's a hydra-headed petition afoot that requests the cancellation of the censor certificate issued to the film (isn't it time the CBFC got a disclaimer saying "goods once sold will not be taken back"?) as well as the cancellation of the tax-free status recently conferred on the film in Uttar Pradesh. And we must not forget the evidence of a regressive biscuit tin intellect at work: Mr. [Prem Chandra] Sharma [Hindu Personal Law Board secretary] has contended the Censor Board should not have passed the film with an 'A' certificate, since it was named after a Hindu deity. Sudarshan dropped a comment here about the religious angle; his comment, although in jest, might stand in well for the sick workings of the mind of Mr. Sharma.

addendum: [september 11, 2006]: and now we have a PIL filed by a local lawyer against the film for its "abusive" language that is against the interest of society. Clearly, we have a lot of time on our hands.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

three great films of 2006

[with a reminder of YT's favourite]

15 Park Avenue [january 29, 2006]: After the evocative Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, director mom Aparna Sen and talented daughter Konkona Sensharma return with a film that's arguably more cerebral in addition to packing a wallop of an ending. An interesting cast (Shabana Azmi, Rahul Bose, Dhritiman Chatterjee –- returning from 36 Chowringhee Lane to make amends for the hoary turn in Black, Shefali Shah, Waheeda Rehman, Soumitra Chatterjee (surprise!) and Kanwaljeet Singh (surprise! Surprise!)) supports an exploration of schizophrenia, strained relationships, and the perception of reality. image courtesy: The detail in the screenplay and the patience in the narrative is augmented by the stark visual style and occasionally diminished by the desafinado of a few artificial lines of dialogue. But the kinks don't prevent this film from enthralling you and then gently guiding your jaw to the floor at the end as your eyes twinkle in glee. This may not match up to the bittersweet tale Aparna Sen wove at the last address she visited, but it's a journey you won't regret.

Being Cyrus [april 17, 2006]: Saying that scuba diving instructor Homi Adajania made a great plunge with his shot-in-32-days directorial début would be a tip of the hat to Dimple Kapadia's sexy, aggravating cliché-spouting Katy Sethna. This vicious profane and mirthfully black comedy boasts a dreamy bouncy theme from Salim-Sulaiman that them gives way to some no-nonsense story-telling (complete with profanity that anticipated the flood in Omkara), crisp editing (Jon Sharp and Anand Subaya toss in flourishes that make a second viewing worth it) and a cast of excellence all lensed with aplomb by Jehangir Chowdhury. image courtesy: Saif as Cyrus Mistry makes his National Award trophy for Hum Tum seem like a progressive reward for gifts to come (since then Omkara's la.nga.Daa tyaagii has given a new mainstream star with substance). Manoj Pahwa gets the funniest lines and steals his scenes; Honey Chhaya makes a great beleagured Fardoonji Sethna; Simone Singh looks striking and has the calmest of roles complementing Boman Irani's irascible Farokh Sethna; Dimple Kapadia notches points in a no-holds barred performance and Naseeruddin Shah's Dinshaw Sethna is another stellar sample of great character acting at work -- it might not be amiss to put in a word for his turn as a Parsi (Inspector Sam Bharucha) in Encounter:The Killing. The narrative, aural and visual textures make for a hell of a compelling watch. Heck! It even managed to become the Indian English movie with the highest weekend grosser this year (so much for baseball-style statistics).

image courtesy: www.123onlinemovies.comMixed Doubles [july 11, 2006 / august 14, 2006]: After the surreally staid bleak landscape of futile existence that was Private Detective: Two Plus Two Plus Plus One and the smart smegmatic satire that was Raghu Romeo (can you imagine a funny Travis Bickle?), Rajat Kapoor scores once again with Mixed Doubles (early plug). Wife-swapping's not an easy subject to make a film on, and Anurag Kashyap weaves a magic basket of comfortable dialogue that injects humour in a lot of scenes that might've ended up making you fidget in your seat watching them. Ranvir Shorey's a great find (was reading bizarre newsitems in Barista in WBH2P2 the last thing he did in films?) and Konkona continues to stupefy as she makes Malti every bit like herself as she did Meethi (15 Park Avenue), yet making them two very disparate characters. Rajat Kapoor's turn as the calm Vinod is a great example of a part handled well enough to make it look simple. Koël Purie's the weak link with a part that's a tad as bizarre as Kenneth Desai's in Private Detective: Two Plus Two Plus One, but a bit less satisfying. Naseeruddin Shah has a short cameo that's so mindblowing that one can only watch as he effortlessly embellishes each line and frame as Malti's father. And one mustn't forget the wonderful turns from a delightful Vinay Pathak and a restrained Saurabh Shukla (who also contributed to the lyrics)[1]. A doff to Sagar for the playful background score. Reportedly shot at Kapoor's own home with wife Meenal Agarwal handling production design, with some great sound design (reportedly everything was looped) and a budget of 1.5 crore (15 million) rupees, this labour of love boasts an engaging 97 minutes and a wonderful ending. The only thing that might've gone wrong is the DVD transfer: the tape version was scaled at 2.35:1 even though the specs of the film were 1.85:1. And could someone please tell Manmohan "Adlabs" Shetty that splashing your stupid logo on the film frame in YashRajFilms fashion is as smart a move as leaving your refrigerator door open to cool the house?

