Monthly Archives: January 2018

Not Padmaavat; Padmavati would have been the better title for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film

What’s in a name? Judging by the recurrent noise around the release of Padmaavat, tons of chest beating, arson, stone pelting and hooliganism.

Beyond the news, the renaming of Bhansali’s film was an exercise in futility. For his grand tale is a salute to the bravery and sacrifice of a Rajput queen — one who was gorgeous, free-spirited, smart and deft at statecraft. It’s an ode to the sum total of edited truths about Rajput glory (mostly myths rather than historical fact).  The best way to do justice to this elaborate tribute to (real and imagined) Rajput glory would have been to retain the name Padmavati, for the film caps Bhansali’s interpretation of the woman.

Of course, what I say is in hindsight. The makers had to give in to the Central Board of Film Certification’s directives — or lose out on showing Padmavati/Padmaavat at all. Sad, but true.

Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat

Like some of Bhansali’s female protagonists of the past, Padmavati has all the makings of a true hero. She is a skilled archer who hunts in the lush, green jungles of Sinhala (modern day Sri Lanka), marries a besotted Rajput king, Rawal Ratan Singh, and moves to the desert kingdom of Chittor: a regal fort where at least 10,000 oil lamps are lit at all times, every piece of fabric is richly embroidered silk or satin, and well-crafted pots and pans are part of every frame. Here, Padmavati settles in to be the loved, worshipped queen — a homemaker to the hilt. When trouble comes knocking in the form of a lustful, conquest-crazy Alauddin Khilji, she advises her husband smartly on statecraft and war games. She also rescues him from Khilji’s dungeons, while inflicting damage on the enemy (with some help from the latter’s long suffering wife). In the end, haplessly bound by a code of male-dictated honour, she decides to jump into a blazing fire with all the women in the fort, to save themselves from the pillage of a victorious Khilji.

At every given moment in the story, Padmavati stands tall as the ideal queen. Her husband’s first wife, Nagmati, sadly is given little to say or do; at times, she is projected as petty — which is unfair, given the injustice meted out to her when Rawal Ratan replaces her with a newer, prettier model is not addressed at all. Of course, she merrily jumps into the fire too.

The filmmaker has focused on courage under fire by highlighting the quiet dignity of Mehrunissa, Alauddin Khilji’s wife. She is the voice of reason, always overruled but fearless.  Both Padmavati and Mehrunissa are intent on the guidance and persuasion of their headstrong husbands. In Padmaavat, the women are the pillars of strength for their men. Both queens here are able, rational people. Yet, both surrender to a premise of life dictated by men. In this aspect, of empowering his women yet falling short of making them active actors in determining their lives, Padmavati and Mehrunissa are a culmination of Bhansali’s interpretation of women.

Over time, SLB’s women have evolved, yet stayed passive during grand finale moments. Bhansali’s defiant, heartbroken female protagonist, Nandini, doesn’t give in to convention despite being forced to marry. Her battle is passive aggressive, never overt but the kind that wreaks havoc in a marriage. His women in Devdas were huge creative liberties: There is Paro’s cantankerous mother, deafening the audience with her tirade against Devdas’ mother, the haughty, over-jewelled zamindar’s wife. There is Paro, heart broken, humiliated and yet adjusted to a pragmatic marriage. There is Chandramukhi, the courtesan with a heart of gold. Each woman plays a crucial role in influencing Devdas’ life, an ineffectual, privileged, weak protagonist — but none of them has any say over his destiny. Women in Bhansali’s films have well-written dialogues, don’t give in easily — but finally, always surrender to the dictates of society.

When Bhansali chose to make women the center of his story, he made them noble with a capital N. He whitewashed the heroine with greatness in the films that followed. In Black, Michelle is determined, good and set on conquering her physical challenges. Sophia in Guzaarish is silently loving; aching but willing to make sacrifices.

Only later did Bhansali give his heroines some teeth. In Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ramleela and Bajirao Mastani, his female protagonists oscillate between good and evil, and actively shape the story.  Supriya Pathak’s role of Dhankor, quietly menacing and deadly, is the strongest female character SLB has ever created. Her cold choices, and later, regret shape the film’s story. Leela’s journey — from innocence and free spiritedness, to defiance, and surrender to love — is captivating. Leela takes control of her destiny, in choosing to die along with her lover, Ram. She doesn’t give in to her natural destiny easily either.

Similarly, in Bajirao Mastani, with a single scene where Kashi Bai confronts Bajirao on his decision to make Mastani his kept woman, Bhansali underlines the injustice she suffers. Bajirao’s widowed mother in this film is head strong and dogmatic, just like Mastani is determined. Their mutual animosity turns to brinkmanship. Yet, in the climax, Mastani gives in and is willing to be imprisoned, rather than pick up her weapons again. Therein lies the contradiction of Sanjay Bhansali’s interpretation of women: the filmmaker empowers them only to take away their ability to battle male codes of conduct.

