“Sachin: A Billion Dreams”…A trip down the memory lane with the master

To be honest, I walked into the theatre skeptically. Just another manifestation of his narcissism I thought to myself. This predisposition has been there from the eve of of his retirement at Wankhede. As a fan, I didn’t like the exit. The sign off should’ve come on-field against a better opponent, not on a podium. And as far as the last speech, his bat should’ve done the talking like it always did, not him. But anyways, each man deserves to choose his time and manner of exit. All the more when the man is a man less and a demi-god more, like Sachin. From then crevices formed in my relation with him and cricket. So when the trailer came about a documentary movie on him, I plainly dismissed its necessity to exist.
But what happened in the dark, after the screen came alive was something I hadn’t signed up for. Mother time probably had woven the crevices together.It was so good to see him. My icon was talking to me. His life was mine to know. A vanilla account it was, but not a prosaic one. After so many years, the child in me got to have a conversation with the brightest star that had lit his sky.  I became ten again. Life became innocent as the screen became a time machine with the master in the driver’s seat.

What can you say to a man, who carries the voice of a billion people in his ears, to unsettle him?

– Ian Botham, on sledging Sachin

Looking at the many Sachin exploits unfold on screen again, felt like flipping through some fond love letters of a first love. As a nineties kid, the nostalgia is palpable. Every shot, personal. Each knock bookmarked an important chapter in my life and the country’s. We’ve seen adulation, fondness and even mad following being extended to some sports personalities. But nothing compares to the emotional entanglement the fans shared with Sachin. Here was a man, whose game was personal to an entire nation. On match days, his showing decided the appetite of a household, sudden sickness leaves in a school and turnout at the workplace. Not to mention the TRPs of sports channels.

That was an era , when one man was- unwillingly -bigger than the sport itself. The nineties was a precarious era for cricket in India, as one couldn’t exactly tell whether he was obsessed with Sachin because he played cricket or with cricket because it let Sachin play it. Because the solicitous national rhetoric that cut through the length and breadth of the nation during a match’s progress was- ” Is Sachin still there?“.
That’s how much a layman needed to know. He was rooting for India alright, but somehow his concern ended with Sachin. His heart veered along faithfully with the master, like a kite dancing to the rhythm of the winds.

Every time I’ve walked with him, I’ve felt like accompanying the king of a jungle.

– Virendar Sehwag on opening with him

Seen from the vantage of the euphoria the nineties held, cricket these days has become a dispassionate affair that celebrates generic consistency over genius. The constant utopia most cricketers are after- remarkable athleticism, the 15 % body fat and the wild reinvention of shots has no doubt added spunk to the sport, but eroded its old school charm. 350+ scores are chased down with disdain, but they’re half the humdinger a 250+ chase used to be in the nineties. Probably the rapid learning curve has removed the hallow behind a cricketer’s head. A Virat Kohli is a great batsman, probably will go on topple some of Sachin’s records one day. But that’s about it. A Dhoni is probably a little bigger than that. His off- field zen persona, the rag to riches narrative and the barbaric helicopter shots taken into account duly. He’s one of the chief architects of the Indian renaissance in cricket. With him came the concept of solidarity. Of team being bigger than an individual. Of each individual chipping in to do his bit. One would hit while one would consolidate. One would turn. One would slip in the quick middle overs and one would guide along till the other side of the finishing line. There’s a certain industrial quality with which the team operates.

But as passive observers on the aisles of history would tell, there’s nothing heroic in the tale of foot soldiers taking the war to an opponent. Winning is always sweet, that doesn’t change. But the stakes aren’t high, though the consequence looms. Swords swing. Metals cling. Bruises cut through the skin. Some times limbs roll. Some times heads fly. The grit is real. The valor is palpable, though generic. When victory ensues, their collective stature brings in celebration, though the throne remains unthronable. Such accounts remain embalmed in history as facts, well short of mythical stature.

Even Dhoni’s reputation as one of the game’s best finisher comes from his dogged consistency in discharging duties from a specific batting designation. We don’t panic when he’s on strike every time. We don’t bunk office every time he’s gone past the thirties. We don’t touch our chins twice before the TV, to just not jinx a century. We love him for his ability to win games, like every self-respecting fan of a sport would. But this adulation clearly originates from the love of the sport, than the sportsman. Nothing like the unreasonable romance with everything Tendulkar.

The nation got familiar with the human anatomy, each time Tendulkar was diagnosed with a new injury.

– Harsha Bhogle

The anecdotes in the movie humanize the legend. After all, like any of us, even he wallowed with guilt each time he lost. He might’ve been a cricketing demigod, but even he turned to God to overcome his tennis elbow injury. We come close to his hitherto unseen shades- like the like how he was this doting father who swore to not operate the diapers of his new born, the reluctant young man who couldn’t summon enough chivalry to respond to a smitten woman’s attention or how he took his brother vicariously with him each time he took stance. Through every vulnerability learnt, empathy grows for someone who was a stoic enigma.

It’s not a movie as much as an experience. It will make you smile. Tear up at times, overwhelmed with nostalgia. Warm you up with the familiarity of a favorite chapter from life and go – ” Sachin, Sachin!“, one more time.

