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.

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Hits, flops and movie parlance like that

How do I embrace a painting when in front of one- through the intrigue held in its strokes, the embedded undercurrent of symbolism or it’s auction price?  What if its price is the only yardstick  to draw parallel with the other paintings on display or the previous works of the same creator? If so, the skewed leftovers of this apples & oranges comparison would leave me with nothing but price tags and wealth trivia; hardly an inference one would say.
Talking of apples and oranges-one’s penetratingly saccharine and crunchy, while the other is citrus and sour  . Different textures, different patrons. Though fruits, they’re as dissimilar the night and dawn. And they aren’t the only fruits in the vast ecosystem of fruits, each one unique and fascinating from the other. Born out of different plants branched out of different seeds sown into different geographies under  different conditions. So, how rational would my appreciation be if it was out of stock taking of the fortunes made by the orchards or the turnover done by the exporters dealing in them.

If you asked my grandpa to pick a movie indelibly etched in his mind, he would probably reminisce about a movie starring either Dilip Kumar or Sivaji Ganesan. The pink in his face would give away his fond nostalgia, as he would ruminate about the story or hum a line or two of a close song. If you asked my mom about a film from her teenage, she would either talk about a Kamal Haaasan classic or an Amitabh Bachchan movie from his “pre-angry young man” days. She would talk fondly about the visionary Balachander was, for his deft handling of volatile subjects with grace and poignance or about movies that stayed afloat in public memory on the sheer strength of Ilaiyaraja‘s magic. Movies meant memories to them, bookmarks to the chapters in their lives.
If one were to ask the same to my college going cousin, a movie buff mind you, he would proudly talk about the opening weekend collections of his star’s film along with painful statistics of the movies it toppled along its ascent to the top and how close it got to the elusive hundred crore club. He would probably remember songs by their placement in the aircheck or the I-tunes chart, if not by his ringtone. Not surprising given the- “loudest the rightest, quantity is quality”,  maxim of his generation.

Niches have faded into seclusion before the cliche churning behemoths of mass approval. Works of art that dial up introspection and epiphanies have gotten relegated to Netflix, as movie halls fill in as dams holding footfalls from the avalanche of promotions. The most promoted movies end up being the most preferred ones over the fate fashioning first weekend, not so surprising given the amnesiac span of attention of the audience that can only hold up the last flamboyant splash.
You don’t see men debating about the good parts and the bad parts of a movie long after the lights have come on. They instead make small talk about whether it would break even or end up losing money, when all that is left of their stake in the movie is a torn ticket and popcorn calories. Somehow the average internet denizen seems to have been stung by the box-office bug. Agreed that the air of capitalism is inundating and the producer’s parlance percolates till the very roots.But it’s not like the stock exchange, where one frantically tracks the movement of his share price. Maybe it is to do with the rudimentary head rush that comes with pitting things against each other- as dissimilar as they’re -to see as to which one among them goes the farthest north.

Probably the ubiquitous availability of too much information from a zillion box office tracking sites and trade analysts piques this misplaced fiduciary interest. They’re like the class teachers who announce the ranks alone, without going into the nitty gritty of any of the subjects. Can I just watch a wonderful movie at home ensconced before the box and leave it just at that? Well, not entirely. By night, I’ll have the summary of the TRP wars and where my movie stood, like a diligent annual report of a company I had put my money into.I just can’t stop with the knowledge of how the movie was, but also have to be informed about how it batted for the channel playing it. So next time I watch a gem like Manorama Six Feet Under on TV, I’ll watch and recommend it to a friend with an air of charity; instead of respect subconsciously. This dirty dichotomy of movies into hit or flop, instead of good or bad has left with us with “mass” produced movies targeted at a wider audience. But where’s the charm in finding demand to a newly opened arrack shop, in an island full of drunkards.

We can’t afford to have Tarentinos, Guy ritchies,Myskins and  Dibakar Banerjees as their audacious works are frowned upon by the high priests of the industry, the producers, for their movies only generate negligible profits that the trade pegs as sleeper hits or break evens. As a bunch of outlaws perceived to masturbate their heads out of in the name of movie-making, they barely find takers even among their target audience-the supposed creme de la creme . Yet we’ll find the balls to nonchalantly rave about Annie Hall, Birdman, Perks of being a wallflower and the impotency of the film industry to churn such films. Not just that, we would make religious beelines to Bhai films to only bitch about the stinking records they go on to make, while patiently waiting for a good torrent of the home grown “offbeat” movies these guys make. After all, its only fair to observe anomalies in isolation, right!

Another conundrum I’m yet to wrap my head around is the fracas around the youtube hits a trailer of a movie gets. It’s like trying to gauge the looks of a person by the number of people who had seen his silhouette. Like this isn’t embarrassing enough, every million views clocked is commemorated with paid trends on social media. The euphoria around a movie is inch-taped with these metrics, like buying a ticket was same as watching a minute long video.

