By Pankaj Sachdeva
After waiting nearly six months for its DVD, I finally got to watch Bombay Talkies
. It is a concept film in which four directors—Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap— present four different stories. All the four stories have no connection per se
but there are subtexts that link all of them. First and foremost, films play a role in all the four of them in some way or the other. There are also themes of awkward relationships, especially between that of a father and a son, in all the four of them. The films also in their own way talk about the importance of speaking a lie. It is these narrative layers that tie the films together. Given that these are in a way four different films, it is natural that there will be different responses to each of them. The four stories are also titled differently—Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh
(Karan Johar), Star
(Dibakar Banerjee), Sheila Ki Jawaani
(Zoya Akhtar) and Murabba
(Anurag Kashyap). Although I liked all of them, the story that I loved the most was Zoya Akhtar’s Sheila Ki Jawaani
. I am a Zoya Akhtar fan and have already written bucketloads on the sheer splendor of Luck By Chance
. So, I am going to start with my favorite director.
Sheila Ki Jawaani
Sheila Ki Jawaani
Zoya Akhtar’s story is about a young boy, Vicky, who wants to become a dancer when he grows up. The problem is that his father wants him to become a football player. His father spends three thousand rupees to enroll him in a football coaching class, but Vicky struggles to get even the basics of football correct. His family goes to watch Tees Maar Khan in a nearby multiplex and when the song Shiela Ki Jawaani comes, Vicky is thrilled. It was as if he finally found his dream. But again, his dream of becoming a dancer and that too a feminine one like Shiela is diametrically opposite to his father’s wish of he becoming a masculine football player. I was fascinated by the nuances that Zoya brings in this short story of thirty minutes. It is to her credit that she is able to bring out excellent performances from all the cast members in the short story.
Fascinated by Mom’s Make-Up
Earlier this year, Gippi had a character Booboo who was probably struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality. In that film as well, Booboo knew more about his mother’s make up products than his sister, Gippi. I could not say the same for Vicky with absolute surety though. The homosexual or rather the transgender connotations for Vicky are not very obvious. He may or may not turn out to be that way. He was simply confused and probably just trying to experiment with something that liberated him from the constant throes of masculinity. At one point Vicky innocently says to his sister, “Ladki hone me kya buraai hai.”
Vicky – Bombay Talkies
What I felt more was that his father had a similar past. Again, it is the strength of Ranvir Shorey that just within two scenes he is able to bring out the confrontations that he himself might have faced in his own dark childhood. In the first scene, when Vicky is not able to play football, his father is deeply disappointed but he does not scold him (unlike Dev in Kabhi Alvidaa Na Kehna who scolded his son when he wanted to play the violin). He just enrolls him in the coaching class and says, ‘kya acha nahi lagta that is not important, kya acha hai that is important”. At another point, when Vicky dressed up as a girl and starts dancing to the song Aaj Ki Raat, Vicky’s father comes home. Vicky’s sister and mother laugh it off but his father, he smiles for two three seconds and then suddenly becomes angry. Some of the biggest homophobes are themselves homosexuals as portrayed in the terrific film American Beauty. Was this the reason of his anger at his own son that he does not turn out this way? This was when I felt that perhaps he had confrontations in his own childhood. It could also be the thing that he does not want his son to turn out to be someone who is not acceptable in the conventional terms of the society.
Remembering His Childhood
A fleeting smile to a sudden rage
In Taare Zameen Par, when Ishaan is given a mathematics test, all he sees is an animation of cartoons of planets. Zoya leaves us to decipher as to what exactly is going on in Vicky’s head by using her traditional symbolism approach. Vicky is captivated when his mother puts on her make-up. He silently watches girls dancing in his school. He says to his mother that he does not understand football as all that has to be done is “goal maaro, goal maaro, goal maaro”. Vicky is so tormented from inside that to shut the conflicting voices in his head, he listened to loud music and increased the volume of the television.
Ishaan – Taare Zameen Par
In the middle of the night, he wakes up and goes and eats ‘kaju ki barfi’ as if trying to find that sweetness that will comfort him. It is at that moment when he is eating the ‘barfi’, he watches a show where Katrina Kaif is talking about her dreams, giving Vicky his ‘sweet dreams’. She tells him that it is important to preserve his dreams and for that matter he might even have to lie. She says to Vicky—
Increasing Volume to Shut the Other Voices in His Head?