Why every movie buff should just STFU and celebrate Baahubali 2

India’s unity is in its diversity. Yeah right. So is ADMK’s unity now. Common, who are we kidding here. We’ve always been a nation bifurcated as north Indians and south Indians, not just geographically; but psychologically as well. The condescension has been mutual and over the years of being cultivated as polished global citizens, become subtle and sub-conscious. The only places we embrace each other’s identity wholeheartedly is in the cuisines. Sights of north Indians thronging dosa joints and south Indians making beelines to break naan outside north Indian restaurants, being case in point. Outside this, the only things that get us together are the Independence day, cricket matches( thanks to IPL the regionalism has sunk in here too) and festivals.(not anymore, given that the same historical episode falls on different dates on either sides of the Vindhyas.)

So cinema is no exception to this. Movies made in the Hindi language are respectfully called as hindi cinema- given the “Hindi is the national language up your throat” rhetoric  -and movies made in every other language are marginalized under the umbrella of regional cinema. So it’s no surprise that not beyond 5% of the people in a state come out to the theaters to check a movie out. So if you take a Dangal which is the highest grossing movie in the history of Indian cinema, it has managed to bring in a footfall of close to 4 crore people out of the total population of 134 crores, which is a mere 3%. Let’s take the worst case scenario that out of the entire population, only 20% comes to the theatre at all. Even then the most popular mainstream movie in a long time has managed to bring in a mere 15% into the halls. All this goes to show that you might have several dubbed versions, go on whirlwind promotional tours and learn to say “thank you” in a new language on reality shows; but notwithstanding these cutesies the people would continue to see you as a stranger and your movie as an effort in Chinese for which they’ll have to shell out their demonetized currencies.
These deeply embedded bottlenecks have to be taken into context to acknowledge Baahubali-2’s historic showing at the ticket windows; not just in terms of commerce, but culture as well. It is for the first time since the conjuring of Indian cinema, has a movie been perceived as being “pan Indian”, galvanizing the nation as a whole. It’s not just performed like a Salman Khan movie in the North but as a Rajnikanth starrer in the south

So what is it about Baahubali-2, that has made it into such an endearing sensation. Is it the scale? Probably; but there have been other movies like the Dhoom movies or Robot, which have had the scale, given their budgets. Bigger the budget, higher the vantage of scale to mount the film on, one might think. But few films come close to being set on the dizzying imagination as B2. Take for instance a scene that segues into a song sequence. The lead pair’s on a ship. The actress has a parallel thought. No surprises for what it culminates to next. But how it does is the deal breaker. The masts come down on either sides of the ship to flap as gigantic wings, to fly along with the sea gulls into the skies, where clouds scurry along as horses on either sides. These are stuff dream tutorials are made of.

We are a generation that has kowtowed to western imagination. We would quiz each other on Star Wars trivia, dedicate our coming off age to Rowling and worship Tolkiens for “his precious” and wake up before the rooster to keep abreast with GOT happenings. When it comes to myth, Greece has been cooler because Hollywood has made many a million dollar A-lister parades in that space. And the proper nouns are lot more lighter on the tongue and have a ring to them over draught beer. Achilles, Adonis and Thermopylae any day over Arjuna, Krishna and Kurukshetra, right?

Thanks to religion and philosophy, cutting close to mythologies in our backyard; we’ve not taken an instant curiosity to them, outside our moral science classes. As a result not many of us know of the marvelous anecdotes they bore in them of love, greed, desire and betrayal. About the masculine alpha males who strutted across the face of earth with unmatched prowess or the powerful women who  were active practitioners of progression even before feminism was needed in this part of the world. Amar Chitra Kata managed to uphold the spirit of the country’s mythology for a while, but it was a comic book and couldn’t grow beyond the school.
The characters in Baahubali are written with a strong heartland appeal, with easily digestible traits to connect to. They’re  distinct individuals with strong personalities and clear belief systems akin to the central characters of Ramayana and Mahabharatha. And the sequences are often tip of the hat accounts. Like the way Sivagami carries a new born through a river, similar to Vasudeva carrying Krishna between a split river. Or the way Kattappa is a mute spectator, who’s loyalty is different from his conscience akin to Bhishma. Or the more obvious central plot of feuding cousin brothers akin to Mahabharatha. It’s all there, but as homage, in spirit, in another form in a fictional land.

S.S.Rajamouli imbues his male protagonists with a certain virile charm, that’s been missing in our cinema ever since it started pandering to the diaspora abroad. They’re dhoti clad, with distinct mustaches and not five o’ clock shadows, brawny and not lean and manly, not boyish. There’s this moment in the movie where Bahubali walks into the court, his gait in rhythm to the invigorating chants in the score to the aid of his cornered wife’s. The drama that precipitates from there to a confrontation is stuff goosebumps are made of. For the first time in a really, really long while I saw sheer delirium in the theatre for a way a moment in a movie was staged. Not for a star doling out a punchline.
If the men partake in the drama, women create it. The women in the movie, Sivagami and Devasena are the fulcrums around which the men function. They’re strong, opinionated,intimidating and majestically feminine.