[1] Saurabh Shukla doesn't shatter the custom he and Kapoor have set up of appearing in each other's films.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

back in black: the national film awards for 2005

[what happened for 2004]

They aren't out yet, but the buzz is going around about the 53rd edition of the National Film Awards of India.
Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Kalpurush wins Best Film (damn! I missed catching it at the Film Festival of India in Atlanta). Bollywood's darling Black
snags Best Hindi Feature Film and a Best Actor win for the Big B. Naseeruddin Shah wins Best Supporting Actor for his turn as the drunk-turned-coach in Iqbal. Anupam Kher's turn as retired professor Uttam Chaudhari in Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara gets him a Special Jury Award. A personal favourite, 15 Park Avenue wins Best English Language Film, but faces a massively disappointing upset as Konkona loses out to Sarika in Parzania, a film about a Parsi family and Godhra; the film also gets Rahul Dholakia an award for Best Director. Given the wonderfully commercial dynamics of distribution and release, this film as well as nuggets like Vishal's The Blue Umbrella have eluded me.

The official announcement has been delayed, so a full list will have to wait until later. Meanwhile, Bhansali's probably preening around in sheer joy.

Can someone confirm/refute the note in the DNA article that Amitabh won a National Award for Saat Hindustani?

And what's the percentage of Hindi required in a film to qualify for the Best Hindi Film Award? Black, as the unfortunately painful memory I have of it tells me, had quite a bit of English in it...

addendum [august 16, 2006]: Apparently all this delay's because of some legal issues as far as censor certificates are concerned ... murky.

addendum [august 22, 2006]: Suchitra Sen's the recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award (in absentia, in all likelihood). Another breadcrumb is the Best Childrens Film award for Vishal for The Blue Umbrella (will someone please get this film released??)

addendum [may 09, 2007]: After all these months, just when you finally thought they'd be ready with the awards, the Delhi High Court has put a stay on the 53rd National Film Awards thanks to the voice of dissent from jury member Shyamli Bannerjee Deb. It seems that Bhansali's screamathon was poised to win the award for Best Film. Yech!

Monday, August 14, 2006

being RGV

RGV's the guest for CNN-IBN "Being" series. In three videos, he talks to Anuradha Sengupta about his films, The Factory, the fallouts with his protégés, the Sholay remake and the new Shiva. RGV's honesty and clarity always make him an interesting interview subject and the questions are free-form. There's an interesting note about the "realism" in his films:

My intelligence is to suck the audience and their psyche into my films. I want them to feel what the character is going through in the film. For example, in Satya when people call it a realistic film I wonder how do they know its real? They don't know anything about underworld neither do I.

It's not so much about the realism in the depiction of the underworld. I think they connect to the character's realism. When Bhikhu Mhatre comes home and his wife nags him, they connect to that emotion. It is because of the same emotion that when he goes out and kills someone, it seems real.

And at the core of it all is what makes this filmmaker special, just like Vishal Bhardwaj, although the latter's had to make some concessions recently: the drive to do what he wants to do, to make the films he wants to make the way he wants to make them.

Anuradha Sengupta: The point is perhaps that you do what you want to do. Isn't it?

Ram Gopal Varma: That is exactly the point.

Anuradha Sengupta: But the question is, how do get people to back you? Because you are one person who has never been at loss of backers.

You have had a good relationship with Jhamu Sugandh, Bharat Shah, the K Sera Sera association and now the Adlab Films. They all seem to be backing you, while all you are doing is pleasing yourself?

Ram Gopal Varma: When there is no sure-shot formula as to what is going to work, why not just do what you are willing to do? I don't think I am taking a risk myself or at the cost of my 'backers'.

Coincidentally, Rediff Movies inaugurated their Seen a Star? series with a photograph of Sengupta and RGV conversing on a bridge during this interview. Eerie.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

the music of Shiva [2006]

After a promising promo, RGV's Shiva (same title as the Nagarjuna classic; different set-up; a tribute to the one-angry-man-against-the-system genre) had the return of Ilaiya Raja (as spelled on the CD cover) to the Hindi film music scene after Mumbai Xpress and to the RGV camp after a long long while. The problem is that the music isn't all new[1].