One can always argue that Bhansali’s films are based on historical incidents or myths, so altering a story line beyond a point isn’t feasible. However, that becomes contradictory, as SLB has always liberally played with history. From Khilji’s Mongolian inspired costume, to use of elephants in open warfare in a desert, to the magnificent wealth attributed to a small Rajput kingdom — he has interpreted history to fit his glitzy narrative. Towards its end, Padmaavat the poem indicates a lusty Rajput king too, willing to kill for the queen of Chittor. But Bhansali has erased that detail. He had similarly re-interpreted Bajirao Mastani as well.

In the climax of Padmaavat, when Rani Padmavati and the noble women of Chittor have locked themselves inside the fort as they set out to commit jauhar (self immolation), Khilji is held back by hot coals flung by the women. This scene could be SLB’s tribute to Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala. The 1980s classic’s supremely powerful climax showed the oppressed women flinging chilli powder by the kilo-loads on to a cruel employer.

One so wished Bhansali hadn’t stopped himself at just using the technique from this film, but actually gone a step forward and shown Padmavati and the women retaliate against Khilji. Sacrifice has its place, but there is glory in battle too.

Then again, this is a flight of fancy. For, in the days of Karni Sena and school buses being attacked, Sanjay Bhansali’s passive aggressive women seem to make better sense; if nothing else, then just to survive the toxic, vitiated political climate that runs the show today.

Hindi Medium sequel in the works as T-Series, Maddock Films sign multiple-movie deal

After working together on Hindi Medium, Bhushan Kumar (T-Series head) and Dinesh Vijan (founder of Maddock Films) are all set to collaborate again. Kumar and Vijan have signed a multiple-movie deal which will include a sequel to the critically acclaimed film Hindi Medium starring Irrfan Khan and Saba Qamar.

hindi medium fb

The Kriti Sanon-Diljit Dosanjh starrer Arjun Patiala is also a part of the multi-movie deal.

“When two like minded people join hands, it is an easy team to work with. When the people working on a project are passionate about their work and give their best it’s an easy boat to sail and when the industry appreciates this association it’s a cherry on the cake. Dinesh and his team are always conceptualizing unique content. Working on Hindi Medium together was a fruitful association. This has enabled us to want to work more and more together,” said Kumar, according to a Deccan Chronicle report.

The duo’s previous collaboration (Hindi Medium) received a ton of praise from the audience and critics alike. As evidence of the success and acclaim of Saket Chaudhary’s directorial venture, Hindi Medium went on to win the Best Film award at the 2018 Jio Filmfare Awards.

“It’s so encouraging to get this (The Best Film award from Filmfare) because it reinforces our long standing belief at Maddock Films that taking risks will finally pay off. With Hindi Medium, it’s great to see that after the dust settles, good content has emerged a winner. Bhushan and I share a productive partnership, especially when it comes to music, and we respect each other’s capabilities. But what excites me most is Maddock’s lineup for 2018… it’s very exciting, promising and an exhilarating mix of diverse films,” said Vijan, according to a Cinestaan report.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga: Shoot of Anil and Sonam Kapoor-starrer kicks off in Patiala

Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor will be sharing screen space for the first time. The father-daughter duo have reportedly started shooting for a family drama titled Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s sister, Shelly Chopra Dhar. The movie went on floors on 24 January.

Sonam Kapoor-Anil Kapoor. File image.

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh took to Twitter to announce the project’s commencement. The film also stars Juhi Chawla and television personality Madhu Malti in pivotal roles. The shooting of the film kicked-off in Patiala on Wednesday.

I just came back from a meeting with Anil and he is like a kid, extremely excited about his role. His character sports a look that hasn’t been seen on him in a long time. We will be shooting at a family house in Patiala, which is the perfect setting for the film. I am shooting entirely at real locations as I want the film to develop as organically as possible. We can’t wait to start rolling now. Anil is also really looking forward to the outing. While I have all his costumes in place, he insisted on bringing his own stuff too. Vinod (Vidhu Vinod Chopra) is busy with his next directorial at the moment, but I talk to him all the time. He is on top of everything and knows what is happening here ” said Shelly, according to a Mid-Day report.

Sonam is expected to join the team for shooting her part towards the end of January and Chawla will reportedly join in the first week of February.

Rajkumar Rao will be playing Sonam’s love interest in the film. Rao is currently busy shooting for Stree – a horror comedy with Shraddha Kapoor.

