Manikarnika & the Silence Around It

2

‘Main Rahun Ya Na Rahun, Bharat Ye Rehna Chahiye‘ becomes the defining song of the film Manikarnika. That should be reason enough for Tukde Tukde Liberals to avoid the film – they turn up their noses at the word Bharat. And rightly enough, Manikarnika’s release has been met with radio silence too. It’s not the usual script – normally one would expect someone like a Karan Johar at least to use the opportunity to grab a few headlines but not this time. Not at the time of Kangana’s directorial debut. This is a woman who has made it purely on her acting chops (ya… ya… everybody has a past) and a knack for ticking off some of the biggest names and decision-makers in the insufferably nepotistic confines of the Hindi film industry. Her weapon? Her personality and her truth. Also, her inability to stay quiet and do as told. She’s the veritable Manikarnika of the Hindi film industry. Perhaps this is why (and how) she took up the task of portraying The Rani of Jhansi, Laxmibai. Problem is, no liberal media has even started writing things like ’10 things you didn’t know about Rani Laxmibai’, ‘Manikarnika sets off a trend of biopics on women freedom fighters’… that is all now left to us guys, people like me who are branded as right-wingers in a total copy-cat move that’s as irrelevant as it is inaccurate, as far as ideological imports from the US go. Kangana is called crazy by people who know people who know her. They usually hint at her weird affair and legal fight against Hrithik Roshan… but Kangana has already made it pretty clear in one of her interviews that ‘normal’ she ain’t and can’t even hope to be – given all the challenges she had to overcome and the industry she belongs (sic) to. She’s upfront about it. It’s people like Karan Johar, Saif Ali Khan et al who have to jump through hoops to admit it’s daytime when it’s day. But the interesting thing is, Kangana reigns over hearts. She continues to make films, and notable ones at that. She is now a film director and she has done a good job with her debut. I’ll talk about Manikarnika the film, the way I saw it. The first 20 minutes are a strange drag. The research value is probably there but a Manikarnika in a velvet blouse stringing a bow to kill a wild cat is something too… well, far-fetched for me. CGI wild cat sucks. And Manikarnika seems to understand that. Kangana’s would-be husband, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao (played by Jishu Sengupta) who is an arts & culture exponent, opens with a dance sequence on a set that looks like borrowed from some mythological TV serial of today too is a bit of… a letdown. Having said that, the actors are fantastic, led by Kangana. Especially, Gangadhar Rao. If the screenplay wasn’t so good, I doubt I’d find it so easy to excuse below-par lighting & strange costumes. The film portrays Rani Laxmibai’s strengths really well – sword work is nifty. Action scenes left a lot on the table though. And then suddenly, around the interval, the whole look, treatment, performances, everything just changes for the better. I have a feeling that there’s a point where Kangana (& her