The first song Police Police is a revisionist interpretation of the Botany song from the original Shiva. The arrangements are interesting, though. Is this the first song that Ninad Kamat has sung since riffing around on the title track of Darna Mana Hai?

IR steps up to the microphone for shapath backed by voices reciting the cop's oath. Thematically sound, but only marginally interesting. IR's accent is troublesome too.

kaise kahe.n has an infectious backing progression, but is a revisionist take on emaNii ne from Mantri Gari Viyyankudu ( link, MusicIndiaOnline link)[2]

josh me.n has Yesudas betraying his accent significantly enough to run the song a bit. Nice arrangements again, although they have IR written all over them, perhaps because the song finds its roots in Geethanjali's jagada jagada ( link) aka Vidiya Vidya Nadanam from the dubbed-in-Tamil version Idhayathai Thirudathe ( link)

The dulcet saaraa ye aalaam derives from aana.nda raagam from Panneer Pushpangal ( link).

dhiimii dhiimii boasts more IR arrangements and some Celtic violin interludes.

The revised tracks benefit from new technology and mastering and IR indulges in some flourishes with the arrangements. Reportedly, the reuse was something RGV requested.

a few notes about the film itself: The promos also seem to indicate that RGV's all set to betray his anti-song tenet (something that really ruined James). Ms Kothari's been tossing oomph all over and Ahlawat's interesting face and presence seem to be in danger of being underused. Say it ain't so.

[1] TFM thread on The Hub

[2] another TFM thread on The Hub

a happy 107 to sir alfred

courtesy: a shadow of a doubt, without any suspicion, your work still leaves us spellbound.

I will take this as an excuse to link to a bunch of old posts dedicated to his films: The Paradine Case, Foreign Correspondent, The Trouble With Harry, Lifeboat, North by Northwest (and some more about it), Murder!, Suspicion, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo.

Friday, August 11, 2006

KANK review of the moment

[not to be confused with this]

Now that Karan Johar's latest venture in playing the audience to the box office has flooded the marquee, one can expect to hear loud hosannas from the devout fans of the leads, $$s ringing away abroad as NRIs starved for shrink-wrapped sugar-coated bourgeois relish, and Karan Johar laughing all the way to the bank to collect. One must also not forget the potential rise in the sale of tissues.

While Tenacious Trademaster Taran fellates the film, Raja Sen scores the best line with his review: A tense romantic drama between two married couples -- and the most compelling character in the film is a dad who dresses like a pimp?

Readers of DNA India's Limelite section may await a Khalid Mohamed review going the Taran way. This is, after all, the man who had lavished all the praise he could for Karan Johar's last venture, K3G.

Thanks to an early (IST; late EDT) note from JR, I get to read Aseem Chhabra's take on the film from the heart of its location (which like a lot of things in the film offers nothing more than a prop to attract the lemmings with the $$). Buried therein are some nuggets like What KANK offers us is a three-and-a-half hour long, over-blown, candy-floss fantasy about the lives of the ultra rich and good looking Indians, who wear expensive clothes, live in beautifully furnished, stunning apartments and mansions, dance in crazy discotheques, walk in snow and rain, and cry a lot. You see, Johar's characters are meant to be sad people.

So far the only good thing about Karan Johar's flick is that it's offering me some good reading material.

addendum [august 12, 2006]: Baradwaj's eloquent review is up. He notes the problems of length and the need for tissue, but he also contextualises the film and Johar well:

you can't deny that he's one of the very few young directors who's interested in – and who knows his way around – old-fashioned, Bollywood storytelling, where the emphasis is on emotion rather than reason, where the point of a scene isn't in drawing out truth or detailing reality but in the sensual experience of the moment: foreplay, climax, afterplay (or, if you will, buildup, detonation, cool-down).

addendum [august 12, 2006]: Khalid Mohamed's given Johar another 4-star rating. Aren't we surprised? The verdict was just as predictable as the box office success of the film. Khalid Mohammed has surely come a long from being an entertaining acerbic film critic with some taste in cinema to surviving on a diet of sour grapes after laying three big fat rotten cinematic eggs (Fiza, Tehzeeb and the numerologically challenged Silsiilay) and spending his time being nice to the Chopra and Johar camps and writing reviews that are distinguished from Tenacious Trademaster Taran's tripe solely by better English, a more varied vocabulary and the occasional puns. He's been reduced to writing reviews that begin with Here’s Karan Johar’s smashing coming-of-age movie. It’s mature, bold and dares to say it loud and clear ... and end with For its non-judgmental and progressive take on marriage and infidelity, see KANK with someone you love..unconditionally. Mercifully, he saved the 5-star outstanding rating for the next Johar flick (in all likelihood). Perhaps he'll even write the screenplay for it, with a seamless blend of Godard, Antonioni and Dharmesh Darshan.

