We Are One Nation, One People, One Face

Bollywood has been called many things – ‘colourful’, ‘exotic’ and ‘vibrant’ are words thrown around by westerners trying to be polite – but nobody thinks of it as sensitive or authentic. We’re talking about an industry that allowed 26/11 to be retold by Ram Ganja Verma, so let’s not even pretend that we have standards.

This is why it’s surprising to see the outrage against Mary Kom being played by Priyanka Chopra in the upcoming biopic titled ‘Hopefully This Will Make Up For Babli Badmaash’. It smacks of disrespect and racism, they say, to have Priyanka Chopra play a Manipuri, given that she looks as Manipuri as I look like Dakota Fanning.

Now Priyanka Chopra is a fine actor who’s turned in many great performances, like the time she convinced the world that she was an actual singer. The trailer, which released this week, looks good too. It’s hard to mess up a sports film, given that they all follow the same graph: a fiercely talented underdog overcomes obstacles – social, financial, political – to rise, then fall, then train using brutal montages, the mere sight of which gives normal people a hernia, then rise again before winning the ultimate prize, i.e. dancing on Cross-Dressers With Kapil Sharma.

So the argument isn’t about PC’s talent or the eventual fate of the film – it’s about the fact that Bollywood was too risk-averse to search for an equally talented actor who looked the part. Of course, we can’t know that for sure. Maybe the casting team tried really hard, but couldn’t find any North Easterners hanging out at the Lokhandwala CCD.

To make matters worse, there were reports that prosthetics would be used to make PC look like an authentic Manipuri. And by prosthetics, I mean six army guys hanging around the set at all times. Also, Bollywood takes commercial viability really seriously, which is why I’m glad that they at least chose Priyanka, because things could’ve been way worse. I’m sure that at some point, the suits investing in the film had the following conversation:

Suit 1: What do we do to make sure this is a guaranteed 8000 crore megasuperblockbuster?

Suit 2: Ooh, let’s get Salman to play Mary Kom!

Suit 1: That’s insane. For obvious reasons.

Suit 2: Like what?

Suit 1: Duh. Bhai will only play Mary Kom if a South Indian dude has played her first.

This isn’t the first time that a Priyanka Chopra film has been accused of racism. That honour would go to Fashion, where her character, Generic Model McTemplate, goes into a drug and booze-fueled spiral that results in her sleeping with a random black guy. It is this encounter that causes her to re-evaluate her life, because like they say in India, ‘Once you go black, you better not go back because log kya kahenge?’

Of course, it’d be unfair to say that Bollywood’s only good at racism. We’re great at reverse racism too. Case in point: a largely forgotten film called Gandhi to Hitler, where Raghubir Yadav played Hitler, Neha Dhupia played Eva Braun and a bunch of neo-Nazis went, “Bro, show some respect please.” Watch this film if you haven’t, because where else will you see a bunch of brown people fight for white power? Okay, maybe in every fairness cream ad ever, but you get my point.

But to come back to PC and Mary Kom, one thing is certain: it is a story that deserves a glittering showcase and the film, like it or not, will be a hit. It will hopefully inspire young people, especially girls, to follow their dreams, so that one day they too might have their cultural identity misappropriated for an audience that’s too dumb to appreciate them otherwise.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 27th July 2014.)

We Are The Youth of The Nation. Like, Totally.

So ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ made a 100+ crores this week, of which 98.3 came from Ranbir fans who have heartgasms every time he does something awesome, such as appear on screen. The rest came from the coffers of The Gentleman’s Society For Appreciation of Slow-Mo Champagne Spray On Deepika.

YJHD is the story of Kabir aka Bunny, who sets out to forge his own path, makes mistakes and discovers true love in the end. This is different from Ranbir in Wake Up Sid, where he sets out to forge his own path, makes mistakes and discovers true love in the end, and of course, that was nothing like Rockstar, where he sets out to forge his own path and then puts Nargis Fakhri in a coma by having sex with her. (Although with her range of expressions, it’s hard to tell exactly when she went comatose.)

This isn’t to say that YJHD is a terrible film. It’s not. It’s basic “dal-chawal”, except it’s being described in the way five-star hotels do it, i.e. “Steamed fine long grain white rice hand-picked in the emerald green lap of the Vindhyas, accompanied by a golden lentil soup that was gently simmered over the smouldering kisses of angels.”

It says a lot when, in a youth film, the only character that makes a mark is the father (played endearingly by Farooque Shaikh.) I just wanted to reach out and give the poor man a hug. The last time I felt so bad for Farooque Shaikh was when David Dhawan dropped a giant, steaming Pile No.1 on Chashme Buddoor.

There are currently two major entities that try and define the youth of India. One is Chetan Bhagat, whose characters exist in easily marketable groups and talk in the most badly grammar you will finding anywhere Orkut roxxx. The second is Bollywood, which, on occasion, does a great job, and on another occasion, tried to convince us that Shahrukh was a college student by dressing him up in a blue-green Polo Sport condom.

One film that worked for my generation was Dil Chahta Hai, which was slick and funny enough for us to ignore the fact that Aamir Khan had been celebrating the end of college since QSQT in 1988. Then there was Lakshya, where Hrithik Roshan did a fine job of portraying angst, especially when his jiggly facial muscles kicked in. Seriously, just look at any Hrithik film. At some point during intense emotional scenes, a continuous wave of ripples starts dancing across his face, as if he just swallowed a vibrator.

