India Insight

Bollywood actor Farooq Shaikh dies at 65

Farooq Shaikh, the actor who embodied Everyman in Hindi films of the 1980’s and portrayed many memorable characters on screen, died in Dubai on Saturday. He was 65.

Shaikh is best known for his roles in films such as “Katha”, “Saath Saath” and “Chashme Buddoor”, where he straddled both commercial and art house cinema successfully.

His deadpan sense of humour stood him in good stead during his stint on television, where he played the lead in the Hindi adaptation of the British series “Yes, Prime Minister”.

Shaikh’s last film was “Club 60″, which opened in cinemas earlier this month, pairing him with actress Sarika as a couple trying to find love in the twilight of life.

Here are some reactions on Twitter (lightly edited for clarity):

AMITABH BACHCHAN, Bollywood actor
God! Farooq Sheikh passes away? A true gentleman, a wonderful colleague! A quiet honesty about him. Very very sad!

The best (and worst) Bollywood films of 2013

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

This was the year of the mega blockbuster in Bollywood. Box-office records were broken in 2013 as more and more audiences thronged into cinemas. It was also the year that Indian cinema celebrated a century of existence, cementing its place as one of the world’s most prolific film industries — one that thrives on its own audiences and talent, without having to borrow from elsewhere.

As for content, it was a mixed year, with an overriding focus on catering to the lowest common denominator to bring in the money. Films such as “Chennai Express” and “Dhoom 3” proved that, backed by a big star, this formula still works like a charm.

Critics, thankfully, don’t have to go by numbers. Here then, are my picks for the year’s best and worst, in no particular order:

A Minute With: Sascha Sippy

Ramesh Sippy’s epic buddy action film “Sholay” failed to impress audiences when it came out in 1975. Almost 40 years later, the movie is an integral part of Indian pop culture. The film is now being released in 3D amid much acrimony.

Sippy went to court against his nephews who own the rights to the film. His nephew, Sascha Sippy, who runs Sippy Films, said that his uncle didn’t have any rights to the film, and did not have a say in whether the film could be released.

The Bombay High Court rejected Ramesh Sippy’s order, clearing the way for the new version. Sascha Sippy spoke to Reuters about the feud, why he decided to release the film in 3D and how he plans to take the “Sholay” franchise forward. Responses have been lightly edited.

Movie Review: What the Fish

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

Gurmeet Singh’s “What the Fish” is a comedy about a cranky old woman, her beloved goldfish, and a group of reckless, irresponsible young people who play havoc with her house while she’s away on a holiday abroad.

Sudha Mishra (Dimple Kapadia) is a cantankerous, divorced woman, who is constantly suspicious of everyone and doesn’t trust her own son. She reserves all her affection for Mishti, her goldfish, and her blossoming money plant.

When she leaves India to stay with her son for a month, Mishra entrusts her precious possessions and the house to Sumit (Sumit Suri), her niece’s lackadaisical fiancé. But the minute her plane takes off, the peaceful environs of her house are shattered.

How the Bollywood numbers game works

On Nov. 23, along with its usual glut of interviews and news about Bollywood stars, the Bombay Times featured a solemn announcement: “Box Office column discontinued.”

The column, written by Priya Gupta, editor of Times of India Metro Supplements, said it was getting increasingly difficult to get good numbers for how films are doing at the box office because filmmakers and production houses “jack up their numbers.”

“While filmmakers have no hesitation in picking up the phone and trying to convince us about their false data, they will not send formal emails confirming the data as they are scared of subsequent expose,” the column said.

Movie Review: R…Rajkumar

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

Prabhu Dheva’s “R…Rajkumar is the latest in the series of “masala entertainers” that Bollywood seems to churn out with alarming regularity. Watching one is like watching another, and reviewing one is like writing about all of them. Here are the five commandments that filmmakers follow while making these excuses for movies. We have used “R… Rajkumar” as our test case.