Kaju Ki Barfi bringing sweetness
The world is not a kind place. Kabhi kabhi apni dream ko chupana padta hai. People always don’t understand you, so they will discourage you. Lekin tumhe to pata hai na, tumhara sapna kya hai, to uska khayal bhi tumhe rakhna padega. You have to nurture it. You have to protect it aur vaise bhi zaroorai nahi hai, har baat, har waqt doosron ko batayi jayi. Har baat batane ka ek sahi waqt hota hai. Tum jo chaho kar sakte ho. Tum jo chaho ban sakte ho. Follow your heart for there is magic in your dreams. If you believe them, they will come true. Bas yakeen karo ki aisa hoga aur tumhe koi nahi rok sakta.
With that not only does Katrina become a guardian angel for him that Vicky starts worshiping her, but she will also provide the anchor to the boat of Vicky’s dreams.
Guardian Angel – Katrina
Katrina will anchor his boat of dreams
The most beautiful part of the short story was the relationship that Vicky has with his non-judgmental sister. Her sister understands Vicky so well, and deep in her heart, she is well aware of the troubles that Vicky is going through. Such poise and maturity from a character as young as this is lovely. She lies to their dad that she put up a picture of Katrina Kaif in the room, even though Vicky had put it up. She happily accepted the Katrina Kaif doll that their dad bought for her, even though she clearly did not want it. At one point, Vicky asks her “What is your dream?” and she says that she wants to travel the world. Vicky replies, “as an air hostess” and she charmingly says, “as a passenger”.
She wants to become a ‘passenger’
And see the world
Even though kids dancing suggestively to item songs has been a big topic of debate, but the fact is that these kids love these songs. In my neighborhood in Delhi, I see all the young girls dancing and singing to such songs when they are playing in the evening. I did not cringe when Vicky finally danced to Sheila Ki Jawaani. In fact, the song became a metaphor of his suppressed hopes and liberated him, though fleetingly, from his immense inner turmoil. Kisi aur ki mujhko zaroorat kya, main toh khud se pyaar jataun. I do not see a happy future for him at all and he is going to eventually confront his father when he grows up. He has a life full of struggles ahead.
As always, the extent of detailing in any Zoya Akhtar film astounds me. As I wrote earlier here that each and every scene in Luck By Chance had a flower as a leitmotif. In this film as well she uses flowers in almost every scene. Whether be it the background paintings, clothes, jewelry or for that matter the sketched flowers in the ticket.
Mom’s Flowery Dress
Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh
Karan Johar’s Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh opens when a young boy, Avinash, goes to his father’s room, picks him up from his bed, hits him and says, “Chhakka nahi hun main, homosexual hun, na chhakka hona galat hai, na homosexual hona”. After that, he smiles for a few seconds as if he wanted to do this for a really long time. And I was instantly hooked because the scene comes from the director who dedicates every single film to his father and who made the over-saccharine melodramatic film, that Ram Gopal Verma could not sit through, also called as ‘it’s all about loving your parents’ Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.
Karan Johar Film – Yes!
Avinash is an intern at a Bollywood newspaper Mumbai Masala working with Gayatri. In the first meeting itself, Avinash says to Gayatri, “Gale me mangalsutra, aankhon me kamasutra”. Gayatri is married to Dev, a reclusive TV presenter, who has a fondness for old Hindi songs and memorabilia, and keeps these in a special room or maybe a closet. Also, unlike Avinash, Dev is a closeted gay man. Gayatri calls Avinash for a dinner at her place, and there is an instant spark between Dev and Avinash. It turns out that both of them love old Hindi music and they, then, discuss the brilliance of Madan Mohan who composed Lagja Gale. Avinash takes Dev to a child beggar at a railway station who splendidly sings the same song that they discussed. Dev loves her singing. He comes back home and has sex with Gayatri and when Avinash finds out, he is obviously jealous and then he confronts Dev. Dev abuses him and Avinash then tells Gayatri, who finally realized that there was no fault in her. It was all Dev’s inability to love her that was the reason as to why there was no spark in their marriage.
Hiding in a Closet
What I really liked was this is a totally minimalist Karan Johar. Karan has a gorgeous sense of inculcating colors and larger than life shots in his films. I can watch Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna any number of times just to watch how beautifully Karan uses his camera in songs, particularly in Tumhi Dekho Na and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. He understands romance and here, he does not use his sweeping shots but focuses on the people and uses symbolism to get his point across—something that Karan does not use much. At one point, Avinash visits Dev’s place and asks him, “Do you want to come out?”, obviously referring to Dev being a closeted gay man. The special closed room where Dev kept his songs was a metaphor to him being in the closet. At another point, Gayatri says that she does not have a cabin in her office because, “Band kamre me mera dam ghut ta hai”, referring to her loveless marriage from which she cannot get out. She puts extra sauce in her food to compensate for the lack of sauciness in her sexless life. At another point, and in the story’s most brilliant scene, when she finds out about Dev, she takes off all her make up and says she always thought maybe she is doing something wrong, but the problem was always in him. She put on ‘make-up’ to make up for her flaws, but she has no flaws now, so why should she put on the make-up. She takes off her jewelry because now she is free. It is these hidden subtexts that made me love this one. Of course, Rani is terrific like always.
