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Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam: 50-50

Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam Movie Stills

As much as I want to appreciate the “different” approach, I was a little let down. Maybe because of all the generous praise from the younger bunch of filmmakers. Maybe they felt the need to return the compliments this film gives them.

I have multiple issues with R.Parthiepan’s film though I didn’t mind it at all and was quite entertained for half its running time. It also had quite a few endearing moments and I was tickled by the wordplay and wit too. Since many have already dwelt on these positive aspects, I think I should talk a little more about the critical aspects of this film that’s both good and bad (50:50 to use the director’s yardstick.)

One, while I have full respect for the senior writer-director’s ambitions of doing something truly different, he is probably attributing way too much importance for being different, as if a different story or making a film with no story is a great idea that deserves applause.

It’s a nice gimmick no doubt but the premise of a bunch of people trying to make a movie is not all that uncommon. Most student films, in pretty much every film school or class anywhere in the world, are about the angst of trying to make a film. It’s a thought that almost every filmmaker has either crossed out or pursued deeper right at the beginning of their career. It’s how deeper you go into this premise that gives the film depth, meaning and perspective. While this gave me an insight into the thinking process of the average Tamil filmmaker, I was quite surprised by the randomness in the script discussion sessions. No method, no structure, no progression from thought to idea to plot to story to script to film. Just random brainstorming that makes screenwriting seem like the bit of improvisation we used to do back at school culturals in the 20 minutes of prep time we got before Ad Zap. Yes, while I am aware that maybe 80-90 per cent of films are still written this way, I certainly do not expect a film about the script to be so grossly unaware of the basics.

The filmmaker assumes or wants us to believe it has no story or script. Because he wants us to think that people making a film is not a story. I may have even bought this if there was no conflict at all. But every character has a conflict. The team has a conflict. The protagonist has a conflict. And conflicts are stories. There can be a story without a beginning or an ending but the conflict is THE meat – the quintessential and most important qualifying part of any story. If they are claiming there is no story there, they are either ignorant or lying. Both are equally disturbing.

While there are a lot of witty insider observations about the film business itself that provide us with a few laughs, the meta-narrative here is gimmicky because it is not true to form. It randomly introduces us to heavy duty drama and twists for the sake of engagement and is a little too full of self-pity. Yes, we all know about the big bad world of showbiz where luck, opportunity and stardom overrides talent, ambition and integrity but making films (that too for a market) is not really the noblest thing in the world. Nor must we feel sorry for all those who don’t make it.

Which is one of the reasons I loved Jigarthanda that had zero self-pity for its protagonist even if it seemed autobiographical. Writer-director Karthik Subbaraj was able to be objective and unemotional about his protagonist and showed the filmmaker as the opportunistic asshole who uses his uncle, friend, girl, gangster and finally the power and clout of a successful filmmaker to get what he wants – at any cost. Because we artists are like that. We are selfish. We don’t need pity. Because we would do anything to do what we really want to do. We are not going to wait for miracles.

Parthipan, however, is a little old school. He wants us to appreciate his filmmaker hero’s desire to do something different as if it’s the noblest thing in the world. He wants to feel bad that he is denied a chance in bringing change to the world. He wants to wait for the producer’s call and thinks it is poignant.

It is not. Welcome to independent filmmaking and digital technology.

Besides, Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam can only go two ways and that’s not really an open ending. Having an open ending is a little over-rated too because you can pretty much cut any story before the climax scene and it would seem poignant (Honest to God, I did this for Good Night Good Morning because the climax didn’t turn out all that well. So we just axed the whole thing and ended it with the call – it was the easiest thing to do).

Take the Ramayana. You can end the story wherever you want.

They build the bridge. The armies stand by for the battle. Fade to black. It becomes the story of two kings who went to war for a woman. It’s a setting the stage for sequel ending.

Ram defeats Ravan. Credits roll. Commercial ending.

Hero questions Sita’s purity. She takes the agni pariksha. Cut right at the flames. Abstract arthouse ending.

Sita kills herself and goes back to earth. Tragic ending.

This is not to undermine open endings in general. There are many great examples of open endings – from Citizen Kane to Lost in Translation to Mulholland Drive to Inception that make you wonder and ponder about what actually happened for years together. An open ending is not a multiple-choice question you give the audience. It’s a thesis you want them to write over years. A hypothesis. A hypothesis that will remain just that because nobody knows for sure. It’s an answer the filmmaker takes with him to the grave.

Here not only does the filmmaker water down his “open-ending” with an item, he also ends it with the biggest compromise – he has an ending too (As the credits finish rolling, we see the hero in the director’s seat).

How is this then a film without a story if it has characters, conflicts and even a clear resolution?  (As a friend said, for a film without a story, go see Anjaan – where even holographic projections demonstrate reflex action when shot at, where characters cannot recognise a man without seeing a toothpick in his mouth!)

There was so much potential and promise here, given the years of experience Parthiepan has in showbiz.

Watch it anyway because it’s very generous of an old school filmmaker to try and be like the brave young filmmakers of today and also acknowledge it so openly.

Parthiepan Sir, young filmmakers today don’t need to wait for calls from UTV.

