Bombay Talkies: The magic of celluloid

May 3, 2013

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

A five-minute scene, sans dialogue, just before the interval. A shot of a man elated, reliving his magical day as the rest of the world goes about its own business – these five minutes alone make “Bombay Talkies” worth a watch.

Dibakar Banerjee’s segment, based on a Satyajit Ray short story, is evocative, sensitive, subtle and gets to the heart of why cinema brings magic into the most mundane of lives. And his film, dare I say it, is leagues ahead of the other three shorts in this portmanteau film.

Which is not to say the other three films aren’t gripping enough. Karan Johar surprises with his short film, avoiding clichés and extracting some great performances from his cast. Rani Mukerji plays the editor of a gossip magazine, in an arid marriage with her newscaster husband (Randeep Hooda, remarkably restrained). The presence of an intern (Saqib Saleem) in their lives alters it completely and brings to the fore uncomfortable truths.

In Zoya Akhtar’s segment, a little boy who wants to dress up and dance is berated by his tyrannical father, who says boys should be tough and strong. But inspiration comes in the form of Katrina Kaif when she appears fairylike and tells the boy (Naman Jain) to follow his dreams. That off-key note apart, the film is commendable for the last sequence and Jain’s poignant performance.

In Anurag Kashyap‘s film, a star-struck youth makes the journey from Allahabad to Mumbai, hoping for a glimpse of Amitabh Bachchan and a chance to fulfil his dying father’s wish. He stalks Bachchan, waiting outside the actor’s home, Prateeksha, for days but to no avail. Kashyap tries to capture the allure of a big star and his effect on an ordinary man, but ironically, the film slips with the scene where Bachchan appears on screen.

The plus point of “Bombay Talkies” is that there are moments in almost each segment that will stay with you and remind you of the kind of power cinema wields in India. Two of the films capture what star power is, while the others tap into the intangible – the presence of cinema in our lives. It may not always be at the fore, but it plays out, like background music in our real lives.

The segments do tend to romanticise the filmdom industry, preferring not to show us the darker side of things, but perhaps it is fitting, given that this is about the celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema.

Of the cast, Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Purandar stands head and shoulders above the rest – Siddiqui and Banerjee’s short film stay with you long after you have left the theatre. Sadashiv Amrapurkar in a surprise role is also brilliant, as is Saqib Saleem in Johar’s film.

You might tend to forget all this though, if you watch the grating “item song” that someone obviously thought was a bright idea to put in the end credits – it shows you all that is wrong with Indian cinema – too much glamour, no content and the false assurance that this is what it’s all about.

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay)

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