March 09, 2014

What would you do if there was no social media?

Would you go skydiving if you couldn't put up the pictures? Heck, would you go if there were no pictures?

Would you read as many articles online as you do, if you couldn't link to them and spread the word?

How about the clothes you buy, haircuts you get, makeup you wear, places you go to? Still as many, if there were no profile pictures to be gotten out of them?

Do statistics (in everything from Ruzzle to running) matter as much if you can't tell the world?

Would you get married if there could be no pre-wedding photo shoot, no live Instagrammed pictures from besties wishing you happiness, no professionally shot video with a slow background track and lots of DSLR-type focusing and unfocusing on colors and fabrics and lights? Sure maybe you would, but on a smaller scale?

Where does it begin? Where does it end? 

On Comedy

I've recently been informed that a show named Comedy Nights with Kapil is the highest rated television show on Indian television right now. I'm also assured by various people that he is hilarious. Now I haven't seen much of the show (maybe 4-5 episodes) but I hope for the sake of our country that he was having a rough day on those, because as far as I can tell, all the show consists of is:
 - Men wearing women's clothes (and since that is funny by default, not bothering to do any standup whatsoever)
 - People hitting each other and magically falling to the ground 
 - A really confusing Delhi accent
 - Something called 'babaji ka thullu' which could be anything from the finger to something even more obscene, no one knows. 
 - Getting celebrities to participate in this (and man, they do love it)

Which gets you thinking about the state of Indian comedy. I mean, look at it. It has provided a secure retirement to Navjot Singh Siddhu and Shekhar Suman, replaced all the weekend prime time slots for movies and provided consistent employment to the same actors competing every year (or six months) in the Comedy Challenge (Laughter Challenge? The one where Archana Puran Singh laughs.) Most of it relies on repetitive cross-dressing and slapstick, and the rest on innuendo that just about makes it past the censor board - though given how the I&B ministry seems to be on the verge of beeping out "damn" and "girl", it wouldn't hurt if they focused on Hindi television a bit more and left the English alone for some time. 

We're of course far from a day when there can be a Seinfeld for Indian viewers. But would it be so difficult to have a Modern Family Hindi equivalent? Think about it. 3 families, several kids, lots of drama - that's the template for most Hindi shows right now anyway. The issue really isn't even that the audience is stupid - the issue is that the writers seem to be unable to envisage a world wherein audiences could laugh at something other than a man dressed as Kapil's grandmother hitting on male actors. Or not having a laugh track / studio audience that's high on something.

Remember Mahi Way? No you don't, because it was discontinued. Remember Star One? Sure, because at some point they just started airing all the programming that Star Plus wouldn't. Remember, for God's sake, even Shrimaan Shrimati? It really wasn't so bad. 

And honestly, now there are wedding videos on my Facebook timeline (all the frikkin' time) with better production values than Hindi television shows (but with the small issue that they take songs I like and make them the background of a couple I barely know, getting really handsy, and that's just disturbing). What went wrong? 

So, dear reader, if you feel compelled to watch it, here's a list of other things you could consider watching:
1. Any David Dhawan movie (I'm not even going to mention Our Beloved and Most Loved Govinda and Comedy Nights in the same breath, but all I'm going to say is that any David Dhawan movie is funnier. Even the ones with Salman Khan.)
2. Arnab Goswami on Times Now
3. Anyone on India TV
4. KRK's Youtube reviews
5. Bigg Boss, Indian Idol, Roadies! Any reality show that delicately balances that seriousness of random *tasks* with the utter hare-brained-ness of the participants.

Go now, run along and spread the word. 

November 18, 2013

Ram-Leela: in Bhansalicolor at a theater near you

Quick, how do you know something is a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie? Any of the below:
1. 30 colours per frame, of which about 15 are different shades of red.
2. Someone has to scream out the hero's name, again and again and again.
3. Neither lead actor has a profession of any kind, and yet, no one is poor.