Akshay Kumar’s Padman is the first Indian film to be screened at Oxford Union; Twinkle Khanna to address students

Mumbai: Writer-producer Twinkle Khanna has been invited to speak at The Oxford Union, the world’s most prestigious debating society.

The 43-year-old actor-turned-author will address the students of the Oxford University on Thursday, where she will also showcase her upcoming production, Padman.

Poster of Padman. Image via Twitter

Based on the life of social entrepreneur and activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, who revolutionised sanitary hygiene in rural India 20 years ago, the film stars Twinkle’s husband actor Akshay Kumar in the title role.

Through her address, Twinkle will give an insight into the story of the movie and how it would play an interesting role in tackling taboos and addressing stigma around menstrual hygiene

Padman will be the first Indian film to be screened at The Oxford Union.

Also featuring Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor, the film opens worldwide on 25 January.

Harjai, T-Series’ new song, features Maniesh Paul, Iulia Vantur as star-crossed lovers

When was the last time you saw a hero make an entrance on a bike as the heroine runs down an alley in the most flowing gown possible? Yeah, very often — that’s a Bollywood prototype for portraying young lovers? Paying a tribute to that model is T-Series’ recent standalone track — ‘Harjai’ featuring TV anchor-turned-actor Maniesh Paul and singer-TV host Iulia Vantur.

Still from the song 'Harjai'. YouTube screengrab

What’s special about this new song? Nothing! Be it the tune, the lyrics, the video, the tone — we have already seen it umpteen number of times in Bollywood films. The underlying narrative amid these visuals also tell a story that is nothing new. The couple meets, develops a bond, there comes a break and they reunite.

The only surprise element in the whole song is the fact that Paul and Vantur have both sung the song along with composer-lyricist Sachin Gupta. Both of them have done a rather good job behind the mic. The auto-tuning bit on the track is pretty evident, but the singers still manage to pull off a decent job.

That’s about it. Apart from their singing, there’s nothing that works for them. Their “chemistry” is as nonreactive as it could get.

Fanney Khan: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan may pay tribute to Lata Mangeshkar in upcoming musical

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, whose next film is Atul Manjrekar’s Fanney Khan, has been a huge admirer of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar. Moreover, the interesting part is in Fanney Khan, she will not only be seen as a singer but will also reportedly pay tribute to Mangeshkar as she plays her fan in the upcoming movie.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. YouTube

Nothing has been officially revealed yet about Aishwarya’s role but Deccan Chronicle reports that she plays a popular singer in the film and a fan of Lata.

The same report states that co-producer Prernaa Arora is looking to acquire the rights for some of Lata Mangeshkar’s famous melodies. “Apart from a few original tracks, Aishwarya will also recreate a few of Lata’s numbers. That is not the film’s only connection with Lata. Anil Kapoor’s daughter, who plays an aspiring singer, is named Lata.

News Nation quotes Mangeshkar’s reaction to Aishwarya’s onscreen tribute, “It is good to hear that she is fond of my singing. I think I sang for her for the first time in Mohabbatein. The song ‘Humko Humhi Se Chura Lo‘ was a hit. It’s a beautiful melody and Aishwarya looked lovely lip-syncing it.”

Fanney Khan will be co-produced by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, KriArj Entertainment and T-Series Films. Apart from Aishwarya, the musical comedy also stars Anil Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao and Divya Dutta. It is slated to release on Eid, 15 June, along with Remo D’Souza’s action thriller Race 3.

Akshat Verma on Kaalakaandi: ‘Saif Ali Khan’s performance is going to surprise everyone’

Six years after the black comedy Delhi Belly, writer Akshat Verma is back with his  directorial debut, Kaalakaandi: a black comedy-cum-thriller based on bizarre events that happen in one night.

Saif Ali Khan plays the main lead while Sobhita Dhulipala, Akshay Oberoi, Isha Talwar, Deepak Dobriyal, Vijay Raaz, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Shenaz Treasury, Amyra Dastur and Neil Bhoopalam form the supporting cast. With an ensemble and such an eclectic mix of cast in hand, Akshat says each day was exciting and unpredictable.

“All these actors have a different way of working and approaching their scenes and I needed to configure my direction style to what they would bring. Some actors get their takes early, whereas some actors warm up so I had to calibrate myself to working with whatever works best for me. But it was great fun, I was so lucky to have them,” says Akshat.

Saif Ali Khan in a still from Kaalakaandi. YouTube

If Delhi Belly was set in a grungy part of the capital, the Delhi-born director this time shifted his narrative to Mumbai for Kaalakaandi. Inspired from a real moment, the film was shot over a period of 42 days, or rather 42 nights, all over Mumbai – Bandra, Carter Road, Colaba, by the docks, Andheri — exploring different parts and different social stratas of the city.