team) took over. There’s a change (for the better) in camera angles, direction, even costumes & jewellery, everything looking a lot more authentic than before. And that changes carry the second half of the film well past the victory line. To note, the credits show a never-ending line-up of post-production agencies, reflecting the scale of challenges Kangana must have had to surmount in getting this film finished and released. It also indicates that the film probably struggled to get out, for reasons not known to us. Be that as it may, Kudos, Kangana! If you ever end up reading this, know that we do understand why industry acknowledgment won’t be coming for your film that has just crossed 50Cr collections in five days. Because, acknowledging your film would be to appreciate your success, that of the character you portrayed – Rani Laxmibai, and that of a nation that’s trying so hard to stay in one piece despite your fellow Bollywoodiyas’ tukde tukde disposition. They know that talking about you & your film would only drive more crowds to watch your film and they don’t want to risk it. Not in the current political climate. In this country, you smash Brahminical patriarchy by defending those who attack its inherently, organically secular nature toward monotheistic cults. Best moment of the film for me:  When Manikarnika’s father tells her she is to become the Queen of Jhansi, she says, “I may have been raised a Kshatriya, I don’t know how to be a Queen”. To which, her father replies: You love your Bharat. You’ll find a way. So here are a few historical facts about Rani Laxmibai that were quite faithfully portrayed in the film:  Her name was Manikarnika Tambe – Her father, Moropant Tambe and Mother, Bhagirathi Bai. Her father worked for the Peshwa of Bithoor. She learnt shooting, horsemanship, fencing, and Mallakhambe as a child. She was 14 when she got married to Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, who was some 25 years older. After becoming the Rani of Jhansi, she had formed and trained her own army of women, from her friends at the court. She lost her husband when she was 18. The Maharaja had, at the adoption ceremony of their son, which was also attended by a British officer, in his letter said that ‘his widow Laxmibai be given the government of Jhansi for lifetime’. She had strategised & led the occupation of Gwalior fort while the Scindias escaped to Agra. She died 29 years old. In the battlefield, fighting the British. This was after she had made them taste defeat twice earlier. British officer Hugh Rose said about the Rani that she was: personable, clever, and beautiful. And that she was ‘the most dangerous of all Indian leaders’. Rani Laxmibai was NOT the first such woman in the history of the great land of Bharat. The great queen Abbakka Chowta of Ullal was. She came to be known as Abhaya Rani as she successfully defended Ullal from the Portuguese for 40 years. This was some 300 years before Rani Laxmibai came to be. Now that’s a film waiting to be made, a story that’s waiting to be told to a generation that can’t see ‘why we don’t bin our space programme so that more kids can go to school’.

