Category Archives: Entertainment

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Zero trailer: Shah Rukh Khan takes a leap of faith for love in Aanand L Rai’s colourful film

The makers of Zero recently released the trailer of the much awaited film. The trailer was released on Shah Rukh Khan’s 53rd birthday.

Still from Zero trailer

The trailer depicts Anushka, who is wheelchair-bound, as Shah Rukh’s love interest. There are hilarious moments in the trailer, one being an altercation between Shah Rukh and his father, when Khan replies saying, “Guthka khaate rehte ho, sperm chhoti ho gayi hogi.”

Unfortunately, Anushka and his love story does not reach fruition and Khan moves on to Katrina, who is portrayed as a celebrity. Most of the Zero trailer revolves around the three main characters. Finally, the trailer takes us all by surprise with a sweeping shot of a rocket, with Khan’s voice over in the background, saying, “Kahaaniyon mein suna tha ke aashiq mohabbat mein chaand tak le aate hain, saale humne yeh baat seriously le liyi.” Zero may have Khan taking the leap of faith for his love.

Khan will reportedly not be the only one playing a special role in the film (he plays a vertically challenged man). Kaif will be playing an alcoholic in the film who struggles with her addiction, while Sharma plays a struggling scientist.

Director Aanand L Rai also shared a new poster of Zero featuring SRK on his birthday. The poster depicts Shah Rukh standing on what seems like a New York street amidst tall sky-scrapers with a garland of notes strung around his neck. Rai dedicated the poster to Khan’s dimples.

Recently, the first look posters of Zero were unveiled which saw Katrina and Anushka with SRK.

The teaser and title of the highly anticipated film was released on 1 January and it left the internet in a frenzy as Khan was seen as a “dwarf” for the first time by the audience. For SRK’s challenging look, the makers reportedly used advanced technology inspired from Hollywood films.

Badhaai Ho writers Shantanu Srivastava, Akshat Ghildial on film’s success and how it compares to Tevar

They met as students during their MBA programme in Delhi in 2001. By the end of the second year, Akshat Ghildial and Shantanu Srivastava had decided they wanted to work together. In 2018 they are reveling in the success of Badhaai Ho, their debut collaboration as screenwriters. The story draws on both of their life experiences as two boys who grew up in Meerut and Rohtak, respectively. Here Ghildial (story, screenplay, dialogues) and Srivastava (story) talk about the process that brought the Kaushik family to life.

Where did the idea of an older couple expecting a baby germinate?

Akshat: I discussed the idea with Shantanu. He loved it and thought it might make for a feature film. We toyed with how we could develop it. Shantanu already knew Amit (Sharma, director) from working together on Tevar and he suggested we take the idea to him.

Shantanu: When we moved to Mumbai after our MBA, we shared a tiny flat with some other batchmates. One batchmate who had lived in a spacious 3BHK in Powai would always hang out in our small flat. We wondered why and joked that maybe his mother was pregnant.

Shantanu Srivastava and Akshat Ghildial, the writers of Badhaai Ho

Shantanu: My mother was part of a kitty, which did paath for an hour and then played tambola. The room would quickly get redecorated from temple to casino and I would be enlisted to call the numbers! The Kaushik family was created in my home.

There are three writers credited on the film. How did the collaborative process work?

Shantanu: In mid 2015, when we wrote the synopsis of this film, we connected with Amit and he jumped on the idea. Once we had solidified the idea a bit more, we met Priti Shahani of Junglee Pictures and that’s when we discovered that they had a similar concept with them. So we incorporated the two ideas and Priti credited Jyoti Kapoor with story as she had worked on a parallel story for the production house.

Was there much improvisation to the script and dialogues? I especially noticed the use of silences and gestures in place of dialogue.

Akshat: A lot of what you see was already in the screenplay. Amit did make some additions and the actors also brought in their interpretation. Amit was insistent that we were a part of the readings with the actors and guided them on dialect and diction. It was a terrific collaboration. Because we were dealing with an awkward topic, it was clear to us that there would be awkward silences. It is a lot about embarrassment. When dadi (Surekha Sikri) is blasting both of them (Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao), there is not much they can say.