addendum [august 13, 2006]: Jai Arjun Singh confers upon the film more value than it's worth by describing the Karan Johar-Shah Rukh Khan relationship as a parallel of the famous Herzog/Kinski association. Don't be misled by the artistic visual he devotes a paragraph to; I thought Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was quite bad, though thankfully it was bad enough to be entertaining in parts. It's a mercy to know that. A talkback viewing meeting will be called once the original DVD hits the market. Don't skip the P.S. in his post -- more gems lie therein.

It might not be presumptuous for me to put up a review post saying KANK stank, but the pun seems too weak against the colossus of cow caca that this offering seems to be.

addendum [august 16, 2006] The NYTimes decided to post a review of the flick. Although meriting only a cursory glance, emails and messages from friends suggest that this article might be a significant thing as far the rising Western fascination for Bollywood is concerned; and that view continues to focus on the aggravatingly limiting crutches of our mainstream crop:

A French version would have a lot more sex and cigarette smoking. An American one would probably end with a letter opener in someone's back. But only in Bollywood would the standard-issue marital-infidelity tale include disco-style musical numbers and clock in at almost three and a half hours.

But all's well that ends well:

As for the story's central lovers, it's never quite clear what Maya sees in Dev, whose emotional switch has only two settings, angry and morose. Perhaps that eye makeup is clouding her vision.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

lage raho: in public

And now, unveil'd, the toilet stands display'd
Each silver vase in mystic order laid.

After making news for a while and almost making it to the record books as the most renamed film in Bollywood, Lage Raho Munna Bhai FKA Munna Bhai Second Innings FKA Munna Bhai Meets Mahatma Gandhi is about to hit the marquee soon. Arshad Warsi as Circuit is welcome, but the rest of the film is a big question mark. The first edition mixed One Flew Over A Cuckoo's Nest, nods to Patch Adams, some prime hamming (the Dutts, Rohini Hattangadi), some DOAs (Gracy Singh), some great timing (Arshad Warsi) and a truckload of the summertime horse manure that Bollywood is slated to be plagued with in masochistic glee for years to come. The murder of interesting possibilities was, perhaps not so ironically, a hit. This prompted ego-mouth VVC and his celebrated director Hirani to embark on a fresh assault to the senses.

One must regard the Mumbai Mirror article about an authentic sequence in the film as a portend of things to come. After finding a swank shauchaalay in a mall (where else, one asks? We're close to 56 years of independence and clean public toilets continue to remain as common as dodos), they discovered that the loo was too big for a film unit (jack-making gents may please note this as a useful design requirement for future installations).

In addition to making regular visitors of The Blue Sea likely victims of anuresis, the unit ended up embarrassing the equipment (no pun intended) as well:

For one shot, I had to squeeze my camera into the tiny space between the wash basin and a WC. I think even my camera was blushing with embarrassment. (cinematographer Murali)

And then director Hirani tops this parable of the powder room:

On hindsight it appears funny, but at that time we were under tremendous pressure to wind up the shoot on time.

Despite the grammatical gaffe (in hindsight not on hindsight), that line contains two glorious puns to make this whole experience memorable to all but those who don't give a sh*t about scatological humour.

Now I know how they chose the final title of the film.

[1] from The Rape Of The Lock by Alexander Pope

Saturday, August 05, 2006

kaThor prudery

Despite good notes, Vishal's Omkara only managed what trade pundits seem happy to call a decent opening. The film had a big budget, and the opening in India wasn't as great as predictions would have had it to be; yet we're not in Mangal zone yet. Everyone's so eager to blame the "failure" of the film on the dialogue: the dialect and the cussing.

Family audiences can't go and watch this because of the cussing; oh yes, it has an A certificate, by the way. I don't really recall a time in my movie-viewing past where the implications of a certificate issued by the atavistic censor board were enforced by cinema hall owners. I remember hearing about group of friends being asked to leave a screening of Cliffhanger, but I also remember finding out that Parinda had an A certificate only after I had taken a good seat in the cinema hall.

It was a welcome wonder that RGV's Satya made it to the screens with the cuss words intact; The censor board then seemed to go through a phase of mental regression with the outrageous judgement it passed (no pun intended) on Anurag Kashyap's Paanch. And now in 2006, except for the small matter of the petticoat, Omkara hit the screens sounding as real as it could get (arguably) as far as the dialogue was concerned.