With such big feet, big shoes need to be there to fit in. The narrative has to have the gravitas deserving of such strong protagonists. Rajamouli’s screenplay stages these characters with such blue eyed adulation, imbuing the proceedings with the necessary friction and conflict. The interval sequence is one such scene designed with a keen sense of dejavu, as a homage to the acclaimed interval block from the previous movie. The circumstances that culminate into the half way point in the two films are entirely different; one is to do with the erection of a giant statue of a king in the present and the other is his coronation in the past. Yet they both overlap in terms of spirit in a common point of conflict.

There are some subtle suggestions of providence, be it the pseudonym Bahubali assumes which later happens to become his son’s name. Or the way the movie ends poetically, with the journey coming to an end in the place it all started. These are grace notes. decorative intentions on the fringe of an already masterful painting. Baahubali is much more than an overpriced behemoth its price tag suggests. It’s way more than the “why Katappa killed Bahubali” itch. It’s much more than an unprecedented fiscal success story it has come to be. It’s just not a movie, but an experience. A cerebral expedition into the childlike mind of its creator. A triumph of his audacity to look beyond the commercial commonplace. A case study on why sometimes great ideas don’t necessarily need a language to be appreciated. Jai Mahishmathi!

The idiot before the box

Feet pointing ceiling wards, I’m tucked in a warm corner of a sofa in my hotel room in Bangalore. Warmth caused from my absolute deposition in similar position without a limb movement since the past one hour. So there’s this Kannada film-Kirik Party that I wanted to check out and as a result of which been in moot with my body; protesting its inertness and it, my audacity to get off the ass. However, with a little assistance from the balmy weather outside, the body wins and I’m left to turn to an old habit for solace-swapping channels.

The television comes alive the image of Rajini in a graceful bell bottom trouser. He’s slapping around his sister, who’s apparently lied to him about her romantic life, that he had come to know about. The scene’s reeking of chauvinism, but the man’s grace more than covers it up. His hair isn’t the messy pigeon nest it came to be a few years later with the superstar moniker, it’s parted from the side gracefully. Arulirunthu Aruvathu Varai is a movie for all seasons. It continues to remain so.

Probably one among either the movie or Rajini cause a sandwich craving.The hand meddles with the Swiggy app and moments later there’s a club sandwich that is room bound from a joint few kilometres apart. The mood changes. So does the channel.

Shahrukh is a bloody heap, yet he’s pummeling an army of blazer clad henchmen with conspicuous looking punks, that almost descend on their collars like hibernating rodents . All of them despite being the “bad” entourage, are thorough gentlemen. They patiently wait for their turns to get at our hero, ensuring he at no point does he have beyond one person to sink his fists into. And our hero gamingly hams along, with an eternal chin quiver. Baazigar is one of those delightful masala movies, where the hero’s moving in slow motion in a scene that is already shot in slow motion. An 8 metre rusted iron rod gets planted into his solar plexus, yet after a brief pause he manages to not only kill the villain with it; but limp a few miles to die on his widowed mother’s chiffon; leaving her with a corpse and a stained sari. The woman’s old, dependent, mentally unstable and now orphaned. But who cares about all that.All that matters is,she’s been avenged by her serial killer deceased son. “THE END” the screen screams before our mind begins to ponder further.

The sandwich makes its appearance and craving settles. Mood changes. So does the channel.

Aamir Khan’s deconstructing the definition of “book” to a painful detail to get back at a professor. He’s supposed to be a geek, but he plays it with the gawkiness of an alien that belonged in PK, nevertheless endearingly. Rancho is one of the most celebrated character of this generation and not without a reason. Watch him spiritedly explain the anecdote behind how the “Aal izz well” phase came into vogue, you know the stuff cult classics are made of.

I’ve watched 3 Idiots a million times like anyone else. So the channel changes before I begin to get sucked in once again.

A septuagenarian is frolicking with a certain sense of authority and a wig, heavier than it; with a girl younger than his molar tooth. The gentleman in point being Rajkumar, who’s apparently got his regime for diabetes mixed up with the choreographer’s vision, to come with something that looks like a form of non verbal exorcism.
I felt violated by the shenanigans. Thankfully most of the sandwich had made it past the digestive system. At least I had the luxury of changing the channel, my heart went out to the poor girl onscreen who was subjected to child abuse.

I get up to make myself a nice drink. Hmmm..the pleasure of solitude, fermented liquid on rocks and the company of a box with infinite entertainment.Channel changes.

Bhai’s bed bound, reeling from some pain. Something we’ve not seen in any of his several court appearances. What’s moved the mountain…rather who?
It’s not the blurry image of the deceased from Bandra pavement nor the blackbuck. It’s his muse, a lanky Anushka who’s apparently confronting the man about their skirmish from sometime back. He’s in tears. She’s gotten to him. It’s a beautiful scene from Sultan where he breaks down before his estranged wife in the most vulnerable point in life. The pain that separated them once, gets them back together.

Too mushy for a Bhai movie. Drink’s hit bottom. The limbs have become pleasantly lethargic. Eyes are in search of sleep. Mood changes. Channel changes.

