2009

The closing year of the decade set the standard for the coming decade with a delicious array of movies. The new generation in every sense took over from the old – Zoya Akhtar, Abhay Deol, Shahid Kapoor, Ranbeer Kapoor, Ayan Mukherjee, Anurag Kashyap, Amit Trivedi,  Farhan Akhtar – a few of the promising names who will shape the next decade were involved in some key projects this year.

A detailed post on the movers and shakers of 2009 can be found here.

Luck By Chance – A movie about movies by someone who grew up around movies with people who are from the movies.  Luck By Chance is one of the few well-crafted meta movies in Bollywood. Her script presents a plethora of characters from the Bombay Film world with a deep understanding of how this chaotic industry really works. It is a work of careful and respectful observation – notice how the screenplay never points fingers at its characters as “good” or “bad”, it just observes from a distance and shows how they behave and why they react the way they do. This is a massive in terms of traditional screenplays in Hindi movie. Thus this one makes as a perfect bookend of a movie for this decade.

Dev D – A modern twist on the tragic story of the narcissistic loser character of Devdas. Tragic heroes were a rage in the fifties and the sixties – Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Rajesh Khanna built their glorious careers on playing these heroes. These movies portrayed them as hapless victims and tragic-demigods, the audience was completely on their side. What Anurag Kashyap and Abhay Deol did with Dev D is turned the tragic-hero upside down: portray him as the only reason for his own devastation. The Paro character gets a complete makeover and she is no more the crying/weeping girl who has been dumped by the love of her life and goes on with the drudgery of the rest of her life. In Anurag’s version, she has a spine to pick up the pieces, move on and find happiness in her own right. This Paro is a true feminist – there is one scene which stands out both visually and the message it portrays:  Paro on a bicycle with a cotton mattress tied on her backseat going to the sugarcane fields for a secret sexual rendezvous with Dev. This scene can very well become the kind which is played to the gallery but comes out as an iconic scene which finally liberated the Hindi movie heroine from the clutches of righteousness once and for all.

Kaminey – Vishal Bharadwaj goes to town with this dark pulpish thriller movie of mistaken identities, guns, drugs and corrupt cops. There is a zany energy in the entire narrative which never gives it’s audience any time to breathe. A detailed review here.  Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra are cast as the leads and are made to do things which are completely out of their skin. Both the actors prove that the mainstream actors are not without talent, it’s the roles and opportunities that are lacking. If they are offered millions of rupees to wear fancy clothes and prance around on mountain tops and sunny beaches Vs sit at home awaiting the next big meaty role, what’s a person going to do?

Wake Up Sid – Ayan Mukherjee’s directorial venture, Wake up Sid tells a coming of age story of the rich urban youth in a rather simplistic yet sensitive fashion. Ranbeer Kapoor displays that he is not just a star son but an actor who will break away from the shackles of his illustrious lineage to make his own mark (if he hasn’t already). It was refreshing to see the parents (played by Anupam Kher and Supriya Pathak) being treated as normal people and not gods or devils.

 

Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year – This patchy film by Shimit Amin (from Chak De India) is a rare film that throws light on the contemporary urban India’s work culture. Not everyone is a writer, fashion designer, actor, CEO or industrialist as most Hindi movies would like you to believe, there are salesmen too and Rocket Singh is just that: the cheap ties, short sleeved shirts, a messenger bag and moped riding army of salesmen which is common across the length and breadth of this vast land. Ranbeer Kapoor singlehandedly does all the heavy lifting in this movie and solidifies his position as the star-actor of the new decade with Rocket Singh. The movie gets a little heavy handed on the humiliation of the Ranbeer character at the hands of his superiors, but the payoff in the end was entirely satisfactory.

