India Masala Bollywood and culture in an emerging India Wed, 21 Oct 2015 14:37:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 See you around — on India Insight Wed, 11 Sep 2013 07:18:04 +0000
To our readers,

This is a short message to let you know that we are closing the India Masala blog, but we aren’t saying goodbye. We will continue to write about Bollywood and the wider world of India’s cinema at our India Insight blog. You still will be able to search for older posts in the India Masala archive, of course. Thanks for reading India Masala over the past few years, and please do bookmark India Insight for news and views from us and our contributors on the world’s largest democracy.


Tony Tharakan, Aditya Kalra, Robert MacMillan and the Reuters India online crew

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Kids rule the roost as Bollywood woos audiences Fri, 30 Aug 2013 13:22:28 +0000 (Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Mumbai resident Gopal Das doesn't usually go to the movies. It's the children who drag him and his wife to the cinema to watch the latest Bollywood film.

Das's 8-year-old son Shubham insisted on watching Shah Rukh Khan's "Chennai Express" on his birthday this week. His teenage sister had recommended it.

"They both said they don't want a cake or dinner out," Das told India Insight as he waited with his children at a city multiplex. "We usually don't watch movies, only the ones they want to watch."

Das is not alone. As Bollywood tries to bring in ever more movie watchers, producers and filmmakers are finding that it's worth marketing to children as much as they can, even for films that are meant for adults.

"They are connected, up-to-date with what is going on, and very sure of what they want, even at such a small age. We have to consider them while making a film and selling it, and ensuring that nothing we do should put them off," said Nikhil Sane, of Zee Marathi.

For Shah Rukh Khan's "Chennai Express", producer UTV estimated that at least 10 to 15 percent of the audience would be children below the age of 13, children who are determining what movies their parents will take them to see.

In an interview to Reuters last year, director Rohit Shetty, who has the unique distinction of directing the most billion-rupee blockbusters, said kids were his biggest audience.

"They loved 'Singham' because there were so many cars, and that's why there was no blood, because I knew they will come to watch my film. I don't want them to get uncomfortable, that's why the heroine isn't in a bikini. It wasn't a planned thing, but now I know they are my audience," he said.

Most movies that are classified as "family movies" try to cater to a mass audience, and directors cram their films with as many crowd-pleasing elements as possible.

"You have to make sure that you cannot alienate the kids. We make sure we should not put anything in the film which parents would disapprove of. Films which are vying for the 100 crore (1 billion rupee) mark, are very very conscious of this fact," said Manish Hariprasad of Disney-UTV.

UTV's "Himmatwala" or "Chennai Express". which is on the way to becoming India's highest-grossing film, or even Salman Khan's range of hit movies, don't have nudity or swear words, or anything that will put off kids.

"It is the youth audience - mainly college-going kids in the age bracket of 18 to 25 that are the first audiences for any film. Families only go if there is good word of mouth. However, for films like 'Krissh 3' or the 'Dhoom' franchise, we’ll see a mix of both, because they cater to a much larger segment," said Shailesh Kapoor of research firm Ormax Media.

Actual children's films remain a small market in India, with few studios or producers putting in serious money to make films exclusively for under-13's.

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay)

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Satyagraha: This revolution does not awaken anyone Fri, 30 Aug 2013 07:32:19 +0000 (Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In “Satyagraha“, director Prakash Jha attempts to show a divided society and the chasm between the people and their leaders.

But Jha seems to give in to the same kind of consumerism and greed that his film’s holier-than-thou characters look down on.

Amitabh Bachchan plays Dwarka Anand, a retired teacher and an idealist. Soon after the film opens, he berates his son’s friend for promoting a capitalistic lifestyle. Anand accuses the new generation of being greedy and having selfish desires that encourage corruption.

Within minutes, a character asks another if a packet of India Gate rice has been opened. Another extols the virtues of UltraTech Cement. How can you make a film that criticises certain values and promotes them in the same breath?

Jha sets out to make a film based on the 2011 anti-corruption movement by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare, adding references to the Satyendra Dubey murder case and homilies about a corrupt government battling outraged citizens whose only weapons seem to be hashtags on social media.