“If the homo sapiens were in fact homo sapiens…is that why they’re extinct?”
“Joey, homo sapiens are people!”
“Hey, I’m not judging!”
I cracked up like I did the first time. Joey’s dumbness is addictive. To me, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, writers of Friends are demigods, much bigger in stature than Tolkiens and Rowling. While LOTR and Harry Potter had to resort to magic and an alternate world set in fantasy to capture the imagination of their subscribers, Friends mined its epicness from commonplace. There’s no gibberish, no scale and no convoluted subplots and backstories. Just a bunch of friends who live their lives with us. Or atleast made us feel that way. None of them are path-breaking actors by any standards. But tell you what, they needn’t be. Because we don’t know them, as much as the characters they’ve dissolved into before our eyes. So Ross doesn’t behave like Michael Schwimmer. Maybe Schwimmer is a lot like Ross.
That’s the thing about Friends, it gives you a sense that life would be great with every iteration. The dark corner in the bedroom wasn’t eerie anymore. No one was looking back at me from there. It was just my over imaginative head. I needed to rest, a early morning train awaits. The TV needed to as well.

Power off.

A night well spent.
.

Mani Ratnam- A master of imitation

There is this sweet spot in movie making that exists between imitation and inspiration that auteurs keep hitting from time to time. Nayagan is a wonderful case in point. Kamal and Ratnam’s doff-of-hat homage to Coppola’s Godfather, resulted in the creation of the most iconic characters in pop culture, Velu Nayakar. Nayakar was modelled on Corleone, looked like Varada Raja Mudaliyar and drew from Haasan’s persona. It was a thesis on effectively implementing a western trope to eastern sensibilities-staying true to both, without diluting the other. This was first among the many times, Mani Ratnam would go on to paint vivid pictures of inspiration on celluloid.

Sometimes the inspiration came from a peer’s work, like in the case of Mouna Ragam which is his interpretation of Bhagyaraj’s Antha 7 Naatkal. Mouna Ragam like A7N dealt with that icky space between a husband and his wife’s unrequited past romance. Like Rajeev, Mohan was a debonair gentleman who went out of his way to find a cozy spot for his wife outside the precincts of matrimony. They were dignified men, keen listeners content to be the number two in their woman’s life. Antha 7… was a colourful tale with comedy, romance, tragedy and drama operating in tandem under the vigil of a path-breaking screenplay that lent each central character with dignity and empathy. Mouna Ragam dialed up the wife’s disgruntlement, killed her ex and focused more on the evolution arc of the relationship with her husband, from being one of “kambilipoochi” like repulsion to a place of reverence. It felt like a vibrant Woody Allen film with a brilliant Ilaiyaraja score and a lot less cynicism.

Thalapathi was a case of inspiration from mythology and folklore. It was a contemporary adaptation of Karna’s life- his friendship with Duryodhana, tumultuous relation with his estranged mother and his administering of dharma, Rajni style. It audaciously plucked the essence of central characters from Mahabharatha and tossed them in and around the heat of Chennai’s vigilante establishments. It made for a riveting watch. Ditto with Roja, that spun the story of Satyava-Savitri against the backdrop of Kashmiri insurgency. The mythical anecdote suddenly assumed different shapes and connotations. It became a chest thumping account of a woman’s resilience. It also turned a sort of flagship movie on nationalism, courtesy the invigorating Tamizha Tamizha sequence. The subversion of Yama into a humane terrorist was another stroke of genius.

If some of Mani’s inspirations came from movies and some from mythology, some came from lives and times of personalities. Like the iconic Iruvar. It was his cinematic ode to the MGR-Karunanidhi saga. Like an overseeing conscience, it surreptitiously follows the journey of the two doyens of Dravidian politics through insignificance, friendship, one upmanship, envy, bitterness, ignominy and their eventual separation. It lets us partake in the head space of the two of the most fascinating men, as they traded blows at each other, lending relatability to prosaic anecdotes we’ve hitherto read and heard over the years, without taking sides.

And to bring to life, the story of how the founding stones of the nation’s biggest business empire were laid, as a fascinating personal account is no mean stretch. Guru did this and more. It gave us a manipulative protagonist who took to business like life and to life like business. Gurukant Desai was a capitalist subversion of Nayagan’s,”Nallu Peruku Naladhu na, Edhuvum Thapilla” commandment. The ruthlessness, the scant disregard for the rule book were all there, but unlike Velu Nayakar, all this doesn’t culminate in the path of altruism. Guru’s a scrupulous businessman. Period. When in a tight spot, he greases his way out. Like with every biopic worth its salt, Guru keeps us pondering from scene to scene, if this was Ambani or just Gurukanth. Ratnam never really bothers. He simply keeps blurring the line between the two.

Seen as a naive connoisseur of cinema, these are fascinating films with top notch production values, timeless performances, lilting scores. All in all, timeless pieces of art. If one wants to scratch beyond the surface,  then these are masterful retelling of popular lives, progressive deconstruction of folklore and “what-if” discourse of enigmatic personas. What better way to embalm the legend of MGR, than through Ratnam’s direction, Mohanlal’s acting and Rahman’s score?

Nallu Peruku Naladhu na, Edhuvum Thapilla“-If it benefits a few people, nothing’s wrong.

Kaabil- The drudgery of Hrithik’s acting

Moments into Kaabil I was distracted. Not by the little kids in the row before, having popcorn wars. Not by the bright display from the mobile, next seat. Not even by the incessant banter of a marwadi contingent looking for F row in the middle of B row. It was the sight of Hrithik playing a blind man.

