Friday, February 27, 2009

‘I don’t care what the world thinks of Aashayein’

John Abraham speaks to Sandhya Iyer about his image post Dostana, his new film NewYork and why he still stands by the much-delayed Aashayein

John Abraham has two things at the moment that is keeping him busy and excited.
The first one is his participation with UTV’s latest youth movement called Ungli Utao Bindaas, that aims to encourage youth to vote in the forthcoming elections. The UTV Bindass movement also plans to take issues like global warming and corruption to the youth and initiate a change.
So what prompted him to take up the above cause? “Two reasons,” he shoots. “One is because of my long association with UTV. I was very honoured when Ronnie Screwvala approached me for this drive. Also, I believe I have a strong connect with the youth. I come from a middle-class family and somewhere they see a connection,” he says.

But while it is important to vote, does he believe we have the kind of political candidates whom we’d like to see leading out country? “That’s an important question. What is interesting is that through their website, UTV is recommending some names of candidates after checking on their credentials. So you at least won’t have people with criminal background and so on,” he says. On whether the drive will also encourage youngsters to be part of the change by joining politics, he says, “Er…we’d like to take one step at a time. So the initiative this time around is to get as many youngsters to vote.”

Somewhere John’s eagerness to attach himself to a worthy cause is reflected in his choice of films and filmmakers as well, where in spite of his career never really being exactly secure, he has supported directors like Anurag Kashyap and Nagesh Kukunoor. He didn’t resent the backlash that came to him after No Smoking and instead backed Kashyap. Today, the director has vindicated himself with Dev D, how does that feel, “I have always taken chances, even when the need to take them was not perceived at all. After Dev D, I’m in a ‘I told you so…’ phase. Now I have people who tell me that they saw No Smoking and it wasn’t bad at all. There’s renewed interest for the film and all I tell them is “I told you so’,” he says.
There was recently talk about Anurag and him coming together for another film called Bombay Velvet. “Anurag and I will work with each till the last day of our lives. Bombay Velvet is a very exciting film…it’s still in the planning stages though,” he informs us.

His last film, Dostana where he flaunted his oh-so-sexy body had the nation swooning over his looks. While the film reiterated the fact that John is indeed one of the country’s hottest man, it did nothing for him as the actor. In fact, his pin-up boy image seems to be working against him in some ways. Ask him this and he accedes, “You know, when Karan offered me Dostana, I asked him precisely this. I said, ‘People already think of me in a certain way and this is only going to reinforce that perception’ That’s when Karan said, ‘But cinema is all about body and face. Acting is a visual medium. Looks are always going to come in your way, so use it to your advantage and gradually you can take on stronger roles and make a mark as an actor’ So I’m not going to fight my pin-up boy image and honestly, I don’t have a problem with it,” he says.

He takes the opportunity to emphasis another point about male looks. “I think it’s great that women are noticing how good or bad men are looking. For ages now, we’ve had the men who make statements like ‘Oh, she doesn’t look perfect.’ These standards of looks are forever applied to the women. What about the men? It’s time the women expected more from them too,” he says.
Men are not going to like him too much for saying this… “The advantage I think I have is that I connect with the men as much as I do with the women. Unlike regular male models who bring in a
certain arrogance to the screen with a ‘you can’t look like me, so just watch’ attitude, I have always appeared like a normal guy. So I think most men, let’s say 99 per cent of the men relate to me,” he says. We agree!
Turning to his films, what are his hopes from his next, Aashayein? “I can tell you about my next release, New York, which is a very strong film. It’s a film I believe in, just like I did with Taxi No 9211, No Smoking, Water and Kabul Express. This is arguably my best performance and it has me, Neil (Nitin Mukesh) Katrina (Kaif) and Irrfan –the ultimate star,” he tells us.