“Do you want to come out?”
Trying to add spice to her life
No ‘make-up’ anymore
I had written earlier how I felt there were gay undertones in Student Of The Year. In this film, Karan explores it a bit further. I really hope he make this as an extended full feature film. I have no doubt in my mind that he will make it as elegant as any of his other films and he will bring out the emotional conflicts of people beautifully – something he excels in. At one point in the film, the little singing girl says to Dev that jhooth bolna buri baat hai. Later when Dev is outed, he goes back to the girl and he does not have money and the girl says that he is lying. He then says, “jhooth bolna buri baat hai”, as if he finally learnt to accept his own truth.
Jhooth bolna buri baat hai
This particular story is full of extremely sad characters. The utter loneliness of Avinash makes him do foolish things and he says bluntly that he is sad. He reads Free by Jonathan but he cannot break free from his solitude. The lack of sexual gratification in Gayatri’s marriage will not be compensated by reading Fifty Shades of Grey. The repression of Dev’s own sexual desires cannot be compensated by listening and taking a refuge in watching Anand. These characters are terribly lonely, not only due to their unfulfilled sexual desires but also because of that elusive love, which never seems to shine on these hapless souls. And that is why they can only sing that melancholic love song Lagja Gale. Baahen gale me daal ke ham ro le zaar zaar, aankhon se phir ye pyaar ki barasaat ho na ho, shaayad phir is janam me mulaaqaat ho na ho. Will these people find ever find love? I really hope they do. Something about this short story is deeply moving.
Fifty Shades of Grey—not in her life
Dibakar Banerjee’s Star is adapted from Satyajit Ray’s Patol Babu Filmstar. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is terrific in this short story, where he plays a failed entrepreneur, who is accidentally taken as an extra in a Ranbir Kapoor film. What I loved was that this is the first time I have seen the bird Emu in any film. Dibakar makes the bird a central character in the film. I just could not completely understand what it meant. The only interpretation that I could make out that since Emu is a flightless bird, it was a reference to the failure of Purandar in all the things he dabbled in—from businessman to an actor. He could never fly just as an Emu cannot fly. Actually on more research I found out that Dibakar says, “You see, Emu farming was a major enterprise in innumerable households across Maharashtra and other states some four to five years ago. It ruined so many families. The Emu in Nawazuddin’s home is symbolical of his wasted life.” Perfect.
Tujhe karke nahi lena, tujhe milna chahiye, haina?
What I really liked was the short story’s message that you cannot play safe all the time. You ultimately have to decide what you really want to do. That you have only yourself to blame if you do not work hard to realize your dream. “Tujhe karke nahi lena, tujhe milna chahiye”—this will not work. Watch this story for Sadashiv Amrapurkar’s terrific scene when he does the imitation of Purandar’s dialogue ‘Ai’ in so many different ways.
Again, this story had something related to a lie. When Purandar comes home, he tells a fascinating story to his daughter that he played a important role in the film although he was just an extra. The scene where he mimes is a demonstration of his acting prowess.
(Trivia: The voice of the faceless director is none other than Reema Kagti’s)
Voice of Reema Kagti
Anurag Kashyap’s Murabba
is about Vijay whose father sends him to Bombay to make Amitabh Bachchan eat a piece of murabba
. This was my least favorite story as after a point, it just got repetitive. At one point, Vijay’s father says to him, “Achaar ki botal me kabhi murabba nahi daalna chahiye”.
Again, the themes of films, the importance of lying, and the relationship between father and son was explored in this story as well.
Finally, in the end, a song commemorating a hundred years of the film industry was played with a tribute to all the big stars. They have used YouTube videos to lip sync the old stars to make them sing the song. From Dilip Kumar to Saira Banu to Rajender Kumar to Sadhana to Tanuja to Amitabh Bachchan to Rajesh Khanna to Dimple Kapadia. Also, stars from the 1990s appear as themselves instead of their clips. The song has been heavily criticized as tacky but when it was playing, I was thrilled by seeing all these famous actors on the screen because as Shah Rukh says in Luck By Chance, “Stardom ek cocktail hai, it’s insane”. Bombay Talkies is not a masterpiece but there is enough in it for each of us. I still do not know why are we fascinated with the movies. Perhaps, they provide us a refuge from our mundane lives bringing succor to our repressed aspirations. Or, maybe we find ourselves in those characters giving answers to the things that trouble us. And, that is why I will always keep on watching Hindi movies.