Thursday, April 24, 2014

SIT DOWN WITH SUBHASH GHAI / INTERVIEW PUBLISHED IN MAXIM MAGAZINE:

Shah Rukh Khan with Subhash Ghai while shooting for Pardes (1997)
(A shorter version of this interview by Anna MM Vetticad appeared in the November 2013 issue of Maxim magazine. The full text was published in Maxim India’s online edition.) 
“CRITICS DIDN’T LIKE KARZ, BUT IT IS NOW A CULT FILM. HOW THEN CAN ONE TAKE CRITICS SERIOUSLY?” ASKS SUBHASH GHAI
In a Maxim exclusive, filmmaker SUBHASH GHAI talks about cinema, audiences, success and failure, Rishi Kapoor, Salman Khan, Dilip Kumar and Anil Kapoor.
Your film Kaanchi was supposed to release in August. What happened?
I can take the pressure of making a film, but I can’t take the pressure of a pre-announced release date. I want to make my film, watch it, test it, then release it. These days however there is such a maara-maari for theatres that some people announce their release dates even before they’ve started work on the film. I can’t do that. I don’t want to repeat the mistake I made with Yuvvraaj where we had announced the release date in advance so it was sent to theatres straight from the mixing and recording studio. Due to lack of time, even I couldn’t see the final cut in advance. I don’t want to make films like that. I want to make films the way I’ve made them all my life.
Is it hard to cope with some of the changes that have taken place in the industry since you started in the 1960s?
Distribution and exhibition have changed dramatically since the 1980s and 1990s when I was most active. For instance films are released in thousands of theatres now. But one thing remains unchanged: every kind of film is being made including films of the sort that were doing well in the 1980s. Films like Dabangg, Ready and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani which are very much in the old mould are thriving alongside films from the Dibakars, Anurag Kashyaps and other new-age film makers.
Subhash Ghai and Dilip Kumar celebrate the success of Saudagar,
their third film together, the others being Vidhaata and Karma
But do you find it tough to adjust to the changes in the industry’s functioning? For instance, you mentioned the hype around release dates.

Yes, it’s become difficult for anyone who wants to make a non-star-cast film. The Khans have taken over Eid, Diwali and Christmas and the rest of the weekends have been taken over by other stars. But you can’t get disheartened by that. If the picture appeals it will do well irrespective of who’s in the cast. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag didn’t have a big cast but it did well because it was made in a cinematic manner. Finally it’s the film that works. Even an OMG! Oh My God worked. But yes, the pressure to announce a release date is hard for a film maker like me.
Kaanchi stars Rishi Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty but the young leads are non-stars. Is there a specific reason behind not using some of the more established names? Couldn’t you have got a Ranbir or Shahid or Ranveer Singh?
None of my films has had a superstar. I always went for the script first, then the artistes. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s I made films with stars who were viable, available to me and excited about working with me. When I did three films with Dilip Kumar, he was available to me because it was his second innings. Even when Shah Rukh Khan did Pardes, he was in the process of becoming a star, he was not yet a superstar.
Anil Kapoor and Salman Khan with Subhash Ghai on the
sets of Yuvvraaj (2008)
But you made Yuvvraaj more recently with Salman and Katrina Kaif?
Yes, but Salman was going through a rough patch at that time, just like me.
Why is Salman on such a career high now?
Because all this time he was finding himself, experimenting, doing all kinds of films. Even I gave him the role of a musician, which was wrong. He’s now changed his image and realised that what’s working for him are action love stories.
Why have none of your films worked at the box office since Taal in 1999?

As a filmmaker, when you deliver 11 hits in a row, you want to evolve. So I made Kisna and Yuvvraaj, both of which were of an international standard. But audiences still wanted the same old mass elements from me. Those two films were ahead of their time for the Indian audience.
Subhash Ghai with Jackie Shroff, Dimple Kapadia and
Anil Kapoor during the shooting of Ram Lakhan (1989)
Quite to the contrary, with those two films, critics seemed to think you had not moved with the times.