But what’s happening to Nagesh Kukunoor’s Aashayein? The film landed in court, when Anil Ambani’s Reliance Big Pictures --- who had paid producers Precept an advance for the film’s rights --- alleged that the story-line was changed mid-way. But recently, there was news of the film being cleared by the court but John’s response hardly sounds positive. “You know, about Aashayein, Nagesh just yesterday smsed me as said, ‘I’m going all over the film again and it is beautiful’ No matter what the world thinks about Aashayein, I stand by Nagesh,” he says, clearly hinting that things are not looking too good for the film even now.
This seems to be one of John’s qualities, that of standing by his friends in their hour of need. “I believe it’s easy to stand by successful people, it’s more difficult to stand by those who are talented and not that successful. By principle, I always stand by people once I put my faith in them,” he says.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's about Rahman and Resul really!

Beyond the fact that Slumdog Millionaire’s emphatic win at the Oscar has given the country and especially the media much cause for celebration, this memorable event has also been an eye opener to our own film industry in many ways.

From the time one recollects - Bollywood – the world’s biggest movie making machine – has been unabashedly star-driven, rarely looking beyond its charismatic matinee idols. The winning of the triumvirate, lyricist Gulzar, music composer, the incredible music composer A R Rahman and Resul Pookutty for sound mixing, proves once and for all that our country’s real strength and talent resides in the men and women behind-the-scenes. Again, many years ago, it was an Indian, Bhanu Athaiya who won for Best Costume for Richard Attenborough's epic movie Gandhi.

Whether one thinks highly of the Oscar Awards or not, whether or not Slumdog Millionaire deserved its honour and beyond debates of whether the Danny Boyle flick is an Indian movie or not, one thing we need to thank this moment for – it finally brought three of our best men to the fore…and they weren’t Khans this time!

Technicians and people behind the scenes, in general, have always had the most creative and challenging jobs on hand. And yet, our country and industry too, has rarely recogonised their contribution in any sense. Our desi awards are a joke where technical and such ‘lesser’ awards are handed over without the slightest ceremony.
But then, all this is really symptomatic of our own obsession with a handful of stars, without showing enough readiness to support the cause of progressive cinema. Only an industry that puts its films above its stars will ever be able to appreciate the contribution of the people who make it happen.

Coming back to our three victors, A R Rahman has been carrying on a silent revolution in music for years now. Experimental, even as he remains unwaveringly original, it’s difficult not to be ‘invested’ in the Oscar at least for Rahman’s sake. No one possibly deserves an international honour more than Rahman and Slumdog…was a good excuse we thing.

Again, Gulzar has been one our finest directors and lyricists. We live in times where mediocrity is often celebrated, which is why it is even more heartening to see our geniuses getting their due.
Finally, Resul Pookutty’s win for Sound will hopefully impact the film industry the most. First of all, his win emphases the vast technical talent that resides in the country and that is great news in terms of the opportunities it might bring. But more than anything, this has been a huge morale booster for our technicians (sound design, editing, mixing, cinematographers, costume….and many others) who got their first moment in the sun, by way of Pookutty.

Even if it does not bring about any tangible benefits, one hopes it will at least bring about a change in the attitude of the film industry and yes, in us too! Let’s respect our hidden (literally!) talent, and please, let’s not wait until an international body fetes them.

-Sandhya Iyer

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Capital Interest

The last few years have seen Delhi turning into a veritable hot-spot for Hindi filmmakers. Sandhya Iyer explores the reasons

What is it about our capital that drives more and more present-day filmmakers to use it as setting for their films?Delhi, with its wondrous forts, lush gardens, not to forget cultural oddities, blatant materialism and class divide, makes a rather cinematic and colourful location no doubt. But beyond the obvious, there seem to be more reasons why Delhi is featuring so constantly in our movies these days. Part of the reason is undoubtedly the feeling of nostalgia that the place evokes in our new breed of young directors. But clearly, the city - viewed both as the political capital and major commercial and cultural metropolis—assumes greater significance in terms of offering an archetype for India itself.