Hero’s raison d’être: win girl, annihilate villain
Romeo Rajkumar (Shahid Kapur) is obsessed with Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha), calling her his “lollipop”, making lewd kissing noises (that sound like a sink is being drained out) and stalking her everywhere. When his mob boss (Sonu Sood) falls in love with Chanda, Rajkumar decides to fight him and his village gang. Couldn’t they just elope to the city and live a peaceful life? No. Romeo has to beat up people with wooden horses and waste litres of fake blood.

Leading lady: spunky and independent. Turns into a doormat when she meets hero – Sonakshi Sinha
Not just in this film, but pretty much every film she’s done. She starts by beating the daylights out of cat-calling men. When Rajkumar stalks her, she shoos him away with a nonsensical song. Then she falls in love with her stalker, runs to him for help when the villain makes advances, and reaches the height of submissiveness by standing and shedding quiet tears while the love of her life is beaten to death.

Movie Review: Gori Tere Pyaar Mein

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

In Punit Malhotra’s “Gori Tere Pyaar Mein”, a woman with no medical training deems it fit to deliver a baby; an architect who hasn’t worked for years thinks he’s capable of building a bridge (who needs engineers?); and rich, privileged people feel better about themselves when they throw money at poor children.

Director Malhotra’s attempt at making a “feel-good” romance has characters that are as hollow and fake as the film’s screenplay. The heroine, an NGO worker, espouses causes from AIDS to land-grabbing to making documentaries about sex workers, but feels no remorse when she cheats her way out of a traffic jam to get to a wedding on time.

There are stereotypes aplenty. The people of Tamil Nadu state only eat idlis and vadas; the Gujaratis only eat dhokla for dinner; and they all speak with pronounced accents. Diya (Kareena Kapoor) is the do-gooder heroine, flitting from one cause to the other. Sriram (Imran Khan) is an aimless and self-centred young man, who lives off his parents, and does not understand Diya’s need to play the Good Samaritan.

Mumbai police look to Bollywood for image makeover

Mumbai’s police department has deployed an unusual strategy to revamp its sagging reputation and to counter criticism that it hasn’t done a good job at solving crimes against women in the city – it called the biggest game in town and asked for help.

Top city police officers, including the police commissioner, have asked Bollywood producers, directors and writers to portray them in a more positive light than they usually do.

While films like “Ardh Satya” spoke of the pressures and frustrations of policemen, many mainstream films, which have the most reach, aren’t kind to the force. The police also have asked the studios to change how they portray the women in their films, hoping that this would cause men to behave better toward women.

Movie Review: Ram Leela

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

The lovers in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Ram Leela” are a bundle of contradictions. They speak of posting pictures on Twitter in the same breath as they speak of murder, blood and age-old rivalries. They have the mindset of urban Indian youth while living in Gujarat’s remote Kutch region in an environment where hate festers, people don’t think twice about shooting at a child and the rule of law doesn’t stand a chance. Meeting these people in the real world would be next to impossible.

Yet, they seem to fit right into the make-believe world built by Bhansali. There are gardens with peacocks flitting about, palatial houses, and breathtakingly beautiful costumes. Every scene, every song, every frame is lit up, awash with the inherent drama the film-maker brings to his projects when he’s at his best.

In “Ram Leela”, you might see snatches of “Devdas” and “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”, but this not a demure love story by any means. Unlike Bhansali’s earlier films, where love had spiritual tones, and was equated with sacrifice, this one is all physical and in the moment. Ram and Leela cannot keep their hands off each other, and the fact that they belong to feuding families seems to heighten their passion.

Remembering Reshma, Pakistan’s ‘first lady’ of folk music

Folk singer Reshma was born in 1947, the historic year when India and Pakistan gained independence from British rule. She was born in India, but her family migrated to Pakistan when she was a month old. Small wonder, then, that Reshma’s unconventionally husky voice won admirers on both sides of the international border.

Reshma, who died earlier this week after a battle with throat cancer, was best known for her distinctive rendition of Punjabi folk songs. For her fans, she was the “Nightingale of the Desert” and her death at the age of 66 was a fresh blow to the arts in Pakistan, coming a year after ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan’s death.

Despite her fame, Reshma was modest. She dressed conservatively in a salwar kameez and was rarely seen without a dupatta covering her head. And her mehfils (public performances) were devoid of histrionics.

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