Monthly Archives: March 2017

Anarkali of Aarah movie review: Swara Bhaskar champions this fiesty film with a message

Writer-director Avinash Das’s film Anarkali of Aarah is not a comfortable watch. It starts with the bawdy song and dance numbers associated with the fame, (or infamy) and adoring fan following, for Anaarkali Aarahwali, and expands to the themes explored in this drama.

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Das takes us deep into small town Bihar and works hard to deliver a kind of authenticity that makes you almost feel the dust under your feet. Sure you are often distracted by the over-dependence on songs, which do not move the narrative along, but you make concessions there since this is a film about a live singer.

Swara Bhaskar breathes life and soul and defines chutzpah as the feisty singer who remains scarred by memories of her childhood but wears her trade proudly on her blingy blouse sleeves.

Her over-made up Anaarkali walks the streets of Aarah with a swagger that comes from knowing you are queen bee. This is a town of double standards where the men revel in Anaarkali’s songs replete with double innuendos. But for all Anaarkali’s strength and determination, the men around her let her down, showing neither spine nor any real purpose.

An enamoured young man Anwar, for example, follows her around like a lost puppy but shows no bite, while the head of the music troupe Rangeela (Pankaj Tripathi), pathetically flip-flops. Indeed most of the men who encounter Anaarkali become enamoured by her but Das gives none of them a complete graph.

The privilege is reserved for Anaarkali only, and fortunately Bhaskar’s energetic and whole-hearted performance fills in several of those blanks space with equally commendable support from Tripathi, Mishra and Vijay Kumar, who plays the local head cop.

Anaarkali’s peaceful existence is shaken when the powerful university Vice Chancellor (VC), played by Sanjay Mishra, outrages her modesty publicly. Her equally public reaction is humiliating for the VC and as the local forces begin to close in around Anaarkali, she’s forced to run away from Aarah.

She doesn’t go far and she doesn’t hide much. The climax ties everything up too tidily including delivering a social message on women’s rights (there’s even a placard-waving NGO group protesting these troupes). But it’s not preachy in the least. To Das’s credit, he works in the right balance in Anaarkali’s character of someone who exactly knows her position in society, is not ashamed of her profession but is confident and strong enough to know that there are boundaries and it’s as much her right to draw those, even if it is in the dusty streets of the chauvinistic hinterland.

Swara Bhaskar has you rooting for Anaarkali with all her strengths, weaknesses, loneliness, talent and flaws.

Lipstick Under My Burkha: No one can stop this film from reaching people, says Prakash Jha

Even as Lipstick Under My Burkha has been critically acclaimed in several international festivals, it is not getting a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), in India. ‘

The film has been deemed too ‘ and according to CBFC, it is laced with sexual scenes and abusive words. Revolving around four women — a burkha-clad college girl, a young beautician, a mother of three and a 55-year-old widow who rediscovers her sexuality, the film features actors like Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkana Sen Sharma.

As the team awaits the decision of Film Appellate Tribunal (which is due today, on 27 March), producer Prakash Jha and director Alankrita Shrivastava put across their point of view in a chat with Firstpost. Excerpts:

Poster of Lipstick Under My Burkha

Isn’t it ironical that despite hitting roadblock ahead of its release in India, the film has earned accolades in the International film festival circuit?

Alankrita Shrivastava: It is very ironic. It’s huge disrespect to the Indian audience by not certifying the film because then you are saying that world over somehow people are more educated and are more evolved except in India. It is a very colonial mindset to say that there is something wrong with the Indian audience. Why should we deny the rights of Indians to watch a film that has been made in their own country?

The kind of response we have been getting at festivals across the world is really phenomenal. I wasn’t expecting that. It is getting lot of applause and standing ovation in every country we have shown. We have got several jury and audience awards. The question and answer session post screening has been long and non-stop because people want to talk and discuss. There is lot of emotional connect which people are feeling across the world among different audiences.

It is unfair that our own audience is not getting to watch it. Hope the decision is reversed and people finally get to watch the film.

The film talks about women’s sexuality and their desires.  From what we have seen recently, the industry is not ready to accept women who speak up their mind? Why do you think it is happening? How do you react?

Alankrita: The CBFC is clearly functioning from a very patriarchal mindset, they have no idea about the context of how they should watch a film. They have no idea about the gender dynamics, the politics of representation, the politics of female gaze versus male gaze. I feel they are just functioning from a space where the only kind of cinema they seem to be propagating is a very male gaze controlled popular mainstream cinema. There is no level playing field for alternative voices.

CBFC is not uncomfortable with sex per se but they are uncomfortable with the fact that a woman is striving for agency over her own body and she is trying to claim her own desires. There is no nudity, there is not even a cleavage shot in the film. The film talks about the lives of women from their own point of view but we are so used to watching item songs where the camera mindlessly travels up and down a woman’s body with zero connection with the narrative, or where women are portrayed as sati savitri, virtuous women, or vamps.