They go make their film, however short, irrespective of the outcome.

Because, there’s always Youtube for the hits. And Facebook to make sure people Like your film.

Njan Steve Lopez: One tight slap on patriarchy  

njan steve lopez

Rajeev Ravi, Anurag Kashyap’s long time collaborator and cinematographer of Gulaal, Dev D, The Girl in Yellow Boots, Gangs of Wasseypur and Bombay Velvet, is back with a new dark, brooding film that Kashyap calls the best film he has seen this year along with Titli.

He’s not exaggerating. Because Malayalam film Njan Steve Lopez, that released all over the country with English subtitles on Friday, is a powerful portrait of rebellion with a cause. Steve Lopez, the son of a Deputy Superintendent of Police, is the face of that rebellion.

Like Udaan, this is a coming-of-RAGE film where characters grow up only to turn angry young men. Like Vikramaditya Motwane’s film, this too is a slap on the face of the system and patriarchy.

But Rajeev Ravi’s film is much darker.

It is not just his father’s ideals (here, the father stands for indifference and corruption) that he’s battling, he’s battling a world that’s become more dangerous and lawless.

Steve Lopez’s world used to be confined to emotions/emoticons springing out of his mobile phone screen. In the course of the film, he realises there’s a lot more happening outside that world that makes him question his very place in the world.

It’s a daring, disturbing film to make and full points to Ravi and the young newcomer Farhaan Faasil (Fahad’s younger brother and director Faasil’s son) to make this compelling little film that will force you into thinking. The kid is brilliant and makes a promising debut.

“My last film (Annayum Rasoolum) did well commercially. So there is a market but people are still reluctant. They like the old stuff,” Rajeev Ravi says when I call him after watching his film to find out what gave him the guts to do something as different as this and get it released around the country. “I’ve been around for 17 years. If I don’t do it now, when will I do? It’s better to do what you want to do to change things. The mainstream formula is not much of a challenge.”

Ravi needed this to let the angst out. “The previous generation was full of morons. They are the ones to be blamed for the decay in the system. They all compromised, fed corruption… There are no heroes around for the youth today. When we were in college, the very concept of commission used to be looked down upon. It was a bribe for enabling things. Today, taking a commission is a respectable deal. So we can’t blame the youngsters. We have trampled on their innocence and they have seen too much too early in life,” rants Ravi.

“In many cases, they have seen that their own father is corrupt. There are scams and scandals around. What are our young people looking at? There’s nothing to look forward to. The world has become so dirty,” he adds when I ask him about his desire to make this hard-hitting anti-establishment film.

Despite its length and indulgence, Njan Steve Lopez is a film that deserves to be watched on the big screen because it’s that relevant wake-up call that needs to work before it’s too late.

 

Shah Rukh Khan: The Reluctant Loverboy

A fortnight ago when I met the lovely Nimrat Kaur who gave me a very articulate interview for this column, she told me she is the biggest Shah Rukh Khan interview fan. She used to collect his interviews when she was in school.

Many of my journalist friends agree that he always gives great interviews. Even if he makes them wait.

As I’m waiting at the Red Chillies office, his publicist Mandvi Sharma tells me, “Time for him is a very different concept. For us, it is about being on time. For him, it’s always about the time he spends with people. When he’s late, he always makes up for it by spending extra time and giving them what they want and more.”

It’s not that much of a wait for me this evening as he shows up soon enough. I ask him to show me the Happy New Year trailer and he does, asking me not to tweet about it until Thursday. The trailer has a slick Oceans vibe but done with Farah Khan’s sense of colour, style, choreography and madness.

Q: So Happy New Year is a heist film?

A: “It’s part heist, part Bollywood film. It’s high time we feel proud of the genre we’ve been making for many, many years. Happy New Year is a commercial happy go lucky entertainer. It’s the ultimate Bollywood film. Farah wanted to make this before Om Shanti Om when she pitched a story of five young boys and one grown up person who want to go to the US and get into a dance competition. We dropped it then and got into Om Shanti Om. So I asked her to revive it when we met again.”

Q: So this could this be part of a trilogy of pop culture celebration that started with Main Hoon Na?

A: “Farah is a fun filmmaker and you can’t take that away from her. She is one of the finest ones I have worked with. With every film you become better. I believe that the first three films you have in your heart are always your best films. She has never told me any another story apart from these three ever in the 20 years I’ve known her.”

Q: I met Nimrat Kaur a fortnight ago and she told me she used to keep clippings for your interviews when she was in school. My journalist friends say you are among the best interviews they have done. Do you prep for them?

A: “Ninety per cent of the time, the interviews are about the film I am participating in. And when I’m doing a film, I believe in the 140-150 days of work that I have done. I believe in what I do. I believe in that thought. However random, strange, new, fantastic, good, bad or ugly it may be. That’s why I am part of it. Belief makes you articulate. Half the things people ask me are related to what I’m doing or what I felt or what I am doing next. Or how has it been? When you believe in something, there is no way you can be inarticulate about it.