Was the class juxtaposition between Renee (Sanya Malhotra) and Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana) consciously designed?

Shantanu: Absolutely. Class establishes differences in small ways – such as how Renee’s mother celebrates something compared to how the Kaushiks celebrate. The upper middle class whines about the pretentious middle class and how involved they are in each other’s lives. Through the mothers – who are of a similar age – we show one celebrating a 50th birthday and the other in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Both are loving mothers with opposing parenting methods – Renee’s mother is hands-off whereas Nakul’s mother is controlling.

Although a ‘taboo’ subject at its core, how did you fashion the story to appeal to a family audience?

Akshat: In order for it to be a family entertainer, the film could not be vulgar or lewd. So we wrote the story from the son’s point of view – his embarrassment. All the jokes about the pregnancy were always at the father’s expense. We also wanted to make a comment on how children put their mothers on a pedestal but they forget she is a wife and woman too. These thoughts defined the boundaries of the humour and the humour was borne out of the situations.

Shantanu, how does this feeling of success compare to the reactions to Tevar?

Shantanu: Amit and I gave our blood, sweat and tears to Tevar. We made some mistakes as first-timers, but the film will always be close to my heart. I ascribe the accolades for Badhaai Ho to the effort I have put in over the years, writing scripts for film and television and feel I have earned it. Writing a film is a tough job and watching a film being made and then succeeding is a humbling experience.

What are you working on next?

Akshat: Shantanu and I are working a series for Junglee. Besides that I am playing with my five-month old. I got so inspired by the story of Badhaai Ho, that I had my own baby.

Shantanu: Bhavani Iyer and I are writing a film on Field Marshall Sam Maneckshaw for Meghna Gulzar. I am also developing a script for another production house.

Shah Rukh on Salman Khan’s special cameo in Zero song: Very dignified and loving of him

Mumbai: Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan who unveiled the trailer of his upcoming film Zero on the occasion of his birthday on Friday, 2 November, said that he was touched by the gesture of Salman Khan doing a cameo in the film.

Still from Zero Eid teaser. YouTube screengrab

During the trailer launch of the film when he was asked about how Salman came on board, Shah Rukh told the media: “Anand (L. Rai, Director) has spoken to Katrina (Kaif) regarding this film quite sometimes ago and that time Salman also heard the story.”

“Then Salman called and said that there was this story and hear it. The coincidence is that, when finally, I said yes to the film, after that he said that I will be a part of this film for sure, by doing a song. That was very dignified and loving of him.”

The film also features Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif. It is interesting to observe that after Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan this trio is coming together all over again to execute Rai’s vision.

Talking about her journey Anushka said: “This year I am completing 10 years in Bollywood. I made my debut with Shah Rukh and now after 10 years, in 2018 I am doing another film with him, it is so special and this is how life has come in a full circle.”

In the film Shah Rukh is playing a character of a dwarf and Anushka and Katrina are playing a physically challenged person and an actress respectively.

Badhaai Ho movie review: Neena Gupta, Ayushmann Khurrana & Co redefine warmth in Sai Paranjpye/Basu Chatterjee style

What happens when a woman gets pregnant in her twilight years. If some gentle ribbing is all you are expecting, then you are out of touch with reality and the subconscious prudery that even supposed liberals direct at the elderly.

Now imagine if the expectant mother and her husband, the child’s father, are already parents of a teenaged son and another who is in his 20s. The contempt they face within the home then is no less than what the outside world inevitably throws at them, as Priyamvada and Manoj Kaushik discover in Badhaai Ho.

badhaaiho825

Manoj (Gajraj Rao) is employed in the Indian Railways and Priyamvada (Neena Gupta) manages their home. Their son Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana) works in an advertising firm and is dating his colleague Renee (Sanya Malhotra). The younger one, Gullar (Shardul Rana), is in school.

Their family is rounded off by a tetchy, demanding grandmother (Surekha Sikri). Or so they think until a sudden bout of unease takes Priyamvada to the doctor and they realise she is almost halfway through a pregnancy she was not aware of.