Everywhere else, though, it would seem that a Bollywood film needs to be accessible to a family audience in order to click. No Entry, last year's biggest hit, was the perfect family entertainer laced with irritating songs, risqué dances, and a not-so-funny remedy for the n-year itch. See also: Garam Masala, Kya Kool Hain Hum, Maine Pyar Kyon Kiya, Shaadi No. 1.

Mayank Shekhar does a nice job[1] discussing this prudish behaviour exhibited by the audience; he also notes how contextual some of these cuss words have actually become. Unfortunately, this is all we really have: a short article, and films like Bandit Queen and Omkara.

Saibal Chatterjee explores similar concerns in an article in today's Hindustan Times:

So what if families are staying away from Omkara. By no means should that be an indication of how good or bad the film is. The quality of a film lies within it, not in external factors like mass appeal and commercial performance.

Even on the latter score, Bhardwaj's wonderfully well-crafted film is an achievement that is way out of the ordinary, especially when compared to the welter of mediocrity that Bollywood usually wallows in.

I try not to use the "better than the rest of Bollywood" argument, because I think it limits my ability to appreciate or denounce a film. The first argument, however, rings true but also seems destined to become a truism, because you will often find people, who, thanks to the media machinery and Bollywood, have equated quality and box office success.

Why do we suddenly have issues with the language? Haven't we been strengthened by a slew of hit films covering all sorts of "family-friendly" items like rape, murder, vigilante violence, seduction, polygamy, jingoism, revenge, lechery and the like. And if you're still so sensitive about the kind of films we watch, why can't you do a bit of research before venturing out to watch a damn flick? Sure, you'll miss the strange first day first show thrill, but at least you won't be wasting your time and ours by blaming the film for your ignorance. Of course, some people won't even take good advice. I've seen people who've insisted on watching Zinda even after I had told them about Old Boy and that Sanjay Gupta's rip-off was not exactly the regular comfortable candy-floss entertainer that demands only one brain cell. Several minutes later, people were squirming and looking away (and ignoring the fact that they were bored out of their wits as well).

And that brings us to the issue of the dialect. Vishal responded to criticism against the film in Mumbai Mirror[2] interview. The most relevant extract follows:

The language used in Omkara is very difficult for the audiences to understand. Don't you think if you had used Hindi instead, it would have worked better?

I think the language of cinema is more important that[sic] the actual dialect used in a film. We do appreciate international and regional films which have rich cinematic content, don't we? I think it's unfair to say that the language has created problems in understanding the film. I am told that that people are understanding the jokes and reacting to the scenes.

I can confirm this. I was in a theatre in Atlanta, GA surrounded by desiis of various confusions and places of birth. I didn't hear complaints about the dialogue; I could hear people laughing at all the jokes; (I was also impressed at how quiet the hall went during the final sequence); I too, not being familiar with the dialect at all, could follow what was happening. It seems like this inaccessibility comes not from the film itself but from the audience.

The only variety I see in the list of factors affecting the film's performance at the box office comes courtesy Prakash Jha, who's handling the distribution of the film in Bihar: the film is rich in technique and employs light and shadow and a lot of silhouettes. Small towns do not have the projectors to show it with clarity. If anyone's listening, it's time to ape the west and get some multiplexes out to the remote areas -- even though we can't (and don't seem to want to) address unimportant issues like education, poverty, water and electricity, we've managed to sharpen our multiplex-building skills; we might as well put them to good use.

It's bad enough that a lot of critical hosannas miss noting just how effective Vishal's transplantation of the Moor's Worst Gaffe to not just the Indian milieu but also the Bollywood ethic has been. People have been cribbing about the twist in Omkara and how it seems to lose the power of the original in the play. They seem to forget that in Maqbool, which they loved as an adaptation, Vishal had "twisted" Shakespeare's original text in a crucial manner: Lady Macbeth was Macbeth's wife (duh!) but Nimmi could never graduate from being Maqbool's mistress.

Vishal's efforts pale before Karan Johar's "daring" attempt at tackling the failure of the modern Indian marriage in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna aka KANK. In her NYTimes article Anupama Chopra discusses this forthcoming flick and Rajat Kapoor's Mixed Doubles (a non-mainstream film that I haven't finished watching, but have enjoyed every minute of so far). The article ends with a Shobha Dé quote that also serves as a juicy example of just how bad things have become: 'Mixed Doubles' is art house. We think, 'It's not about us, it's about them.’ But a Karan Johar film is definitely about us. The closing rejoinder in Uma's post (which is where I found a pointer to the Chopra article) says it all.

KANK hits cinema halls on Friday, August 11. Omkara has till then to run up some more box office numbers; once the Johar opus plays its pipes, only a few of us lame kids are going to be left behind.

Time to go listen to BC sutta again.