They were critics of the time, so they didn’t appreciate a film that’s ahead of its time. Critics didn’t like Karz either when it was released in 1980, but now Karz is considered a cult film. How then can one take critics seriously?
So you actually feel Kisna and Yuvvraaj were good films?
Of course.
So Karz didn’t do well at the box office or with critics?
Both. And a friend who watched it said he felt it’s ahead of its time, that it may not do well now but it will have a shelf life. He was right. Thirty years later, people are still talking about it. What the film couldn’t make in its entire lifetime, I made in one day when I sold the remake rights for Rs 3 crore. It’s like Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker, rejected at that time, but now considered one of the best films of his career.
Did you like the remake of Karz (called Karzzzz) starring Himesh Reshammiya?

I didn’t want to watch it. I wasn’t in the country when it was released and by the time I came back, people weren’t saying good things about it so I didn’t bother. Anyway, how could I watch someone else’s interpretation of my creation?
Subhash Ghai with debutant Mahima Chaudhry (earlier known as
Ritu Chaudhry) and Shah Rukh Khan on the sets of Pardes (1997)
But you appeared in Om Shanti Om. It may not have been a remake of Karz but it was certainly a tribute to your film.

That’s different. We are all inspired by many sources. Karz itself was inspired by The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. That’s the process of creativity. Om Shanti Om was not a copy of Karz, it was inspired by both Karz and Madhumati. That’s different from a film being remade with the exact same name and story. It’s not that I was bitter about the Karz remake. After all, we sold the rights to them. It’s just that I was busy and didn’t get the time to watch it.
Do you think it’s advisable to make a carbon copy of an old film without re-contextualising it? Without re-interpreting it for a contemporary situation?
It depends on the producer or director. Let them do it if they want to.
Would you?
No. Because my box of ideas is still packed so why would I make a carbon copy of an old film. Many people have even asked me to remake Karz, Hero and my other hits, but I’ve refused. I’ve sold the remake rights of Hero to Salman Khan Productions but mera idea box abhi khaali nahin hai that I would remake it myself. I have more ideas than there are years left in my life.
You’re working with Rishi Kapoor again in Kaanchi? What do you think has contributed to his wonderful second innings in films?
It’s a stroke of luck combined with his talent. He’s getting good films from good banners, but what’s helping Rishi do so well right now is that he remains as passionate, dedicated and hard-working as always. I’m so happy for him because he went through a low phase and now he’s back in full swing.
How about your own low phase? Ever got disheartened because of your box-office struggles post-Taal?
Not for a single day. That’s because I’ve never taken either hits or flops seriously. Even when a film was a hit, I’d just laugh and say, ‘Oh now I have to make a bigger or better film.’ These things only affect other people in the industry.
How?
When a filmmaker doesn’t deliver hits, people in the industry say, ‘That person is gone, that person has lost his talent.’ This only happens in India. In Hollywood, people don’t judge a filmmaker by his last hit. If Steven Spielberg were to make a bad film, they’d say, ‘He’s a talented filmmaker and we’ll wait for his next film.’ If Kaanchi becomes a hit, the same people who have written me off will say, ‘We always knew Subhash Ghai had talent.’
Doesn’t that hurt considering that they are your own film industry people?
We have a lovely industry, we love each other but we also feel envious and competitive. It’s up to every individual to be mature, to realise that you march with your own talent.
Ghai with Anil Kapoor and then newcomer Madhuri Dixit during the shooting
of Ram Lakhan (1989), the film that made Madhuri a superstar
When you cast Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff as co-stars in several films, how did you handle their rivalry?

I managed to strike a balance between Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar, so Anil and Jackie were not difficult for me.
But Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar were seniors when you did Saudagar, it was part of their second innings, whereas when you cast Anil and Jackie together they were young and at their peak with all the insecurities that accompany youth.
There’s a difference between Anil and Jackie. Anil’s an aggressive guy and Jackie’s a cool guy, so he can take Anil’s aggression with a smile and laugh. I don’t know why people consider them rivals. I think they are friends. I’ve seen them admire each other and laugh at each other. Sometimes relationships like that do develop.
What are your future plans?
From now on, I’ll be directing one film a year. Subhash Ghai as a filmmaker will be very, very active for the rest of his years.
---------- ends ---------- 
Photographs courtesy: Mukta Arts Limited