Let’s start by looking at the rather long list of films that have used Delhi as its setting in recent times. It kickstarted in a big way with Rang De Basanti and Fanaa in 2006, where the city was captured in all its architectural splendour. Then came Dikaber Banerjee and Jaideep Sahni’s dark comedy Khosla Ka Ghosla, a superb take on Delhi middle-class and the builder mafia. Dibaker revisited the capital again for his next, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, capturing Old Delhi, peppering it with colloquial lingo and lampooning its inhabitants. In between there was the college caper Dil Dosti Etc and Jimmy Shergill starrer Delhi Heights, which didn’t make much of an impact.This year, we’ve already had Chandni Chowk To China Manoj Bajpai’s Jugaad (note the ‘Delhiness’ of the title itself) and Dev D. And this week we have Rakeysh Mehra’s Delhi 6, a film that the director refuses to catagorise as a Delhi-centric film. According to Mehra, the theme would find a resonance anywhere in India, Delhi being the epicenter. And it doesn’t look like our filmmakers are going to tire of the capital city any time soon. Later this year, there will be Aamir Khan’s raunchy comedy, Delhi Belly (the title sits perfectly for a place that boasts of some of the most scrumptious street fares).So what exactly does this city offer that has prompted so many films to use it as a setting and even name their films after Old Delhi’s famous bylanes?

Even as one delves into why Delhi delights Bollywood, there is another valid debate that needs to be included here. Is the shift towards Delhi a shift away from Mumbai – the very heart and soul of India and Bollywood itself? For all this while, Mumbai has been the ultimate symbol of aspirational India – the Maximum City that never sleeps. But now the city’s backdrop post the riots in 1993 and the terror attacks appears to be vastly altered and thereby the kind of films we’ve seen based on the city have also been mostly angst-ridden. There’s been Mumbai Meri Jaan, Aamir, A Wednesday, Black Friday – all about a city that is struggling to keep itself alive.

Hence, is Delhi emerging as the cinematic alternative to Mumbai in some ways?“Capitals are somewhat chauvinistic places! As is Washington to New York so is Delhi to Mumbai. The latter after the glorious 70s period started fading. Eventually it returned in the 90s as gangland and really the representation of the ‘ugly’ metropolis. With Delhi, I think of it as capital and hence the site of the ’state’ in a very literal sense has been surging in cinema as the country itself makes headway in a global sense,” observes film buff and writer, Kaleem Hasan.Which is also precisely one of reasons why films tackling broader issues like socio-political conflict (Rang De Basanti, Delhi 6) would be looking at a figure head state and Delhi offers that representation.

However, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, who saw an unlikely success in Dev D last month, believes there is no Delhi ‘fixation’ and filmmakers are only choosing the capital because it’s a trip down memory lane for many of them. “Everyone is seeing a lot of Delhi suddenly because there has been an influx of filmmakers who are from outside Mumbai and have a connection with Delhi. So rather than setting their film in some fantasy land, they’d rather go back to their roots. I mean I did my college from Delhi, so I’d like to revisit that in my film some day,” he views.
Also Kashyap does not really see a connection between the city and the subject, which means he is not willing to necessarily view Mumbai as a changed city in terms of what it represents. “My subject could turn any place into an angst-ridden one, it doesn’t have to be Mumbai. If Debakar (Banerjee) is making the kind of films he does, it’s because he has a funny, cynical bone in him, and that applies to most others,” he says.

Delhi’s cinematic significance also stems from the fact that the place abounds in rich expressions of Hindi and Punjabi that lends it a unique flavor. Hindi in many ways is the ‘decider’ when it comes to choice of setting. Rarely are films set in states that do not have a Hindi-speaking tradition, which essentially means that only the Hindi heartland and to some extent Mumbai are even considered for a setting. And this is where, Delhi with its eminence and ethos offers the perfect North Indian template. And with the new lot of directors all having a strong connection to Delhi, it’s unlikely that Bollywood will be able to shrug off its utterly ‘Punjabified’ avatar any time soon.