But I know this. This is what I’ve lived for the last 200 days. Every year takes a year of my life. I’m 48 now. I’ve done 55 films. Somewhere 55, 40 or 30 years of my life have been taken away. I’m happy that whatever I have done, I’ve done from a position of choice. Being in a position of choice is stardom. Mujhe yeh nahin karna, mujhe yeh karna hai.” (I don’t want to do THIS, I want to do THIS)

“Strangely, an actors life and the beliefs change according to what he or she has become for that while. So if I’m doing Asoka, I’m reading about it… And that changes you as a person. Without realizing, you start living like that person. I don’t prep for it, I have no idea of when I have interviews. I don’t read what I have said. I see it. OK, it’s there. I appreciate how it’s written but I don’t read what I’ve said because I’ve said it. I’ve believed it. And I always believe I sound more articulate than I am because of the person writing it. If I were to write what I said, I don’t know where it will go. Because I’m contradictory, there are two people in me all the time. One is what the film’s belief is and one what I personally believe in. It keeps changing depending on the person also. All those who have told you I’m articulate have probably written it more articulately than I’ve sounded. Honest truth.”

Q: This is my fourth interview with you in ten years. I can vouch for the rest. You have always given great interviews.

A: “Well, a lot of people have an interview face. They have an interview persona. I have a party persona. I have a house persona. But I don’t have an interview persona. I am not an actor or a star when I’m doing it. I remember a joke father used to tell me about this guy, Oscar Wilde or some famous person… who always refused interviews and finally one day, one guy got an interview. He was sitting waiting for the interview and there was a door… And the gentleman just walked naked, stood, turned around naked and left. He said: I can’t give you a more internal view of myself. My logic is that. An interview means that. An internal view. So I’m not going to give you a star view. On stage when I’m performing live in front of an audience I will give you a star view.

So I don’t have an interview face. I don’t have an interview prep. I say what I feel now. So it may change. Two days later, I may feel differently… and I have no issues.

When people tell me I’m contradicting myself, yeah, it’s fine. So? I’m contradictory. They say you should have just one thought. No, I have 17 thoughts. So I may put them all in the same interview. So you liked white? Yeah, but you wear black. Yeah. I might like white and wear black, but how does that make me… am I schizophrenic? No. Or I am. It’s all right.”

Q: Do you ever feel trapped in a mould you have created every time you have to spread your arms… almost in every other film?

A: “I work a lot in popular cinema. So there are parameters for that. So within those parameters, you are in a mould. You play the hero type. I always have the choice to break it when I feel like and go do a Chak De or a Swades or a My Name is Khan or a Paheli or a Asoka.

At least in the last five years, I’ve not gone to work because I have to. I’ve never gone to work because I need the money. I’ve never gone to work because I’m bossed around. I’ve never gone to work because there is nothing else for me to do. There is no other reason for me to work but the fact that this is really fine.

And every film takes a life of its own beyond the pages that are written.

When somebody from the market says, there has to be X amount of this in the film, we do that. Because it’s a populist world, it’s a populist market, it’s populist cinema. But I also say “Let’s try to change that. Or let’s not do that because there are so many, say romantic songs, like that.” So the change might be small, just a little beyond the parameters of commercial cinema but that makes it exciting.”

Q: How do you react when critics say Shah Rukh Khan is Shah Rukh Khan in every film?

A: “I downplay my acting prowess. I don’t take myself seriously but that does not mean I’m not a serious actor. I say I have five expressions… because I like to play it down.

I’ve done a lot of acting that I’m so proud and arrogant about it. I’m one of the few actors to have educated myself in theatre. I’ve done street theatre, I’ve done impromptu, I’ve done commercials, I’ve done plays for kids, I’ve done a Punjabi serial, I’ve done TV shows, I’ve done advertising and I’ve done cinema. I’ve risen in the ranks. And you don’t rise in the ranks over 25 years without knowing your shit. But it’s very boring to talk about how Biriyani is made. And it’s nicer to taste it. And that’s what I do. “

Q: People say the same about Rajinikanth too but do you need to act is the question.

A: “Rajinikanth is a superstar. I am not a superstar. I need to work, I need to reinvent, not just myself even the cinema around me because I can control that.

So when someone asks me: Can you do a comedy? The last one I did was Baadshah. So I thought I’ll do a retarded comedy and do it in the mould people like. I didn’t think I’m an actor of that genre. Let me pull all the reserves I have and let me get into that world of Chennai Express.

Before that it was Jab Tak Hain Jaan, which had to be done in a certain poetic style. To convince people that such a man exists. It is a love story… a triangle between God, a woman and a man. Of course, the arms will rise because it is popular cinema. Of course, the romance will still happen because it is popular cinema.

So the mould I try to attach myself is always different in popular cinema. I try to change it a little, challenge it…

To be honest, Swades, Chak De, Ashoka, Paheli… easiest films to make. Because being real, being honest is easy. Just sitting there and depending on the line, the words, your eyes and just the story is much easier than believing in a dream which is unrealistic and unachievable. I am going to mess with God. I will fly with electricity. I will win the World Dance Championship.

It is a huge leap of faith for an actor to believe he can pull these things off.

As an actor, put me in a real space and 80 per cent of your job is done. You put me in a hockey field and I am a coach. You put me in a space in the world your film is set in and I don’t have to do anything. But unreal characters are totally dependent on your dream and your belief in them.