[1] it's a Mumbai Mirror URL, so life expectancy is nil; if you have problems accessing the page, drop a comment on this post and I'll find a way out.

[2] yes, Mumbai Mirror once again, if you have a problem getting to the page, drop me a comment.

addendum: [august 06, 2006]: The fun doesn't end. Another goulash of trade shock appears online. It even picks paraphrases portions from the review by Tenacious Trademaster Taran (aka the Reviewer From Hell): 'Omkara' is dark and disturbing. The generous use of the cuss words gives the viewer cold sweat. The writers could have toned down the expletives in the film. Also, the tense moments get too heavy after a point and would work only for those who appreciate realistic cinema. T3's review also had the gem certain dark scenes could've been better lit, which makes me wonder if he was on the censor board when they did the number on Paanch.

addendum: [august 06, 2006]: More fireworks. A DNA article notes that Devgan, Kumar Mangat and Vishal are upset about rumours that the film is a flop. Mangat notes that the film did Rs. 31 crores worth of business worldwide in just seven days. I wonder if that really reflects a gain, because there's no mention of the distribution costs and agreements for this film in India and overseas. It's unforunate to see things come to this. IBOSNetwork hasn't published any figures for Omkara yet. Meanwhile, the aforementioned article contains no quotes from Vishal, who is contributing time at Subhash Ghai's Whistling Woods International.

addendum: [august 08, 2006]: (warning: this article references a plot element that many might regard as a spoiler) Subhash K Jha asks Vishal the same questions and Vishal has candid responses:

The graphic Hindustani expletives have embarrassed and put off a lot of people, specially women and children.

I don't see why. It's the characters mouthing those words, not me. I'm not the censor chief. The censors understood my intentions as an artist. My characters don't use forbidden words to play to the galleries. I'm trying to create a reality.

The abuses are done in a cheerful not in a malicious way. The censor board has exercised its democratic right by allowing the cuss-words. They very kindly gave me the choice of either erasing the expletives and giving me a 'U' certificate or retaining the expletives with 'A' certificate.

I chose the latter option because I knew in any case that the film isn't suitable for kids, with or without expletives. Sidhartha of "Rang De Basanti" called to tell me kids in the theatre while watching it were in splits at the expletives. I don't know how they got in.

And as for women, I think men in the audience feel self-conscious in women's presence. Women are quite comfortable watching the expletives in groups of their own. In any case, the language wasn't dictated by who'll be shocked and who'll not. The characters spoke as they should. I've never made a film keeping audiences' sensitivities in mind.

And if audiences are so offended by the language how come the film is doing so well everywhere? I'm going to my hometown Meerut right now. It's a sensational hit there.

addendum: [august 09, 2006] Uma tears up Tenacious Trademaster Taran's review of the film.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

a shot of varma

This post took a long time coming. The 2006 edition of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) {June 16 – July 1, 2006} featured a special section dedicated to RGV; it was called no singing, no dancing, no mercy: the films of ram gopal varma. Featured therein were Ab Tak Chhappan, Company, Ek Hasina Thi, and what was hoped to be a world premiere screening of Shiva (the forthcoming Ahlawat flick with a nice not-for-the-faint-of-heart preview and a cool poster (courtesy: Twitch]. The co-founder of the festival, Grady Hendrix, runs a cool blog at Kaiju Shakedown and has discussed stuff from Bollywood (sometimes extending the idiom to the incorrect Western perception that "Bollywood" represents Indian cinema in general and not simply the Bombay film industry) on more than one occasion. As if this wasn't enough to be pleased about, the guys at Twitch have even posted a couple of cool reviews: of Company and Ab Tak Chhappan. The latter begins with the interesting note that this is quite possibly the best Michael Mann film not actually made by Michael Mann or anyone associated with him. These are interesting takes on the "Indian Scorsese" who "subtracts singing and dancing from the equation replacing it with pure visceral impact"; more interesting than the strange Western fascination for the song-and-dance tripe that defines Bollywood.

The Shiva premiere didn't happen then, but it might just happen at the Ram Gopal Varma retrospective at Austin's Fantastic Fest in the last week of September (more about this at Twitch).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I will a round unvarnished tale deliver ... what conjuration and what mighty magic

[being notes on Omkara, the best hindi film of 2006]

A slightly modified version of this appears on

The same modified version appears on

the short version: Do yourself a favour and go watch it.

