India Insight

Bollywood re-creates life of Indian erotica writer Mastram

A new Bollywood film traces the fictional journey of a real-life writer of erotica whose racy low-cost works in Hindi spurred sales at bookstalls and pavement shops across India in the 1980’s and 90’s.

The identity of the author, who used the pseudonym Mastram, was never revealed, but the film’s director Akhilesh Jaiswal said he remembers sneaking the books in as a teenager, one of millions of adolescents in conservative India with little access to erotica before the Internet made pornography widely available.

Mastram’s works included “Yauvan ki Pehli Baarish” (First Rains of Youth), “Sexy Nurse” and “Manchali Bhabhi” (Salacious Sister-in-law).

“Every time I read the books, I used to wonder who this man was and what on earth he must be telling his kids about what he did to earn a living. Did his family know?” Jaiswal, 28, told India Insight in an interview.

Jaiswal, best known in the Hindi film industry for co-writing the 2012 revenge thriller “Gangs of Wasseypur”, chose Mastram as the subject for his debut film as director.

Movie Review: Shaadi Ke Side Effects

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Saket Chaudhary seems to be a fan of sitcoms and SMS jokes. He combines the two to put together a script and make “Shaadi Ke Side Effects”, a movie about the modern Indian marriage, where men are trying to escape and women are obsessed with their children.

Chaudhary, who also directed the film’s 2006 prequel “Pyaar Ke Side Effects”, resorts to a heap of clichés and jaded jokes, most of which you have heard before and some which might seem offensive. Sporadically, the film manages to find a funny spot, thanks to Farhan Akhtar’s comic timing, but for the most part, “Shaadi Ke Side Effects” is a series of sitcom episodes strung together to make a full-length movie.

Sid and Trisha are the “yuppie couple” whose marriage is chronicled from their carefree days to their transition to parents and caregivers. Chaudhary chooses to tell the story from the man’s point of view, making Vidya Balan’s character purely ornamental, except towards the end.

Movie Review: Highway

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In an interview last year, Imtiaz Ali said he didn’t have a script when he set out to make “Highway”. All he had was a one-line draft and he wrote the film during the shoot.

The journey should influence you, he said, adding that is what should drive the film — not a pre-written script. This rather unusual method of filmmaking seems to have yielded unexpected results.

What you get is a complete departure from Ali’s usual fare — a film that is as  pristine as some of the locations it is shot in; almost meditative in parts and wonderfully understated.

Movie Review: Gunday

(The views expressed here do not represent those of Thomson Reuters)

Ali Abbas Zafar’s “Gunday” is a film set in the 1970’s and 80’s, amid the grime of the coal mafia. It is supposed to be a gritty film about two friends and their undying bond, which is broken when a girl enters their lives.

“Gunday” is a throwback to the cinema of the 70’s and 80’s when the wronged hero was still virtuous; the heroine was seductive but still coy; and the system was something you had to fight against to get what was rightfully yours. Director Zafar gives us a more polished version of those films.

Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) are friends who escape from Dhaka in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh war and find themselves orphaned and homeless in Kolkata. They quickly discover there is money to be made in wagon-breaking — robbing coal from trains and selling it at subsidized prices in the market.

A Minute With: Ali Abbas Zafar on ‘Gunday’

Film-maker Ali Abbas Zafar made his Bollywood debut in 2011 with “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan”, a romantic comedy that was among the biggest hits that year.

For his second film as director, Zafar has switched genres to make what promises to be a dark and gritty 1970’s period film set in Kolkata about a pair of coal bandits and a cabaret dancer.

Gunday”, which opens in cinemas on Valentine’s Day, stars Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra in the lead roles. Zafar spoke to Reuters about the movie and the challenges of filming a period thriller.

Movie Review: Hasee Toh Phasee

(The views expressed here do not represent those of Thomson Reuters)

Vinil Mathew’s “Hasee Toh Phasee” has the trappings of a conventional Hindi romantic comedy — the big fat wedding; the quirky extended family; two lost souls; and much song and dance.

Yet, Mathew manages to combine these elements into an unusual film that sparkles with humour and witty repartee, and despite a few bumps along the way, makes for a fun ride. The humour is reminiscent of TV sitcoms, and draws on several modern Indian pop culture references, including campy Bollywood songs and cult TV favourites like CID, to draw laughs.

At its heart, “Hasee Toh Phasee” is about Meeta and Nikhil, who meet a few days before he is to get married to her sister. Nikhil is stressed because his fiancée wants him to be successful and rich, while he is struggling with his event management business. When Meeta — who gets mysterious phone calls from China; compulsively gulps down mysterious pills; and seems decidedly neurotic — returns home, Nikhil is asked to take care of her and ensure she doesn’t ruin the wedding.

South Indian masala remakes no longer a sureshot Bollywood hit

Once considered a permanent fixture on the yearly slate of most production houses, the masala film, a hodgepodge of romance, action and comedy that revolves around a flawless hero, is slowly losing its sheen among Bollywood audiences.

Box-office figures for such films during the last six months suggest that they have missed expectations. This includes the returns on Salman Khan’s latest release “Jai Ho”, a film that has earned the star — credited with the return of these films — his lowest opening in cinemas yet.

Mostly remakes of campy south Indian films that rely on loud dialogue, garish dance sequences and a healthy dose of morality delivered amid much violent action, the genre faded during the 1990’s and the early years of the last decade.

Movie Review: One by Two

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)
Devika Bhagat‘s “One by Two” is the kind of film that best describes the word “wannabe”. It is populated with characters apparently beset with existential issues that seem superficial, and who think passing wind and chilling beer in the toilet is cool.

The plot structure is unusual in that the lead pair only meet in the final scene. But the incidents leading up to it are so drab, convoluted and uninteresting that when it does take place, it is difficult to drum up any enthusiasm for the couple.

Abhay Deol plays Amit Sharma, a “regular Joe” stuck in a dull job and being forced into an arranged marriage by his overbearing parents. Samara (Preeti Desai) is a dancer dealing with a dysfunctional family and professional woes.

Movie Review: Jai Ho

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Five minutes into Sohail Khan’s “Jai Ho“, lead actor Salman Khan beats up scoundrels, saves a damsel in distress and breaks into a dance number (along with thousands of background dancers wearing orange sunglasses), singing about what is wrong with India.

Khan sings about farmers dying, women being unsafe and politicians looting the common man. The irony of this spectacle is that it’s been shot in Lavasa, a township in Maharashtra mired in controversy over illegal land acquisitions and regulatory clearances.

That is the kind of dichotomy that “Jai Ho” is pretty nonchalant about. Khan’s character claims to stand for women’s rights, but thinks nothing of commenting on a woman’s underwear. He rages against politicians for blocking traffic and inconveniencing the public, but rides his motorbike onto a crowded railway station platform.

Movie Review: Dedh Ishqiya

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

What a difference a week makes. Last week, the sight of Vijay Raaz and Arshad Warsi in “Joe B Carvalho” was enough to drive someone up the wall. A week later, they are a sheer delight in film-maker Abhishek Chaubey’s “Dedh Ishqiya”.

A rollicking, irreverent and well-executed film, Chaubey’s sequel to his 2010 debut has more of the sparkling dialogue and wit, but better etched characters, and a story that will keep the viewer engaged till the end.

In “Dedh Ishqiya”, the adventures of Khalu and Babban continue with the two finding themselves in a crumbling mansion, owned by the aging, but beautiful Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit), who follows up on a promise made to her late husband. She organizes a poetry competition, and declares she will marry the one whose poems impress her the most.

  •