There is very little space for ordinary women who have had their ups and downs. They want to keep us engaged only with popular representation of women and nothing more. No one has the right to shut down 50 per cent of the population voice. The decision of CBFC is absolutely not in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution of India which promises freedom of expression and gender equality.

Prakash Jha: CBFC clearly has no sense of the audience, they are completely blank. They seem to be telling women: ‘How dare you change the balance of the society? You have been raised, indoctrinated, we have told you how to speak, how to stand, how to behave, how to express, how to serve men all your life.’  The audience all over the world is extremely intelligent, they are expressive because they are what they are.

Can anyone stop me from exercising my rights? No one can stop this film eventually from coming to people. I am not afraid. I don’t get discouraged by such things.

Why didn’t you move the High Court like the Udta Punjab producers?

Jha: They probably didn’t have much time on their hand as the release date was very close and court saw the logic in Udta Punjab team approaching them. In our case we didn’t have the release date announced, so the court would have asked us whether we have exhausted all our options. We are going to the Tribunal and waiting for the verdict which takes time.

Recently the Padmavati set was vandalised and the film’s director was assaulted, you think intolerance on freedom of speech is on a rise?

Jha: It has always been like that. Indian society, mythologically, historically, socially has always been very strong. They have never tolerated, never accepted and allowed anything which doesn’t fit into their mind-frame. Lot of objections have been raised on my films and I have ended up going to the tribunal, court; this is not new for me. I always tell filmmakers that film-making is not just a creative process, it is an art of putting your view to the society in the forefront.

Perhaps, I have given the same mantra to my assistant Alankrita, too, and she is going to face controversies. But we don’t want controversies. We have shown the film in several festivals, it has reached different kinds of audience. Alankrita is just back with seven global awards. Audience from Cairo, Sweden, England, Miami, France, Tokyo and even our own, MAMI, have applauded and appreciated the film.

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When people have the freedom to select their government and their own future, then don’t they have the freedom to watch a film?

While slamming the supporters of Lipstick Under My Burkha,  CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani defended himself by saying that they have been liberal in the censor certification of films like Befikre, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Rangoon and yet the industry folks were complaining. Comment.

Prakash JhaLipstick Under My Burkha questions the very soul of the society which perhaps is not understood by CBFC.

Alankrita: Women in our popular, mainstream cinema are always acted upon. Stalking is portrayed as love. But a situation where a woman is striving for agency over her own life, her own body, her own desires and dreams, that is something making them uncomfortable.

For a very long time now, we have been striving to move to a place where films are certified and not censored, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

Prakash Jha: I appreciate that the government had appointed a body under Shyam Benegal and they have submitted the report. I encourage the government to adopt that report and make it into a law and thus remove the process of censoring. A film like Lipstick Under My Burkha will only enhance the thinking of the society, the richness of the society. It is not going to damage the society.

Alankrita: I am not discouraged, I have faith in the Tribunal. I hope they are able to see the film in the context it has to be seen. I am sure that they will be able to reverse the CBFC decision. It is important to continue my journey, I will continue to make such films. One has to be prepared to fight it out.

 

Karan Johar and Kangana Ranaut agree on the definition of nepotism, as this old interview shows

When Kangana Ranaut called him “the flag bearer of nepotism” in the Hindi film industry, Karan Johar didn’t take it very kindly.

Alluding to the now infamous Koffee With Karan show where those now famous words were uttered , Karan told film critic Anupama Chopra during a (later) Q and A session at a London university:

“When she says ‘flag-bearer of nepotism’, I just want to say her, I am glad she knows what it all means. I don’t think she has understood the entire meaning of the term.”

Guilty as charged: Karan Johar, Kangana Ranaut, and their now infamour nepotism row has got a fresh boost

Apart from not knowing the meaning of nepotism, Karan also accused Kangana of playing the “woman card, and the victim card”.

His remarks earned him and Kangana several brownie points, especially when she responded with .

But an old interview clip of Karan’s — with, once again, Anupama Chopra — from 2014 shows that whether or not Kangana understands the meaning of “nepotism”, Karan does understand it. And what’s more, he believes that he’s been guilty of it as well.

While we take a moment to appreciate that, here’s a look at those relevant portions from his 2014 interview:

“[Referring to casting Alia Bhatt in Student of The Year] I picked up a chubby girl… I saw something… And I can’t lie. Maybe the fact that she is Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter also excited me. Right now, I’d like to say no, but maybe back then, it was a really strong sub-layer [sic]. And that is nepotism and we’re guilty. I’m guilty.

Would I have cast Varun Dhawan if he was not David Dhawan’s son? Because he is David Dhawan’s son, he was on my sets as an AD, and that’s why I spent enough time with him and got to know that he can be a movie star.

There are too many factors in this country that contribute to movie stardom, true talent is the least of them.”

[Anupama and Karan’s fellow guests on the show, Deepika Padukone and Tisca Chopra say at this point: “That’s so sad.” Karan then continues:]

“It is truly tragic.

Would I have been a filmmaker? I’m a producer’s son. I had no experience. I was an assistant on one film. My father had the platform to give me and that’s why I’m a filmmaker. And so if I go through any struggle in my career, I deserve it.”