Autism is a difficult thing to do but you know that space. You’ve met people like that. Devdas was easy to play because all men are like that.

Larger than life is difficult to play because there is no limit to largeness. How large can you make it? Can I catch you by the scruff of your neck and then pull you into the screen into the most unbelievable world?”

SHAH RUKH KHAN AT HNY TRAILER LAUNCH IN MUMBAI DSC_3980

Q: Like veteran French screenwriter Jean Claude Carriere says: Fiction sometimes goes deeper into the truth than fact.

A: “Fiction is wanting to achieve your most deep-rooted desires.

I want to fly. You can’t. But it’s a desire. It’s amazing fulfillment. Fiction is fulfilling what most people desire. Reality is not what you want to do. It happens.”

Q: Would you say that’s why Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is still playing at Maratha Mandir, in its 20th year… because manufacturing consent of parents for their love story was wish fulfillment of a desire of the younger generation?

A: “I’ve seen only two things people give for anything that works or doesn’t work – reasons and excuses. When it’s successful, I’ve seen people give reasons and make them their own. When it doesn’t, they give excuses. I have no idea, yaar.”

Q: I’m sure you have had 20 years to think about why that film resonates so much.

A: “Maybe because everybody is waiting for a boy like that. And there is no boy like that. He is fun, naughty, sweet, caring, respectful to parents and he makes everything alright. You are waiting for Raj. I have had a girl tell me she married Ramesh because he reminded her of Raj. Somewhere down, we created an epitome of the perfect boy.”

Q: Is 300 crores the new benchmark for films to surpass where success is measured through box office collections?

A: “Chennai Express was the first film to do 200 crores. Numbers can always be surpassed. Dreams are fluid. I want my film to do well so that I can make a bigger film. If Happy New Year does well, maybe I will go mad and make Ra. One 2. I want to get the superhero genre right.”

Q: How do you think you have changed over the last 25 years, temperament wise?

A: “I have become more reclusive. I like spending time with me more than power parties. The world is growing bigger, people always want to talk to you. You see flashbulbs and hear voices all the time. More on Twitter. There’s just too much light in my face. I still want to do as much work but I would like to close the door a little more often. I have found myself entertaining people beyond the call of duty. Sometimes just to survive, sometimes for friends…but after 25 years I’ve done everything. There is no more reason to do things unless I am happy. When people ask me come here, there, to see their film, mujhe nahin dekhna hai, yaar (I don’t want to)… I just used to make films. I want to keep it that simple. I don’t want any other knowledge. I used to walk down to my house during King Uncle. I walked to Mehboob Studios at 6.30 a.m and when I walked back at 2 p.m, people stopped to talk to me… Deewana had become a big hit. I never saw the film. I didn’t even know when I became a star.”

Q: Aren’t people just the same and hence, all stories the same too, at some level?

A: “There are only five stories and the sameness has been there since time immemorial. All cars are the same. They have four wheels. It’s the engine that determines if it’s a Mercedes or a Jaguar. Just a general desire: If I could read your thoughts when presented differently becomes an Inception. Iron Man, Spider-man, all superhero stories are the same but Spider-man got a reboot four years after a reboot. There are some stories you may not be able to tell today… Like a man waiting for a letter, because today everyone has phones but The Lunchbox, I hear, made even that work. Why should the difference matter to anyone?”

Q: Now that you have admitted all stories are same, how different is Happy New Year?

A: “It is the quintessential Bollywood film. But nobody else tells the story like Farah. As a producer I can tell you, no film has been mounted like this as a cinematic experience. Come see it as an event. But beyond all this, I have never made a film without a core. The core values of the film may get overshadowed sometimes in the telling but the point of Happy New Year is that God gives an opportunity to every loser once in a lifetime. Nobody celebrates losers. We have maybe 40-50 icons in the world of 8 billion. The rest of them are not winners. We are always celebrating the minority – a superhero, beautiful people, stars. Not everybody who wins is happy. Look at Robin Williams. I am not cynical. I want to say let’s celebrate losers and tell them that God is hope, it’s a belief… the bigger giver of hope. Every story needs to fulfil an inner desire of yours. Just because we are losers, we are not sad or depressed…”

HNY 1

Q: So does you see yourself as a winner or a loser?

A: “I’m basically a loser. I always want to make the next one. I’m satisfied because I have belief but I am also greedy. What can I do in the next one. If I’m not been able to entertain… it’s my thing in life. Everybody who comes to me, whether it is a meeting, or a film… everybody comes to me with a desire, will he entertain? I’m the performer, entertainer, the jester, you’ve come with the hope of being entertained. If I break that, that’s disturbing.”

Q: That’s why you go beyond the call of duty entertaining people.

A: “I hope they go back thinking that I have entertained them… that’s winning to me but that doesn’t last more than 4-5 days. Nothing lasts for posterity. Nobody remembers anything, people don’t remember parents. When Pyaasa released, they panned it.

You don’t make anything for posterity. Your time in space is where you are. Nothing else exists. I don’t have any nostalgia. I’m not 75 and when I’m 75 why would I watch my film. Celluloid is amazing but it’s not life lasting.