 Legend has it that Nayagan didn’t exactly get off to a flying start at the box office in the first few days of its release, before good press and word of mouth caught on like fire and rest as they say is history. But we don’t have the luxury of a gestation period these days for such organic turnarounds to happen . It has to spike up northwards in its first weekend and break even by Sunday night or the trade would pronounce it dead the following Monday. Then a week later, we’ll have eulogies like the ones we had for Anbe Sivam deconstructing it into minute details. The salt to the wound wouldn’t stop there. Years after they let it plummet; they’ll call it a classic, put it up on their all time favorites list and even make merchandise out of it. But the producer wouldn’t dare to tread that path  as gratuitous columns and awards didn’t pay his interests the last time. With him will go another person to the other side – greener and blockbuster – to place art in the altar of commerce.

Dangal- of wars,ringside and beyond

Mahavir Phogat leaves the sport at a point with some more to offer and some more to receive. This unrequited arc leaves an itch behind, that just wouldn’t go with the eflux of time. It just assumes another form; yearning. The yearning accrues into something bigger, a dream. A dream for a progeny- a son to complete his aspiration, carry his legacy forward. This dream keeps accruing in desperation through the birth of every daughter, till it comes to an eventual halt of acceptance at the birth of the fourth. He genuflects before destiny. A few years later, providence springs a surprise, in the form of his daughters. As it turns out, they’re wrestlers too like their big man. This is enough for him to dust off his locked dream. And he goes after it like a marooned man at a wild boar. Redemption was all that he wanted- the elusive Olympic gold -and a son was the means and not the end to it. Thus begins a fascinating journey of a father who goes on to live his dream vicariously through the achievements of his two daughters.

Dangal is set in a patriarchal system we’re so used to despising, just that instead of wrestling had it been cooking and if he was a cook and his ambition was to make it to Masterchef it wouldn’t have garnered the national veto of being an invigorating movie; especially for families with girl children.  As graceful and ambitious as the man was, his underlying chauvinism cannot be ignored. Mahavir manipulates his dreams into theirs, his aspirations to theirs at an impressionable age. They become the monks who’re forced into their renunciation to pursue his nirvana.
There’s something preposterous about sporting achievements- don’t know about other countries, but definitely in this part of the world -that colours personal accolades as pride of a nation. Bigger the arena, bigger its subversion into patriotism. Any sport is a spectator event dependent on the emotional gullibility of its fan to thrive. So naturally when a nation is pitted against another at its behest, the similar bifurcation happens in the stands as well. Cheering for a sportsperson representing a nation blurs into national solidarity. For it is a lower hanging fruit than paying taxes and taking bullets.

Can’t remember the last time a lead man walked the screen, so naked of vanity to bring credence to a portrayal.There’s a thin line that runs between egotism and mentoring, Aamir Khan’s Phogat treads this with absolute precision bringing dignity,grace and empathy to a grumpy man who speaks economically, while constantly finding himself torn between taming his inner demons and his little devils on mud pitches. It’s this ego he seeks validation when he spars with his non abiding elder daughter. Her tresses are shoulder length, her manoeuvres revised. She’s no longer the creature of his fashioning, his dreams have dissolved in her indulgences. Age doesn’t blunt his resentment- even if it has managed to make his weary limbs, clumsily slow -as he continues to spar. She comes on top and he loses. But this isn’t one of those vanilla tropes from mainstream films, where the after taste of a man’s loss to his own child is sweet. The sight of a muddy Phogat gasping for breath in humiliation as his elder daughter stands to taunt is anything, but that. Wrestling transcends beyond the pitch between the two.

There’s a scene where Phogat finds himself before a archaic table in a sports federation, he’s there to seek funds to support the training of his daughters. The officer in front talks to him in haryanvi almost. Almost because majority of his mouth is in the service of grinding a mothi laddoo from a box he’s received from the desperate man before him. He nonchalantly explains the paucity of funds with finger movements for neglected sports like wrestling, especially for women, mockingly. A frustrated Phogat begins to rant about why India fares poorly in the Olympics, when he’s cut midway by the officer’s abrupt exit for lunch.

It is scenes like this that bring out the odds that were stacked against the real Phogat, the numerous fights he had to take outside the ring- with the condescending villagers, the purists of the game, a sporting system content of mediocrity -to get his daughters into it.It is a story which needed to be told. Dangal tells this story with utmost integrity without circumventing around its protagonist like a demigod. Unlike the Dhoni biopic, which felt like a litany of montages shot for Chivas Regal promotions than a movie, Dangal doesn’t sidestep the grey shades of its central characters.It in fact for the most part keeps away from the temptation to celebrate them, instead tells a story that deserves to be celebrated.
Even if not for the anthem that played in the final moments, I stood as the end credits began to roll, to doff my hat to- the movie, the people who made it and the ones it was made on. It is that kind of a movie that gets to you. Think it would to most, given the reception it got in the theatre I watched.

