Tag Archives: history

History be damned in Bollywood

In a recent column, renowned journalist-food critic, Vir Sanghvi, lamented the lack of original ingredients and the dulled palettes of Indians. He complained how most of the ice cream sold here wasn’t ice cream at all, for it contained neither milk fat nor egg yolk. Cheap vegetable oils and synthetic flavours are the options we are now used to.

The case is similar to how our taste in popular cinema has become dulled, and few genres reflect the fact as blatantly as the period film. We are impressed by the essence of ‘glossy packaging’ and we don’t bother to know whether the ‘ingredients’ are real or not.

History be damned in Bollywood

 

The notion crosses your mind watching Varun Dhawan shimmy with Kriti Sanon and Kiara Advani in what can only be classified as new-age item numbers, in producer Karan Johar’s just-released period melodrama Kalank. The Partition drama is Bollywood’s latest effort at courting history, packaged with trademark K.Jo plasticity. As Sanon and Advani heighten the glamour quotient in provocative choli-ghagra ensemble, their item dances almost seem like a free offer deal that comes with a bumper shopping spree. The audience cannot resist it even if they know they don’t need it.

Baaki sab first class hai, goes Dhawan’s lip-sync as he matches Advani’s moves. Clearly, sab first class nahi hai.

Johar’s new designer opus Kalank apparently rides a cool `80-crore budget. Honestly, the number of zeroes that go into the mighty budgets of such historical dramas as Kalank is mind-boggling, which is why the utter callousness towards history and becomes shocking.

The food metaphor works here again. We sit ‘chewing on’ a vanilla bean, while K.Jo laughs his way to the bank.

The two item numbers are only symptomatic of several liberties that Kalank takes. The designer costumes and sets that try to cross the standard requisites of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film with Games Of Thrones grandeur, the Gen-Now body language of Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan or Aditya Roy Kapoor, and even the very contemporary-sounding title song seem to point at the same thing: History is an excuse, Johar merely wanted to set up formulaic melodrama against a ‘different’ backdrop — removed from the teenybopper vibes that often mark his love stories.

What is to not to like about a starry ensemble and Bhansali-esque set design, you ask? And then, what’s there to mind watching Madhuri dhak dhak Dixit returning in Kalank to do her jig on the dancefloor, looking gorgeous even after all these years? The opulent sets and Dhawan’s Baaki sab first class hai are designed to make us forget blatant communal politics, GDP and joblessness, after all.

Kalank, like every Bollywood period biggie, insists upon willing suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part as the excuse to set up its larger-than-life lack of authenticity. It was the same when Kangana Ranaut as Rani Lakshmibai breaks into a masala dance in Manikarnika, or Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai and Deepika Padukone as Mastani do a very Bollywoodised Pinga dance in Bajirao Mastani, or — in a filmi twist to history — Padukone as Rani Padmavati entering Alauddin Khilji’s Delhi lair to rescue her captured husband, Rawal Ratan Singh, in Padmaavat.

Paisa vasool is what matters, historicity be damned.

The counter argument offered is Bollywood cinema is fiction, and this is what the janta wants. Market logistics is vital, but giving up on facts to aim for the lowest common denominator cannot surely be the aspiration of filmmakers who comprise one of the biggest film industries in the world.

Maybe, if Bollywood paid their researchers at least half of what they pay their set and costume designers (and listened to them!), our period dramas wouldn’t leave such a fake flavour in the mouth.

We Indians like our history as long as it doesn’t come from textbooks. That is where Bollywood, along with Facebook and Whatsapp in recent times, is important. Our filmmakers must realise there is an overwhelming majority that considers what they show to be the absolute truth, especially when it comes to drama recreating history.

History mixed with patriotism does fabulously at the box-office, as Uri, Kesari and Manikarnika have proved lately. History and absurdity, on the other hand, don’t blend well — obvious from the failure of Thugs Of Hindostan or Mohenjo Daro. The common factor for both kinds of films, though, has been the fact that our filmmakers normally don’t try to be authentic either way. More often than not, period films are just an excuse for over-the-top costumes and sets. In trying to accommodate these excesses, logic is left behind. Even today, a vintage car here or a blonde character there is enough to set up the milieu for a pre-Independence drama. It works, milking our love for our often-imagined ‘glorious past’, especially now that we seem to be losing grip on the present.

How Sara Ali Khan and Jhanvi Kapoor became Bollywood’s most hyped debutantes in recent history

After years of speculation, Amrita Singh and Saif Ali Khan’s eldest daughter Sara Ali Khan has started shooting for her first Bollywood film, Kedarnath. Directed by Abhishek Kapoor (Kai Po Che, Rock On!!), Kedarnath is described as a love story that unfolds during the course of a pilgrimage. Sara, along with her co-star Sushant Singh Rajput, visited the Kedarnath temple on the eve of the shoot.