(pause)

How long have you been making films?

Q: “Fifteen years.”

A: “Why?”

Q: “Because I want to make them.”

A: “Why don’t you for a change make films for others, anyone but you?”

Q: “Why”

A: “For the first six years of my career, I did what I wanted to do. I told Hema Malini I am a serious theatre actor and I am not going to be running around trees. I refused loverboy roles for six years. So finally when Aditya Chopra pitched DDLJ, it seemed different TO me. I hadn’t done something like that. People thought I was going to kill her off. I liked that I would defy expectations. So I did it. I was 32 when I was pretending to be in college with a chain around my neck that said COOL. I felt ridiculous but I did it. But the point is you never know what you can become until you start doing things for others.”

This interview originally appeared in two parts in The Hindu. Part 1: I have become more reclusive | Part 2: Bombay Encounters: The Reluctant Loverboy

Jigarthanda: So damn cool

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To understand the brilliance of Jigarthanda in totality, you need to know a little bit about how films are made and distributed in Tamil Nadu. And the kind of films that are usually made and how they are produced. You need to also understand where Karthik Subbaraj comes from. Literally.

Hence this post after the film has been unanimously raved about. The only bit of criticism the film has faced is for changing genres halfway – something the film justifies by the end so much that when you see the film a second time, it seems like the only logical way to finish that story.

Now, the context.

The Tamil film industry produces over 200 films a year. About 30-40 per cent of them don’t even release/ get shelved even after completion. Because very few investors are willing to spend on marketing and distribution. Very rarely do arthouse films without violence ever see the light of day. In other words, in the absence of stars, only violence sells.

Film distribution happens through political clout. If you are in power, you get to push your films wherever you want, you can get as many screens as you want. When you are not in power, you have to fight even to get an entertainment tax exemption. A change in government is enough to turn the powerful into underdogs.

Distribution happens through minimum guarantee where producers make distributors buy the film for a price that minimizes their risk. And films with stars fetch high MGs. Films without stars don’t. Hence, there is a need to arm-twist the distributors to push content without stars. And those in power or those close to the party in power find it easy to do this. You can call it monopoly if you want to use a euphemism. 

Organised crime and violence is still prevalent in many pockets of Tamil Nadu and Madurai is considered to be the hub and breeding grounds for the cold at heart (the title is named after a drink – a South Indian variant of the Falooda that literally means Cold Heart), a fact many films have milked for violence and bloodshed.

Post Paruthiveeran and Subramaniapuram and endless rehashes of violent films, young filmmakers have had to pick one of the two feasible option. One, get a star and make a film that glorifies his image. Or Two, make an ultraviolent gangster film where the script is the hero.

Thanks to the reality show Nalaya Iyakkunar (translated to Tomorrow’s Directors), an exciting new bunch of filmmakers came to the limelight with some truly different films. The winner of the show Nalan Kumarasamy made Soodhu Kavvum while Karthik Subbaraj who finished second got a new age producer to back Pizza, a smaller film he wrote AFTER Jigarthanda seemed like an expensive film to make for a debutant director with a new producer.

Jigarthanda hence begins with that finale of the reality show where Karthik (a young filmmaker based on the filmmaker himself) loses the final. Incidentally, Nalan Kumarasamy the guy who beat him puts in a cameo as a finalist in the film to establish the meta-narrative right in the first few minutes during the opening credits.

Jigarthanda is about two guys from two different worlds. They speak two different languages.

The hero is a filmmaker who is in the business of manufacturing emotions that go beyond language – hence, the film employs gibberish to make this point. Characters speak gibberish much before a sequence when an acting coach tells his trainees how the spoken word is not important, only the theatrics of it matter in this art. Because it’s a visual medium. Even a huge part of the key dialogue and score towards the end is in gibberish as the film references itself.

The villain is a gangster who is in the business of manufacturing violence, of course and as he says: Nothing helps more than adi-othai (maar-dhaad). Violence is the language he speaks.

Without any spoilers, suffice to say that Jigarthanda is the film where these two languages meet. As Shilpa Rathnam puts it so eloquently, Jigarthanda is a world where art imitates crime and crime imitates art.

The two worlds have so much in common after all – action, shooting, cutting – one creates and the other destroys. One brings pain and the other is the balm.

To make a film on the state of the art and the nexus between cinema and crime in Tamil Nadu, from the inside and saying it as it is, requires some amount of balls. And Karthik Subbaraj has done it without judgment. At no point does he make the artist good and the gangster bad and many reviews have already pointed out the evil in the hero and the goodness in the villain.

It is never black and white. Both art and crime have great power to influence people and each other. Once you’ve tasted blood, you always want more.

Which is why the world of crime (the gangster film in the first half) needed to meet the world of cinema (the film about filmmaking in the second half). The crime story had already climaxed in the interval (we are yet to see a more riveting first half this year). And nothing could have taken the film higher down that path. Luckily for us and cinema, Karthik chose to change track. Though some may find this frustrating on first viewing, by the time the film reaches its superb climax, you understand the point that Karthik Subbaraj wants to make: What filmmaking has come down to from his part of the world.