A million reasons why Khaidi No.150 doesn’t match up to Kaththi

Remakes are like soul transplants, with the intention remaining same, with the interpretation changing to adapt to sensibilities. So as far as remakes are concerned, it’s no big deal if it’s a case of being lost in translation. Case in point, Gabbar Singh,a remake of the immensely popular Dabbang. It looked nothing like the original, nor sounded. It was an improvised version, altered to cater to the cravings of its viewing demography. But it felt and hit like the original. This is where KhaidiNo150 misses a beat ot two, it’s a cause lost in transition. Right from the word go, the makers leave little to ambiguity about the Boss being Back. The title is underlined by the statement in Bold Italics, a gyrating babe in an item song informs us to get ready for the same, Chiranjeevi himself interjects the same in the pre-interval conversation with the villain and Devi Sri Prasad solicitously bookends every song notwithstanding the genre with the word “Boss”. So with such tender subtlety of a sledgehammer we do get an air of what the movie is about. Or rather who it is about.

The core issue of water scarcity becomes an artifice to fill the lull between comedy,fights and fourth breaking soliloquies, to feel less guilty. It’s like those mutton biryani binges preceded by righteous half day fasts. Take the case of this important sequence where the hero and his elderly entourage have taken the city’s water pipes hostage from within. Before we begin to sink our teeth into the situation’s pulp, a phone call between the lead pair breaks into a collage(I’m not dignifying that to be a song) of crass sounds and crasser words that goes-Ammudu Let’s do Kummudu. The farmer’s plight, the gravitas of the issue pale out to oblivion and we’re treated to Chiranjeevi’s version of Lungi Dance. How seriously am I supposed to take his angry monologue that follows suit about the dire state of the sons of the soil. It’s not like Kaththi was a PSA documentary. The Vijay starrer was a manipulative commercial subversion of the issue with all the crowd traps-songs, fights and comedy, just that it knew when to press the right buttons and when not to. Like the Selfie Pulla number which came immediately after the interval to warm up the crowds, to an entirely songless second half. Kaththi let us take a moment off to ruminate about the problem put ahead, grin at the quick fix solutions it offered and took us close to the head space of its protagonist(a crook who’s redemption we were partaking in with shameless fun). It entertained without diluting its core.

Imagine those days from playing street cricket when a friend’s dad would stop by to hijack a match for a few balls with the bat. He would get beaten, bowled and just wouldn’t give back the bat till the cover drive came on a full toss. But still we would be courteous, despite that courtesy getting mistaken for encouragement. Watching Khaidi… was at some level like that. The euphoria in the theatre I watched after a point turned placid after the initial excitement. The wolf whistles for the star’s trademark moves in the songs  came in sputters- almost as an afterthought -without the organic delirium.  The pairing of Vijay and Samantha looked natural, despite the love track being preposterously spun. Here the sight of Kajal and Chiranjeevi feels like a pervert’s version of Cheeni Kum. And the sight of the star, his son and the actress dancing  in tandem to the beats of a ludicrous song, looks creepily incestuous given the number of movies she’s done with the latter.

Kaththi was a star vehicle designed to service the imagination of the legion of its star’s fans, alright. But the situations were staged in a manner they added a layer of  vulnerability to the larger than life proceedings, bringing credibility to the cinematic liberties taken. There’s a little prologue to the coin scene, where the agitated hero sets the stage to marry his brawn and brain. Or be it the initial love hate banters between Vijay and his partner in crime, where the former sportingly takes a few for the team; the twinkle in Vijay’s eyes every time he spawns up something; the dexterity with which he deconstructs blueprints or the slo mo shot of the impromptu gesticulation in the middle of a fight. These aren’t path breaking stuff essentially, but grace notes that add finesse to the proceedings.

Khaidi… is a bloated affair with a hero on his A game scene after scene. After a point it gets tedious to watch a clueless villain and his army of henchmen participate in a cat and mouse game played with a cheat code by its hero. The thumb rule of escapist cinema is “travel light”. Khaidi… saunters ahead with the heft of accoutrements in the form of a dozen comedians shitting bricks to scratch our underarms and countless unimaginative dance numbers aimed at boosting up tourism Europe if not the hero’s calorie burning process. The legendary blueprint scene is shot so charmlessly that all we see is a hero- with nostrils raised – thoughtfully deducing who spoilt the room after lunch, as the topography in the blueprint becomes three dimensional. There’s this portion in the film where Chiranjeevi’s Seenu with a hapless Kajal- who looks like a prom queen lost in her Grandpa’s tea party -galvanises a troop of elderly men to act citing Gandhi; couldn’t help but contemplate if the pep talk was meant for them or was it the founding stone to this come back vehicle as well?