His face encapsulates Michelangelo’s intensity half way into Sistine Chapel. Brows arced, it is a picture of focus. What is he doing? Making omelette.Nah….creating fresco with broken eggs on a pan. He’s got this industrious look plastered on his face whilst at even the most common of things, that it lends some unintentional curiosity to the activity. We begin to wonder when he opens a tap so emphatically, if he’s there for just the water or releasing its hidden potential as well. Or the time when he’s dicing vegetables purposefully,  if he’s sculpting them for a higher cause or just cooking.
Most emotions he doles out in the movie fall in the range contained between Akbar’s royal grimace to Krish’s righteous chin quiver. The ones which don’t fall in this space, fall under the I-blush-excessively-when-I-get-horny platter from Koi Mil Gaya.

The template of the story is older than a few mountains, alright. But where did the thumb rule of character establishment go? Appu Raja(Aboorva Sagotharargal) pitted a dwarf against a bunch of evil men, all bigger than him in stature and status. We were introduced to the dwarf’s vulnerability, his fragility earlier in the film; that we became invested and went on to root in his lopsided battle.

The fun of watching a protagonist with a disability lock horns with a mighty antagonist comes from his helplessness and the dexterity he brings in to make up for it. He has to be the mouse for most parts in the cat and mouse game they play. Which is one of the many places Kaabil falters. Its hero is a blind man with 18 inch biceps and a blonde streaked mane. He sports colour coordinated designer clothes and never puts a wrong foot down on the dance floor. Instead of leveraging his blindness as a bottleneck, it’s treated like a insignificant kitchen scar. I know the title means capable, but this is over-capable with a few exclamation marks.

And the aspiration to have these things scattered in a masala flick that intends to play to the gallery isn’t a crime. Just that their existence could’ve been ratified. Like showing him live with his granny who picks up his clothes. Have a few montages of him sweating it in the gym or even learning dance. These things lend credibility to the proceedings. Just stray shots of him sniffing a smell from a far away neighbour or that of mimicking Amitabh over phone only does as much as Deepika Padukone does to a deodorant in a commercial, as far as authenticity goes.

It’s not like Hrithik isn’t earnest. In fact if acting was measured by earnestness alone, he would probably be an acting demigod. And it doesn’t help that the director isn’t any visionary himself to make up for the lacunae with a taut screenplay or a novel story. He infuses the film with a distinct copious 80s sensibility and tropes.From raped heroine, vowing hero, political villain to fat landlines with circular dial; it’s all there. Just that it doesn’t have the old school charm of the era. Dabbang was stitched out of the same cloth, but Salman played Chulbul Pandey with such unabashed conviction, that a rusted script became rustic.

Kaabil needed its hero to be fluid, to have a blast like he did in his extremely popular debut vehicle. Instead he tries too hard and the symbiotic spontaneity goes amiss from the viewing experience. If the meticulous posturing during stunt sequences or the asthmatic enunciation of dialogues are anything to go by, Hrithik’s in his own avant garde project. And even beyond all this, every time I managed to con myself of the film being in this era by the constant sight of slim fit jeans, a hideous Baba bhajanesque track would come up to remind me of its expiry date.  .

Badlapur to Raman Raghav 2.0-Anatomy of a murder

Badlapur tracks the journey of a simpleton consumed by his thirst for revenge, whose wife and kid become collateral damages to a robbery that goes astray. The perpetrator, Layak is nabbed and sentenced to a 20 year imprisonment, before the protagonist could get a piece of him.
The movie traces the diabolical transformation of this man musing on just one emotion- revenge over the span of the sentence.

He inflicts psychological pain on the imprisoned man by violating his girlfriend. 15 years later when he tracks the accomplice-who’s basking in the dividends of the booty, with his wife; now a reformed man- descends on them like a plague. He first feasts on the helplessness of this man from behind the closed doors of his own bedroom; from where his wife held siege is made to fake moan orgasmically. Later, he vents out his long held frustration on the couple, going on to hack them to unrecognisable parts.
Its at this very juncture, that the definition of protagonist and antagonist becomes a fluid concept to us, dichotomised by a delicate line.Who is more wrong-the “supposed” criminal who killed accidentally, while in a hurry to flee from the scene of crime or the “supposed” bereaved man who conducts a premeditated murder of a couple-like a funeral rite that was left behind-15 years after his wife’s murder?
While the former was clearly not personal, the latter is deviously so.
The film mocks at the righteousness behind revenges as it draws to its end, with Layak surrendering to the murders committed by his avenger, the wronged man.

If Badlapur was an antithesis of the revenge archetype; Raman Raghav serves as an antithesis to Badlapur.

Take Nawazuddin Siddiqui‘s Layak, replace the limp and Huma Qureshi; with an unsettling quiver and an iron rod, we have Ramana from his recent offering Raman Raghav. But the similarities stop there.Layak at least had a heart that skipped a beat at the distress of the damsel he was in love or embraced a consequence of a past sin. Raman on the other hand is a morbid being, who seeks mirth in the act of murder.

As he declares rather proudly, he doesn’t find the need to hide behind the veneer of an uniform, religion or humanity to kill. He kills because he wants to.
RR is not a euphemism of the anti hero template-like the Don or Dhoom movies; with the crimes committed in a scale and color schema of a carnival-instead it’s our worst fears inhabiting the darkest corridors of our heart, personified into two individuals- equally disturbed and disturbing.