From 2014, when he had a perfectly lucid understanding of what comprises nepotism to 2017, when he did an about-turn on the subject, Karan’s beliefs sure have undergone quite the sea-change.

Ranbir Kapoor won’t make public appearances until Sanjay Dutt biopic releases?

There’s immense buzz around Sanjay Dutt’s biopic being helmed by Rajkumar Hirani, especially since Ranbir Kapoor stars as the actor.

Ranbir Kapoor on the sets of the Sanjay Dutt biopic. Twitter

Ranbir Kapoor has been sporting different looks to portray to the life of the troubled star, and the film will apparently graph Sanjay Dutt’s life in the movies, his various relationships including one with his father. Ranbir has apparently and will also need to lose weight to shoot for the prison parts.

The first shooting schedule, that kicked off last month, focuses on Dutt’s contemporary phase. Ranbir will be sporting 6 different looks in the film.

However, despite multiple reports and so much buzz, there’s a sense of secrecy around Ranbir Kapoor’s portrayal of Dutt. The shoot happens in closed studios, and the makers are allegedly very strict about leaks. And now it being reported that Ranbir will not be making any more public appearances until the film is ready.

reports that Hirani has asked Ranbir to generally keep a low profile, and not be spotted around too much.

Further, that Ranbir and Hirani had gone to meet Aditya Chopra as the YRF film Tiger Zinda Hai has been slotted to released on Christmas 2017, when they had planned to release the Dutt biopic. The meeting was reportedly to discuss avoiding a clash with a Salman Khan film.

The Sanjay Dutt biopic, tentatively titled Dutt, is slated to release this Christmas. It is directed by Rajkumar Hirani and also stars Sonam Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Jim Sarbh and Dia Mirza.

Rajkummar Rao on Trapped: ‘One of my most challenging works to date

Rajkummar Rao may be trapped in a high rise in his latest movie, but he is definitely not going to get trapped in the stereotypes of Bollywood.

From an experimental urban thriller, Trapped to light comedies – Behen Hogi Teri and Bareilly Ki Barfi — to political satire, Newton, Rajkummar has his plate full this year with four back to back releases. Excerpts from an interview with the National award-winning actor who caught the acting bug quite young.

This seems to be an exciting year for you with four back-to-back releases coming up.

I was shooting non-stop last year. Aligarh was the only film that released in 2015. It was mere coincidence that all these films are coming together. I would finish one film, take two months break and start preparing and shooting for the next one. Behen Hogi Teri is a fun, small town film, while Bareilly Ki Barfi is a romantic comedy but with very stark characters. Hansal Mehta’s Omerta that releases probably next year, is quite explosive, very sensitive and very universal. It is something we have never seen before on the Indian screen. Next I will start shooting for Ekta Kapoor’s new digital series, in which I will play Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

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With just one character in Trapped,  it must have been quite challenging keeping audience interest in mind?

The director (Vikramaditya Motwane) can answer that question well because when I am performing I don’t think about those aspects. That moment when I am living as an actor is mine. I am trying to live that moment truthfully, so I can’t be thinking about other reasons. But yes, Vikram has done that beautifully and our editor has cut the film in a brilliant way. The use of music and sound design is all very engaging. That is the reason we are calling it an urban thriller. It is a very unique, very different, one of its kind film. It is one of my most challenging works till date.

What was your reaction when you were approached for Trapped?

I was thrilled because I was getting the chance to work with Vikram. I have been a big fan of his work, I loved both his films — Udaan, Lootera. A story and film like Trapped is so rare for an actor. There is so much that you can do. I was more than happy.

Do you consider playing a solo character in a film as an opportunity or does it make you nervous?

It is definitely an opportunity, it doesn’t happen with every actor. I feel privileged to do this survival drama and I think any sensible and good actor would jump on to a film like Trapped.

90 per cent of the film is shot in one flat; we had a limited crew but everybody’s energy was towards making this a special film. Also, I was going through such physical changes and was eating, drinking accordingly. It was needed for the part. I was just doing my job. Shaurya (Rajkummar’s character) is somebody who is stuck in this apartment without food and water, so as an actor it is my responsibility to go through that process. Everybody was there for me, they were pampering me, lot of love was showered on me, everybody’s energy was just focussed on Shaurya’s journey and how to make it interesting.

Would you consider this as the best phase of your career?

My best phase is yet to come but it is a great time. I feel there is definitely a growth in my performance. Now when I look back at my earlier films, I feel I could have done much better, which is natural to feel because you grow in life, you age. Performance comes from the experiences and exposure in your life. I feel more confident in the industry now from the time I began. But I still remember how I was in Gurgaon. I saw this whole filmy world as a parallel universe, and now when I am shooting and making a film, the feeling is the same. I still feel I am in this amazing, dreamy, fairy tale life that is so different from my mundane life.

We have read that movies deeply impacted you when you were growing up…

Yes, I remember when I saw Agneepath as a kid, I started howling on how Amitabh Bachchan could die. He cannot die, he is Amitabh Bachchan; he is not a human being, he was a super man for me. Of course, now I am part of the industry, part of film-making, and now that feeling is not there. But I still get very emotional when I see a good performance or a good film. I get moved easily.