The Kaushiks live in a congested house in a lower-middle-class Delhi locality with an old-world air. Nakul’s office is in Gurgaon, the suburb characterised by its glitzy, gigantic, modern buildings. Their worldview lies somewhere in between.

And so, first comes the older couple’s shyness to announce what in their youth would have been demanded of them as “good news” they owe to the human species. Then comes the laughter and derision of family and their larger social circle. This much is expected in such a story and makes Badhaai Ho a lovable slice-of-life comedy.

What is most telling and a departure from the expected is the nuance and sensitivity with which director Amit Ravindernath Sharma (who earlier made the dreadful Tevar) and his writing team (story: Shantanu Srivastava and Akshat Ghildial, screenplay: Akshat Ghildial) examine Priyamvada and Manoj’s own response to their situation, and the judgement they face from a seemingly forward-thinking character who sees in their decision not to terminate the pregnancy a sign of backwardness.

Messrs Sharma, Srivastava and Ghildial’s work reminded me of an article I read a few years back by a rape survivor who said she had to deal with considerable social opprobrium in small-town America when she decided not to abort the child she conceived from rape. Too many people who view themselves as liberal think that pro-choice means pro-abortion. It does not. It means being in favour of the right of every woman to choose for herself. So if you pressure her with your expectation that she absolutely must, in certain specific circumstances, exercise the option the law gives her, then how are you different from fundamentalists who want to change the law that gives women this freedom?

Priyamvada holds the conservative view that abortion is a sin, Manoj clearly does not and would like her to consider it. Badhaai Ho for its part reveals its standpoint in the position Manoj ultimately takes when he tells his beloved Priyamvada: “Kasht tera hai, final decision bhi tera hi hoga” (You are the one who will go through the trouble that this pregnancy entails, therefore the final decision too will be yours). That, and the fact that Badhaai Ho openly acknowledges abortion as an acceptable possibility, takes it light years ahead of most Hindi cinema so far including the Salman Khan-Anushka Sharma-starrer Sultan (2016) which steered clear of the subject perhaps for fear of antagonising a traditionalist audience.

This is what makes Badhaai Ho not just warm, funny and realistic, but also thinking, intelligent and unobtrusively politically and socially conscious. What makes it so enjoyable is that it wears its IQ lightly.

The characters in this film are not painted in black and white but in all the colours of the rainbow. The middle-class protagonists are not portrayed as saints nor are the upper classes presented as evil cliches. The screenplay, like these people, does have its imperfections though. Halfway down the line it moves too far away from Priyamvada and Manoj in its focus on Nakul and Renee. It’s not that we don’t get to spend time with them – of course we do – but they are dears and it feels like not enough. Since the young are the top priority of most cinema, it would have been nice to get better acquainted with the older pair here and especially know more about Priyamvada’s mindset, her goals and life-long dreams.

Still, what Badhaai Ho offers is precious – an insight into the lives of real people rather than glossed-up specimens of humanity that exist only in the imagination of commercial filmmakers. Sanu John Varughese’s camerawork plays a part in highlighting the contrasting spaces Nakul in particular inhabits. Varughese scales down while shooting the Kaushiks’ home milieu and even Renee’s wealthy residence, but his frames become more expansive when they shift to Gurgaon. The cast and Sharma’s vision are a match made in heaven.

Ayushmann Khurrana is gradually becoming the Amol Palekar of his generation, yet different. This young artiste is capable of top-lining conventional Bollywood cinema (as we see even with the closing song and dance routine in Badhaai Ho), but chooses to work in small films where the star is the story. He is completely convincing here as a well-intentioned though conflicted son. He also shares a comfortable chemistry with his co-star Sanya Malhotra, whose calling card as of now is her role as a wrestler in the Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal (2016). Within a span of just three weeks, Malhotra has managed to display amazing versatility playing a sensible, urban, wealthy woman of today in Badhaai Ho, a character that is chalk to the cheese that is the loud, pugnacious sibling living in rural Rajasthan that she was in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha.