After the wonderful Maqbool, Vishal scores with Omkara, his adaptatation of William Shakespeare's Othello (as the first opening credit proclaims). Vishal digs deep into Leone territory and the trappings of a Bollywood film to craft an expansive saga of love, betrayal, jealousy, strife and violence. A second viewing is called for in order to appreciate the intricate weave of the tapestry, but some scattered notes and hosannas should suffice for now.

the cast: I have had doubts about the cast, and I still nurse a gnawing "what if" scenario with actors instead of box office magnets (for what they're worth). Devgan fits the vision of Om Shukla/Othello, but he brings nothing much physically to it that hasn't already been seen before (most importantly in Company). This déjà vu threatens to hamper the viewing, but not so critically.

Kareena Kapoor does not grate. This alone is an achievement. The much touted "erotic" scene becomes a truly aesthetic element of a mural of dissolves and fades. She even manages the the naïveté of Dolly/Desdemona and is definitely sincere in her efforts for the role; yet the "what if someone else had played this part" feeling didn't quite go away. Yet, as with Devgan, Vishal seems to have used her presence and iconography well.

Viveik Oberoi fits Kesu Firangi/Cassio well enough not to get on your nerves; and kudos to him for taking the effort to get the chords right for I just called to say I love you (and to Saif who helped him).

Konkona Sen reportedly couldn't relate to her role, but her wonderful performance as Indu/Emilia is a testimony to her calibre as an actress.

Saif gets the best part in the play and he does a great job as Langda Tyagi/Iago. After being reluctant to get his hair cut, he's gone to the look of delicious evil and does well on the dialogues too. If there's any doubt about this man's ability to turn in a good performance given the right material and director, watch the shots of his face as Om Shukla appoints Kesu as the new baahubalii. Vishal wanted Langda Tyagi to look like Gabbar Singh and Langda becomes a favourite just like people loved Amjad's classic villain despite his evil deeds. Saif goes the long way with tarnishing his physicality and even though the limp seems to change through the film, this is a wonderful turn. In Maqbool, Pankaj Kapur walked away with the extended part that Vishal created while adding more detail to the backstory of the film; Saif does the same here, but this time both Bard and Bhardwaj are on his side.

With everyone going ugly or without make-up, Bipasha Basu gets the best deal: she looks beautiful, is photographed well (didn't notice the squint) and even gets the best name of the year -- Billo Chaman Bahar.

Deepak Dobriyal seems to have missed out on media attention despite an earnest wonderful turn as Rajju/Roderigo.

As with Maqbool, Naseeruddin Shah's brief turn as Tiwari Bhaisaahab/The Duke is bound to worry a few; yet, once again, Vishal chooses the actor wisely to infuse a small part with the most life for what it's worth.

A special note for the old lady who gets the most authentic lines in the film and delivers them with crowd-pleasing aplomb.

The technical crew

* Tassaduq Hussain's a great D/P. The wonderful long shots (e.g. Tyagi walking away after tossing Rajju into the river), the close-ups of the boots, the textures and tones of the earth, the green lighting for Saif (especially in the final confrontation) underscoring the theme of jealousy; and that wonderful sequence in the rain outside the train.

* Dolly Ahluwalia's costumes (not to mention the banner bearing the remnants of her cameo as Auntyji); more about the colour coding will be clear after a second viewing

* Meghana Manchanda's editing which aids Vishal's desire to stop short at the right time before moments in the film can devolve into the morass of standard assembly-line Bollywood. There's a nice cut where Rajju's look as he arrives in a vehicle matches a look in the next scene. Coincidence or accident?

Mappings Vishal handles the mappings well. The handkerchief becomes a family heirloom (a cummerbund); whispers and overheard conversations translate to cell phones; and in a brilliantly ingenious move, he leaves Om and Dolly unmarried, waiting for a suitable muhuurat. The twist in the tail that he adds to the narrative gets Konkona her big moment of expression; the change fits in reasonably well, and extends the crescendo of the tragic events of the climax. All this, however, didn't resonate with the ingenuity of the mappings in Maqbool (the 3 witches and "when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane"). The comparison is unfair since there's little one can do about the source material; yet the novelty and the cast of Maqbool score higher than this painstaking labour of love. Vishal also tends to skim over a set of sequences as the narrative proceeds and people might feel cheated with how little time and space are devoted the Omi/Dolly dynamic, the political angle in the goings-on and such, Omkara's power as a leader; yet there seems to be some merit in the effectiveness of the unsaid. Yet, both films achieve different goals for Vishal and Omkara marks a strong step forward for him creatively (when was the last time you had a film this big where one person shared screenwriting credit, wrote the dialogue, composed the songs for the film, even sang one of them and directed the damn thing to top it all?). One eagerly awaits the release of The Blue Umbrella and wishes Vishal the very best for his next venture.