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Your collaborations with director Hansal Mehta has resulted in award winning films…

Yes, and our forthcoming film Omerta is by far the most explosive work I have done with Hansal. I think he is one of the best directors we have. For me he is more like a family now because Omerta is our fourth film together. The kind of relationship we share, it’s going to last for life. We can keep working together. We share the same understanding, the kind of stories we believe is very common and the way we want to tell them is with similar understanding.

Was there a script while shooting for Trapped because a film like this would need lot of give and take between an actor and director?

We had a 35 page script/screenplay. But that was about it. Most of it was improvised. Actually for a film like Trapped you really can’t write, you can probably write pointers. Shaurya is stuck and his door gets locked…after which you can’t really say how an actor would react. One will have to go there and live that moment in order to find out how I will react. Then there was a pointer that it is Day 3, there is no water and he is searching for water. Now, as an actor it is my job to convey this pointer in as best way possible.

Did you convey your ideas and thoughts to the director while shooting?

I was already so excited that I was getting a chance to work with Vikram and I have my complete faith in him as a director. I knew I was in safe hands. There were times when I was confused, I wasn’t sure, but he was always there to take care. But he gave me total freedom to perform, to explore. He was very open with ideas. It is a mutual feeling and understanding between a director and an actor. They have to have that kind of trust in each other in order to make a film special and beautiful.

Trapped has a universal appeal to it…

Yes, it is a very universal film. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. Lot of people have seen the film and they are relating to it. They can connect to the character and be a part of Shaurya’s journey. Such is the response. I would give credit to Vikram in shaping  the character’s journey. It is so engaging, so universal, very believable and very human.

How much do critics and their reviews matter to you?

Of course, it does. I read most of my reviews. I want to see other people’s perspective. It is always good to know what other people are thinking about you because after a point of time you start losing your objectivity. You need third person’s perspective in order to know things with an open mind.

Most actors say that more than critics they would care for audience reaction…

I want both of those. I want the balance of a critic’s opinion and audience love as well.

Among the actors of this generation who do you like?

Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Sushant Singh Rajput, Shahid Kapoor, Amit Sadh, who is also a friend. There are so many, that is the beauty of this generation. Everybody is pushing their limits, everybody is doing such exciting work. Ayushmann and Varun are also very talented.

Do you guys connect?

We don’t meet often. We are busy with our own lives, shooting and promoting and then taking breaks, but whenever I meet Ranbir or Ranveer I very naturally tell them. I told Ranveer that I really loved his work in Bajirao Mastani.

We have always slotted actors in commercial mainstream and art cinema. Is the gap between them diminishing?

It is diminishing for sure and the credit goes to all these biggies, these superstars who I am fan of. Starting from Shah Rukh, Aamir, Salman, Hrithik, all of them are changing the definition of commercial cinema. The highest grosser today is Dangal, which is absolutely an unconventional commercial film. There is nobody dancing, there is no item song, it is the story of a 50-year-old guy, a father, and the film is set in a small village in Haryana.

Who would have thought this subject 15 years back? Who would have thought that a film like this would make Rs 400 crore? These superstars are pushing their limits and they have given us also a chance to experiment with our craft. I have always said that films or cinema is like a buffet, you serve everything to the audience and let them decide what they want to go for. Let them make their choice but you should give them the choice.

How important are these Rs 100, 200 crore clubs for you?

I definitely want all my films to make money, I want my producers to make money. For the industry to survive it is important that money should come. It is directly proportionate to how many people are watching your film. Rs 100, 200 crore actually means that those many people went to theatre and saw your film. I want both, critical acclaim as well as good box office returns.

Would you ever do a complete mindless film, the ‘leave your brains at home’ kind?

(Laughs heartily) I doubt I will ever do that. But never say never, maybe just for the kick of it.

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How do you go about choosing your script?

There is no fixed formula. I read lot of scripts, actually I read everything. I look for excitement. Something should happen inside me when I am reading a script and it is very impulsive. Either you feel it or you don’t. I go by my instinct.

Who are the directors on your wishlist?

There are so many of them. All these new generation of filmmakers. I don’t want to miss out on any name…Raju Hirani, Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Do you fear failure?

More than failure I am nervous when I am shooting a film. I am constantly thinking about whether I am able to crack a character, or a scene, or not. What if I get stuck? What if I feel trapped? I am honestly scared about these things more than whether it will make money or not.

Do you feel scared of getting trapped into a stereotype?

Yes absolutely, but I am constantly making efforts to not to go through that process and to keep doing different films, keep playing different parts. That is why I want to constantly surprise my audience. I want to give them a Behen Hogi Teri or a Bareilly Ki Barfi, and Newton and a Trapped. It is an exciting time to be an actor.

You  have made it large without any backing or connection in the industry. What are your thoughts on the ongoing debate on nepotism?

