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Nov 2, 2013

Review: Bombay Talkies (2013)

            Rani Mukerji, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem, Vineet Kumar Singh, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Ranvir Shorey, Amitabh Bachchan and Katrina Kaif

Guest appearances during the song:

(Aamir Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Karisma Kapoor, Akshay Kumar, Juhi Chawla, Saif Ali Khan, Sridevi, Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Imran Khan, Vidya Balan, Kareena Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Anil Kapoor, Shahid Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor and Shahrukh Khan)

                      Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap

                 Bombay Talkies is a Bollywood anthology film that features four short films by some of the most well-regarded directors from the industry. It was released this year and the its main purpose was to celebrate the 100 years of Indian cinema with stories that features the importance of the industry among people. This is an experiment that is worthy of the praise, I hope more and more filmmakers learn from the fact that cinema first and foremost is an art form. This was one of the films which I was genuinely anticipating to watch. Indian cinema have long been overshadowed by mediocre filmmaking, relying mostly on the so called 'entertainment' as an excuse to make the dumbest movies possible and earn as much as they can. While this has been going on, there are filmmakers who never stopped making the kind of movies they wanted. Kashyap and Banerjee here along with some other indie filmmakers have always come up with daring and off-beat films. Johar and specially Akhtar have been associated with commercial filmmaking with the latter one relying more on sweet natured and simplistic films. It is an interesting thing to bring them all together for this feature and one can see each of them trying to put up the best possible way to highlight what this industry means to them and as well as to us. I am going to talk about every short film individually now.

1. "Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh"
Directed by: Karan Johar

                 Avinash is a young man who leaves his parent's house to have a new start on his own. He is homosexual and his father was abusive to him after the revelation. There is Gayatri who is married to Dev but their marriage as we see is on the rocks. The try to just go on everyday doing the things they do and that is as far as their relationship is as of this point. Gayatri works for a magazine where she meets the new intern, Avinash. He reveals to her that he is gay but is surprised to see that she doesn't react back to this reveal. They go along very well together, become friends. For his birthday, Gayatri invites Avinash for dinner at her home. Dev seems shocked upon knowing that Avinash is gay. The dinner is as awkward as one would imagine. The tension or the lack of it between husband and wife is evident. But then there is one more thing, Dev seems uncomfortable around Avinash. Is he gay himself? Karan Johar has always made movies that revolves around love and family. These are the two things he always loved making on much grander scale. It is quite refreshing to see him go out of his comfort zone for a while and come up with a daring plus stripped down version of a domestic drama that is something I personally wouldn't have expected from him. He gets the job done very well, simplistic filmmaking. This short film is delicate during such moments and never tries to succumb to boredom of the situation. Johar also makes sure that the more loud moments should not come off as too soapy. Whether it is the many arguments and fights between the characters, simple conversations or reactions to the unfolding revelations, Johar carefully creates this wonderful drama. Rani Mukerji performs really good as a woman who blames herself for the downfall of her marriage, like any other woman would. I like how she down plays it, beautiful performance which is one of her best. Saqib Saleem is a revelation here, he can perform good. Randeep Hooda's control and calculated performance best suits his character who is holding such secrets and living a lie for a life. The scenes between him and Saleem are just superb, so much intensity. Beautiful and touching sub-plot that involves a young girl, a famous classic song and an interesting ironic tone. This short is one of the best work of Johar in years. Engaging, daring and well-created melodrama on contemporary life. (B+)