* The presence of authentic instruments during the item songs adding to their diegetic flavour

* Dialogue transcending scene boundaries across cuts

* Vishal tinkers with the songs to overlay dialogue over the interludes (o saathii re, bii.Dii), to cut straight to the scene (the opening of namak), to fit the visuals (the modified extended interlude on o saathii re); he even adjusts the lengths so that the songs never end up being the conventional Bollywood toilet break indicators; Suresh Wadkar's jag jaa appears twice: once in a not-on-the-soundtrack-release a cappella version and the second time in the place it was meant to be (if you've read Othello you know what I mean)

* That audacious single shot in the opening of o saathii re

* The crackling dialogue, the fresh wit, the bawdy jokes

* The fate of the railway train carrying Bhaisaahab, Omi and Langda

* Langda painting his nails as Indu consoles Kesu: just another indicator of Vishal's attention to detail

* Was the sequence when Ajay Devgan gets a rinse from the water pump at the end of the duel underscored by the title track a tip to the end of the godown fight in Deewar?

Trivia: Diegetic music included Preeti Sagar singing my heart is beating. Also noted the copy of Godaan in Naseeruddin's prison "residence." Great product placement for Dainik Jagran too. Did anyone notice the phone number for the Billo Chaman Bahar Orchestra? And Tyagi Hospital Hostel (thanks Arun) has to be one of the best subtle references in the film.

Excisions: What happened to the college sequences at the University? The flashback fragment features in the film but I don't remember Ajay riding a bike (clearly, as Manish notes, they mixed up Viveik and Ajay) or even the campaigning.

The grand scheme of things: Vishal seems to have served himself a Catch-22 situation. The choice of stars seems to have been motivated by the desire to reach a wider audience and also to be able to snag the funds to make a film on a larger canvas. While having succeeded on the budgetary front, Vishal's creatively admirable and satisfying desire to remain faithful to the dialect might alienate the very audiences that he has tried to attract. Not to mention the language that the censor board has been prudent enough to leave intact.

Anticlimax: The film, reportedly, isn't doing too well. Disappointing.

Vishal just wanted "the film to make enough money to let me make another film the way I want to." Here's hoping we see many more films from him.

Elsewhere: Baradwaj Rangan's nicely written take on the film | JR's notes | Masalafied's take on the film (added: august 08, 2006)

addendum: [august 02, 2006]: Despite reports about a discouraging opening ("The film opens to a very poor response all over. The trade has labelled the film a big flop already because of the high prices. The turnout in some theatres in Delhi and Punjab was as low as 10% and that is a shocker for a big star cast film."), there's hope for Vishal's labour of love yet. It's doing well in the UK and has grossed Rs. 14.2 million in various PVR complexes in Delhi in the last four days. Prakash Jha, who's handling the distribution of the film in Bihar, also notes a favourable response. Wonder what Salim Khan, who's distributing the film in Central India, has to say. I hope the film truly is here to stay. Vishal's got another weekend and some days before KANK hits the fan. Things are tight.

addendum: [august 05, 2006]: The box office report now reflects the favourable responses noted earlier: Managed to pick up Mumbai, Delhi and Pune but struggling at most places. Looks set to lose in many circuits apart from Mumbai where it may recover costs. Heavy loser in East Punjab, CPCI, Rajasthan, Bihar and Nizam. First week business is around 12.50 crore.. We're still among the sharks, but hope ain't dyin' yet.

addendum: [august 13, 2006]: Updated reports don't offer a very promising picture. KANK's had a "historic opening" and has even taken over some screening zones[1]; this means that there's not much hope of a miracle in the short term: Managed to sustain very well in Delhi/NCR but fell heavily elsewhere. After two weeks business, the only circuit which will make money is Delhi/UP due to good business in Delhi/NCR. Surprisingly the UP/Bihar belt is weak.

[1] The primary hall in Atlanta, Galaxy Cinema, has decided to devote all its halls and shows to the film; no more Omkara until the DVD hits the market

addendum: [august 16, 2006]: While describing the great business KANK is doing abroad, Arthur J Pais also notes how well Omkara did abroad:

While KANK is hogging all the limelight, let us not forget the resilient Omkara, which stole $170,000 in North America, almost reaching $1 million while across the Atlantic, it has grossed an impressive $500,000 in three weeks. The riveting performance by Saif Ali Khan, who has built a solid fan base overseas in the past three years, is one reason why Omkara is having a profitable run abroad. Its steady overseas box-office performance has surprised the box-office pundits in India.

addendum: [august 17, 2006] The film's been granted a 3-month entertainment tax exemption in UP because the state government believes that the film "spreads the message of checking rising crime among youth." Here's to some better business at the box office there.

addendum: [august 22, 2006]: The updated (august 19, 2006 : 1500 IST) reports have a verdict. The film is a flop: Falls heavily in third week and is struggling to cover costs in Mumbai and Delhi/UP now. FLOP

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