“Satyagraha” is a film about a rot in politics but Jha gives little importance to the specifics of the system or how it works.

In the film, Dwarka Anand wants the government to clear pending claims and petitions within a month, assuming naively they are genuine and do not need any checks. He wants an ordinance he hasn’t even bothered to draft and goes on a hunger strike. The audience never knows what his demands are.

Filmmaker Jha seems to think the issues are peripheral; all he apparently cares for is the potential melodrama.

Anand’s revolution takes place in a small town called Ambikapur. Manav (Ajay Devgn), the boy Anand had scolded in the beginning, joins the campaign after a change of heart that sees him give up a 60 billion rupee business empire. Local leader Arjun (Arjun Rampal) is the movement’s muscle power but doesn’t do much except shout slogans and sing on stage.

We also have Yasmin (Kareena Kapoor), a firebrand reporter who has obviously not heard of something called conflict of interest. Yasmin stays in the house of the man she is covering for the story, offers advice and is often on stage during speeches and hunger strikes – blurring the line between reporting and being the story herself.

There are item songs (even a rock song called “Janata rocks” which plays intermittently), a love story and a hurriedly cobbled together conclusion that doesn’t solve any of the problems.

Jha is lucky he has a stellar cast that pulls off the most ridiculous scenes. Bachchan towers over everyone but Devgn and Manoj Bajpayee (the evil politician) keep up with him. Kapoor preens more than she acts while Rampal doesn’t have much of a role.

“Satyagraha” is at best a dull film that doesn’t grip you. Look a little deeper and it’s a reminder of how little has changed about the way Bollywood makes movies and why it makes them.

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay)

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Madras Cafe: An intelligence failure Fri, 23 Aug 2013 05:32:48 +0000 (Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

After last year’s clever and heart-warming comedy “Vicky Donor”, filmmaker Shoojit Sircar switches genres with “Madras Cafe”, a thriller about the Sri Lankan conflict, India’s role in the civil war, and the repercussions of that war on India’s politics and history.

To try and deal with such a controversial subject is commendable and Sircar and co-writer Juhi Chaturvedi should be complimented. Unfortunately, intentions aside, “Madras Cafe” doesn’t deserve too many compliments.

John Abraham stars in this leaden film as an army officer sent to Sri Lanka at the height of the civil war to launch covert operations targeting the leader of the biggest Tamil separatist outfit (called LTF in the film).

Vikram Singh walks about Jaffna with a swagger, sporting a Ray-Ban and looking completely out of place. He somehow visits a top guerrilla leader deep in the jungle, pretending to be a reporter even after his cover is blown, and turns to an actual journalist (Nargis Fakhri) to extract the smallest bit of information.

“Madras Cafe” is essentially divided into two parts: The first, where Vikram Singh’s Sri Lanka operation goes wrong, and the second, where its repercussions are felt. The second half, which refers to a conspiracy to kill a former Indian prime minister, is especially ridiculous.

In one scene, John Abraham’s character tells his boss (Siddharth Basu, in an unintentionally hilarious role) that teams from Sri Lanka have landed in Tamil Nadu to carry out the assassination. In the next scene, Basu’s character is seen instructing his men to keep a close watch on any suspicious movement along the coast. A case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

This is a thriller with loopholes at almost every twist in the tale. The pace is languid and most importantly, the film remains neither here nor there. Sircar wants to depict real-life incidents such as the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and Indian peace-keeping efforts in Sri Lanka but stops short of naming anyone or taking a stand. So, we have references to the assassination threat and whispers of “foreign agencies” helping the Tamil liberation outfit, but all of it is vague and shrouded in ambiguity.

By playing safe, Sircar’s film doesn’t have enough excitement or edge-of-the-seat action to make you want to forgive the loopholes and flaws. Nor does it have a ring of authenticity or seem like a retelling of history because of the filmmaker’s reluctance to name anyone.