There is favouritism, but that is okay. As an audience I want to see talent on screen. I don’t care where it is coming from. As long as an actor is talented, it is worth my money and time, I want to see them on screen. I would pay money to watch Ranbir Kapoor, I would pay money to watch Alia Bhatt, these are extremely talented actors. But the problem is when somebody is not talented and still we have to keep watching their films just because of this nepotism thing. I have a problem with that. But times are changing now. People are accepting only good talent.

Phillauri actress Mehreen Pirzada on Anushka Sharma, her Bollywood debut and Telugu films

Five years ago, when Mehreen Pirzada was working in New York, little did she know that, one fine day, she would pursue an acting career in films.

In 2013, when she took part in the Miss South Asia Canada beauty pageant in Toronto, Mehreen was supposed to dance in one of the rounds at the beauty pageant. She had to pick a chit which had a celebrity’s name and it turned out to be, well, Anushka Sharma herself.

“I danced on the song ‘Jiya Re‘ from Jab Tak Hai Jaan,” Mehreen laughs recounting the story. “Ever since, I was hoping that I would get a chance to work with Anushka. I believe in fairy tales. I’m living one right now. Three years later, after six rounds of auditions in early 2016, I finally got a call. It was while I was watching Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. I had to come to Mumbai and meet Anushka Sharma, who’s one of the producers of Phillauri. Suddenly, I felt like I was under a spotlight.”

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Ask her if Anushka knows this story, Mehreen beams with joy saying, “Yes. When I shared my story with her, she was surprised. And then, she told me that a long time ago, her mother had written a chit where she wished that her daughter should act in a Yash Raj film when she grows up. Finally, when she bagged Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, her mother showed her the chit. I couldn’t help but blush when she told me this story.”

In Phillauri, Mehreen plays Anu, a young woman who is about to get married to her childhood sweetheart Kanan, played by Suraj Sharma. When he’s told that he’s mangalik and has to get married to a tree to ward off evil, he ends up meeting a friendly spirit Shashi (Anushka Sharma). The film is, in a way, a study on how love is the same no matter what the time frame is. “The story constantly keeps going back and forth. Anshai Lal and writer Anvita Dutt have weaved an interesting story about how love doesn’t change even though time changes,” the actress adds.

Being the youngest member of the cast, she admits to being quite pampered on the sets of Phillauri.

“I was the youngest and newest member of the team. All my co-stars – Anushka, Diljit Dosanjh and Suraj Sharma are well-established, but never made me feel out of place. I’m very critical of my own work and want to deliver my best. One time, when I was quite upset that I didn’t get a shot right, and Anushka got to know that I cried the whole night. The next day she came and hugged me and said, ‘Arey pagli…kya hua tujhe? Why were you crying? We’re all there for you.’

“I didn’t expect such a sweet gesture from her. She treated me like her own sister. The best thing about her is that she is quite straight forward as a person” said Mehreen.

Having grown up in Punjab, before her family moved to Canada, Mehreen is well-versed with the nuances of the Punjabi culture; however, she disagrees that it was a major factor behind why she bagged the role. “We are actors and the only thing that matters is how much we soak in the characters and make them our own. I act in Telugu films and when I’m shooting there, I’m a Telugu girl,” she avers.

So, does she have plans to go back to Canada in near future? “Only if I have to shoot there,” she laughs, adding, “I’m really glad that I spent the formative years of my life in USA and Canada. It has helped shape my personality. Back there, you are on your own and you do things to make yourself happy, not others.”

The actress made her debut in Telugu cinema in early 2016 with Krishna Gaadi Veera Prema Gadha in which she played Nani’s romantic interest. Despite the success of the film, she had to wait for nearly 10 months to bag her next project and currently, she’s on a roll with as many as five Telugu and Tamil films to her credit.

Says Mehreen, “I was going through a low phase after making my acting debut. I knew the film had done well, but I wasn’t getting any offers. I can’t sit idle at home because it makes me feel restless. However, I didn’t let this negativity get the better of me. Thankfully, things are looking good at the moment with plenty of work. Right now, I’m as excited as a school kid about my debut in Bollywood. I had a similar feeling when I was awaiting the release of Krishna Gaadi Veera Prema Gaadha and now, I’m going through the same thing again.

Phillauri, Anarkali of Aarah and Naam Shabana triple whammy: Women’s stories finally in vogue

Three months into 2017 and we finally have Bollywood films championing female actors.

On back-to-back Fridays, we have Anushka Sharma’s Phillauri, Swara Bhaskar’s Anaarkali of Aarah and Taapsee Pannu’s Naam Shabana. Each of these films differs in storyline, but what they have in common is that they are headlined by women.

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In the last few years, films with female leads aren’t as rare as they used to be in Bollywood.

Last year films like Neerja, Dangal, Pink and Phobia told women’s stories. They followed in the footsteps of widely acclaimed films like No One Killed Jessica, Kahaani, The Dirty Picture, Queen and Mary Kom that also made their mark at the box office.

Bollywood is slowly but surely recognising that making movies that allow women to take center stage is a good business decision.

