Sunday, March 1, 2015

MALE-DOMINATED HOLLYWOOD / FILM FATALE: COLUMN PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU BUSINESSLINE


DESPERATELY SEEKING BIRDWOMAN AND GIRLHOOD

This week’s Oscars exemplified the male domination of Hollywood, an industry where actresses still get lower pay, less meaty roles and fewer big-budget films than actors

By Anna MM Vetticad


“We’re more than just our dresses. We are so happy to be here and talk about the work that we’ve done. It’s hard being a woman in Hollywood, or any industry.” The words came from Oscar 2015’s Best Actress nominee Reese Witherspoon on the red carpet earlier this week as she elaborated on the #askhermore campaign in conversation with a television reporter.

#Askhermore is an online hashtag movement initiated by the US-based non-profit organisation, The Representation Project, which calls out journalists for persistently asking women on red carpets only — or at least primarily — about their gowns, while quizzing the men almost entirely about their work. The demand: ask her more.

Accepting her Best Supporting Actress Award later that evening, Patricia Arquette received a rousing response when she raised another point of inequality. “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights, it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she said, as front-row occupants Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez roared their approval.

For Indian viewers, it was important to witness Streep’s reaction. Drawing-room conversations among film buffs across this country about male-dominated Indian film industries inevitably include comments such as, “Look at the kind of roles Hollywood is still offering Meryl Streep.” In reality, this legendary actress has often spoken about gender discrimination in Hollywood. As for the substantial, well-written roles she steps into year after year, one Streep doth not a feminist summer make.

Look no further than this year’s Oscar nominations for proof of how meaty roles and big-budget mainstream films are usually reserved for men in Hollywood. Of the eight Best Picture nominees, seven were male-led stories with women in supporting roles, some significant, some not even that: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma and Whiplash.

Substance attracts awards juries. And so, four of the eight nominated films yielded Best Actor nominations for their heroes. The eighth film was The Theory of Everything, the story of internationally renowned physicist Stephen Hawking’s relationship with his first wife Jane Wilde. Not surprisingly, this high-profile film with its male and female leads standing shoulder to shoulder, got acting nominations for both its hero and heroine.

This is not a new development at the Oscars or other Hollywood awards. The reasons for these trends are twofold. First, the world’s most widely viewed film industry prefers to tell the stories of men or tell universal stories from a male perspective. Second, producers prefer to invest in male-led films.

The myth that women-centric big-budget action, sci-fi or other mass entertainers do not make big money like films in the same genres helmed by male characters has been repeatedly busted over the years. The Angelina Jolie-starrers Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Salt (2010) both earned more than double their mega budgets. Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 starring Uma Thurman collected almost six times their combined budget worldwide. In a vastly different genre, The Devil Wears Prada (2006) with Streep raked in $326 million across the globe, which was almost 10 times its budget. (Figures courtesy boxofficemojo.com)

It is not the contention of this column that the male-centric stories being told by Hollywood are not worthy of being told. The point is that across genres, the stories of women too deserve to be told and have the potential to earn equivalent sums as often as male-focused films do, if Hollywood were to tell such stories consistently over a period of time, market these films as heavily and build up female stars in commercial entertainers in the same way it builds up its male stars.

Sometimes, stories with promise are staring us in the face. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Best Picture Oscar winner this year is the captivating account of a fading movie star who once played the superhero Birdman with great success on screen. Would it have been less enthralling if it had been about a former Birdwoman? Is not the biography of Alan Turing’s colleague in The Imitation Game — the genius cryptographer Joan Clarke — a film begging to be made?

Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated Boyhood is the coming-of-age tale of a little boy from a troubled family, shot over a period of 12 years with the same cast. Interesting though he is, the child at its centre is often overshadowed in the first half of the film by his more dynamic sister Samantha played by the young acting dynamite Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter). As the film progresses though, Samantha is relegated to the background by the script.

It is a wonder — and yet it is not — that it did not occur to the wonderfully inventive Linklater Senior to make a companion film to Boyhood. I am not pointing fingers at him here. It is but natural for people to tell stories that they relate to the most. This then is what happens when more men are making films than women, and more men are getting money to make the films they instinctively want to make. I don’t know about you, but I am dying to see a Girlhood revolving around Samantha over those 12 years with the same cast. Wish Linklater had been keen on it too.

(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)

(This column by Anna MM Vetticad was first published in The Hindu Businessline newspaper on February 28, 2015)

Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boyhood_(film)   

Note: This photograph was not published in The Hindu Businessline


Saturday, February 28, 2015

REVIEW 321: DUM LAGA KE HAISHA

Release date (India):
February 27, 2015
Director:
Sharat Katariya
Cast:


Language:

Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, Alka Amin, Sheeba Chaddha
Hindi


I spent most of Yashraj Films’ Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH) – produced by Band Baaja Baaraat director Maneesh Sharma – wanting to hug each character in the film. How often do we see a Hindi film peopled by flawed human beings who feel real, whose flaws are not glorified or used either to paint them into “villain” and “hero” corners, in completely believable situations?