Meanwhile, Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter Jhanvi Kapoor’s debut film, a remake of the Marathi blockbuster Sairat, will go on the floors this November. Her co-star, in this Dharma Productions film, is another star kid — Shahid Kapoor’s younger brother Ishaan. The Sairat-remake will be Ishaan’s second film. The 22-year-old will make his debut with Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds.

These two newbies are probably the most hyped debutantes Bollywood has seen in recent times. Even Alia Bhatt, who debuted in Karan Johar’s Student of the Year five years ago, didn’t have the kind of pre-launch hype these girls do.

Let’s take a look at how Sara and Jhanvi’s debuts compare.

Sara Ali Khan with Karan Johar. File Photo

The Beginning

Bollywood first took notice of Sara in early 2012 when she posed, with her mother Amrita Singh, for the cover of Hello magazine. The then-16-year-old Science student looked elegant in an ivory-and-gold Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla creation. While it was obvious that the teen had her heart set on a career in Bollywood, her parents insisted that she complete her education. Weeks after the magazine hit stands, Amrita, in an interview, said, “Sara is good at academics. She even plans to go for further studies to Yale University. So we need to give her some time.”

Even while Sara was studying at Columbia University, speculations about the film she’d debut in continued to swirl. There was Dharma productions’ remake of the Hollywood film Fault in Our Stars opposite Shahid Kapoor’s brother Ishaan Khattar, a film opposite Hrithik Roshan which was to be directed by Karan Malhotra (Agneepath, Brothers) and the sequel to Student of the Year opposite Tiger Shroff. It was only earlier this summer that Kedarnath was confirmed by Amrita as Sara’s debut film.

Close on Sara’s heels, Jhanvi also first made her presence felt with a magazine cover. She was seen on the cover of People Magazine (Dec 2012), along with her mother Sridevi and young sister Khushi. Like Amrita, Sridevi also said that Jhanvi ‘was too young to sign a film’ but ‘she’s always wanted to act’. The 20-year-old finished her schooling at Dhirubhai Ambani School, Mumbai before completely focusing on getting Bollywood ready. While Amrita hesitated about Sara’s association with Dharma, Sridevi, it was said, didn’t even bother looking at any other opportunities for her daughter. After Karan Johar announced in 2015 that Dharma will launch Jhanvi, it was just a matter of finding the right film.

Jhanvi with her parents, Sridevi and Boney Kapoor, and younger sister Khushi on the IIFA green carpet a few years ago. File Photo

The Film

In June last year, Karan watched Sairat, the highest earning Marathi film of all-time, and he was bowled over. Directed by Nagraj Manjule, the film is a young love story juxtaposed against caste conflict. With Nagraj keen on focusing on his Hindi directorial debut (starring Amitabh Bachchan), the reins of the Hindi remake were handed to Shashank Khaitan whose previous two films — Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Badrinath Ki Dulhania — were megahits.

What made Parshya and Archie’s love relatable was that Sairat was soaked in realism. From the naturalistic acting to the brutal violence, the semi-rural landscape and even Archie’s inexpensive sartorial sense helped make the film real. It would be interesting to see how Shashank will find the balance between realism and the trademark Dharma sensibilities. After all, Manish Malhotra has been roped in to dress Jhanvi for the remake.

Details about Sara’s film Kedarnath, on the other hand, have been hard to come by. Even the film’s ‘first look’ that was launched to coincide with the beginning of the shoot, gives away almost nothing about the storyline, which is credited to its director. According to early buzz, the Uttarakhand floods of 2013 form the backdrop of this story of human spirit that persists in the face of tragedy. Sushant’s character in the film is a pitthu, who carries pilgrims on their shoulders. The film will mostly be shot in Uttarakhand.

The Mothers

Like the “heroine’s mummyjis” of yore, both Amrita and Sridevi have been working meticulously behind-the-scenes to make sure that their daughters make the right moves. The Mom actress has come a long way from when she wasn’t keen on a career in showbiz for either of her daughters. In the early days when Jhanvi first started making headlines for her Instagram posts, her superstar mom even ordered her to stay off any kind of social media. Sridevi was instrumental in getting Karan to launch Jhanvi and now that the film’s shoot is just months away, it’s all hands on deck. One hears that she is even closely monitoring all the looks Malhotra is creating for her daughter.

While Sridevi was instrumental in her daughter getting a launch as a ‘Dharma heroine’, the buzz is that Amrita is the reason why Sara lost out on the opportunity. Apparently, the actress wasn’t keen on the three-film caveat that a Dharma launch film came with. By debuting with Kedarnath, not only is Sara not tied down to any production house, she is also free to choose managers and staff that she’s comfortable with instead of those ‘recommended’ by Karan. What also tipped the scales in favour of Kedarnath, for Amrita, was that her friend Ekta Kapoor is one of the film’s producers.

Kedarnath is slated for a summer 2018 release and if the untitled Sairat-remake doesn’t get pushed, it should also hit theatres next year. While trade pundits feel that Jhanvi might have an edge over Sara because she has Karan Johar as a mentor, only time will tell how the audience will receive these star daughters.