Almost two years ago, Anushka Sharma made her debut as a producer with Navdeep Singh’s NH10. The actress leveraged her A-list status for a film that on the surface was about a couple’s nightmarish road trip but left the audience with a strong message about honour killing, patriarchy and violence.

Her sophomore production is Phillauri, a film that by Bollywood standards has a ‘quirky’ story line. Directed by Anshai Lal, the film tells the tale of a Manglik boy who has to marry a tree before he can marry a girl. Turns out the tree is inhabited by a friendly neighbourhood ghost (played by Anushka) and the Manglik boy has to help her return to ghost-land.

With notable exceptions like Ekta Kapoor, Guneet Monga and Rhea Kapoor, movie producing is largely a boys club. Actresses traditionally would step into production only to resurrect their dying careers but 28-year-old Anushka is at the top of her game. She is an exciting producer to watch-out for. Instead of backing large projects with bankable faces, she has chosen to work with actors, writers and filmmakers who want to tell fresh stories.

Anushka’s home productions have injected Bollywood with fresh talent. The success of NH10 bought the supremely talented Navdeep back into Bollywood 12 years after his first film Manorama Six Feet Under released. It also helped writer Sudip Sharma and actor Darshan Kumaar to make their mark in the industry. Phillauri marks the debut of its director and is, also, actor Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) first Bollywood outing.

Anushka Sharma. Image from Phillauri - Facebook

Swara Bhaskar’s Anaarkali of Arrah bucks the trend of female stories that Bollywood has been telling. It is not a relatable character or setting. Anaarkali is an orchestra singer who sings lewd songs but defiantly unapologetic about her sexuality. The actress describes her character has being ‘very open about sex, her body and desires. Anaarkali starts the conversation with ‘I am character-less. This is what I do for a living. Now what?’’ Anaarkali’s overpowering sexuality is reminiscent of Vidya Balan’s portrayal of an ambitious junior artist Reshma who transforms into Silk, a sultry male magnet in The Dirty Picture.

Next week, Taapsee Pannu’s Naam Shabana is looking all set to start a brand new trend. The spy film is a spin-off from the hit Akshay Kumar starrer Baby. As Shabana, Taapsee Pannu had a role short enough to be a cameo in Baby, but it made a big enough impact for director-producer Neeraj Pandey to green light Naam Shabana. It’s very rare in Bollywood for a character to get its own spin-off film and even rarer for that film to have a female protagonist!

In April, Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) and her sorority of sex workers will take on the might of two nations and Noor (Sonakshi Sinha), a journalist, will find herself in absurd, often implausible, situations. Later this year, Shraddha Kapoor will play Haseena Parker, Dawood Ibrahim’s sister in Haseena _ Queen of Mumbai and Kangana Ranaut will be seen as Simran in Hansal Mehta’s crime caper.

This promises to be a good year for women in Bollywood.

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There is school of thought that includes actresses like Anushka and Vidya Balan who hate the ‘women-centric’ tag. And, they have been very vocal about it. “By calling a film ‘female-centric’ we are putting it on a disadvantage. Films with male protagonists are just ‘films’ but if you are telling a woman’s story it becomes female-centric. I have an aversion to classifications like this,” Anushka says.

While Anushka does raise a pertinent point, it is important to remember that a films that tell women’s stories are still a very small percentage of the films Bollywood churns out. The industry continues to be predominately male-driven both on and off the screen.

Baahubali 2 trailer: Rajamouli’s film looks spectacular; Prabhas-Rana’s action is the highlight

If you, like most of the country, have been waiting with bated breath for the trailer of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, then that day has finally come.

From the beginning seconds of the trailer, when you hear Amrendra Baahubali’s voice talking about his mother, Sivagami Devi, to being the guardian of all the people of Mahismati, expect severe goosebumps as you go back to the biggest cliffhanger of 2016.

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Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?

Well, you’re not going to find out from this trailer, but you will get much closer to the truth.

The trailer begins with a quick montage of all that happened in the last film, Baahubali: The Beginning.

Prabhas is given a loud entry filled with swagger, slo-mo shots and death-metal music playing in the background. We finally get to see Anushka Shetty looking absolutely gorgeous as Baahubali’s wife Devasena. Their chemistry seems quite explosive, especially in the grand dance sequences.

We see Baahubali telling Katappa that nobody can kill him as long as Katappa is by his side. We then see Sivaghami Devi figuring out that a war is beginning within the kingdom, indicating that Baahubali and Bhallala Dev’s fights are going to dominate the film.

In order to see the dream-like landscape picturised in the film, the mind-blowing action sequences and all your favourite characters including Tamannaah, Rana Daggubati and Naseer, you need to watch the trailer below.

Everything is bigger, better, and grander in Baahubali 2: The Conclusion — a sure shot blockbuster.

In defense of Badrinath Ki Dulhania: Varun’s character is problematic but also learns his lesson

Some critics have already hailed Badrinath Ki Dulhania as a great new statement for feminism in Hindi cinema while on the other hand, some have argued that it in fact, only adheres to the Bollywood’s skewed perspective when it comes to gender and feminism.