Jaideep Sahni, who has written films like Khosla Ka Ghosla and Aaja Nachle, believes it is natural for storytellers to express the most universal things when they find them in their mother cultures, because that’s where their connection to human emotions and circumstances is the strongest. “I think it’s a good thing for whatever culture you may be from to show up in your work. Where else will it show if not in your work?” he asks.
“If you see dialects of Hindi sub-cultures in Hindi films over last forty years, they have been from Urdu to Mumbai-cosmo to UP-Bihar belt to Punjabi, and now a broad-based metro Hindi. There’s no grand conspiracy theory behind the rise or fall of any one of these I think, at least I haven’t seen any. It’s just that Hindi films will have various dialects of Hindi because they are Hindi films.”

But wouldn’t too much of Delhi or the North start to feel repetitive after a while? “Yes, if all films start being about the same kind of people or cultures or even genres, it’s no fun, but I don’t think that’ll happen, because I don’t really see any intention anywhere around me to push a culture or sub-culture, especially in the mainstream. It’s just a lot of folks doing what they like, whether this or that,” he views.

So is language at the core of Hindi cinema and will most other states remain untapped? This only time will tell but Kaleem Hasan certainly thinks more places can be looked into. “I would love to see new sites explored. Why not have a film set in Ahmedabad? This has been one of the great industrial cities of India…. Bangalore would again be a good city to explore the Dil Chahta Hai kind of universe given the tech boom began here. Hyderabad is another old city/new city paradigm and this city is a kind of bridge between ‘north’ and ’south’. Really there are lots of cities to explore. It’s just the paucity of imagination on the part of Mumbai filmmakers that prevents this from happening.”

But for now, it is Delhi that is the toast of Bollywood and from the looks of it the capital city has far from exhausted its stock.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Delhi 6 film review

Delhi highs and lows

Director: Rakeysh Mehra
Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, Waheeda Rahman, Om Puri, Rishi Kapoor, Divya Dutta, Deepak Dobriyal, Vijay Raaz, Pawan Malhotra among others
Showting At
: City Pride (Kothrud, Satara), Gold Big Cinemas, E-Square, Inox, Mangala, Rahul

Much like his last Rang De Basanti, Rakeysh Mehra’s latest, Delhi 6 boasts of great many things that make you sit up and take note of it. For starters, there’s his trademark visual panache and his ability to build characters well. Not to add, a splendid music score by A R Rahman that is possibly right up there as one of his best works.
Yet, much like Rang De Baanti and Aks even, Mehra appears far too simplistic and confusing with his story, thereby making his concepts appear quite half-baked.
At least with Rang De Basanti (even with a very problematic ending), the anarchist resolution connected well with the youth, and tapped into their disenchantment with the political system in the country. Unfortunately, Delhi 6 has none of that urgency and takes up general issues like casteism, the Hindi-Muslim conflict, orthodoxy using Chandni Chowk as an archetype for India as a whole.

NRI Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) accompanies his ailing grandma (Waheeda Rahman) to Delhi 6, where she wants to spend the rest of her days amidst people and places she’s known. The film beautifully captures the smells and sights of the place and Roshan, as the unobtrusive visitor, captures it on his mobile. Mehra does a fine job with his ensemble cast and the setting is truly electrifying. There’s a constant vein of humour that runs in the film and that makes the movie eminently watchable, even if you’re conscious that the movie isn’t really going anywhere.
Many of idiosyncrasies and even outright regressiveness that some of the characters exhibit becomes palatable solely due to presence of ‘outsider’ Roshan – whose reactions – raging from amusement to shock –is an easy character to relate for youngsters.

It is the film’s key metaphor of the ‘Kala Bandar’ episode (the monkey man incident that caused intense fear in Delhi) that fails to make an impact. Apart from the fact that it’s old hat, Mehra has not been able to incorporate it well into the story. This results in the film pretty much falling apart in the second half, getting overly preachy and pointless.