I have never seen a smarter use of the meta-narrative in recent times.

Jigarthanda is the most exciting film out of India this year, if not the best. It is racy, it is funny, it is violent, it has superb performances, it has a rocking score by Santhosh Narayanan (that I am buying off iTunes right away) and it celebrates and critiques cinema.

Watch it before someone ruins the ending for you. And if someone tries to do that, it’s totally okay to kill the fucker.

To wait for English subtitles for a film that’s telling you how cinema is all about the emotion behind the “gibberish” is against the idea and the spirit of the film itself. You would be surprised at how much you understand just face-reading this film. Hats off to the actors – each one of them is terrific. Siddharth, full respect to let Simha steal his thunder. What a superb cast this is. 

Go watch. And watch it all over again.

Yudh: How To Make Enemies & Piss off People

Yudh 1

Indian television’s biggest fiction show starring Amitabh Bachchan, Kay Kay Menon, Zakir Hussain, Aahana Kumra, Mona Wasu, Sarika, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Ayesha Raza has aired eight out of the 20 episodes from its very first season on Sony Entertainment Television over the last two weeks (Monday through Thursday, at 10.30 p.m).

The 140-crore budget show that boasts of Anurag Kashyap as the showrunner, also had Shoojit Sircar on the sets to supervise the efforts of director Ribhu Dasgupta, given the scale and stakes involved.

And after a slow and rather weak start in its first week, the show surely has picked up some momentum during its second week. While it gets a lot of things right and is certainly a lot better than most shows on Indian TV, Yudh is still frustratingly average fare with bursts of good moments.

The performances – led by Amitabh Bachchan himself – are refreshingly realistic and the ensemble shows restraint. Full points to the series creators for infusing Indian TV with this long lost sensibility. Even the camera work is quite mature (none of that gimmickry Indian TV has been cursed with), the production values better than most shows on TV and while the show is fairly fast-paced strictly in the context of Indian programming, it is still half as slow as American shows. While shows like Breaking Bad and Lost earned their licence to stall in only the mid seasons, Yudh takes the audience for granted quite early on, making many give up after the first episode or two.

There are a few things that don’t work though.

One, the show takes itself way too seriously which is laughable because it’s quite a pulpy script… full of conspiracies, twists and turns, most of which seem forced, convenient and almost soap operatic. The show is devoid of logic with its protagonist making the most ridiculous decisions right from Episode 1 and yet, the director shoots it like it’s a character study. Downright pretentious in treatment.

Two, we have a protagonist who does the most ridiculous things.

If Yudh (Bachchan, of course) takes an anonymous tip-off as the word of God in the pilot and evacuates a government hospital all by himself, he is silly enough to call for a press conference based on another anonymous CD sent to him as evidence without any fact-checking or verifying the sender’s motive. Despite his growing list of enemies and increasing stakes and danger, it never occurs to Yudh to check on (or wonder about) the safety of his trusted efficient aide when she doesn’t take calls, especially during a crisis she had to fire-fight. How do we root for this dim-witted dying protagonist who seems full of self-pity, who always makes bad decisions on an impulse, one with no redeeming quality except that he’s supposed to be a good man. Yet, we are not sure.

Every time his solution to a problem involves making more enemies. For a man who shouldn’t stress, he is asking for new problems. Even the negotiator in a kidnap gets annoyed with his behaviour and blasts a bomb in his mine to teach him a lesson. Well played, Yudh. The show ought to have been called How to make enemies and piss off people.

Then, Yudh is so full of Amitabh Bachchan as its centerpiece that when the narrative cuts to the subplots and stories of other characters ever so briefly, they seem irrelevant and seem to be put in as token sub-plots (We almost forget Tigmanshu Dhulia is in there) There’s just not enough about the rest for us to care. And because he can’t do many stunts, most of the action in this thriller is largely indoor and fresh conflicts arrive through phone calls and texts. Show, don’t tell, remember? Even the few outdoor stunts shown look tacky, given the budget the show boasts of.

Finally, the frequency of the show itself. Four days a week with an hour a day is high maintenance given that very little happens everyday. If we were to tightly cut two episodes into one, this might have been a good ten-episode long first season. But this is just odd pacing that requires too much commitment and patience.

Luckily, the show is online on Youtube. You can just skip to the parts that make sense. Given its current format and structure, Yudh is best caught online.

Kick: Desire it? Deserve it

kick

Genre: Salman Khan

Director: Producer Sajid Nadiadwala

Cast: Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Randeep Hooda, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mithun Chakraborty

Storyline: A guy who does things just for kicks decides to become a Dhoom villain

Bottomline: Bhaisexuals can watch it for kicks, the rest of us are going to come out feeling one

“Main dil main aata hoon, samajh main nahin,” goes the sparkling quip (we can bet Rajat Arora wrote that line) that explains not just the character or the film but the entire Bhai phenomenon… Since no translation can do that line justice, suffice to say Bhai is not someone the mind will accept but someone the heart will embrace.