“It is a Bombay story completely. It is about six people who are possibly having the worst night of their lives and whether they make it through or not,” reveals Akshat. “The challenge was in the writing and structuring to see how the three worlds would sit together; it was easier to shoot in Bombay at night. Just that we were shooting with rain and that complicates things. So we had rain machines all the time and actual rain to deal with.  It becomes very exhausting, it isn’t comfortable and warm.”

The writer-director roughly translates the title to mean when things go completely upside down, or disastrously wrong. Kaalakandi is a Marathi slang word meaning, “Sabkuch gadbad ho gaya” or a “big mess” that the characters find themselves in this story that takes place over the course of one night.

While Akshat is tight-lipped about the “wild” plot as the trailer suggests, he said, “It’s about who we really are as people when nobody’s looking. I wanted to explore people in situations that are not normal, situations that push people on top as that is when people really reveal themselves,” he explains, furthering, “The first notion of the story came from a little snippet in a newspaper in Los Angeles, which I can’t reveal because it is a part of the story. I then started working backwards constructing the story.”

A huge admirer of Saif’s work, Akshat says, he took “two years and five minutes” to get Saif to do the film.

“I wrote the script with Saif in mind but after I wrote it took me around two years to get to him. I was walking on Carter Road in the middle of the night and I wrote him a text introducing myself. I further wrote that I have finished writing a script and that I would love to meet him to take the material to the next level. I didn’t get any reply then but it was after two years I had texted him [again] and within five minutes of the meeting he said let’s do it,” says the director.

“Saif just loved the world, the story and the character. He felt that it pushed and challenged him. He is an incredible actor and performer. He is going to surprise people, it was so much fun working with him,” he added, not bothered about the actor not having a good run at the box office.

“I am willing to do tons of films with Saif. He’s a phenomenal actor. This is the whole thing with stardom is, it is out of your hands and this is why stars have the power they have because when something works they get the credit for it but when a film fails, multiple things fail — the writing, directing, budget. We put failure at the doorstep of the star. Saif’s enjoying his work, and the best phase of his career will come now,” says Akshat.

Kaalakaandi was supposed to release on September 8 but got delayed due to censorship issues, and it finally got the clearance after going through FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal). The Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) had reportedly ordered a staggering number of  73 cuts in the film. A CBFC source had then commented that the film was a dictionary of dirty abuses setting an all-new benchmark of expletives, making Delhi Belly look like a Disney film.

However, Akshat says that they had a pleasant experience while dealing with FCAT. “Pretty much all the cuts were taken out and we just had three word replacement. It’s encouraging to see that there is recourse,” says the director, further adding, “I feel censorship as a notion is inherently wrong. You can’t police your population, you can’t treat your citizens like your children. They should be free to make their choices in terms of what they want to read, write and watch. When you suppress something, people get angry, they burn theatres down… Same thing happened with Delhi Belly. How can the world turn upside down because of people swearing on screen?”

He continues, “Writing, storytelling cannot change the world. We are one of the youngest countries and if we teach the population to not question, not look at things in a new way, we will become country that is afraid of ideas and that’s like holding a whole generation and country back. Filmmakers will stop exploring ideas out of fear. (Commenting on the Padmavati issue) Next time somebody will hesitate to look at our history again.

Padmavat: Manohar Parrikar says film’s Goa release will not be obstructed ‘if it has CBFC clearance’

If Padmavat has been given a censor certificate by the CBFC, then the Goa government does not have a problem in screening it in cinema halls, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said on 10 January.

Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

“If they have a censor certificate we do not have objection. If there is a law and order issue, we will look at it then,” Parrikar told reporters.

“As of now, we have not got any intimation about the film being released. If there is a censor certificate, we are not stopping it from release…If they come with a censor certificate with some modification, I do not see big reason why we should interfere into it,” Parrikar added.

Parrikar also said that the state police had expressed apprehensions about the film being screened in Goa during the peak tourism season in December, when a significant chunk of the uniformed personnel are busy discharging law and order duties.

He added that since the peak season was over, the apprehension was irrelevant. “Police report was for peak season. Peak season is over, so there is no problem,” Parrikar said. Increased tourist traffic volumes in December often results in chaos, especially from a law and order point of view.

The women’s wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party had objected to the screening of the film in Goa citing law and order problems and wrong portrayal of queen Padmini in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.

Meanwhile, the Karni Sena has also urged Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to stall the film’s release in Delhi.

After much controversy and delay, the Central Board of Film Certification finally certified Padmavat, clearing the path for its release in cinema halls scheduled for 25 January, however, an official confirmation by the makers is awaited.