Now, RDB itself wasn’t very focused story-telling, but it was still on course till the pre climax struck. Delhi 6 is more scattered, happy to linger on, offering mostly vignettes in the form of episodes of the Chandni chowk inhabitants and you’re happy to watch it (thanks to some brilliant performances) for a long time. But once the setting is grilled into you, there’s very little to look forward to in terms of story.

Among the cast, Abhishek Bachchan does well, though a wee bit too understated and unremarkable as a character. Sonam is very good but she doesn’t have much to do here. In fact, her’s and Abhishek’s love story is hardly fleshed out. The rest of the cast comes up with outstanding performances.
In fact, the character actors and Rahman’s music should be your only reason to check out this otherwise underwhelming film.

Rating: **1/2

-Sandhya Iyer

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Exclusive: Aamir asks John Matthew to work on Sarfarosh 2

Director John Matthew Mathan is giving the final touches to his next release, the Himesh Reshamiyaa starrer A New Love Ishtory but he’s already working on the script of what could be Sarfarosh 2!

The 1999 Aamir-starrer, Sarfarosh about Pakistan and ISI was a runaway hit and we must add, provided enough scope for a sequel given its theme and open-ended climax. “To be honest at that time, we had no plans of making a sequel to the film or exploiting the idea further. But fact remains that the film does lend itself to a sequel, considering how Ajay Rathod (Aamir Khan) goes on to his next case,” he says.

It was a year back that Aamir called up John Matthew and asked him if he could work on Sarfarosh sequel. I said, “Why not?”
Given that Pakistan and the ISI are once again in news, one would assume that the director-actor team will carry the theme forward but that doesn’t seem likely. “No, this script won’t be about the Pak ISI. Fact is Taliban is hijacking Pakistan itself, so I really have nothing more to say than I did in Sarfarosh. But yes, it will be about national security,” he tells us.

The director says today’s faceless terror posed several problems for him while writing the script. Also, he reliases that a lot of research needs to go into the film. “See, cinematically, you need your villain to have a face, otherwise there is no story. And today’s villain is faceless, so I spent a lot of time thinking how it could be worked out. Now, I have found that face and hopefully, the script will be ready soon,” he says.

There appears to be one small problem though. The original had Sonali Bendre as Aamir’s love interest. Is he planning to approach the much married actress for this one too? He smiles, “We haven’t thought about it seriously but you see I didn’t show Aamir and Sonali married in Sarfarosh, did I? Neither were they engaged,” he cheekily adds, clearly hinting that Aamir will have a new heroine for Sarfarosh 2.

But of course much depends on the final script, which has to be approved by Aamir. “In the past, we’ve had disagreements about the script but Aamir always gives you your space. Once he knows you’re going in the right direction, he literally pushes you to do it,” he says.
Talking about his upcoming film with Himesh Reshyammiya, the project seems to be a rather odd choice for a maker who has dabbled with serious subjects. “Yes, Sarfarosh and Shikhar couldn’t be treated lightly, because one was about terrorism and the other about our environment. The film with Himesh is a romantic comedy and it has been treated in that manner,” he says.

Yet, he doesn’t have the sensibility to make a no brainer, he adds. “I can’t make an illogical film. I mean you won’t see me taking all kinds of cinematic and dramatic liberty. I don’t believe in have coincidences in films. You can have one coincidence – where the boy meets the girl but not more. In real life, you could have more coincidences but your audience will never pardon you if you do in a film. That makes it a convenient script,” he says.

When he started A New Love Ishtory, Himesh was at all time high. His Aap Ka Suroor was a hit of sorts and there were a lot of takers for him. But post Karzzzz, things have slowed down for the singer-music composer, haven’t they? The director gives a familiar response, “All actors go through ups and downs. I have never believed in hastily saying somebody has ‘made it’ or then writing off someone as quickly. All actors have struggle periods. Some are lucky to make it in Bollywood after eight flops, others do it after fourteen. So, I look at the situation optimistically,” he tells us.