Producer-turned-director Sajid Nadiadwala’s debut Kick is a deep post-postmodern metaphorical manifestation of the dichotomous paradoxes of modern day business models that have shaped and defined the state of the art, mind and pop culture. This parable of our ever-changing morality is a study of iconography that debunks and deconstructs every myth associated with heroes and villains.

Does a hero remain a hero if he has a woman’s name? A Goddess’s name, at that. Does he become evil if he were to change his name to the Devil? Does the villain become a hero if his company is called Angel?

Now, consider that Salman Khan is Devi, the anti-protagonist who the psychiatrist heroine finds impossible to understand. He is the epitome of badassery. He readily goes to jail (everyone in the lock-up is of course, a huge Bhai fan – he’s a role model). He gets hammered with his Dad, the baap of B-movies (Mithun, of course) so much that the girl needs to carry them home and the mother needs to wake him up with the smell of alcohol even to feed him milk. He relentlessly stalks the girl and after being told off, goes on to lecture onlookers of an harassment in progress for not fighting eve-teasers (these delicious moments where irony kicks you in the face are what makes Kick a gobsmack of a film… nay, festival). And to help the poor, the anti-protagonist becomes DeviL, the anti-antagonist.

Kick is a single independent filmmaker’s visionary attempt to infiltrate and subvert the system that requires the amoral star’s persona to draw in the masses and to smuggle art in the guise of entertainment, a means to provide big fat pay cheques to everyone from skinny foreign import starlets Jacqueline Fernandes and Nargis Fakhri to versatile homegrown arthouse actors – Sanjay Mishra and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

It’s a critic’s delight to note and applaud the cheeky roles assigned to these terrific actors. If Sanjay Mishra plays an unkempt policeman, a watchdog of the system (pop culture police, get it?) Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has struggled to keep his family afloat for nearly two decades in showbiz, plays one of the richest men in the world and the hammy villain of the piece. If you want to be rich, you need to do this necessary evil.

It’s certainly not the kind of space where an actor of his calibre can breathe. Hence, the director gives the character an asthmatic laugh (it is a built-in joke that laughs at the system from within, a point further substantiated when the villain listens to the hero’s ridiculous motivations to turn into a thief and gives up on his punch-line halfway and asks his men to just kill him). And before you know it, everyone in the hall is applauding Nawaz and not Salman.

So while the paradox is of the highest paid star playing a thief called Devil robbing the arthouse actor who runs the Angel group, the critics are represented by Randeep Hooda (sly smiling throughout), who wants to kill the star on a robbing spree (in other words, box-office hit spree).

Yes, it is a very loyal remake of the equally mind-numbing Telugu flick of the same name. Anyone could have remade it by hiring the best technicians in the business but full credit to the producer Sajid Nadiadwala for assembling this cast and crew (Even Chetan Bhagat got paid for something) to tell us the story of Indian mainstream cinema itself in this scale.

Kick is thus at once esoterically emblematic of our times and succinctly sensible cinema that will enthrall your… Hahahaha! Gotcha. You almost bought it, didn’t you?

The film’s downright stupid, a guilty pleasure at best – that once again has Salman Khan do his thing you’ve seen before. No matter what the reviews say, you’re going to go watch it.

So why all the analysis? They pretended to make a film. This critic pretended to review it. For kicks.

Good Night Good Morning: Finding Closure

GNGM New Poster Online

About six years ago around the same time, I met New York.

It was love at first sight.

I had just the script for it.

A conversation film that I had just written with Shilpa Rathnam simply because my friend Nischalakrishna Vittalanathan bought a Sony HVR V1U (He had spent a year discovering everything it can do and how to optimise it for shooting movies) and had insisted that I write something we can shoot quickly.

The pop culture references were mostly American since we had written it in English and it didn’t seem to work when we tried to localise it. (We’re still trying to do it, though!) Besides, this was a New year’s eve film in English. New York sounded like the perfect world for it.

Raja Sen was one of the first people to read it, a month after we started writing it and asked me who I had in mind for the cast. I was planning to shoot with newcomers. He was on the opinion that this script has so much potential that I should consider casting someone from Bollywood. He put me in touch with an actress who loved the script enough to say she would do it.

I had heard of Manu Narayan from Kaveri Valliappan, a choice strongly recommended by my best friend from school Murugan (they are both from Pittsburgh; Murugan had seen Manu perform in Andrew Lloyd Webber & A.R. Rahman’s Bombay Dreams in Broadway, New York). So New York it would be. We would shoot on New Year’s Eve. We would be there around Christmas and stay on for three weeks to wrap shoot. That was the plan.

But thanks to problems small filmmakers face with big stars, I ended up with just the first four minutes of the film. And I was going to leave New york, having spent the three lakhs more than the ten lakhs I had budgeted for the whole film – WITH NO FILM!

Just some great memories. The Pizza at Artichoke. Hot Chocolate at Max Brenners. Experiencing snowfall for the first time in Queens… while shooting it. The madness at Times Square on New Years Eve… Getting so sloshed to keep ourselves warm and almost surviving the night. Ask Raja Sen for the story of that legendary night he remembers only from accounts of other people… Going to Red Bank, New Jersey to see where Kevin Smith shot Clerks on his birthday… Living in a suite at the New Yorker hotel (where we were supposed to shoot) for a week… Shooting an obscure music video with our actress that had nothing to do with the film because our film shoot was not going to happen.