The movie’s is a class apart as it manages to achieve macabre violence in the viewer’s head without much blood spilt, to which I doff my hat.A lesser movie would’ve resorted to showing the gruesome murders happening in graphic detail and the mutilated corpses. Here we get a cerebral excursion into a murderer’s head who kills devoid of a before of after thought.Imploding with intrigue,we get to witness the lead up to his murders-the cryptic monologues, the modus operandi, the victim’s vulnerable last moments-till he renders them still; lifeless.

The shock we get here is veritable, unlike the one we associate with a ghoul springing out from a haunted house tour in a mall, but closer to the vicarious pain of watching a prey being chased and hunted by a predator in a jungle.
But in the jungle at least, the hunting is a seamless part of the survival process to the predator, not an act of inebriating pleasure.

Starstruck by the serial killings of the despicable Raman Raghav from an impressionable age, Ramana is on the lookout for a yin to his yang-“Raghav”. In this aspiration of  his we get an interesting spin off to the Soulmate trope that would make Yash Chopra turn in his grave. He sees his soulmate in an unlikely person- the cop who’s hot on his trail.

The final portions of the movie see Ramana as a content man who brings himself into custody. In what happens to be one of the most defining moments, he breaks into a cryptic monologue during a one on one interrogation with the cop about how providence-that he likens to redemption dawning upon one after years of penance-had eventually brought him close to his soulmate- who completes and compliments him. The cop baffled by this man’s ability to look right into his soul-without being intimidated by its darkness- appoints Raghav to be his vindicated alter ego, his true self that he starts to wear like a badge of honour.

While leaving the theatre, when we surreptitiously find ourselves a touch glad at the unison of two heinous murderers- Raman and Raghav, we can’t help but appreciate the genius of the maverick filmmaker who had just managed to endear the act of murder as a catharsis, so palatably to our primal sides.

Lootera and the last leaf epilogue

Climaxes are more often than not an end to a story’s flow; also few times a lead up to a sophomore movie. The protagonists go on with their lives much after the screen goes blank; probably a little differently happier,sadder or alive than we saw them last. After all we were the disconnected spectators who had paid a price to eavesdrop into their lives, while they were just unassuming people leading a life little aware about the spectacle that they had become, in the name of a movie.

I’ve always revered a well written drama bookended by its prologue and epilogue for the gravitas they bring in; especially the epilogue- for it creates the last impact that lingers with me long after the running time- constituting thus a lasting impression.

It is in this context that Lootera is a special movie with an exemplary song fashioning its epilogue.Make no mistake about the fact that it is an invigorating piece of cinema by itself-a gift which never stops giving-the epilogue only serving as a grand wrap around it.

A man scuttles through the torrid snowfall towards a bald elder tree, which effectively is laden barren with naked branches pointed skywards as in a plea to the heavens. A solitary leaf exhibiting dogged resilience much to the nature’s surprise seems to be the only form of life in it. Its last hope; probably someone else’s too.
We see an identical leaf peeping from his jacket, with painted veins and a piece of twine annexed.Immediately we get a cue to how the lone leaf’s resilience was doctored.

As he climbs to the top of the tree to replace the leaf with the one in his pocket, the song begins- it talks about a man’s plea to providence to be let alone and just alive. His tryst to the top of the tree seems to be the only animation for miles around in the avalanche struck valley.
He bleeds with every progress from one branch to another, reeling in pain he still goes about resolutely. It’s only when he replaces the previous day’s leaf with the one in his pocket, does he lets go off; figuratively and literally.
His headward fall doesn’t incite panic, but inhabits a serene embrace in his face. Even as blood smudges beneath his head forming a red halo, he continues to look at his leaf snubbing the storm above with contentment. For it’s an edifice for a loved one he once connived.

She was royalty, conned of everything that made her that- left to take refuge in a modest mansion in a snow hit ghost town-by the very same man who was now staking his life for her’s. Saddled with loneliness and an incurable disease feeding on her life stream, she had picked an unlikely soulmate in a tree outside. A tree which was lonely,blizzard hit and hopeless-much like her,dying with every leaf withering away. Withering in tandem to which she had numbered her days.

Little did she know about the part irony was to assume in her life. That it had appointed the man who had robbed her to where she was to be her antidote; who would eventually go on lay himself in the altar of her prosperity.

He gathers himself up rather shabbily from the impetus of the fall- punctured and bleeding- he stumbles like a headless chicken besotted in fulfilment. Fulfilment from the fact that his leaf artifice had after all managed to bail her from an impending death. Now with his ticket to redemption made, he embraces death like a blanket of warmth for there’s nothing else to look up to in his life.

Sultan-An actor is born out of a superstar

With his back facing us, he struts out of the dark alley to the ring like a celestial being, little streaks of sunlight pouring from the shafts above in quantity just enough to fashion the contours of his silhouette with gold dust as the chant in the background goes-“Khoon mein tere Mitti, Mitti mein tera Khoon; Upar Allah, Neeche Dharti; Beech mein tera Junoon“.
The crowds in the movie become delirious as Sultan makes a grand entrance,as the crowd in the theatre goes berserk at the first sight of Salman. Salman’s playing his favourite alter ego- that of a man child with a magnetic charm for the infinite time to the same effect; this time he’s called Sultan.