I had to search very hard to find a poster where I didn't have to look at Ranveer Singh's bare torso, so this is what I have. Sorry. 

Watch Ram-Leela (sorry, 'Goliyon Ki Raasleela... Ram-Leela', a throwback to that hilarious sequence in Delhi Belly where Anusha says... "I hate you... like I love you... like I love you in brackets"). Know, once and for all, that nothing good can come of casting Ranveer Singh and all his abs (I mean it, literally all his abs, down to the last one) in a movie.

But let's not blame this on Ranveer Singh alone. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has a rich history of extracting excruciating performances for fairly passable actors (Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, that man who played Chunnilal in the travesty named Devdas and is now relegated to playing Aamir Khan's father [wtf?], and many others).

The story is about 2 youngsters who fall in love (lust? hard to tell with the amount of facial hair Ranveer Singh has) with each other in the space of about 5 minutes and then waste about 2.5 hours of your day in trying to get with each other. Simply put, as an audience member, it becomes extremely difficult to give a flying you-know-what about the trials and tribulations of brats who have no human angle except really, really, wanting to be with each other.
I am a Hansa, and that's a Ranveer, no clothes as usual.

Why are they having a tough time? Because their families hate each other and are constantly at war (guns blazing). Who else is in the movie? There's Supriya Pathak, looking like this for no reason - and still being the best thing in the movie. There's Richa Chadda, mostly wasted. Abhimanyu Singh, who dies early on and another guy who looks just like him and therefore dies soon after (to save you the confusion).

As one song melts into dramatic crisis scene melts into another song, over and over, you begin to reflect on life, its meaning, and the money you paid to watch this, which is never coming back to you.

You begin to wonder if these two trigger-happy people who live in an unreal world somewhere between Gujarat and La-la-land will ever just stop pointing their guns at each other and take some time off from being ridiculously stupid? You wonder how Holi and Navratri can fall in the same month, just as you wonder how you can be shot one day and start walking like nothing happened, 3 days later.

You wonder why SLB can't seem to get enough of this obsession with actresses, with lamps, and with actresses holding lamps and dancing about. You wonder why Ranveer Singh doesn't ever reach a point of being fully clothed. You wonder what exactly Priyanka Chopra is doing with her career.

And while you're willing to give him the artistic licence to put peacocks (or a reference to them) in every fifth frame, you begin to wonder if there's a need to freeze to slow-mo every time:
a) someone's foot lands on the ground
b) drops of water fly
c) a bottle breaks (and believe me, about 68 bottles of varying colours break, in the course of the movie)

In fact, if you remove the bottle breaking, pointless dancing and superfluous (if not all) gun-firing from this 2.5 hour movie, you'd be left with about 1 hour of fairly tolerable footage. Unfortunately though you will have no such luck.

After sitting through Devdas, I'd begun to believe that he could only improve from that. Guzaarish felt like 10 steps forward from all his previous movies... but Ram-Leela is about 20 steps back.

At the end of the day, of course, it's all subjective.
Like films about violence in the hinterland? Watch Gangs of Wasseypur.
Like musicals and love stories? Watch any Bollywood movie.
Like Deepika Padukone, hell, there's about 10 fairly tolerable films from the recent past that you can watch.
If you like Ranveer Singh... you have my sympathies. This too shall pass.
If, however, you've heard of all the hype surrounding the amazingly creative mind of Sanjay Bhansali and you believe that there exists a world in an Indian village where 2 mob bosses can shake hands, click a selfie and say "Twitter pe jaayega"... you really, really should watch Goliyon ki Raasleela (Ram-Leela)... Ram-Leela brackets mein.

(I'm kidding. It's not actually in brackets. Should've been, though.)

September 30, 2013

Hrithik Roshan or Ritwik Ghatak?