Note: These photographs were not published in Maxim

Saturday, April 19, 2014

REVIEW 258: DEKH TAMASHA DEKH


Release date:
April 18, 2014
Director:
Feroz Abbas Khan
Cast:




Language:

Apoorva Arora, Satish Kaushik, Tanvi Azmi, Vinay Jain, Satish Alekar, Sharad Ponkshe, Alok Rajwade, Jayant Wadkar, Ganesh Yadav, Dhiresh Joshi
Hindi

In a seaside town somewhere on the deceptively tranquil Indian coast, the giant cut-out of a neta falls on a poor man, crushing him to death. Under normal circumstances Hamid Tangewala would have got a funeral and been promptly forgotten by all but his closest family. As it happens, however, this is no ordinary poor man. He was once Kishan, an impoverished Hindu who fell in love with a Muslim woman called Fatima (Tanvi Azmi), converted to Islam and married her a long long time ago. In a nation perennially searching for political hot potatoes, a local Hindu leader (Sharad Ponkshe) shifts his attention from an offensive book to demand that “Kishan’s body” be handed over to “them”. What follows is a battle involving police, courts and media, in a film that underlines the utter ridiculousness of riots and religious bigotry, like few Hindi films have done in the past.

Director Feroz Abbas Khan’s Dekh Tamasha Dekh (DTD) is an unusual cocktail of humour and poignance, unusual because of the grimness of the subject and because he has chosen satire as an instrument to convey the bizarre lengths to which violence-prone communalists will go to score a point. Khan – a veteran of theatre, but relatively new to the film world – had earlier helmed Gandhi My Father, a film on the Mahatma’s strained relations with his son Harilal. The assured directorial hand he displayed on debut comes to his aid here again, ensuring that despite the bloodshed in the background, we are not offended when DTD induces tears and laughter in equal measure.

How can a film about riots be funny, you may well ask? Well it can be, just like a film set in a concentration camp could be a comedy? Khan displays the same directorial sleight of hand that made Roberto Benigni’s La vita é bella (Life Is Beautiful) such a hard-hitting commentary on Hitler’s Holocaust. Dekh Tamasha Dekh takes a swipe at hollow religious leaders on both sides who don’t give a damn about the people, but are happy to use them to further a dubious cause. It subtly slams the media through the character of a traitorous, chameleon-like journalist. As a hapless judge is asked to decide whether a body is Hindu or Muslim, whether that body must be cremated or buried, it gives us one of the most preposterous, most hilarious courtroom scenes ever seen in a Hindi film.

“Did you care about Kishan all those years ago when he was struggling for a living and desperately needed help?” the Hindu leader is asked. He has no credible answer and doesn’t care to search for one either. That the majority community’s bigots are hateful not just towards the minorities but also towards its own moderates is evidenced by the harassment of the gentlemanly, scholarly Professor Shastri (Satish Alekar) early in the film. Elsewhere, a moderate Muslim leader is summarily brushed aside by the more rabid elements of his biraadari, once the situation heats up. We are never shown exactly who started the riots, who lit that first fire, the point being that it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.

Somewhere in between is an inter-community love story destroyed by the bloodshed. Most of all though, the film renders a resounding slap in the face of self-appointed guardians of “Indian culture” who assume that this country comprises one homogeneous mass of people, ignoring the vast differences in rituals and social practices across India, within states, and even within the same caste or religious community.

Some scenes are deliberately stage-like, in particular the ones involving the late Hamid’s daughter Shabbo and her boyfriend Prashant, further underlining the absurdity of the goings-on around them. This boy, who refuses to believe in a world of “them” and “us”, seems to live forever in a trance-like state, inhabiting a parallel universe far removed from his fellow citizens’ ludicrous antics that lead to tragic results.

The camera never rests for too long on any one character. Make no mistake about this though: this is a solid cast drawing on Shafaat Khan’s disturbingly incisive writing and the director’s clarity of vision. The performances are all uniformly fitting in a film with no heroes or heroines, only real people. It’s particularly heartening to see little Apoorva Arora from that 2011 gem Bubble Gum, all grown-up and playing Shabbo.