A quintessential Bhai movie is nothing but an elaborate vanity exercise comprising of-catchy numbers, quirky signature steps and fourth wall breaking sequences with iconic lines when Bhai is done breaking some bones. Sultan does all this and much more. It gives us a protagonist who is not saddled with the task of catering to the legion of fans of the star alone.  He is a fallible person, who crumbles under the impact of defeat. He is an illiterate who knows to handle the rejection of a woman with dignity. He is a desi wrestler who’s Ko move is punctuated with an obeisance.Sultan manages the hitherto  unmanageable feat of trespassing beyond the “Salman” persona to an unchartered territory called acting, that Bajrangi Bhaijaan almost managed to do.

The road to redemption is staged onscreen in an invigorating fashion through the subtle deployment of a few processes as metaphorical devices . Insulted by the woman he loves for the dearth of purpose in his life, he embarks on a journey of self discovery .He starts off with a clear-face shakily,tilling a field singlehandedly to chasing beside a local train. The train zooms past him and there’s a lot left to plow in the field.
As he makes progress; he’s grown a thick stubble now. He almost manages to match the train and the field has significantly been cleared; his limits stretched.
By the end of his metamorphosis- the stubble has turned a marked moustache; he races past the train with the field burning ready for cultivation. A new man is born.

There is this point in the movie where a worn out Sultan, past his prime is trying to stage a comeback. He takes his shirt off before the mirror.What he sees is an image of a man who is not just out of shape, but buried beneath the debris of despair and defeat. He implodes with anguish as even his shirt wouldn’t peacefully let him sneak in to it. It is one of the rare occasions where our hearts go out in unison for this man, overlooking the star portraying him.
Sedentary at soul, he is this lackadaisical individual who wakes up to his potential after instigation. For success has often been his retaliation to instigation- a recurring motif in his life. If Aarfa instigated him with her insult to turn him into a world renown wrestler earlier, a coach now calls him a dead person from the ringside while he gets beaten to pulp, trying to resurrect his carrier in a new form after a sabbatical.
Phat comes the killer move – as if in response – as he lays still his opponent.He springs out of the ring defiantly to tell this man, verbally now that he might have quit wrestling, but never stopped fighting.

The romance isn’t a gratuitous embellishment to ratify song sequences. It constitutes the very heart and soul of the movie.It gives us his love interest Aarfa, an ambitious-strong woman, an Adrian to his Rocky(just that she’s is a wrestler much before he wanted to be one.) She just isn’t there as his prosaic arm candy, but insinuates the necessary friction in his life from time to time.
There’s a beautiful trait she exhibits every time when Sultan makes progress towards something great; she turns away from the happening solicitously. She doesn’t want to spectate, but rather participate vicariously in his travails moment by moment. She does this when he enrols as a green horn wrestler to take part in a state level championship. She does this while coaching kids with her back facing the TV playing his MMA matches.

These finer aspects go on to enhance the relatability of the larger than life proceedings, the stuff that we seldom expect out of a Salman starrer. There is this scene where he watches his wedding night’s video after dinner in isolation. As the shot segues from the video to his room, he’s  fallen asleep watching himself fall asleep in the video. We get to know that the nostalgia held in the video is his lullaby.
For once the sight of Bhai is not just the excuse to wolf whistle alone, but a calming influence.

When the heart goes, “Dil Chahta Hai”

Posterity is the hallmark of a great work of art. It is the ability to endear to the same person with different relevance in different phases of his life, while being relevant enough to be passed from one generation to another to another, along with wealth,beliefs and ideologies.
Every piece of art worth its salt does capture one’s attention, in a few cases even the imagination, the relevance eventually dissolves along with efflux of time, with changing tastes and sensibilities acquainting one to newer things; weaving cobwebs over erstwhile preferences.
While most creations go through this circle to die a natural death, a rare few manage eternity,leaving behind an indelible impression as- a memorable anecdote, a bookmark to a chapter of life and eventually go on to become a part of popular culture.Dil Chahta Hai is one of those rare pieces of art.Earlier on in the movie there’s a scene in which Tara does a character study from his paintings, calling out Sid’s bluff, as he watches her bring down his wall brick by back, seeing right into his naked soul. That very moment, he finds an unlikely soulmate in this much elder woman with more than a few demons to slay herself. The entire sequence is held together by a soulful score that trickles down unhurriedly in tandem to the happenings, delicately leaving behind a watershed impression without endeavoring to impress. This scene segues into the blissful “Kaisi he yeh,rutu ki jisme…” song  with montages of Sid making a meticulous portrait of Tara.
A younger man falling for a complicated elder woman was rather an outrageous concept back then in my first viewing, when I was on the threshold of puberty. So I grazed around the fence and caught on to the other stuff that glittered, like Samir’s escapades, Aakash’s playfulness and obviously the”Koi kahe, kehta rahe” anthem.But after putting up a decade to my age, some beard to my face and a string of failed relationships, I exactly knew from where the slap fell on Aakash’s face. I had over the years, tiptoed to Sid’s side. I knew why the rift had to come form, Aakash was wrong and it was only fair that his comeuppance came in the form of unrequited love later.DCH is not only the gold standards of friendship. but a celebration of life itself. It manages the tight rope of staying relatable, while setting its issues against the pristine backdrop of its wealthy protagonists. You’ll not find a single poor looking person or place in the entire film, but not once will you find it to be a vanity fare with prosaic issues.
It fascinates me as to how the film feels like a multilayered concentric circle, peeling away into a newer layer with every iteration, taking you on a trip different from the last time.