The acting is as average as the film is – Abraham is earnest but doesn’t rise above what is a one-dimensional role. Nargis Fakhri’s character is also poorly sketched and doesn’t have much screen time.

This is a film where even the head of the Indian intelligence gets to know the latest news from TV channels, not from his own department. I don’t want to hazard a guess as to whether that is a statement on Indian intelligence operations, the speed at which Indian TV news channels operate, or the lack of thought that was put into the script.

Go only if you must.

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Bachchan upset over fake video that shows him praising Modi Thu, 22 Aug 2013 09:44:47 +0000 Amitabh Bachchan has threatened legal action over a YouTube video that apparently shows the Bollywood actor championing Narendra Modi as India’s next prime minister.

Bachchan described the online video as “fake” on Wednesday and expressed outrage on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The 70-year-old actor said the video featured footage from a 2007 ‘Lead India’ newspaper campaign but added visuals to suggest he was promoting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.

“I wish to state that this is an illegal act, inviting strong action, one that I am appalled by, and one that has no concurrence from me at all,” Bachchan said on Twitter. “Infuriated and angered.”

The YouTube video has since been taken down.

Bachchan has appeared in a series of advertisements promoting tourism in the state of Gujarat, of which Modi is the chief minister, but has never openly supported the Hindu nationalist leader.

On Thursday, Modi tweeted his support to Bachchan, saying the person who uploaded the video should apologise immediately.

Modi is widely seen as his party’s strongest candidate to become prime minister in elections due next year.

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Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara: All talk, no action Thu, 15 Aug 2013 09:30:26 +0000 (Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Milan Luthria’s tongue-twister of a movie “Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara!” is a hark back to the gangster films of the 1980s, the ones with mafia dons, their tempestuous love lives and all the complications that came with it.

But director Luthria and writer Rajat Arora are apparently convinced that they’ve come up with something original and clever. Their smugness shows on screen and gets on your nerves. For a gangster film, “Mumbai Dobaara” has just about three action scenes and even in the most crucial action sequence, the characters are busy delivering long-drawn-out homilies on loyalty and friendship. That is what this film is, really – all talk and no action.

And as for the talk itself, Arora’s dialogue has all the creativity of the quotes that appear on Facebook feeds. They are meant to be profound. But in the film, each character talks and talks and talks some more, until you want to hit the mute button – but there isn’t one.

Akshay Kumar plays the dreaded gangster Shoaib who orchestrates cricket matches in a Middle Eastern country. Shoaib flirts with his friend’s wives, wears dark glasses all the time and keeps repeating how he intends to rule Mumbai. (What that ruling may involve, we are never told).

An attempt on his life by a rival brings Shoaib to Mumbai in a quest for vengeance. But apart from a few token attempts to look for the enemy, Shoaib seems to have forgotten his mission. You would think a man who wants to rule Mumbai and runs a gangster squad can easily track his enemies. Instead, Shoaib busies himself in the pursuit of Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha), a wide-eyed and naïve actress.

What Shoaib doesn’t know is that Jasmine is in love with Aslam (Imran Khan), one of his own henchmen. Director Luthria takes a lot of time to set up the love triangle and then rushes its resolution in the last 20 minutes.

Writer Arora seems to have been busy working on clever lines that every character spouts in the film, ones that compare friendship to tyres, love to groundnuts and almonds and people to milk and cottage cheese.

Mediocre acting  makes it worse. Akshay Kumar doesn’t even pretend to act – he saunters on to the screen and delivers dialogue with extreme nonchalance.

Imran Khan achieves new lows in his acting career – almost competing with Prateik Babbar in “Issaq”. He wiggles his eyebrows furiously, widens his eyes and tries hard to play the part of a menacing gangster but fails. Sonakshi Sinha tries to look coy, flutters her eyelashes, but her role doesn’t require her to do more.

“Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara!” is an exasperating movie experience that doesn’t deliver any of the action it promises. Stay far away from this one.

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Chennai Express – Doesn’t reach its destination Fri, 09 Aug 2013 06:19:51 +0000 To get a sense of Rohit Shetty’s “Chennai Express,” wait for the closing credits to roll.