In between these highs and lows, I thought about how they did it back in the day before outdoor shoots were not logistically possible. The fifties. And it dawned on me that if I could do the same, I could probably be able to shoot the whole film in India if I went all the way and embraced everything the fifties were about.

So in that one week I had left in New York, I decided to salvage the best out of that situation. I hired a helicopter, got all the aerial shots I needed from New York to halfway to Philadelphia. I rented a taxi halfway between New York and Philadelphia and shot all around New Hope. I shot every possible outdoor shot I needed. I sourced every prop I needed to stay true to the milieu. The radio announcements on December 31, the newspaper of that day, the hotel supplies… We even stole their menu.

All the outdoors could be projected outside the static car inside a studio… and it would work great in a black and white film. We hadn’t started off trying to make a black and white film but this seemed like the only way out. So we rewrote the film to make it sound more like the fifties. More mushy. More cheesy. We sourced the right kind of jazz music – from Ray Guntrip in the UK to Gregory Generet from New York to Manu Narayan’s bandmate Radovan Jovicevic to Chennai based Maitreya to do a cover of Strangers in the Night.

I just need money to shoot. And to pay off the credit card and personal loan debts from the 13 lakhs I had already spent. To cut a long sob story short, it took me 18 months to get back on my feet and shoot again. With more personal loans and fresh credit card debt.

The actress who was to do the film wasn’t available anymore because of both health and date issues but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we found the incredibly talented Seema Rahmani… who I had messaged through Facebook after being impressed with her American accent in Loins of Punjab. She didn’t share her number. She texted back her email address and said she would call IF she liked the script.

Two days later, she did. She didn’t even want to talk money. It had connected to her at a very deep level. She called me every day to go over the lines until she came to Chennai three weeks later for the shoot and by the time she landed, she knew every single line of the script by heart.

It was a craziest of schedules. We put them up both at a service apartment for a month and even shot a few scenes there. We shot all of Seema in three days flat, all of Manu in two days and the five episodes in between the phone call in another four days. Including patchwork, we shot maybe ten days in all!

We had just finished edit and before we could figure out what to do, Megha Ramaswamy saw the film at Raja Sen’s place and recommended it to Galen Rosenthal of the South Asian International Film Festival, New York. It seemed like the place to premiere the film being the home of the film.

We also got a call from the Mumbai Film Festival. So we had back to back premieres in a week. Mumbai first and then, New York. Finally, AFTER the premiere, I was able to reshoot and replace a few shots from the first four minutes with Seema Rahmani walking down streets of New York (I had used the shots of the previous actress in silhouette for the premiere).

Manu’s Mom came for the premiere. She was moved to tears with the performance of her son. I would always cherish that night Manu got so emotional and said he found a brother in me. For life. I love that guy. For sticking with the project and believing in it. For years.

An American premiere was also the perfect excuse for me to go all the way to LA. I was hoping to meet my idol Cameron Crowe to give him a DVD of our film – because we had written it as that ten minute phone call from Elizabethtown coming to life. But that’s another story.

We then got invited to the Habitat Film Festival, Delhi and Shiladitya Bora, who was programming alternative content for PVR happened to see a poster of the film there that got his attention. He wrote to me asking for a DVD and offered to release it through his new banner Director’s Rare. That was the beginning of another great friendship.

On January 20, 2012, PVR launched its Director’s Rare banner with Good Night Good Morning. We sold 1500 tickets through 18 screens. It was a total disaster at the box office given. We hadn’t spent one rupee on marketing or publicity because I had already spent 30 lakhs on the film and was too broke to spend any more. I wrote an angry rant back then that got some people interested in the film and luckily for us, the reviews were good too.

Full credit to Shiladitya Bora to keep the initiative going and Director’s Rare today has released about 60 films since Good Night Good Morning. He had opened up and created a niche market for films like these.

Our share from PVR was Rs.99000. We got another Rs.25000 from Sathyam Cinemas from Chennai. Mela gave us Rs.50000 for an online release. And Enlighten sold 1000 DVDs that got us another Rs. 60000. So I had spent 30 lakh rupees and not even recovered three! We are still waiting for a decent deal for a TV premiere.

I still have three more months of Good Night Good Morning debt left.  I still need to pay my best friend Murugan $9000 dollars. I reminded him about it last week. He said even if you make it back, I want you to put it in the next film.

Thankfully, I don’t need to take on the extra baggage of producing anymore. And the market has opened up too.

There are some excellent modern producers and we found one such angel investor in Manish Mundra for X. But this is not about X.

This is about closure for Good Night Good Morning. A film about closure.

So guys and girls, the film is finally out there online. For posterity, hopefully. In all its HD detail.

You can buy it or rent it for Rs.25 on Google Play. It should be out on Amazon and iTunes soon. Maybe in twenty years or so, it would actually recover its cost.

If you want to help, do spread the word and pass this link to your friends. It’s not a bad film at all, I promise. There’s a link to the director’s commentary online as well that I recorded at home if you want to hear more about our adventures with low-budget filmmaking.

Thanks.

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