20 Years of Kuch Nahin Hota Hai

October 1998. I saw Kuch Kuch Hota Hai on one of our rare trips to the cinema hall in Ahmedabad. Two families together – My parents and me, with my best friend at school and her parents. I still remember how my mum rolled her eyes at us after the movie saying this ‘friendship’ nonsense in the film will soon have us kids going mad about these new-age ‘rakhis’… and how right she was. For no less than 2-3 years thereafter, the craze for those rakhis refused to fade – Pyaar Dosti hai… We were teens at the time and the film struck us down. We were quick to ignore the sanskari ways in the film, of the newcomer Rani Mukerji urf Tina – she had become an instant sensation. Every guy wanted to be Rahul, seen sporting a tacky chain around his neck with letters COOL hanging from it.  KJo wanted us to know this was Cool Dude. Cool dude makes best friends with tomboy. Tomboy is in love with Cool Dude, although it’s never clear what makes him so cool. Cool Dudes Dig Gorgeous Sanskaari chicks, apparently. Sanskaari knows tomboy loves cool dude and sanskaari is besties with tomboy. But, cool dude charms sanskaari who falls in love with him. So of course, cool dude gets sanskaari after only two songs and dance. She is also the daughter of the principal of the very same college where they all study – All the world is one small Undergraduate Classroom. The only realistic thing about this film is that none of the college birds ever discuss academics or careers – neither profs nor the principal. But, I have full faith in their commitment to the all-round development of their students because cool and tomboy play basketball quite competitively and they do have college cultural festivals that may be considered pretty hep even by today’s standards. Go extracurriculars! KJo never wasted any time bumping off Sanskaari – maternal mortality sub-plot. Rahul is single again. Single father to a cute daughter, let’s name her Anjali, thought the great story-teller – this is Sanskaari’s last sanskaari act as a tribute to her bestie that was the tomboy with the same name. Tomboy had disappeared from their lives when the Sanskaari & Cool M&A began. Both missed tomboy sorely it seems, ‘coz sanskari left a bunch of letters – YES, 20 YEARS AGO LETTERS WAS THE COOL SANSKAARI THING TO DO!!! – for her young daughter to read each birthday. So definitely, Sanskaari had had notice even as a pregnant mom to exercise her penmanship. And execute her strategy to unite Tomboy with her Rahul. Anyway. Memorable moments include little Anjali calling her grandmother ‘sexy’. I believe she might have picked it up from that ‘sexy sexy sexy…’ song from Khuddar that released in 1994, given that Anjali’s only passion was to become a VJ on MTV. Whatever be the case, my mother was shocked even four years on. She gave me a look full of warning if I ever used that word anywhere at all… I didn’t. Until I picked up the lyrics to the song ‘Sexy eyes’ by Whigfield. And even then it was  – “Hey, I’m just singing a song!!” Another one was HOW Cool Dude, now cool dad, stares at tomboy turned sanskaari (Saari & all, there’s nothing understated nor left to be understood) Anjali at little Anjali’s summer camp. The look he gives her could bore holes into a dam. Well, such is the pull – pyaar dosti hai… and now it’s time to turn that around as well. Then of course, the Cool Sanskaari M&A has to happen all over again. There was yet another memorable moment though – rather two. Kajol shows off her Urmila Matondkar moves in an enactment of Rangeela Re song, after which Cool Dude makes a move on her. Thanks to which, she has a stinging realisation: Oops, she’s engaged to Aman and is very soon to be married to him. After a fair share of drama, chest-beating, waterworks and song & dance, Cool Dude once again Dilwale Sanskaari Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, while Sanskaari boy Aman steps back before having to meet the same fate as the sanskaari babe. Anjali adopts Anjali – which works both ways – and KKHH grossed ₹80.12 crore in India, ₹26.61 cr in other countries, for a worldwide total of ₹1.06 billion, against its ₹10 crore budget, as per Wikipedia. To think that among contenders such as Ghulam and Satya, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai picked up the Filmfare award for the Best film… kinda explains why Bollywood mein ‘Kuch Nahin Hota Hai‘.

Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety is the tale of the eternal bromance

Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety is the tale of the eternal bromance

0

‘When I see a fool, I want to make him part with his money,’ said a really shrewd guy once. It could very well have been Luv Ranjan. Coming from this paragon of warriors for male justice, whose Pyar ka Punchnama part 1 & 2 addressed the evil that is the modern, independent woman, Luv’s latest is the second film of the year to cross Rs.100 crore in box office collections, after Padmavat. Congratulations are due. A cool 400 bucks of that 100 crore is mine; not counting the junk I had to eat to feel alive. I feel like a fool, but I had to find out what was making this film tick. And this is what I found. With Luv Ranjan’s SKTKS, He’s taken the Indian male’s fight to the home turf. No more girlfriends, no more bitches. For Luv if ‘Pyaar ka Punchnama‘ was about ‘bros before Hoes’, Sonu-Titu is about ‘bros before bhabhis‘. So just for fun, I’m gonna call this atrocity of a film ‘Titu’s Balls’ because well, my blog, my rules! And besides, balls is what Titu truly lacks here even though it may not seem so. The fun part is I’m spared the trouble of going through the details of this film since all you suckers must have seen it already. If any of you do claim to ‘get it’, please help me understand what exactly was wrong with Sweety. The mystery actually boggles my mind and I reckon Titu’s Balls Returns is inevitable. Strangely enough, the misogyny in this film creeps up on you, quietly, from amidst all the Panju glitter and show-shaa and swanky cars & modern interiors. It isn’t easily detectable. You see, Sonu wants to save his bro Titu, a man-child, no better term for him, from this woman called Piu. It’s another matter that he lets her ‘control’ him. Clearly, Titu has issues with setting boundaries. But Luv Ranjan, instead of showing that, decides that it’s better for Titu to be controlled by his bro rather than his girlfriend. And bro is such a gyaani who says breakup ko sex karke overcome karte hain rebound mein shaadi karke nahin. Clearly, bro is in control. So, imagine bro’s plight when Titu falls for his arranged match Sweety. Bro scuttles her plans to get close to her marital family, bro character assassinates her, bro investigates her… basically, anything to save a bro from the greasy, hairy arms of a mal-intentioned female who’s pretty, charming, works for an NGO, and wants to make a good wife. Bro hates it when Sweety decides that Titu, her would-be hubby, and she should start their new life by buying their own apartment in the name of both her MIL and grand MIL. Bro sees through the part where Sweety gets her house-help to work at Sonu-Titu’s place – bro’s hates eating healthy, clean surroundings, a neat closet. It’s clear, she’s plotting to gain control of their lives. But most of all, bro hates it when he can’t screw his weekend gals on the couch in his living room anymore. For bro, this is proof that Sweety is a bitch & he must save his bro from her. When nothing works to pull his bro away from Sweety, bro plans a bachelor’s party in Amsterdam and gets his bro away finally. Into the arms of none other than Piu. He flies her to Amsterdam and all three hang out together. Piu is no longer the monster who was eating his bro alive. He promises Piu that bro still has feelings for her and that he can see his bro marrying none but her. Bro thinks – better a stupid friend than a smart enemy. And bro’s right. In Luv Ranjan’s world, bro’s always right. Because, what’s a bro that takes out time for his woman, and family, instead of hanging out with his bro? What’s a bro that gets ‘serious’ about life and wants to ‘settle down’? What’s a bro that respects a woman’s feelings and loves them! What’s a bro that doesn’t party hard and fuck around? A freaking boring husband, that’s what he is. And when a bro becomes a freaking boring husband, bro will be left to pick up chicks at dance bars all alone. That can’t be fair. All for a woman! That seems too much freedom to sign away. Now, for bro, a woman who wants to look after her family after marriage is just a Ho. If she’s marrying a bro as rich as his bro, she’s a Ho. If she wants to host a religious ceremony before wedding, she’s a Ho. If she wants to send his bro a tiffin full of home-cooked meals to his work, she’s a Ho. If she welcomes bro’s ex-GF to her wedding, she’s a Ho. If she broke off her engagement with a bro because he tried to abuse her she’s a Ho. If she’s not a weekend ****sucker in scanty clothes and instead seeks to marry & settle down, she’s a Ho. And that’s the feeling that propelled this under 20-cr film to touch 100cr+ heights. Luv Ranjan is milking this formula and good luck to him. As for Hoes, you’re going to dance to the film’s amazing chart-busting numbers at the next shaadi you attend. comic relief >> Hypothetically speaking, a friend asked me, “what kind of people would enjoy watching this crap?” I hypothetically replied, “it’s your husband, honey”. Oh, and the ending? Sonu emotionally blackmails Titu. Titu leaves Sweety standing under the wedding mandap. Alone & crying. Sonu gets his revenge. Titu goes back to his bro. The exorcism comes through. Luv Ranjan makes crores. Because the Sonu’s n Titu’s of the world find this film almost cathartic. After all, there are Sweeties in everybody’s life and all these men wish they had a Sonu in their lives, who would have come riding a steed in shining armour, and swooped them away to live (&screw around) happily ever after in this eternal bromance that is life.