The film contains all the stereotypes that exist about those who live south of the Vindhyas, but narrated by someone who doesn’t live there. A South Indian film for those not living in the South, so to speak.

There are Kathakali dancers (from Kerala) in a song sequence, characters calling each other “Garu” (a Telugu term) in a movie that is supposed to be set in Tamil Nadu village, and references to eating idlis, vadas and dosas.

You even have a song called “Lungi Dance” which is supposed to be a tribute to Rajnikanth, sung by Punjabi rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh.

But the stereotyping and lack of authenticity are the least of the film’s problems.

Shetty’s flimsy story centres around a 40-year-old man who lives in a Mumbai mansion and runs a successful business, but has apparently not been on enough trips to Goa that he wants to run off to its sandy beaches the day his grandfather dies.

Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) promises his grandmother that he will go to Rameshwaram to scatter his grandfather’s ashes in the sea, but instead makes plans for a trip to Goa with his friends.

He gets on the “Chennai Express” with the intention of getting down at the next station and proceed towards Goa, but the arrival of Meenamma (Deepika Padukone) throws his plans haywire.

Meenamma tells him she is running away from her father (but still gets on a train that takes her straight to her father’s village)  because he wants to marry her off. Through a series of mishaps, Rahul ends up accompanying her to the village and immediately finds himself in trouble.

He has to face Tangaballi (Nikitin Dheer), a towering giant of a man who wants to marry Meenamma. Of course, the inevitable happens – Rahul and Meenamma fall in love and he has to fight the world to claim her. In between, there are songs with inane lyrics and dialogue that could have been be written by a five-year-old.

One of the crucial ingredients missing is pace, which is essential for a “masala” film like this one. Shetty doesn’t even manage to keep the laughs coming at regular intervals. He uses self-deprecating humour and doffs his hat to the southern style of filmmaking. But he doesn’t achieve the desired result in both.

Shetty also uses a lot of Tamil dialogue in the film – which is great for the tone of the film but leaves the audience clueless many times.

If Shetty’s work in the past is anything to go by, “Chennai Express” wasn’t going to be an authentic film, but the least he could have done was provide a steady flow of laughs so that viewers forget the flaws.

But from mentioning the price of an expensive phone that a character is carrying, to Deepika’s pronounced South Indian accent, even the humour in the film jars.

Of the cast, both Padukone and Khan throw themselves into the part, fake accents and all. If the film does work, it is mainly because of Khan’s inherent charm, but otherwise there is nothing to write home about.

Towards the second half of the film, as proceedings were trudging along, a frustrated audience member asked audibly: “Hasn’t Rameswaram come yet?” That sums up “Chennai Express” perfectly – a film that doesn’t reach its destination.

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

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Issaq: Doomed love story Fri, 26 Jul 2013 08:45:27 +0000 What director Manish Tiwary was trying to achieve in “Issaq”, his version of Romeo and Juliet, only he can say. If you didn’t know you were watching a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s classic, you’d be forgiven for walking out halfway through the film.

The movie starts with a bizarre killing on a deserted bridge and then moves on to more bizarreness. “Issaq” is a disjointed effort, one that ceases to make any sense after the first few minutes.

Prateik Babbar and newcomer Amyra Dastur play star-crossed lovers from families at war. Director Tiwary stages the doomed love story (in more ways than one) on the ghats of Benares where Rahul meets Bacchi.

When Bacchi’s family finds out about the love affair, the girl’s uncle (Ravi Kishen) sets out for revenge. It’s a chain of events that leads to destruction and chaos.

Much of that chaos is in the script and the film’s execution. I’m not sure how any of the dialogue or scenes made sense to anyone during filming. There is a levitating ascetic who doles out advice to the lovers, a housekeeper who spouts strange homilies and a Maoist leader who only makes an appearance when someone needs to be killed and keeps shouting “Lal Salaam”.

All this is compounded by the cast of “Issaq”, which leaves much to be desired in the acting department. Leading the way is Prateik Babbar, who plumbs new depths after mediocre performances in “Ekk Deewana Tha” and “My Friend Pinto”, a feat I didn’t think possible. Babbar is like a rabbit caught in the headlights even while professing undying love.