3 Idiots – A Raj Kumar Hirani film based on a bestseller book by Chetan Bhagat with Aamir Khan in the lead role: the movie was a profitable venture even before it was released. When it was released, it created a mass hysteria in the public and the media alike (including an FB fan page for Chatur’s now famous Balatkaar speech – really?). Hirani knows how to play it to the gallery and the balcony (or the multiplexes in today’s world) at the same time (trust me it is difficult – very very difficult!) and he comes out a winner in this one too. 3 Idiots is all that we love about Bollywood: the singing, the dancing, the crying, the ubiquitous buffoon in the form of Chatur (kind of characters played  by the Rajendranaths, Mukris, Johny Walkers of yesteryears), the male bonding, the hero who is a CAN-DO-NO-WRONG-EVER persona and the living vicariously through the characters who belittle an institution we all wanted to piss upon secretly at some point in our lives. The only slight difference in characterization from a traditional Hindi movie was that of the heroine who drinks a little, but stays away from sleeping with the hero before the relationship is legalized with the saat-feraas.

Paa – A Bachchanalia movie with a gimmick of the father playing the son to his real life son -enough for me to pass a judgment even before I saw the end product.  Was pleasantly surprised by this R Balki film (of Cheeni Kum)  which is a sensitive portrayal of an estranged father-son duo where the son is affected by an unusual condition called progeria. Both the Bachchans and Vidya Balan give sincere performances in their respective roles and make the audiences believe in their unusual situation.

 Movie of the year: Luck By Chance

Actor of the year: Ranbir Kapoor (Wake Up Sid, Rocket Singh, Ajab Prem ki Ghajab Kahani)

Actress of the year: Priyanka Chopra (Kaminey, Whats Your Raashee?)

Director of the year: Zoya Akhtar(Luck By Chance)

Music director of the year: Amit Trivedi (Dev D), Delhi 6 (A R Rehman)

The ones we lost

In the first decade of 2000, we lost many luminaries who left an indelible mark with their work. This space is for some of the noteworthy ones, no way an an exhaustive list and I am sure I have missed many.

Ashok Kumar: The first true super star of Hindi Cinema. He was an institution to say the least, a man who successfully played all the roles that one can : a leading man, a villain, many  character roles, a narrator on a television soap a playback singer. My memory of him as a child was portrayal of the good natured old man in movies such as Khubsoorat, Shaukeen, Khatta-Meetha and as the man who introduced Basesar and his family on Hum-Log . So imagine my surprise when I saw him as a young man singing a love song with an even younger Devika Rani in Achut Kanya, when I saw him as a dashing overcoat wearing hero of Mahal or as the villain of Jewel Thief. He was truly, the last luminary of the golden era of Hindi cinema and was aptly known as Dadamoni – the grand-father of the entire film industry.

Sunil Dutt: He made his mark in many mainstream movies of the 60s and also dared to play it different in which is possibly the only Hindi movie with just one actor: Yaadein. In his later years, he was quite active as a politician and a social activist. His cameo of playing the dad to his real life son Sanjay Dutt’s Munna in the first edition of Munnabhai must have been very personal:  a prodigal son who was on the wrong side of the law for most of his adult life and who caused much grief/pain/shame for his father gets to seek forgiveness and atonement on screen. Isn’t this why we all love movies – how it sometimes blurs the lines of reality and fiction and envelopes us in its magical world? Some of his iconic films are :Mother India (plays the son to his real life wife – Nargis), the innocent Bhola of Padosan and the dacoit in Mujhe Jeene Do.

B R Chopra:  A producer/director of one of the most celebrated banners “B R Films” in Hindi Cinema left us in 2008. He was the only who truly started the multi-starrer genre with films like Gumrah, Waqt, The Burning Train etc. He was also responsible for the epic TV series ‘Mahabharat’ which would bring the entire nation to a grinding halt every Sunday for an hour in the 90s.