Surekha Sikri is rollicking good fun as the cantankerous Dadi who turns out to be not quite as old-fashioned as you might think at first. Hers is a character that occasionally is in danger of being overplayed, but Sikri holds back just at the point where she needs to. The always wonderful Sheeba Chadda’s performance as Renee’s mother is marked by her trademark restraint.

Neena Gupta plays Priyamvada with the natural ease that has characterised all her performances on film and TV. In addition it is worth noting how she has been styled and how she chooses to carry herself in Badhaai Ho. When she was young I never particularly thought of her looks, but in this film I was struck by her luminous prettiness in a face filled out beautifully with life experiences. Gajraj Rao is so credible as her reticent yet romantically inclined partner, and they are so good together, that they bring to mind these lines from ‘I Believe In You’ sung by the legendary American country musician Don Williams: “But I believe in love / I believe in babies / I believe in Mom and Dad / I believe in you.”

Manto, Leena Yadav’s Rajma Chawal, Tumbbad to be showcased at 2018 London Film Festival

London: The 62nd London Film Festival which opens on 10 October will show more than 200 films from 77 countries with more than a third of them from women filmmakers, including India’s Manto directed by Nandita Das.

Posters of Manto (left), Rajma Chawal (right), A still from Tumbbad

One of the world’s most prestigious film festivals will open with Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen’s thriller Widows.

Indian films are a growing feature at international film events and the London festival is no exception. Although Das’s biopic on the famous writer Manto, has already been premiered in India and elsewhere, the Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer is still a prominent entry.

Three other Indian films which are eagerly awaited at the festival are Leena Yadav’s Rajma Chawal, Rahi Anil Barve’s Tumbbad and Dar Gai’s Namdev Bhau in Search of Silence.

In Rajma Chawal Rishi Kapoor gives a charming performance as a newly-widowed father who’s struggling to cope with the unfolding situation. Tumbbad is about the cursed family of a now deserted village while Dar Gai’s film is about a 65-year-old man who cannot take the noisy Mumbai city anymore.

Another Indian film being shown at the festival is Ivan Ayr’s debut Soni. The film is about a policewoman in Delhi which has already had its premiere in July at the Venice International Film Festival.

The 12-day London Film Festival will close on 21 October with the world premiere of Jon S. Baird’s Stan & Ollie. This funny film starring Steve Coogan and John C, Reilly features a double act of Laurel and Hardy.

Some other prominent films at the 2018 festival are The Old Man and the Gun which features Robert Redford as an aging bank robber; Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma —a black and white film which is a tribute to the women of his boyhood.

Besides, Yorgos Lanthimos’s delirious period drama The Favourite, Mike Leigh’s historic epic Peterloo, the Cohen brothers’ dazzling new film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Luca Guadagnino’s art horror Suspiria.

Another film worth mentioning is Lords of Chaos by the Swedish director Jonas Akerlund. It is a darkly comic drama that tells the true story of how the rise of the Satanic musical subculture of Norwegian black metal in the 1980s, spun from an angst-inspired need to revolt into a fable of gross cult crimes.

The London Film Festival has featured some of the world’s best movie makers. The first film ever to be shown at the festival was Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood in 1957.

In that year alone, it showed Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria and Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd— all classics of world cinema.

India’s Satyajit Ray won the best film director award in 1959 at the London festival for his Apur Sansar. He was only the second director in the history of the festival to be awarded for his work.

In its early years, almost all films shown and awarded here were by international directors rather than British.

Geetika Tyagi on Aamir Khan backing out of Mogul: ‘It’s always nice to get support, but I’ve been fighting my battles alone’

With Aamir Khan stepping away from producing Mogul, which was scheduled to be directed by Jolly LLB director Subhash Kapoor, media professional-turned-actor Geetika Tyagi says she is happy with the support she has recieved, especially since she wasn’t expecting any. Kapoor is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Tyagi, who has alleged that the director tried to molest her in 2012. “It is always nice to get support. But this is happening when I stopped looking, and I thank him (Aamir) for it. I never looked or asked for any support. I have been fighting my battles all alone,” said Tyagi in an exclusive chat with Firstpost.

As soon as Tyagi learnt about Aamir’s decision of walking out of the project, in the wake of India’s #MeToo gaining momentum, she tweeted about it.