DTD is particularly resonant because of its timing, coming as it does in the middle of one of India’s most significant and polarising elections so far. It compels us to ask ourselves how political leaders can claim that a riot was not their fault if it lasted for more than a few hours under their watch. It holds up a mirror to every section of society that causes or permits communal violence to happen, either due to apathy or by actively sparking a flame. The silent secularist, the opportunist and the bigot are all to blame. The old man who takes off his hearing aid to find his peace, the editor who headlines a rumour to increase his newspaper’s circulation and save his job, the policeman who stays equidistant for a while for fear of being accused of bias, the sword-wielding rioter…in one way or the other, each one is to blame. Take one of these elements away from the mix, and the madness can end.

I laughed and cried through Dekh Tamasha Dekh because I was embarrassed and ashamed of the fact that every bit of stupidity and cruelty and insensitivity portrayed in it is true of today’s India. This is a film that should be compulsory viewing in social science classes across the country.

Rating (out of five stars): ****

CBFC Rating (India):

A
Running time:
109 minutes

Poster and trailer courtesy: Everymedia PR
Trailer 2 (“Is every Indian a Hindu?”:
Trailer 3:
Trailer 4:

Friday, April 18, 2014

REVIEW 257: TWO STATES

Release date:
April 18, 2014
Director:
Abhishek Varman
Cast:


Language:

Alia Bhatt, Arjun Kapoor, Amrita Singh, Revathy, Ronit Roy, Shiv Kumar Subramaniam, Achint Kaur
Hindi with a bit of Tamil

Abhishek Varman’s 2 States is not so much a love story between Ananya Swaminathan and Krish Malhotra, as it is the tale of a young couple from differing cultural backgrounds wooing their respective families. It’s based on the book 2 States: The Story Of My Marriage by Chetan Bhagat. The film takes us from IIM-Ahmedabad where Ananya and Krish first meet, to their early professional lives and their struggles to get her happily married, traditional (though not painfully so) Tamilian mom and dad, his good-hearted but crude, all-Punjabi mother and estranged, alcoholic father to all get along. Why not avoid the trauma, run away and get married? Answer: because Ananya – an interesting mix of tradition and modernity – wants their parents to be present and happy at their wedding.

Those who have read 2 States know how it will end. Either way, it’s not the climax but the treatment of the journey that makes this an under-stated, uncommon mainstream romance. Five Point Someone, the only Chetan Bhagat book that I’ve read, led me to conclude this about the man: that his language is deplorably mediocre but there’s a kernel of common sense at the heart of what he’s saying, which can’t be ignored. In fact, FPS was a far more balanced assessment of the Indian education system than the more populist, everything’s-wrong-with-it approach adopted by Rajkumar Hirani’s much-acclaimed, hugely entertaining film adaptation, 3 Idiots. The feeling about Bhagat remains, now that I’ve seen the celluloid version of 2 States.

The film’s core strength is that while it revolves around cultural clashes, it does not resort to the irritating, sometimes nauseating community clichés that Bollywood usually favours. The Malhotras and Swaminathans are more like the Punjabis and Tamilians that I’ve had as neighbours, friends, colleagues and classmates all my life: yes there are social differences and specific characteristics, yet Ananya’s people are not oily-haired or cowardly, nor do you hear them say “Ayaiyyo every step of the way; and Krish’s relatives don’t break into Bhangra, get belligerent or say “O paappe” at the drop of a hat. More to the point, in the virtual lack of differences between Krish and Ananya when they’re outside home territory, we see the reality of so many city-bred Indians, rooted in their ethos yet citizens of the world, who would and could blend in wherever they go.

Varman’s writing speaks to us gently of the many reasons why Indian parents object when children pick their own life partners, even in 2014. Sometimes it’s societal pressure; sometimes caste and other narrow-minded considerations; sometimes a genuine worry about whether their beloved child can handle differing customs and find acceptance in her/his partner’s family; but most of the time (though political correctness holds us back from saying this often enough) it’s an ego hassle that leads them to object for the heck of objecting, like when Krish’s Mom assumes from the start that that damned “Madrasan” must have trapped her son, because Punjabis are so white that any southern Indian girl would be dying to get hitched to a Punj boy.