One believes the film is about a tapori and his love story. “Yes, he’s virtually a bum and falls in love with a woman who is way above his league. He aspires to have her in his life and on the surface of it, it’s an impossible love story.”
And is he happy with Himesh’s performance? “Yes I am. He plays a nobody in the film, a wannabe actor…and he’s played it with restraint. There was no scope for any overacting since it’s a casual role,” he says.

Himesh has made much of him being an Aamir fan in the film, but John Matthew corrects that there are just a couple of references to the Ghajini superstar. “He just has a poster of Aamir in his room and there are some dialogues where he’s spoken about how he wants to be like him, but otherwise, there’s nothing much to it,” he says.
While the Himesh film could well surprise us, all eyes will now be on Sarfarosh 2 if all goes well.

Sandhya Iyer

Friday, February 13, 2009

Billu review

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Barbar-ic act continues

Sandhya Iyer

Why is it that film after film is allowed to get so vulnerable at the time of its release? Can filmmakers and the government show the will to combat the intimidation or is it a losing battle?

Crores of rupees ride on a film and yet, the laws of the land seems to be such that anyone can pull the plugs on a release anytime –either legally or through hooliganism.

The latest to be bullied into compliance is none other than Shah Rukh Khan who was forced to remove the word ‘Barber’ from his latest Irrfan Khan flick, Billu Barber after the Hairdressers and Salon Association found it objectionable. Much like how a section in the country was upset at the use of the line, ‘Samjhe mochi bhi khud ko sonar hai’ in Aaja Nachle( ‘mochi’ is seen as a reference to cast), similarly, the association found ‘haajam’ a derogatory usage. If a film can come under such pressure in spite of having a Censor certification, it raises questions at the relevance of such a body itself, doesn’t it?

Not so long ago, Ghajini’s release was threatened when two court cases against it cropped up. The film’s preview show tickets were selling like hot cakes when the Aamir Khan starrer was stalled, giving its makers and lead actor a mini-heart attack.
But the more serious problem remains that of films being affected due to various ‘special interest groups’(read publicity seekers) who threaten to disrupt screenings on one pretext or the other. Last year, there was Jodhaa Akbar that could not find a release in Rajasthan, after objections from a few Rajput groups.
It’s interesting to see how Danny Boyle reacts to the criticism against his film Slumdog Millionaire. He says, “Protest is a way of life in India. It’s an extraordinary democracy. You just hope it won’t become violent.”
Boyle has been lucky, because his film at least has had a peaceful run in the country. Many films that become controversial invariably endure losses in some form or the other. And it’s not even about ‘objectionable content’ all the time. Last year, a seemingly harmless comment from Jaya Bachchan was enough for the MNS chief to announce that all films starring the Bachchans would be banned. In 2006, Aamir Khan’s Fanaa was banned in Gujarat after his statements on the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Imagine the vulnerability under which the industry and its stars operate!
Which is exactly why one feels hesitant to blame top stars for not responding in time with sound bytes on national or other sensitive issues. One completely understands their position when they choose to refuse the proverbial ‘long rope to hang themselves with’

Coming back to SRK’s decision of going with just ‘Billu’, a lot of it is to do with the fact that the producer and distributors are really alone in their battle. State protection is limited. Similarly, not many multiplexes are willing to take the onus of protecting a film. So is there a solution? Well, only if there is united effort from the whole film chain and most importantly, political will. Film bodies and the State government could invest jointly in high-end securities to protect films that get into trouble in spite of the Censor Board passing them.