The leading lady isn’t all that better. Dastur tries hard to portray her rustic, smart-talking character but her urban demeanour fails her. Ravi Kishan twirls his moustache, fires bullets indiscriminately and pretends that qualifies as acting.

“Issaq” is hardly a film. It is a disaster that lasts for 2-1/2 hours and leaves you with a headache.


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


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Bajatey Raho: Much ado about nothing Fri, 26 Jul 2013 07:33:23 +0000 Shashant Shah‘s “Bajatey Raho” is a comedy about a motley group of people who try to con a businessman out of the millions he made by cheating gullible clients.

Ravi Kishan plays evil businessman Sabharwal, who owns everything from schools to dairy farms and treats his staff like dirt.

When Sabharwal frames two of his employees in an illegal fixed deposit scheme, their families vow to exact revenge. They plan to  extract every penny Sabharwal robbed from his customers so that they can return the money to the victims and restore the reputations of their loved ones.

Led by the formidable Mummyji (played with panache by Dolly Ahluwalia), the gang — her son Sukhi (Tusshar Kapoor), his friend Ballu (Ranvir Shorey), Sukhi’s girlfriend Manpreet (Vishakha Singh) and Mintoo (Vinay Pathak) — goes about extorting money from Sabharwal’s associates, either blackmailing or conning them.

Shah doesn’t necessarily have a new subject in hand, but he could have told this old story in a newer, smarter way. Unfortunately, this film goes all over the place from the first scene, one that involves a gun-wielding school principal.

The jokes aren’t funny, the dialogue is flat and in spite of being a relatively short two-hour film, it feels like the movie goes on for far too long.

Instead of focussing on making a smart, tight film, the director meanders at the most crucial points, inserts an insipid love story, unnecessary songs and long, drunken monologues that test your patience.

There are loopholes the size of potholes in the film, but even more lacklustre are the performances. Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Shorey sleepwalk through their roles, while Tusshar Kapoor does a worse job of speaking Punjabi than Farhan Akhtar in “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”.

Ahluwalia is the only saving grace in what is otherwise a minefield of bad performances.

When a two-hour film feels like an ordeal, you know something is wrong. “Bajatey Raho” is a forgettable film that is best avoided.

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

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Ship of Theseus: Looking for the right answers Fri, 19 Jul 2013 11:32:27 +0000 During an interview about his 2012 film “Shanghai”, director Dibakar Banerjee spoke about the difficulty of asking existential questions and portraying them coherently on the big screen.

Anand Gandhi, director of “Ship of Theseus”, has the same problem but is able to execute it almost perfectly, a task most filmmakers would have found difficult.

Gandhi explores the complex themes of beauty, life, death and ethics through three storylines that have one common thread – organ donation.

In the first story, blind photographer Alia finds regaining her eyesight changes her perspective on art. Gandhi is rather minimalistic in his style and avoids the trimmings. He focuses on the characters and their dilemmas, but cloaks these dilemmas in everyday language and banter, making them more relevant for the viewer.

Neeraj Kabi plays Maitreya, a frail monk fighting a battle against animal testing by pharma companies. He is diagnosed with a liver disease that requires him to consume products made by the same companies he is fighting. Maitreya finds strength in sparring with his clever, young lawyer who questions everything he stands for and makes his point disarmingly.

The film’s final thread focuses on a young man who sets out to seek justice for a labourer whose kidney was stolen, eventually finding redemption and closure in a tempestuous relationship with his grandmother.

The film’s cast is outstanding and Kabi especially deserves every award this year for his performance as Maitreya – you won’t forget him for a long time. The ideas “Ship of Theseus” puts forward are something we have all debated among ourselves at some level but for them to find expression on celluloid, in an almost nonchalant manner, is an experience in itself.

Gandhi’s film is unlike anything you have seen at the cinemas this year – and that could be a good or bad thing depending on your taste. This is not run-of-the-mill cinema but give it a chance.


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

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