Aamir and Kiran Rao also put out a statement regarding his decision stating that at Aamir Khan Productions, they have zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment.

Aamir Khan took this strong step after Geetika Tyagi tweeted to Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (Kiran Rao is the chairperson), reminding them of the sexual harassment she faced by Mogul director, Subhash Kapoor.

Geetika asked Kiran if she remembers that Aamir Khan is working with Subhash Kapoor who she alleged had earlier sexually assaulted her. Tyagi’s tweet read, “Although @MumbaiFilmFest hs disassociated itslf frm directors&producer whose names have come out in #Metoo movement but I hope its chairperson #KiranRao remembers tht @aamir_khan her husband hmslf is working wth #subhashkapoor who’s being prosecuted for sexual assault&molestation” .

It may be recalled that Tyagi, who has acted in films like Aatma, What The Fish, One By Two and television series, Powder, had accused Kapoor of molesting her after a party and even trying to drag her into the bedroom.

Tyagi had further taken to her Twitter handle to share a 30-minute video in which she named Subhash Kapoor as her molester and had also captioned the video as “Subhash Kapoor’s true face”. The video, which was shot through a hidden camera, saw Kapoor, his wife Dimple Kharbanda and Tyagi discussing the ‘sexual misconduct’ of the director. A few minutes into the video, and Kapoor tells Tyagi, “I didn’t drag you inside”, to which the actress reacted by saying, “You pulled me, Subhash. You were holding my hand.” Further (in the video), Tyagi she tells Kapoor,  “I can’t trust any man. I don’t have a single friend aaj ki date mein jisey mai bolun let us have coffee together or go out, sit and talk. Maine bahut bahut suffer kiya hai, Subhash. I’m jittery, I’m always fu***ng jittery”.

The director of the Arjun Kapoor-starrer Aurangzeb, Atul Sabharwal, was also seen in the video speaking in support of Tyagi, who was further seen slapping Kapoor. Kapoor seemed to be apologising to her. While Tyagi’s seen crying hysterically in the video, the director’s wife is seen pleading to the actress to keep the matter under wraps as she was worried about her son’s future and didn’t want him to be affected by this.

Kapoor was working with Aamir Khan on Bhushan Kumar’s Moghul, but the actor has backed out of the film after the news of Kapoor’s ‘sexual misconduct’. After this, Bhushan Kumar also decided to drop him as the director of the film.

Speaking in response to the development, Kapoor posted a statement saying, “I understand and respect Aamir Khan’s and Kiran Rao’s decision. Since the matter is subjudice, I intend to prove my innocence in the court of law.”

Kalpana Lajmi’s films highlighted varied aspects of womanhood — from Rudaali to Daman

Renowned filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi breathed her last at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai early morning on 23 September. The writer-producer had been diagnosed with kidney cancer last year. Actors close to her tweeted their condolences, remembering her polemic against exploitation of women, which often formed the crux of her films.

After making her debut as an assistant director on one of Shyam Benegal’s films, she went on to make movies which had women and themes of womanhood at their very core. From starting a conversation about marital rape and the struggles of the LGBTQIA community, to exploring India’s urban landscape, here’s a look at some of her most noteworthy outings.

Rudaali

Probably the most acclaimed Kalpana Lajmi directorial, Rudaali was India’s pick for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 66th Academy Awards. However for some reason, the film was not accepted as a nominee. Starring Dimple Kapadia, Raakhee and Raj Babbar in lead roles, Rudaali borrowed its plot from Mahasweta Devi’s short story about Shanichari, a woman in a caste-conscious village in Rajasthan. Tears evade Shanichari even as the biggest tragedies strike her repeatedly.

Poster for Kalpana Lajmi's Rudaali; Raveena Tandon in Daman

Darmiyaan: In Between

Set in Bollywood in the 1940s, Darmiyaan: In Between tells the story of a famous actress who finds out her son is intersex. She refuses to accept the child as her own and addresses him as her younger brother till destiny reverses the roles. A poignant tale of love, loss, and acceptance, the film is considered way ahead of its time, by giving the LGBTQIA community a voice.