The film’s plot revolves around a boy Badrinath (Varun Dhawan) and his love for a girl, Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt), and how he tries to ‘win’ her by any and every means available. The film’s narrative checks every single box when it comes Bollywood clichés but intriguingly enough tries, and to a great degree also manages to leave the viewer with a simplistic message – one cannot and ought not force someone to fall in love.

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The rather banal manner in which this Shashank Khaitan directed film plays out makes it a highly unlikely contender to make any kind of social statement and yet it seems to have managed to achieve just that. In the midst of all the noise surrounding Badrinath Ki Dulhania a small but rather significant detail, which has the capacity to change the perspective the film, is being overlooked.

The fact that Badrinath Ki Dulhania in more ways than one is an unabashed celebration of Raja Babu (1994) — the Govinda-Karishma Kapoor starrer from the 1990s that relegated gender stereotyping and misogyny in popular Hindi films to a new low — suddenly makes you look at the Varun Dhawan-Alia Bhatt film in a new light.

The similarities between Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Raja Babu are glaring enough for the film to be considered a remake in the true sense of the word.

In both the films, the plot revolves around a slacker rich kid (Govinda/ Varun Dhawan) who falls for a well-educated girl (Karishma Kapoor/ Alia Bhatt) with a mind of her own and believes that everyone irrespective of their gender ought to be given an equal chance to do what they want. In both films, the element of arranged marriage becomes a meet-cute for the lead pair and in both the films the girl rejects the boy for being a mismatch in every conceivable way.

While in Raja Babu, Raja initially brushes rejection off and later tries to ‘sing and win’ over Madhubala (Karishma Kapoor) — remember ‘Aa aa ee mera dil na todo’? — he simply moves on when Madhu insults his parents (Kader Khan, Aruna Irani) for not educating their son. Later Madhu is shown feeling bad about the way she expressed herself and forgives Raja for, well, being himself and the two then hatch a plot to win over the heartbroken parents to get them married.

In Badrinath Ki Dulhania things play out differently. Badri’s ego is far too big to give up once Vaidehi ditches him at the altar. Badri’s father (Rituraj), too, eggs him on as the patriarch would love to hang Vaidehi by the door to make an example of her for other girls who would dare to run away. On the pretext of getting some answers on why Vaidehi rejected this uncouth but dil ka heera ladka, who even helps her family tide over the trouble of arranging the dowry money for her elder sister’s marriage, Badri tracks Vaidehi down to Singapore.

He and his buddy, Somdev, kidnap her, dump her in the boot of a car and drive off. They have a conversation and she tries to reiterate that she does not see herself with a guy like him but like any Hindi film hero, Badri tells her that she could have told him a few times more instead of running off. He then fights with her hostel guards and almost endangers her job prospects but Vaidehi refuses to give up on him because she believes that she is also to be blamed for his behaviour for she bolted from the boondocks for a better life.

There is enough in Badrinath Ki Dulhania that fans age-old Bollywood traits like stalking is love, when a woman says no it means yes, and that a man must win over the woman at all costs.

Moreover, the worrying factor, and rightly so, is that young actors like Dhawan and Bhatt are fanning this mindset that somewhere could inspire the young viewer in believing that how it plays out on the screen must be replicated. However, it is important to note that the inclusion of a stereotypical scene where the hero is doing something out rightly wrong does not necessarily mean that it is being promoted.

The film is set in Uttar Pradesh and this is what happens there in real life.  In Badrinath Ki Dulhania and perhaps even in Raja Babu the male protagonists are shown undergoing a certain degree of transformation; needlessly to say that it comes at a great cost and after much wrong has been committed but there can be no confusion about the transition. The manner in which the first half of the imagery is highlighted across films right from Deewana Mujh Sa Nahin (1990) to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) to Tere Naam (2002) and in more recently Raanjhanaa (2013) many times pales the second part, as in the case of Badrinath Ki Dulhania where Badri says an emphatic ‘no’ to this father’s and, up until then, his own ways of doing things.

The reason why Badrinath Ki Dulhania has somehow managed to convince many that, its flaws and shortcomings notwithstanding, it is a feminist film is because of the lead characters and the actors who play them.

Both Dhawan and Bhatt are very credible and more than strike a chord. Dhawan might not be in the same league as a Bhatt in both stature as well as talent (more on that in a bit) but he has managed to place himself in a unique position. He does not seem to be competing with a Ranbir Kapoor or Ranveer Singh and is more than leagues ahead of his contemporaries such as Aditya Roy Kapur, Siddharth Malhotra, and Tiger Shroff.

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This makes Dhawan the most amiable face of his generation and is reason enough for the audience to lap him up. Bhatt is perhaps the second most fascinating talent after Kangana Ranaut in Hindi cinema today and although she might not have had her Kajol moment with a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge or a Raveena Tandon like cult post-Mohra, she is the only one out there with the same verve that defined divas like Hema Malini, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit or Juhi Chawla.