The bottom line is simple. Our films do not deserve the constant Friday jitters, unless it is the boxoffice we’re talking about.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Review of Victory

Bat's More Like It

Starring: Hurman Baweja, Amrita Rao, Anupam Kher, Gulshan Grover

Rating: **1/2

The one thing that immediately strikes you about this redemptive tale of a cricketer is that it strangely finds a strong emotional resonance with lead actor Hurman Baweja’s own failed debut (Love Story 2050) and his subsequent struggle to prove himself. And in many ways, this emotional hook works in the film’s favour.

Victory has an all too familiar story - that of a young aspiring cricketer from Jaisalmer, Vijay Shekhawat (Hurman) trying hard to get the selectors to notice him. His dada (Anupam Kher) takes great pride in his game, while his childhood friend, Nandini (Amrita Rao) who secretly loves him, boosts his morale when his chips are low. Vijay’s struggle continues and just when he’s about to give up the game, he makes an impression at a cricket camp and is selected. Soon, he makes it to the national team and starts heaping on the centuries.

What follows is the familiar trapping of stardom that overtakes his life. His new-found fame blinds him and his friendship with a self-seeking celebrity manager Andy Singh (Gulshan Grover) proves to be a mistake, as his career starts to nosedive. His game suffers and the final jolt comes when a scandal involving him leads to national outrage and shame.

The rest of the story is about how Vijay reinstates himself, and his effort to rise in the esteem of people who he let down. In all respects, Victory is a perfectly watchable film, well-directed by debutant Ajitpal Mangat with good performances all round. The director clearly loves the game and has an expertise in the subject, which is why cricket fans will find the commentary and other such elements in the film extremely authentic. The fact that there are so many real life cricketing personalities in the film - from Harbhajan Singh to Navjot Siddhu from Jayasurya to Bret Lee, lends the film some novelty and every time they make an entry, you could see the audiences (all of 21 people where I saw it) cheering for them.
Also, the dialogues are smart. When Hurman stars to shine as a cricketer, Amrita’s friend advices her to quickly tie the knot to him, “Varna koi heroine-veroine le jayegi use’ she cheekily says.

Yet, for all its earnestness, the story remains awfully predictable. People in the hall were guessing what would happen after every ball and they were invariably right. The problem with showcasing the fall and rise of a cricketer is that it is easily recogonisable to what we see happening to real life cricketers. In that sense, the visuals offer no real freshness.
Also, with sports films, especially cricket (given its overdose) it’s important to create an unusual setting to make the experience unique for the audiences. For example, Chak De! India was about a bunch of women hockey players, Iqbal has a deaf and dumb boy trying to make it as a cricketer. Again, Lagaan was a period film set in the colonial times. Victory in that respect falls short because its template is not new.
Also, the climax does not make a great impact, because the film peaks in the first half itself where the hero manages to find a place in the Indian cricket team. A sports’ cannot afford to have two major conflicts which are resolved in the same manner.Since he has already been an underdog once, seeing him going through the same grind once again takes away most of the fun.
Yet, Victory is a good one-time watch. Hurman Baweja is sincere and though he cannot be called a natural talent, he has screen presence and fits the role. Amrita Rao is delightful here. Anupam Kher is good as usual. It’s also nice to see Dilip Tahil after all this time as the team’s straightforward coach.
All in all, a neat film but not a really different ‘ball-game’.
-Sandhya Iyer

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Interview with Sudhir Mishra

The Dark dazzler

Sudhir Mishra talks to Sandhya Iyer on his shelved film Ek Aur Devdas, and why our top heroes prefer roles that are either black or white

After Shyam Benegal last month, it will be Sudhir Mishra on UTV Movies this time, adding to the channels list of 50 movies to see before you die. The four movie he has chosen, namely Three Color White, The Man Without Past, The General and 3 Brothers will be aired every Saturday all of February. The filmmaker spoke to us about his choice of films, his up coming projects and what the future holds for Indian cinema

So when you choose films - do you select films that have influenced you personally or ones that you view as ‘important’? And this aspect extends to your role as a jury member at several award functions also…

Well, the awards are a different ball game. You’re not the only one taking a decision. For example, when I was the chairman for the National Awards, I wanted Shah Rukh Khan to get the award for Swades that year. But the others said ‘no’ and I went with that. So this is really a collective thing. But yes, when I choose my favourites, I tend to select films that have ‘affected’ me as a human being and has changed my life in some way. Of course, one has to acknowledge merits even in films that one doesn’t personally like.

