Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
No other tale is as familiar to me as the Mahabharat. Whether it was stories heard in my childhood, animated books that were gifted, or watching B. R. Chopra’s television series over Sunday breakfast, this epic is ingrained in the psyche.
Which is why, when a movie about Arjun comes along, one looks forward to the opportunity to relive some of those stories. Directed by Arnab Chaudhuri, “Arjun – The Warrior Prince” tells the story of the Mahabharat from the point of view of Arjun, the third of the Pandava brothers.
The film is told largely in flashback, and begins with the “eye of the bird” story — where Arjun tells his tutor Dronacharya that he can only see the eye of the bird he is to shoot, while his brothers and cousins describe the trees around and the colour of the bird’s feathers.
The film establishes Arjun’s sense of purpose and his skills even before the titles, but then seems to run out of things to say. The plot meanders along, and skips several important events in Arjun’s life, including Draupadi’s disrobing scene, and his relationship with Lord Krishna.
In my head, I always imagine Ram Gopal Varma, sitting in his office, legs up on the table, going through a checklist on the last day of a film shoot. Hyperactive camera angle – check. Lots of fake blood – check. Added some element of “Satya”, “Company” or “Sarkar” to the film – check. Leading ladies showing off cleavage – check.
How else do you explain a film like “Department”? That someone (Varma) thought they could make a film with such tacky production values, a convoluted and weak script, and some scenes that could be straight out of a soft-porn flick, and still convince a major studio to fund it and market it as a A-grade movie, is baffling.
You cannot escape Bollywood and the drama that comes with it, not even in the hallowed environs of the Rajya Sabha.
On Monday, as actress Rekha, the newest member of the upper house of India’s parliament took oath, the focus — at least that of the cameras, was on another, older member. Rekha’s short swearing-in ceremony was interspersed with several shots of a very grim-looking Jaya Bachchan.
At first glance, Habib Faisal’s “Ishaqzaade” has a lot going for it — there’s some great casting, good direction and performances. The milieu is different — arid, rugged, rural India and this is about feisty, gutsy lovers who are smart enough not to view the world through rose-tinted glasses.
At the halfway mark, Faisal sets up the film so tantalisingly, you can only wonder what surprises he plans on throwing at you. But the second half is somewhat of a let-down. The story goes haywire, characters act out of character, and the whole film sort of ends in a whimper, when it should have ended with a bang — which is how it starts.
“What is my soul trying to tell me?” Karisma Kapoor asks a character in ‘Dangerous Ishhq’. It’s a serious moment in the film, one that is expected to lead to a major plot point, but all you can do is try hard not to burst out laughing.
All the characters in Vikram Bhatt’s latest 3D project are trying so hard to “act” in a film that has inane dialogue, a ridiculous storyline and absolutely no honesty at heart — that their acting rings hollow.
Film-maker Madhur Bhandarkar said during an interview that “Indian audiences don’t like to see reality on screen, they see enough of that in life”. Bhandarkar is known for making “real” films, but he might have hit the nail on the head. Perhaps that is why Indian TV doesn’t normally depict “reality” on screen — preferring instead to hide behind yards of brocade sarees and scheming mothers-in-law and coy brides.
On Sunday though, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan chose to tell the story of a different kind of Indian woman — one that doesn’t get to live. On the first episode of his new talk show “Satyamev Jayate”, Khan chose to talk about female foeticide, a rampant issue in India, where the sex ratio is currently at its lowest since independence.
In the first ten minutes of Kunal Deshmukh’s second instalment of the “Jannat” series, the director sets up his principal characters, establishes a romance angle and even adds a song for good measure. He also manages to inject no originality or freshness in any of these facets of the film, with the result that “Jannat 2” never really takes off, maintaining a staid pace throughout its two-and-half-hour duration.
The modern Indian youth has it easy. Very easy. They party, they romance, and they make marriage plans without ever having to worry about their careers and how they would pay their bills. Or at least this is the version Bollywood has been trying to shove down our throats since “Dil Chahta Hai“.
Rajat Kapoor’s “Fatso” is no different. Nandini (Gul Panag) and Naveen (Purab Kohli) are an urban, handsome, young couple. They are also very modern. Their modernity is depicted through public displays of affection, sex before marriage and English dialogue.
Film-maker Ram Gopal Varma, in a recent chat, said films are like products which have to be manufactured and treated accordingly. I’m sure Priyadarshan agrees. He certainly seems to make his films like assembly line products — all style, no substance.
“Tezz“, similar to the Japanese movie “The Bullet Train”, is supposed to be a high-speed action thriller about a bomb on a long-distance train. Ajay Devgn plays Aakash Rana, an illegal immigrant in London who is deported to India, along with his co-workers after he is found working without a permit.