As is often the case nowadays, you're likely to find yourself in a movie hall with no prior knowledge of what a movie is about, because of friends who are keen to watch it. And then the credits slowly begin to roll and you find yourself struggling to classify it. It's not exactly mainstream but it doesn't seem arthouse either. There's some weird violence but there's also slapstick comedy. There's 1 Bollywood star, 1 theatre actor and no heroine. Yash Raj Films produced it but it doesn't have Rishi Kapoor for a comic role.

Is it Hindi? English? Hinglish? Does that make it Bollywood or Hollywood or indie or alternative or dark or avant garde?

As you frantically pull out your phone to look up "avant garde" online because after all these years you still have no clue what it means, you find yourself reminiscing about a time when these complications didn't exist. When movies were just good or bad, and they could either have Govinda or Akshay Kumar in them. (I'd like to state here that the avant garde thing happened to a friend of mine because I totally know the meaning. Totally. Without a doubt. So yeah, it happened to a friend and that's the story I'm sticking with.)

Anyway, the days of Kader Khan and songs like "Meri Marzi" aren't returning anytime soon, so here's a handy guide on identifying and classifying movies into mainstream and arthouse and everything in between:

1. Titles
If the title is the name of a person, or an emotion, or something that describes the story, it's mainstream and for the masses (think Dabangg, Ready, Dhoom). If the title is an object, 9 times out of 10 it's arthouse (The Lunchbox, The Good Road, Ship of Theseus). If it's the title of a song from the 80s, it's just a Ranbir Kapoor movie.

2. Audience
Notice when you walk in and before the lights go out. Young and middle aged men who look like they'll slap their thigh and roar with laughter at the drop of a hat? Highly mainstream, either Salman Khan or Priyadarshan. College kids? Somewhat mainstream while pretending to have a brain. Families with kids? Can't be anything but a rather pointless Shahid Kapoor movie. Middle aged ladies in pants (or FabIndia sarees) whose glasses are held by a chain around their neck - very arthouse. Expect interval conversation behind you to be about "the social milieu of India in the 60s."

3. How it starts out
If it starts with 2 cars crashing into each other, you're watching a Rohit Shetty movie and you shouldn't even need these pointers to tell you that that's masala entertainment. If it starts with 20 minutes of footage that will show you everything except a person (i.e. trains, houses, plants, sounds, traffic, open fields, windmills, trucks, anything except people) it's decidedly arthouse so it's a good idea to note at least some of it in case you want to discuss "the juxtaposition of the squalor against the life of..." later. If it starts by spending 10 minutes examining the back of Shah Rukh Khan's head while he gambols across a city happily while Lata Mangeshkar sings a song in the background, you're likely watching a nauseating romance. If someone dies pretty randomly right at the beginning, it's alternative. Not arthouse, alternative - in the way that they could push it to mainstream if they had enough money, but the festivals are loving it nevertheleess. (Think any Anurag Kashyap movie, John Day, etc)

4. The Song:Story ratio
If you're at 1:1 with lip syncing, you're as mainstream as it gets. If you're at 1:1 without lip syncing, you're mainstream but trying to be cool. Anything below 0.5 with lip syncing is simply a confused movie-maker and 0:1 is a clear festivals entrant.

5. Does anything happen? If yes, how often?
In general, the quality of mainstream movies is directly proportional to how many events you can remember. When you leave the movie hall, if all you remember of the movie is that multiple fights happened because people had issues with each other, that counts as "1 thing happened." (Nope, saying "Arre par Bhai ne kya dance kiya!!" doesn't make it 2 things.)

If, of course, nothing at all happened in the movie, you watched an arthouse movie which the critics loved.

6. How many people spoke through gritted teeth?
As we've all come to realise, in real life not many people look like they're having a seizure while saying "Kya? Kya kaha tumne?!" So if they're doing it in the movie, you better hope it's followed by some epic Rohit Shetty car-smashing action, instead of Shah Rukh Khan giving a long speech about humanity and love followed by a song. (As we found out in Chennai Express though, these two can sometimes befall you in the course of the same movie.)