Fandry and the ‘meaningful’ cinema

0

For quite some time now, Netflix had been nudging me to watch ‘Fandry‘, I guess based on my viewing history. I took the bait after Ratna Pathak Shah mentioned the film during a recent but rare interview on a news channel. Fandry, according to her, is one of the must-watch films coming out of meaningful Indian cinema. Fandry came out in 2014 and is the directorial debut of the now famous Nagraj Manjule, best known for his massive hit Sairat that released in 2016. Sairat has scored some important firsts: First Marathi film to gross Rs.100 crore worldwide. First Indian film to record in Hollywood – its soundtrack includes Western classical pieces recorded at the Sony Scoring Stage. The film’s music directors are a duo of brothers – Ajay and Atul Gogavale, who started their careers with dhol-tasha groups, used during the Ganesh Utsav, one of the most significant festivals in Maharashtra. These are grassroots men. Nagraj Manjule’s roots lie in the stories he tells on the screen, and this is obvious to anyone who watches Fandry and Sairat. An aggressive caste dialogue takes place throughout the narrative. There is love, and then there is despair. Manjule grew up in Jeur village in the Solapur district of Maharashtra. He always wanted to be a filmmaker. Success kissed him and now he lives a hallowed life. He is, truly, a self-made man who made it big with ‘meaningful cinema’. His kind of success is rare. This brings us to… Meaningful cinema. It has the gravitas, doesn’t it? With an extra grrr… in it. Meaningful. It smells different. Feels different. “I watch meaningful cinema,” there, no more questions; I have arrived. Today, this is the yesteryears’ equivalent of “I watch only Hollywood films”. Ask me –  I just watched Fandry and I think it was okay. I was fascinated, moved even, by the way the Sairat story ends. Versus all those hours spent watching films like Dabangg, and Singham, and Ready, or Andaz Apna Apna. This felt different. How different? Sairat is QSQT (Qayamat se qayamat tak) based on caste and not class. Fandry… Is Bobby gone bad, based on caste and not class or religion. Fans of this ‘meaningful’ cinema will probably outrage at the comparisons made. After all, Sairat wouldn’t be the same without the intense detailing of its characters – a spunky, multi-talented boy called Parshya and Archie, a girl who is courageous, outspoken, and unconventional – she rides an Enfield. Their love story appears far more ‘meaningful’ than QSQT ever could. Why? But think about this: In both Fandry and Sairat, the definition of ‘love’ is pretty thin. Boy sees girl. Boy keeps staring at her. Boy tries to talk to her. Boy looks for situations through which he can get noticed by the girl, or get close to her. Girl gives in. Girl is taken in by the fact that the boy has shown some daring by approaching her. For the boy, the line between machismo and stupidity is very thin. There are innumerable stories of this sort. In Fandry, Jambya the boy manages to talk to his Shalu only in his dreams, while in Sairat, things get a little more daring – there is an actual exchange before the girl decides she loves this audacious backward caste boy Parshya. Fandry’s Jambya is a schoolboy. Sairat’s Parshya is in college. Hardly the age when people try to find meaning. In QSQT, it’s the same thing. In Bobby, same again. In Hindi songs, love is often described as a malady, a madness, a condition where pain is the only constant. So does Jambya of Fandry in his letter to his beloved Shalu say: “I can give up anything for you, even my life.” Said every Indian romeo ever. Where is the meaning, pray tell? I found meaning in Salman’s ‘Ready’ where he says he’s looking for a girl who is strong, smart, and dependable. In ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ where a millionaire’s daughter falls in love with a guy who is a nobody, and despite being tricked by him. In ‘English Vinglish’, where just about every frame is superb, and it’s a mature pondering over the meaning of love. Who makes these distinctions for movie-goers? This is ‘meaningful’ and that is ‘popular’. And the twain shall never meet. If meaningful can become popular, as in the case of Sairat, so can the popular be meaningful, as in the case of Dil Chahta Hai, the ham scene in the end notwithstanding. And again, if a handful of people tell others this is meaningful and that isn’t, what’s it called other than elitism? Do these people understand that pure entertainment actually means a lot to a large chunk of people? Maybe when these people say meaning, they mean a movie set that is by far indistinguishable from what we see in real life. Lesser the escapism, greater the meaning. And meaning is good. The opposite, bad. Maybe that’s how Nagraj Manjule is such a powerful story-teller. Because, at times it so happens that those who live close to a broken system find it extremely difficult to stand away from it. Read here the story of Sunita Manjule, Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife. If it is true what she says about her 15-year marriage, one will have no choice but wonder. Your search for meaning might end in one definitive answer: that the powerful exploit the weak. The context may change: class, caste, religion, gender, race. The story really doesn’t. The search for meaning, begins and ends in our subjective experience.    