Daman: A Victim of Marital Violence

A chilling narrative capturing the horror of marital rape an violence, Daman got its leading lady, Raveena Tandon, the distinguished National Award. The story follows the life of Durga (Tandon), a young woman born into a poor family, who is married off to a man with a raging temper. Her life is turned upside down as her drunken husband beats her up and forces himself on her, forcing her to live a life of anonymity, only to be tracked down again.

Chingaari

Starring Sushmita Sen, Chingaari is an impassioned attack on using religion as a tool to subjugate women, especially those on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. Chingaari exposed Indian society’s double standards which allow men to exploit women to fulfill their desires, but keep women from claiming agency. The film ends with Sen, who plays a prostitute, avenging the death of her lover by killing the main priest of her village.

Kyon?

Although different from the films in her repertoire, Kyon? made for an edge-of-the-seat thriller, directed by Lajmi. Set in urban India, the film aimed to shine a light on the problems faced by the privileged teenagers in the country. Sex, alcohol and drugs remained Lajmi’s focal points in Kyon? to show corrupt morals and lack of remorse in the younger generation.

Other lesser-known films in which Lajmi showed her directorial prowess include A Work Study in Tea Plucking, D.G. Movie Pioneer, Along the Brahmaputra, Lohit Kinare and Ek Pal.

Batti Gul Meter Chalu box office collection Day 1: Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha’s film opens with Rs 6.76 cr

Batti Gul Meter Chalu, despite featuring a prominent cast comprising Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor and Yami Gautam, had a slow start at the box office, earning Rs 6.76 crores on its opening day.

Shraddha Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor in a still from Batti Gul Meter Chalu

The film released alongside Manto, Saamy Square and The Equalizer 2. Trade analyst Girish Johar had predicted that the film would be able to amass Rs 5.5 crores on its first day. “Desi stories always connect well with people. Also, a social issue relating to a common man’s fight against power distribution companies will pull audiences to cinema halls,” Johar had told The Indian Express in a statement, adding that a combination of good cast and director increases the possibility of a positive box office outcome. Meanwhile, Shraddha’s other release, Amar Kaushik’s Stree where the actress features alongside Rajkummar Rao, has been steady at the box office, even after three weeks of its release.

Alia Bhatt on being directed by father Mahesh in Sadak 2: ‘I think I may just end up being born again

Mahesh Bhatt will be once again donning the director’s cap for Sadak 2, the follow-up to his 1991 film Sadak, starring Sanjay Dutt and daughter Pooja. Alia Bhatt and Aditya Roy Kapur are also part of the sequel slated to release on 25 March, 2020. In an interaction with DNA, both sisters expressed their admiration for him

Pooja Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapur, Alia Bhatt, Sanjay Dutt and Mahesh Bhatt. Image via Twitter/@TaranAdarsh

Alia told DNA that she had never thought that her father would step out of his retirement and work with her on a film. Pooja talked about Mahesh’s acumen as a director that very few possess. Alia also spoke about being narrated the film’s story which made her realise that no other filmmaker could direct Sadak 2 other than Mahesh.

“When I heard the story, I told him what Sanju had already said, that I cannot do this film if you are not directing it. I was not just in tears, but I was sobbing and shaking at the end of it. He put up the most creative narration that I have heard in my life with the music and the beats. It was so earnest that it broke my heart. Sanju recently told me, ‘Alia you don’t know what you are getting into. You have no idea what it is to be directed by your father’. At the shoot of the picture with the cast, I got a glimpse of it. And to tell you the truth, I am scared for my life because if that’s the kind of emotional journey that we are going to go on for I don’t know how many odd days, I think I may just end up being born again.

Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyan isn’t merely a ‘comeback’ for Abhishek Bachchan; it’s a reminder of his potential

The one thing that Abhishek Bachchan almost always brings to every role he plays, is a hint of gravitas – and this is irrespective of the commercial fate of his films.

Revisit some of his now-forgotten lead roles over the last decade and a half – Naach (2004),  Bluffmaster (2005), Delhi-6 (2009), Dum Maaro Dum (2011) – and you’ll see why brand Abhishek Bachchan continues to find takers among film creators and film consumers alike, despite the fact that he mostly relies on his own real life personality and charm to coast through performances.