I can imagine people out there saying, “par Alia Bhatt Madrasan toh nahin dikhti hai,” for obvious reasons. Well, the varying shades of skin colour within both clans in this film is an unspoken message to those who are fixated on the differences in complexion of various communities in India, to those who assume that “sab Punjabi gorey hotey hai aur sab Madrasi kaaley hotey hai”, but most especially to those who think white is beautiful and black is ugly.

The proceedings unfold on screen in an unhurried manner, as though they are real-time events. The snuggling and coupling in the early part of the film is fluffy, fun and sweet (even if the portrayal of IIM-A is superficial and factually off the mark); the parivaar saga later on is moving and feels authentic. There’s humour throughout, low-key and not raucous. The measured tone must be credited to Namrata Rao’s editing complementing Varman’s direction and writing (he’s done the screenplay, with dialogues by Husain Dalal).

Of the songs created by Shankar Ehsaan Loy, none are as rousing as their best work in Dil Chahta Hai, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Bunty aur Babli, Salaam-e-Ishq and Rock On. Two numbers – Offo and Locha-e-Ulfat – are also positioned too close to each other within the film. However, the rest of the songs are blended well into the narrative and Mast Magan is really nice. 

Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor inhabit the characters of Ananya and Krish with a level of comfort that belies their lack of experience. He’s becoming more easy before the camera with each film; she’s got a natural talent for acting that was inexplicably left untapped in her debut film Student Of The Year. He’s got brooding eyes, and a manner about him that would make a woman want to protect him; she’s pretty and charming on screen. Together they manage to whip up some sparks in the rough and tumble of their bedsheets at IIM; and later, to convey to us the pain of their separation and family squabbles.

The supporting cast is excellent, headlined by Amrita Singh who seems to be sinking her teeth into her second innings in Bollywood. Here she is given the task of playing a Punjabi mother who is crude yet not the usual breast-beating, loud, over-the-top Punjaban played by Kirron Kher in a number of films (fun to watch at first, but repetitive after a point, for no fault of the actress). Singh rises to the challenge, delivering a delightfully nuanced performance, vastly different from her impressive evil turn in 2013’s Aurangzeb. Ronit Roy as her husband is just as striking. As a result, some of 2 States’ most powerful scenes are within the Malhotra home.

The lovely Revathy and Shiv Kumar Subramaniam play Ananya’s parents who are poorly fleshed out in comparison. This is the film’s major failing: that we find ourselves involved with the Malhotras whereas the Swaminathans remain distant figures. The relationship between Krish and his mother in particular has both depth and detail, far more even than the relationship between Krish and Ananya. Mr and Mrs Swaminathan, on the other hand, are given short shrift.

The defence could be that this is a story told from Krish’s point of view. Still, when a film is called 2 States, you want to know equally about both states, not just one. I was also disturbed by the “dil ka buraa nahin hai” attitude that surfaces in the end towards the emotionally abusive Mr Malhotra whose presence usually hints at a threat of physical violence. Worrisome, because this is the line almost always taken to condone physically abusive husbands.

The screenplay has some rough edges that required more work. For instance, the narrative device of getting the hero to recount the story from a psychiatrist’s couch doesn’t serve any particular purpose, and a back-and-forth in time at one point gets confusing. A straightforward narration would have just made more sense. Early on in the film, the exceedingly bright Ananya who is an Economics topper at the graduation level, seems inexplicably clueless about Economics theories in her IIM class. Why? Possibly in a bow to Chetan Bhagat who would have been in IIM-A in the early 1990s, Krish is shown working on a manual typewriter – except that the film is set in today’s India where this dated device in the hands of a 20-something Delhi boy who is an IIM student seems ludicrous.

That being said, 2 States is moody, low-key, pleasant yet steeped in the idiosyncracies that mark relationships even in contemporary, seemingly forward-thinking India. It revolves around a likeable lead pair, and is unusual in tenor as Bollywood romances go. With all its flaws, it touches the heart and had me rooting for Ananya and Krish to end up together. When that happens in a film, you know it’s worked.

Rating (out of five stars): ***

CBFC Rating (India):

U/A
Running time:
149 minutes

Photograph courtesy: Everymedia PR