Jaa Simran Jaa, Jee Ley Apni Zindagi

Jaa Simran Jaa, Jee Ley Apni Zindagi

0

Praf, short for Praful Patel, is a 30 year old divorcee, living in Atlanta, US, only child of Gujarati parents who have owned a general store all their lives. She’s holding down a job as a housekeeping staff in a hotel. She not only has a past but a post-past as well – her ex-boyfriend happens to be her boss at the hotel. Praf wants to make money, create financial security for herself, a craft almost perfected by Gujjus in general, but Praf is different – her aims are the same but her means are not. Self-control is not her thing. This Gujju gal has the balls – or shall we say vagina – to take risks. Okay, playing Baccarat (without knowing anything about the game) just to pursue a guy you’ve spotted inside a Las Vegas casino cannot be called guts. But then, the Gujju gal doesn’t even have the $25 she needs to enter the game at the table. Our lady does a James Bond, like it or not. She also gets the guy. That’s where all the trouble begins. The addiction to gambling, losing money, trouble. Wanting to win it all back but no money to stake. Trouble. Using up all her savings just to play a few more hands, no luck. Trouble. Losing all money, landing in the hands of a loan shark, Trouble. That’s what Praf is. She doesn’t hedge her bets, doesn’t listen to her parents, doesn’t settle down with a boy to make sev-tameta nu shaak for the rest of her life, no wisdom coming with age. Instead, she goes on to single-handedly rob a few banks to earn the nickname Lipstick Bandit. The character of Praful Patel is inspired by the story of the ‘Bombshell bandit’, Sandeep Kaur, who went on a 5-week long bank robbing spree because she was pushed to the brink to pay off loan sharks she had used to fuel her gambling addiction. One has to say, the story is interesting. Has it been executed well? Yes, mostly. Kangana is the queen of nuance. She’s as usual, great. The performances are good. The story has its dense details – a close-knit but unhappy family. A difficult, tension-filled father-daughter relationship. Sweet moments with the boy Praf’s parents are trying to set her up. All good. But the film lacks the aha moment – when you experience the character so strongly you identify with her emotions. ‘English Vinglish‘ was full of such moments, so was ‘Queen’, to name a few. They had a very strong screenplay. Also, Simran felt a tad bit longer than it absolutely needed to be. Now for the ham scenes: Luckily in the case of Simran, all the ham scenes happened outside of  and after the movie. I say luckily because otherwise, the film would have been that much longer and would have had to somehow feature Barkha Dutt and Rajat Sharma. That was me popping the lighter vein. One thing though: In terms of matter and gravity, I daresay the ham scenes overshadowed the movie itself. Kangana is an unbelievably strong contender for the solid ‘hero’ crown and she doesn’t even need to earn it. She has proved she has a vagina, and her films are the least of it. And as far as item numbers go, why can’t they be more like the AIB video/song? In that sense, I’m rooting for every Praf, Tanu, Datto, and Rani that Kangana plays. Now for a miss: There was much talk of Kangana adding this ‘sexual’ ‘edge’ to her character. That Praf actually likes sex. I would have thought that puts her in the ‘human’ category but in the Indian film industry and the larger Indian society, this is what makes news. You can probably hear a dilliwali aunty (no offence meant to Dilli, Dilliwalas, and aunties – it’s the combination here) scoffing a “Haw!! This girl likes sex!” If you’re going to the hall thinking you’ll see some exciting moment there, say hello to disappointment. It’s a bit scene where Praf likes a guy, pursues him quite decently, I’d say ladylike manner but that would run afoul of the definition of ladylike. Ladylike and sex don’t mix. To be a lady, step 1: you shun your human nature for the divine. Anyway, Praf takes the guy to bed. No great shakes there, as you will find out. But, this ‘controversy’ is also why Simran is larger than life as a movie. It has set a lot of people talking. And some people squirming after being kneed in the nuts. That this sort of thing is one of the firsts in the industry is probably why I’d give kudos to Simran. Thank you Praf, for being there. And thank you Simran, for being there.