In Badrinath Ki Dulhania she has one of her toughest roles: to be a typical Hindi film heroine (read: be willing to come second to whoever be the hero) and at the same time be someone real.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania is a deftly crafted film, and even though it suffers from the curse of the third-act, it is enjoyable. Had the film been constructed better, it had what it takes to become a milestone. In saying this, this writer is certainly not making a case for what the lead character of the film does on-screen. There is no disagreement that the film in some way glorifies stalking but at the same time it also more than ensures that the lead learns his lesson.

Is that enough? Probably not when it comes to messaging about gender equality and feminism.

But within the realm of popular Hindi cinema, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, in a narrow manner, does suggest that Bollywood knows it cannot remain insulated from the real world anymore. Even in 2017, both onscreen and off it, Bollywood is grappling with the concept of choice – in the real world Karan Johar does not like Kangana Ranaut exercising her choice and in the reel world, Badrinath does not get that he ain’t Vaidehi’s choice no matter how many times he spins the wheel.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania would have managed to strike gold with the audience had Vaidehi remained true to her own self and had she continued to be Badri’s friend rather than making a choice of marrying him. It would be a far greater and more organic statement. But this is Bollywood, people!

Badrinath Ki Dulhania: Alia Bhatt, how could you laugh at a male molestation scene?

Happy Birthday Alia,

Today is the best day to tell you that you are one of the finest actors in our country. I put you in the same league as Kangana. Your glam-doll performance in Student Of The Year was an easy miss and I wouldn’t count that as one of your best performances, but I mean that as a compliment. You are not a doll, you are a person with impeccable ability to emote the toughest of  situations. You are young, but not brittle and shaky.

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You are barely a dozen films old yet you have proven your mettle. For the audience, you had the pressure of standing up for the performances of your mother Soni and sister Pooja. But you were a star in your own right. You probably got access to Karan Johar for your first film and that’s where the nepotism ends. Post that, you were on your own.

You developed your own wings and chartered your own route. No Mahesh Bhatt ever helped you get where you got. Anyone telling you otherwise, is just full of vile and has the sole intention of putting you down.

To me, your film Highway was the deal breaker. When I went to the theatre to see the film, I went with negative emotions. I thought it was a film that glorified love with the abuser.

However, when I watched Highway, I could relate to every scene of yours. You had dialogues in the film, but you could have done without any. Your eyes, your body language, even your shadow spoke a language that communicated the message like no other. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. I could relate to you, Alia. The times when you spoke to yourself in the film, when you were out in gay abandon, was actually the inner-talk that most survivors have with themselves.

While the credit of writing the scene and directing it so well goes to Imtiaz Ali, I really can’t imagine anyone bringing both, innocence and effervescence to the character, the way you did.

You held a mirror to all survivors of childhood rape through your spectacular performance. Thank you, Alia.

I think every survivor wanted to scream and hug you when you were raped in Udta Punjab. Your dialogue delivery, your look and your on-screen persona was admirable. You were so seeped into the character, that you reportedly found it so difficult to get out of the character. You faced some real-life phobias like walking in familiar streets. That’s what it takes to be an actor. That’s what it means to get into the skin of your character.

And though I am not a huge fan of Dear Zindagi, I think you emerged as one of the finest characters in the film as you lived the life of a child in a family of domestic instability due to matrimonial discord. Thank you for that Alia.

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This brings me to Badrinath Ki Dulhania, your recent role that is being watched by millions across the world and thus is making a lot of money.

The film was fun. Even though the entire premise of the film was over the top and scatter-brained, I think it brought out the best performances from you and your co-star Varun Dhawan.

But I have one grouse with you, especially since I see you as the most empathetic and sensible in the group. You have played a rape survivor, and a child sex abuse survivor to absolute perfection. I believe, a good person who absorbs to the world can only be a good actor, hence I am shocked and appalled.

Why is it so difficult for you to fathom, Alia, that it is not okay to laugh at a man who has been molested?

What were you thinking when director Shashank Khaitan asked you to laugh at a man who was sexually assaulted? You really thought that was funny? What if you saw Veera of Highway or Mary Jane of Udta Punjab getting molested that way, and you saw Randeep Hooda or Varun Dhawan laughing? Would you have done the film without any revolt? Do you find male rape funny?

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I am asking, because I know that it is a reality. I am a man who has been raped by a man, as a boy of 7 and all through my teen age years. I have no expectation from Karan Johar, who produced a movie with an inconsequential scene on the “comic”ness of male rape despite belonging to my own tribe. I have no expectation from that bloke Khaitaan. Varun doesn’t give me the vibe of being socially conscious and seems to still bea kid.

But you? I had faith in you. You let me down.

Your laughter in that scene is a painful reminder of the challenges many male survivors of sexual assault face everyday.

It is not funny to be raped. Gender irrespective. In fact, men and boys who get sexually assaulted are unable to speak up only because of the kind of laughter in your film. You drowned several voices of self acceptance that could have emerged out of the closets of shame with the sound of your laughter.

This wound will take time to heal.

However, I do hope, you get better and more sensible. You inspire, Alia. Don’t fuck it up like this.