If you were to name a few Indian films that one has to see before one dies, which ones would they be?
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Apu trilogy, Jalsa Ghar, Mughal-e-Azam, Pushpak. Among the recent filmmakers, I’m very impressed with Anurag Kashyap. I also saw Luck By Chance the other day and thought it was wonderful.

You haven’t worked with any top star in a while

I have nothing against stars but they shouldn’t be used as a gimmick. They’re films can easily turn into ‘events’ and unfortunately, that’s what our audiences want. No one wants to invest anything in the film as a viewer.
Having said that, if stars are rightly cast, they can help widen the appeal of a film and its boxoffice potential. Then, why not? I think somewhere the problem lies with my subjects. Most of my themes lack precedence, so the stars can’t find reference to it. Moreover, my lead characters make mistakes, carry regrets and don’t necessarily end up as the ‘hero’ of the film. Our top stars like to play ‘direct’ people – either it has to be an uncomplicated hero or then an out and out negative role like Iago (Othello). They don’t like complications.

I know you decide your actors after you write your script. But have you ever thought of writing a script particularly for any star?

Aamir is very inspiring for me. His personal methodology, versatility… is something I admire. Let’s see if something comes my way and he fits in. In fact my next film, which will be a political thriller needs a charismatic actor, someone who can create mass hysteria. But at this stage, I don’t know if big stars can be feasible for the film.

One thought you were doing Ek Aur Devdas with Shiney Ahuja and Chitrangada?
Anurag Kashyap has already made a very good film with Dev D, so what’s the point of making one more. The political thriller that I’m making now has some shades of Devdas in terms of a man trying to conquer his own demons. Alcoholism is just an external metaphor after all. I’m rewriting Ek Aur Devdas for this.

Will Shiney be in the film?
I can only say after the script is complete. But I am doing another film with Chitrangada called Who’s Speaking.

You’ve been a mentor to Shiney. Does it concern you that his career is in the doldrums?
I will be working with Shiney when there is a part for him. See, your children choose their own paths once they grow up. I’ve offered Shiney advise but then he has other advisors too to tell him about commercial aspects and so on, which I may not understand that well.

You were among the first to stand up in support of Slumdog Millionaire. What do you make of the criticism it is facing from different quarters?

I personally loved the film. The way it is shot, the values it shows. It takes the structure of a Hindi film and does something else with it. The film has lots of qualities. When they show the boy emerging from a pile of shit, the allusion really is to a boy from the slums ‘going through shit’ in life to find nirvan. At the same time, I don’t mind people criticising it. But I should say that an Indian filmmaker would have been treated far more harshly if they had of theatres in the second week of its release and not one person from the industry stood up for me. They watched me getting demolished and terrorised.

Some of the anger is also directed at the Oscars and other such international awards, who haven’t acknowledged Indian cinema enough…

This happens because we tend to be overly obsessed about their honors, while they are never looking at us for any kind of endorsement. But more seriously, we need to understand that Indian cinema is not about Bombay alone. Many of our good regional films don’t even get sent to the Oscars. If we had sent Satyajit Ray’s films then, we’d have at least three Oscars by now.
There’s another point to this. We are not one industry, but four film industries – Mumbai, Kerala, Bengal and South – all make a large number of films and we must fight for more representation at the Oscars. Through international film bodies and forums, we must emphasise how we’re like Europe. It’s up to our youngsters to start a campaign on this.

So what’s next?
There’s Tera Kya Hoga Johnney, about a coffee-wala and his aspirations in a big city. And then there another film I’m producing called Sikandar.