If Aakash’s deadpan sarcasm appealed to me the last time, this time around after my break-up I found myself tumbling along with him on the picturesque streets of Melbourne, as he straddled along like a headless chicken; heart pulled out to a solicitous Sonu Nigam going “Ab kaha jaun Mein, Kisko Samjaun mein?“;as the painful melody of the Tanhayee song was inundating both our lives with the vicious shadow of separation.
I didn’t like it when he jokingly lied to her about seeing the fat opera singer- just like me- he didn’t know when to stop joking. I totally understood the gravitas of his dramatic confession on the night of her wedding; for men like him who’ve hidden behind the artifice of humour all their life fall down rather clumsily when confronted with a moment of truth. I was glad that he was able to win her back, unlike me.I exactly knew from where those tears rolled down his cheeks, as he apologized to Sid. For he had come a long way from ridiculing love to falling in it, to eventually acknowledging another man’s.

This time,it felt like a different movie than the last time,the epiphanies coming from over Aakash’s shoulders. It was all about getting to know him better.Next time around, it would probably be about just Samir alone and his misadventures with the opposite sex.

A phony like Dhoni

Even gods had bad days at the office, their thunder bolts wouldn’t come off or the spouses ditched their sides to mortal planets, over moral stand-offs.  Some demi gods, as invincible as they were had weak links in their anatomy as well, like Achilles for instance. Their flaws and the comeuppance that followed lent pulp of relatability for tons of mythology to be woven into scaffolding for many a religion. Take for instance the Ramayana, without the long exile we wouldn’t have gotten a well rounded hero in a man who wept, sweated and bled; but with grace and dignity on the face of the worst jokes fate was spinning around him. There’s a certain charm that comes in chronicling the lives of great men, who wore their failures as a badge of honour, while holding fort in the eye of the storm. Their character is often the halo we bend before with reverence.

Biopics are the closest we get into the heads of some fascinating men who walked the face of the earth, as long as their travails aren’t manicured in the altar of mass acceptance.
Given the number of promotional gigs Dhoni has been a part(a number,little higher than the press conferences he’s attended in his tenure as a captain); not to mention his vested interest that extends to the production of the movie; my hopes of an half honest account nose dove like his recent form.

So to be fair, I went in to the movie with a good quantity of predisposition, but was pleasantly surprised by the cinematic translation of the underdog story I had read and heard, albeit with a few liberties. I especially loved the portions involving his childhood and how the little men around him had chipped in to become cogs to make this giant wheel roll ahead. But as the movie progressed, the earthy smell got replaced by something that resembled the stench of vanity  and characters who hitherto spoke and felt like laymen started making pronouncements- juxtaposed with cricketing metaphors -out of Robin Sharma books. Soon the movie resembled a Nelson Mandela biopic attempt with Will Smith in Bad Boys swagger.

After a point the movie goes on autopilot, resembling a compilation of “greatest ODI knocks episodes” on ESPN, only that we’ve got stock footage of Anupam Kher‘s reaction shots instead of Harsha Bhogle and a doppelganger instead of Dhoni to contend.
The hyperbole level is dialed up further, as we come across more stock characters-all devotedly white without a speck of grey- nobler than the noblest, naiver than naive. The two women who constitute his love interest with their strict no PDA rules that would make Madhubala look like a vamp are embarrassing cliches with similar scopes-montages, songs, valentine’s predicament, lost poodle eye roll and commitment pangs.Rinse. Repeat.

And why on earth did the family and well wishers who are shown eternally glued to their television sets on match days, never in any of his match venues? Probably because the director didn’t want to meddle with the collective over-idealism in the movie.Another cardinal sin the makers commit is making a biopic during the times of Dhoni, with his relevance intact. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a fairly well made(dramatised) biopic could leverage on the advantage that it was made decades after his time. It could afford to have a brawny Farhan Akhtar who looked nothing like Milkha play him, throw facts to the wind and milk his blurry distance from public memory. Same reason, the initial portions with Dhoni’s childhood resonate the best, as they’re far removed from his time, with nothing but anticipation to yardstick their authenticity.

Largely entertaining,imaginative and well intentioned, it’s a tight rope walk between movie making and manipulation that the director manages to pull off, but when the heart of the protagonist is compromised, what we’re left with is the cry of an invigorating background score, instead of the rhythm of his heart.

We didn’t expect a chest-splayed-out-in-the-open account in the first place, but at least a banian level of honesty, with a doff of hat to cautious diplomacy. But we instead get seven layers of expensive clothes, all trying to pass off as his righteous skin.In the end as we begin to realise the vanity spin off the movie turned out to be,Sushant Singh appears like a metaphor to the movie; better looking,well built and ultra polished than the man himself.