The starting point of DLKH’s uniqueness is its setting: Haridwar, 1995. Both are crucial to the story since Ayushmann Khurrana’s character, Prem Tiwari, runs an audio cassette shop with his father in a gali in the congested city on the banks of the Ganga. Yes, cassettes – remember those thingies? We catch glimpses of the river but it is not an overstated presence; it’s as though DLKH is seeing Haridwar through the eyes of a person who lives there rather than a tourist.

Prem is an under-confident high-school dropout who is bullied by his dad. The focal conflict in this film arises when the family ignores his objections and marries him to a girl he considers overweight. Once hitched to Sandhya Verma (Bhumi Pednekar), he treats her like an emotional punching bag on whom to vent his life’s frustrations. This smart, educated, fun-loving girl is no pushover though. Her potental employability with her B.Ed degree is what drew the cash-strapped Tiwari family’s senior members. Prem, however, cannot get over their refusal to heed his opinion in the matter or his own low self-esteem over his lack of achievements.

Writer-director Sharat Katariya has given time and thought to his script, ensuring that it nowhere takes a lazy route to cheap applause. Can you imagine a mainstream Bollywood or Hollywood film featuring a large-sized heroine that does not have a single fat joke? This is a far cry from the days when actress Tun Tun made an entire film career out of being mocked for her obesity.

For the record, Pednekar is nowhere near Tun Tun’s gargantuan proportions. She is a tubby Everywoman we often encounter. Her girth is handled with sensitivity by a script that refuses to be reductive. Her weight does not define her. Sure she is fat, but she is also spirited, pretty, ambitious, and seems okay with the woman she sees in the mirror. Though hurt by a cruel comment from Prem, her self-esteem is not dependent on his approval or dented by his aversion.

DLKH – which draws its title from a contest that is intended as a metaphor for marriage – takes us through the first few months after Prem and Sandhya’s shaadi. Nothing in this film happens magically or dramatically overnight. Everything is gradual, which is how real life tends to be.

It is interesting that Katariya chose to call his hero Prem, considering that that name has been associated since the late 1980s with Salman Khan playing either a cocky romantic hero or invincible action king walloping gangs of goons single-handedly. Not so our Prem in DLKH who gets routinely walloped by his father. Will he learn to be proud of Sandhya? Will he get past his own inadequacies? Will he have the courage to apologise to her? Will a Hindi film dare to get its hero to say “sorry” to its heroine? Will it have the guts to show her leaving a disinsterested husband? With equal parts wit and poignancy, DLKH answers these questions.

Casting director Shanoo Sharma has gathered an excellent team of actors whose flawless timing and affinity for the camera make DLKH such a joy. Sanjay Mishra as Prem’s father is as captivating here as he was in Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi last year. It’s nice to see films now tapping the full range of his talents instead of restricting him to comedy. Alka Amin as his wife and Seema Pahwa as Sandhya’s mother are also scene-stealers, as is Sheeba Chaddha playing Prem’s well-meaning though often unthinkingly acerbic aunt with her own sad back story.

It’s hard to find a film in which every single supporting actor has been hand-picked with care and given a well-written role that breathes life into each one of them. To lead such a strong bunch of character actors and still emerge a winner would be a challenge for even a veteran, but youngster Ayushmann Khurrana and debutant Bhumi Pednekar are more than up to the task.

A far cry from the self-assured, almost-smug, city-bred, all-Punjabi sperm donor he played in Vicky Donor (2012), Khurrana is pitch perfect here as a perennially dissatisfied small-town youth who resents the world for his personal failings. The find of the film of course is Pednekar who was reportedly a member of Yashraj Films’ casting team when she was picked for the part of Sandhya, a role she plays as though she was born to be before the camera.

It’s hard to believe that the person helming Dum Laga Ke Haisha earlier made the forgettable 10 ML Love (2012). Here, Katariya is a master weaver, smoothly bringing together the different threads in the story culminating in a heart-warming climax that is sweet but not manipulative, emotional not over-wrought, and like the rest of the film, utterly real. The songs too are well-matched to the film, the high point being the wonderfully emotive Moh moh ke dhaage (music: Anu Malik, lyrics: Varun Grover). Bravo Team DLKH for this unusual, quietly brave, fun film.

Rating (out of five): ****


Footnote: With a guest appearance by Kumar Sanu and Prem’s love for the singer whose career peaked in the 1990s, this film is designed as a bow to the decade when romance returned to Bollywood in a big way. DLKH seems determined not to be an overt tribute though, the only departure from that intent coming in the end with a song – sung by Sanu and another leading 1990s voice, Sadhana Sargam – that cleverly turns the by-now-cliched song-with-closing-credits concept on its head and had me smiling till the very last word disappeared from the screen. If you want to see a fine example of choreography, costumes and dancing (especially Khurrana’s) steeped in humour and intelligently done nostalgia, then don’t leave the hall early.

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A   
Running time:
111 minutes