There are some tropes that Bollywood loves to use. For example, the modern-yet-sufficiently-pious-for-family-crowd heroine, who loves going to the temple. Deepika is super religious for the first half of YJHD, only to have that trait disappear in the second half, probably because she realised that she was a hottie and did not want to be godblocked by religion. Kajol sang bhajans to impress Amrish Puri in DDLJ, which was weird:

Kajol: Dad, I want to travel around Europe with my girlfriends.

Dad: That’s crazy. Now go spend the rest of your life with some gaonwala that you’ve never met.

Kajol: <insert bhajan>

Dad: Aww. Mogambo melt hua. Okay, go. Just don’t sleep with strangers. That’s what arranged marriages are for.

Then there’s the concept of eternal, undying love, which young characters in Bollywood seem to possess in copious amounts. We fell for it as kids, but it doesn’t hold up now. Again, take DDLJ – one of the most romantic films ever, about an aimless rich kid who falls for Ms. Goody Two Chappals even though he barely knows her, chases her across continents, befriends her family and finally, some blood and punches later, asks for her hand. This is also the story of Darr.

And hey, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai fans, if you stay hung up on your college friend for ten years, then you should just marry your basketball. Even during YJHD, when the rest of the theatre was ooh-ing and aah-ing over Ranbir’s decision to put the brakes on his dream to marry Deepika, people like me were thinking, “OK, so they’re happy now, but soon enough, he’ll start resenting her. He’ll feel stifled, they’ll grow distant, one or both of them will have affairs and then end up battling each other over curtains and shared lip gloss.”

Then again, people like me aren’t really the target audience for such films. YJHD will end up being DCH-meets-DDLJ for a lot of people, which is natural. Meanwhile, we’ll be judging silently in the corner. It’s easy to spot us. We’re the ones in Polo Sport.

(Note: This is my HT humour column dated 9th June 2013.)

Lights, Camera, Awards!

It is award season in Bollywood, which means it is time to celebrate the best of 2012 by giving out trophies to whoever is performing at the function. It is also that time of the year when organisers carry out virgin sacrifices to summon Rekha from her crypt.

2012 was pretty good for Bollywood, with releases like Paan Singh Tomar, Kahaani, Vicky Donor, English Vinglish and my favourite, Gangs of Wasseypur, which showed us that even poor people can look cool, as long as they’re bloodthirsty, gaali-spewing criminal masterminds. The Wasseypur ensemble is now the most famous set of Biharis in pop-culture, second only to Shekhar Suman’s nipples. These relatively small films proved that you could have fun at the movies even if you didn’t fit the industry’s usual target profile, i.e. people with the IQ of cabbage.

However, 2012 was also a ‘Mine Is Bigger Than Yours’ contest, with film-makers competing to see who could cross the 100-crore mark with the most rubbish script possible. This club includes gems such as Ek Tha Tiger and Dabangg 2, both of which had Salman playing the role of Salman, and Rowdy Rathore, where Akshay Kumar played a man desperately trying to be Salman. Jab Tak Hai Jaan also made 100 crores, and was seen by audiences as the final hurrah of an old, withered man. But enough about Shahrukh.

Then there was Rohit Shetty’s Bol Bachchan, which was an official remake of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Gol Maal, and featured Abhishek Bachchan as a limp-wristed gay caricature. Now why would you mess with a classic like that? It’s like saying, “I cloned Madhubala and threw in some Sherlyn Chopra DNA.”

Another 100-crore masterpiece was Son of Sardaar, featuring the evocatively worded song, “Pon Pon Pon Pon Pon”, which is Urdu for “wrote this after getting stoned during a traffic jam.” I especially love the choreography to the song, because the key step involves the actors staring at the camera while mock-rinsing their mouths repeatedly. It takes a brave choreographer to look at Ajay Devgn’s mouth and think, “I want the audience to focus on that dental warzone.”

(A special mention must go out to Sonakshi Sinha, for serving as a showpiece in not one, not two, but three masala hits this year. Actresses in these films are like naphthalene pellets in a urinal – you expect them to be there, but you wouldn’t miss them if they were gone. The job would still get done.)

This slavish approach to the 100-crore club got even more ridiculous at a recent award function, when the eight directors whose films had hit the magic number this year were thanked and given special awards for their contribution to cinema. The only way this could have been more sycophantic is if the channel execs had personally given each director a Thai massage.

In keeping with the theme of handing out random awards to keep stars happy, at the same function, SRK and Katrina Kaif won the award for “International Icon”, whatever that means. Soon they’ll stop pretending and just hand out awards like the “Best International Icon-cum-Saviour of The Planet Who Lives At Bandstand And Hasn’t Been To Jail Yet” award. Another silly moment was Ek Tha Tiger winning the award for Best Marketed Film. After all, Bhai’s films involve a hugely complex marketing strategy, i.e. “Let’s release it on Eid.”

2012 also saw SRK’s first on-screen kiss, because only in India can a loverboy hero have his first kiss at the age of 47. The much hyped lip-lock with Katrina showcased the kind of passion and magic you’d associate with an episode of Krishi Darshan. Another first was the Bollywood debut of porn star Sunny Leone in Jism 2. I’d love to tell you more, but as with all Sunny Leone films, I only watched it for the first five minutes.

Event organisers would save a lot of time this year if they just went ahead and gave all the awards to Nawazuddin Siddiqui, including ‘Best Item Number’ because at this point, it looks like he could pull that off as well (It would also be less traumatising than the sight of Rani Mukherjee lunging about in ‘Dreamum Wakeupum StabMeInTheEyesUm’) But awards aside, I hope that in the coming year, film-makers continue to make use of this new-fangled technology known as a ‘script’. Or as it’s called in the industry, ‘Pon Pon Pon Pon Pon.’

(Note: This is my HT column dated 20th Jan 2013)