Abhishek Bachchan. Image via Twitter/ @ErosNow

Heist leader Charlie in the disastrous Abbas-Mastan non-thriller Players (2012); suave NRI Rishi in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006); or even the London-returned Robbie who’s sewn from husband material in his latest film, Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyan; Abhishek Bachchan has often done a fair job of playing himself on screen.

That, though, is the real tragedy of Junior Bachchan’s career – because his best, most impactful performances have been those where he actually manages to escape his own persona and dive deep into characters.

It’s when he’s stripped of his slick, urban skin – like Mani Ratnam did with him in Yuva (2004) and Guru (2006), or shorn off the stature and privilege associated with him (Happy New Year’s Nandu Bhide comes to mind) that Abhishek Bachchan the actor comes to the fore. (This might be an unpopular opinion, but irrespective of how Happy New Year was as a film, Abhishek’s Nandu Bhide was easily one of his best characters to date, one that was made impressive by how much of his inhibitions the actor was able to shed to play the part.)

In Manmarziyan, Abhishek seems to be reprising his role as the bland arranged marriage proposal for the feisty heroine in Sooraj Barjatya’s melodrama-on-crack, Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003). Like his Prem Kumar (*not* Prem Kishen) in MPKDH, Manmarziyaan’s Robbie is stoic and polite, speaks softly, likes drifting off into long silences, and is generally the guy who the girl’s family backs in the love triangle.

Yet, his latest performance shows you how much Abhishek has grown as a screen performer, while also reminding you of how much more untapped potential he still has.

Abhishek Bachchan may have been the first in Bollywood to brood with his beard, but his Robbie is a little more nuanced than just that. It helps that there’s an attempt to set the character apart in the way it has been designed. Writer Kanika Dhillon makes Robbie a millennial upgrade to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’s selfless, benevolent husband Vanraj – a man who’s secure about his own masculinity as well as his wife’s right to make her own choice. He’s instantly smitten by the spunky woman of the story, but doesn’t try to force-fit his own beliefs and values upon her.

Abhishek on his part makes Robbie instantly likeable and trustworthy, but the character doesn’t really push him to dig deep and make him seem less like a Bachchan and more like a whole other person. Abhishek may have made his entry into Bollywood’s Aram Nagar club, but the film never seems to challenge him in the way some other films may have done in the past.

In Yuva, which is still arguably Abhishek’s best performance to date, you see an angst, a pain, a drive in his eyes that you’ve only ever seen sporadically in other films. He was fierce, battle-worn, street-smart and so real. Yet, even realism can be a hit-and-miss with Abhishek Bachchan. He tried a character in a similar zone in 2010’s Raavan, but that was a complex part that even Mani Ratnam didn’t seem to have a firm hold on. The result was a mangled mess of a man who never connected with the viewer.

Abhishek Bachchan also managed to flesh out an intriguing character in Rohan Sippy’s Bluffmaster – that thoroughly underrated ‘adaptation’ of John C. Reilly-starrer Criminal, which shows that it isn’t so much about which world his character is set in, as opposed to how much effort is made in pushing the actor towards completely unshackling himself from the tics and traits that come so naturally to him.

Abhishek Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra in a still from Dostana. YouTube

Abhishek Bachchan may have managed to remain relevant and keep his career on the rails with his portrayal of ACP Jai Dixit in the three Dhoom films over his career, but it’s his little obscure parts that reveal what’s otherwise hidden – talent that needs to be mined and honed. You can see glimpses of this in Robbie – when his eyes gently widen at the sight of his newly-wed wife guzzling neat whiskey without a flicker of discomfort, or when he merely stands next to his wife’s lover, calm and composed, as far away from insecurity as one could be.

Manmarziyan, thus, isn’t so much a return from a hiatus from Abhishek Bachchan, as it is a gentle reminder that the man is capable of so much more than what we’ve already seen. It’s him testing waters outside his comfort zone, which is the first step. Who knows – perhaps a truly great Abhishek Bachchan performance isn’t too far away.