Nadira  This fiery actress was a crowd-puller in the movies of the 40s/ 50s despite not being the lead actress. She was mostly portrayed as the rebel, the one who wore pants, was ready to smoke on the screen and displayed a massive “I-don’t-give-damn” attitude in most of her roles. She was the polar opposite of the coy Indian heroine of those days. She was born as Farhat Ezekiel, in a Jewish family and literally galloped her way into the Hindi Film Industry with Mehboob’s “Aan” and adaptation of “Taming of the Shrew”.  Her notable roles were in Shree 420Dil Apna aur Preet Parayee , Bombay Talkie, Julie  and most recently in Mansoor Khan’s Josh.

Feroz Khan – An actor, producer, director who carved his own place in the industry. His movies were in their own genre – decadent, lavish, outlandish plots (if there was any) and completely unapologetic. He brought the Wild West, the Cowboy boots, the leather pants and the horse barns to Hindi Movies. He never could really make a mark as the leading man but found success as a producer/director of movies such as Dharmatma, Qurbani, Janbaaz and Dayavan. The bad men were mostly portrayed with such finesse and fun in this movies that given a choice I would want to be a bad-man from one of his movies. Another feat he achieved outside of Raj Kapoor was to make his leading actress do things and wear things they would never do or weaar for another film-maker.

Parveen Babi – This tall, Western looking glamorous girl was sometimes referred to as the poor man’s Zeenat Aman. She was anything but that and acted in many memorable films alongside Amitabh Bachchan in the 70s and 80s. Her most notable role was that of  Amitabh’s girl-friend in Deewaar, where she portrayed the liberal woman of the 70s. Her and Zeenat Aman were the only actresses who were successful as mainstream heroines despite the non-traditional roles they portrayed. They were also one of the first to truly bring Western high-fashion into Hindi movies. Parveen’s later life was shrouded in many controversies especially her accusations of alleged abuse at the hands of Amitabh Bachchan. Her alleged affair with Mahesh Bhatt and schizophrenic condition were a source of movies such as “Arth” and “Phir Teri Kahaani Yaad Aayi”.  She was featured on the cover of Time magazine in March 1977. She is also probably one of the first actresses to depict a sexually charged song picturization with another woman on the Hindi screen (with Hema Malini in Razia Sultan, video below):

Wrapping up a journey

This series was not a scientific research on the movies and the people associated with them and I am sure I have missed on many movies, events and people who made their mark or left us in the last 10 years. Reviewing the decade cinematically was an enriching experience for me personally and was an attempt to revisit the memories I made. When I was working on this series, it made me go back in time and think about those movies and the times when I saw them and how they made me feel : Feeling elated after watching Dil Chahta Hain when I had lost my job and 9/11 had just turned the world upside down. I remember watching Bend Like Beckham with Aditi in our tiny riverside apartment in Harrisburg, I remember watching Parineeta in our brand new house in Harrisburg with no furniture, remember shaking my head with approval while clenching my fists during the final monologue of the Naseer character from A Wednesday at a theater at Sudama in Nagpur, I remembered watching Omkara in a filthy cinema hall in Nagpur with an old friend who I have now lost touch with. The memories are countless. A good film is all about that, to me at least  – one which evokes long lost memories and feelings, just like a smell that comes wafting on a breeze or a taste of something that you are eating, can bring back a flood of memories.

These last 10 years have helped form many such memories which I am sure will come back to me every time I revisit these movies for the rest of my life. There is a only one common theme in all the movies (or any art for that matter) that stay with you for a long time – the personal connection it makes. Hence, it’s pointless in convincing anyone why a certain movie you think is “great”, it’s a journey each person takes on his or her own.

There is a lot that Hindi movies need to achieve in the coming years, the technology is there, the talent is there and these past 10 years demonstrated that the audience is also willing to consume non-traditional cinema. One area where, Hindi cinema and Indian cinema in general lacks is cinema for the young audience. There is a terrible lack of sensible entertainment for the younger audiences. Hopefully in the coming decade things change for the better. And there is a lot of hope and talent in this country of more than a billion people. 

For now though – It’s a wrap!