7. Level of discourse immediately after
Look around. Are people saying "Abbey lekin woh toh mar gaya tha na?" or "Wait, let me understand the story, dude! I thought the point was that the first dude died?" or "I'm not sure I understand what the filmmaker is trying to achieve with the death of such a peripheral character, but..." (On an aside, simply checking if people call him the 'director' or the 'filmmaker' is a good enough indication, and singing "Dhinkachika dhinkachika dhinkachika dhinkachika hey hey hey hey, hey hey hey hey" is an even better indication.)

8. The use of kids and animals
Are they peripheral? Are they there for cuteness? Are they the comic relief? Are they disgusting? Is there a song involving them? (If there's a song, it's a Shahid Kapoor movie.)

9. How many colours in the movie poster?
The higher the number, the more bang-bang-bang it's going to be. If the poster is black and white, you're dealing with some hardcore people - bring coffee and try to not fall asleep.

10. Does everyone speak in rhyme?
If so, look no further. What you're watching is neither mainstream nor arthouse, it transcends boundaries and unites this nation in one large facepalm. All hail Gunda, that classic from Mithun Chakraborty. May you find the strength to live another day after being subjected to this.


PS. Do watch The Lunchbox. The juxtaposition of the characters' psychological states with the shifting worlds they live in and the alternating depth and superficiality of their emotions forms a scintillating narrative. :P

July 29, 2013

Movies you've probably missed out on #2

This is about Talaash. Clearly, many of you did watch it, and didn't like it. Many others didn't watch it at all because of the negative word-of-mouth publicity. Oddly, the most common criticism I've heard is "It didn't feel like an Aamir Khan movie". Interesting. What's an "Aamir Khan movie"? I see no visible pattern in the last 10 films. Because there are Salman Khan movies and Shah Rukh Khan movies and even Saif Ali Khan Movies (yuppie 40-something trying to look like 20-something gets with a pretty 20-something and grows up instead of being a dumbass --> every Saif Ali Khan movie in the last 7 years). But there hasn't been a category called "Aamir Khan movie" after Raja Hindustani. Which, you have to admit, was extremely cringe-worthy - so maybe it's a good thing the category died.

Talaash, in that way, is one of his better picks even considering he's rarely made any bad choices in the last 10 years. (Hrithik Roshan, take a cue. Stop doing Krishh 1 and 2 and 3 and movies called Boom Boom.)

Quickly then, good things about Talaash:

1. No montages and no blossoming love story. Instead, it's a mystery set against the backdrop of a marriage crumbling under the weight of unbearable grief. Reema Kagti (props to her and Zoya Akhtar, who've done a great job co-writing) manages to explore the blurred lines between obsession and moving on, depression and hope, real and unreal.

2. Truly brilliant cinematography. No, there are no wide angle, sweeping shots of Punjab farms - which is what *good cinematography* is supposed to represent in Bollywood. Instead, there's a dark theme in everyday places in Bombay that just matches the mood so well.

3. Shernaz Patel plays batshit crazy with aplomb. Rani Mukherjee with one of her best, most understated performances. Nawazuddin Siddiqui proving, yet again, that he's probably the find of the year. Kareena Kapoor does a great job of not getting on the audience's nerves.

3. The marrying of two parallel stories, the solution to both. For everyone who thought one or the other was unnecessary, open your minds, children, open your minds.

4. Haunting sound track.

5. Loads of foreshadowing and subtext. Watch again and again to piece it all together.

(Turns out that upcoming Hrithik Roshan movie is called Bang Bang. My bad. In other news, he will also be seen in a cop flick called Zamaana Kahe Boom Boom Boom and will eventually become Salman Khan, hopefully without all the court cases.)

Here's all you need to do - keep an open mind when you watch this movie. It's not like anything you've seen before and that doesn't have to be a bad thing. By now you likely know the story, the climax, the suspense. I knew all those things by the time I watched it for the first time too. Just watch it with an open mind for what it is - an edgy thriller with great writing and top-notch performances.

And don't come back to me and say "Yaar but I really liked Raja Hindustani."