2. "Star"
Directed by: Dibakar Banerjee

                 The heart and soul, the most brilliantly made and masterfully presented short here is directed by Dibakar Banerjee. This particular short was something that almost had me in tears, moved me with its beautiful story as well as the reason why I overall regard this as one of the best achievements in Bollywood. The plot is inspired by Satyajit Ray's story "potolbabu Filmstar". So you initially get the idea why it works the way it does. This story is basically about a failed actor, Purandar. He lives a difficult life and is struggling to find work after the death of his father. Purandar is seen waking up early in the morning, it seems like he didn't sleep at all. He goes on to find work but always disappointed with the little things. He feels like he earns everything as he considers himself gifted with talent. What he lacks is the passion to work towards something as he thinks that the work should come to him. He feels the need to prove to his daughter and himself that he is worth it. In one of the most brilliant sequences, he is visited by the ghost of his father. He talks to him about this and they have a meaningful conversation about the father, talent and how the passion inside is what ignites the talent one my already have. The sequence is unlike anything I have seen in a Bollywood film, so fascinating and intricately crafted. The silence and the sparse feel of it takes you over. He needs to take this one step, a smaller one but that is the point. Grabbing the opportunity to prove himself that he can. Nawazuddin Siddiqui gives a very good performance. In yet another role that he completely immerses himself in. He is someone who have come a long way. From supporting roles to such striking presence in films. One of the truly best actors working today. It was a delight to see him in a central role. This short film has a very earthy feel to it, nothing pretentious about it and very organic. Banerjee goes very subtly without completely relying on it. This short is also something that truly gets the job done when it comes to highlighting the importance of cinema. The most passionate of the four in ways that it talks about this struggling actor, an extra and his point of view. The focus in its entirety is on him, the scope around him feels as small as his role. Outstanding achievement, reeks of determination and makes a great use of the medium to present us the most moving and enchanting story. A gem. (A)

3. "Sheila Ki Jawaani"
Directed by: Zoya Akhtar

                 Zoya Akhtar's often delicate and sweet natured style somehow feels lacking in this short. Where the first two shorts were perfect, the other two aren't. It is disappointing that this films starts so well but then ends up on a mediocre note. So this short tells story of a 12 year old boy and his sister. The boy gets inspired by Katrina Kaif's performance in the titular song and wants to become a dancer himself. His father however opposes such ideas and he wants him to play football instead. His sister on the other hand can't go to a school trip since she needs Rs. 2000 for that which her father wont give it because he is spending on her brother's fee. The boy dresses up like a girl with makeup and jewelry and dances, his parents walks in on him and then you know what happens. Akhtar's short is well intentioned where it uses not only Bollywood in its central plot but explores children and their dreams. How parents expect certain things from their children and what they actually want to do when they grow up. Dreams are dreams and one shouldn't be afraid to follow them. I felt that somehow this short lacked any honesty and conviction when it came to tackling such subjects. Their are certain parts that feels very devoid of any emotional honesty. Then there are parts that comes across very sweet but not truly engaging. I liked the idea but it went nowhere. Akhtar seems to be trying very hard to make a 'message' film but never quite as determined to make that message come across on the whole. Lack of believable and enriching emotions and honesty made it an average short. Occasional charming moments never did much for me. (C)

4. "Murabba"
Directed by: Anurag Kashyap

                 The most disappointing thing about Bombay Talkies has to be Kashyap's short. He is a filmmaker who often makes quite hard-hitting cinema, stylish, darkly comic and very experimental. Not that I was expecting something like that here but it surprised me how bad his contribution to this film came off. The story is about a man who is from a small town in UP who sets out to Mumbai to fulfill his dying father's wish. He has to get Mr. Amitabh Bachchan eat the Murabba that his mother made while bringing back the remaining portion of it for his father to eat himself, which is how he saved his own father. If we are talking about lazy and emotionally lacking short, then this is the one. It starts of quite well with an interesting concept, the idea seems different and the background story is something that comes across as very touching. However Kashyap gives up on it entirely, forcing this short to go on in such a way that it becomes tiring and awfully boring. By the time Mr Bachchan appears, it seems like we have seen a 2 hrs feature film where nothing really happened. Kashyap overdoes it when it comes to that man's goal to reach out to the superstar. His approach to mock and along the way, add some darkly comic scenes feels mismatched. What makes it even worse is the largely unconvincing performance by the actor. The most rooted short ends up being the most uprooted and rotten. (D+)

                 Bombay Talkies ends with a song that features many current actors and some veterans that serves as a celebration and enjoyment before the credits roll in. But the best bit to me was the beautifully put together montage of the history of Indian cinema, so many memories. That should have been it for the film but they had to go into a predictable song performance. There are other songs as well that are in the film. Kashyap for once relied on too much soapy and repeated use of songs when he himself had nothing much to say. Same thing over and over again. Bombay Talkies overall is a very good step. An experimental and confident filmmaking that suggests the talent is still there and despite the lack of exposure and serious attitude towards them in the past, it seems like there is a great future ahead for such films and talents. That is a good thing you know. Let the celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema be the starting point for much more serious and talent-based filmmaking. A new dawn... new hopes and a fresh start. Watch it just for the effort, may not be a masterpiece but it has its good moments. Dibakar Banerjee steals the show, kudos!

Grade: B-