Sunday, September 28, 2014


Release date:
September 26, 2014
Manish Harishankar


Soha Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, Harsh Mayar, Seema Biswas, Mukesh Tiwari

The road to cinematic hell is paved with good intentions, poor production values and mediocre writing. Chaarfutiya Chhokare is meant to be an expose on child sex trafficking and the vulnerability of juveniles at the hands of veteran gangsters. At a time when India’s juvenile justice system is being widely debated in the national media, this could have been an important catalyst for further discussions. However, it is so poorly conceived and so tackily executed, that far from generating a debate on the issues at hand, the film does not even merit a detailed review.

Soha Ali Khan plays Neha Malini, an NGO activist who wants to set up a school in a remote area in Bihar. Once there, she meets the deadly local criminal Lakkhan who dominates everyone and everything in that largely impoverished community. She also comes up against three little boys – the chaarfutiya chhokare of the title – who are being used as shooters by Lakkhan.

If you have friends in the NGO sector, you will know that those working in social milieus different from their own tend to make an effort to blend in with the crowd. In the case of women workers, that usually translates into wearing unobtrusive Indian clothes in a rural area such as this one. Yet here, Neha goes about her mission while togged out in stylishly casual Westernwear and driving a flashy SUV on deserted roads.

Let’s grant the film this concession: perhaps she is naïve and no one advised her to do otherwise. What though excuses Chaarfutiya Chhokare’s terrible presentation and lacklustre direction? What excuses a lazy screenplay in which, of the three gun-toting central characters, we get to know only one kid called Avdesh, while the other two hang around him as opinionless sidekicks without expressions or dialogues? In the middle of all this, the clarity in sound design comes as an unexpected plus in a film that is sub-par in every other technical department.

Soha is not the only known name in the cast. The usually reliable Zakir Hussain plays Lakkhan with an accent that sounds like it might be coming from the border of West Bengal and Bihar. Nothing wrong with that except that it’s inexplicable because it’s so vastly different from the way the rest of the village, including his own gang, speaks.

There are three other wonderful actors in this film, doing their best but rendered helpless by the pathetic quality that threatens to drown them: Seema Biswas playing Avdesh’s mother, Mukesh Tiwari as a slimy policeman and Harsh Mayar who plays Avdesh. Mayar is the remarkable child actor who won a National Award for his sparkling performance in I Am Kalam, which was released in theatres in 2011. It’s worrisome that just three years after he earned the national spotlight, he finds himself in a production so unworthy of his charisma and talent.

More worrisome is the fact that Chaarfutiya Chhokare thinks it can get away with making a casual mention of child marriage without even hinting at its own position on the matter. This is not a film. It’s a non-film.

Rating (out of five stars): -10 stars

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
119 minutes

Friday, September 26, 2014


Release date:
September 26, 2014
Anand Kumar


Jay Bhanushali, Akhil Kapur, Ashutosh Rana, Suneil Shetty, Tia Bajpai, Sasha Agha

Desi Kattey is the most unwittingly amusing film to emerge from Bollywood this year. Director Anand Kumar – who earlier made Delhii Heights (starring Neha Dhupia and Jimmy Sheirgill) and Zila Ghaziabad (with Sanjay Dutt, Viveik Oberoi and Arshad Warsi) – has come up with a film that’s a mish-mash of various themes explored by Bollywood over the years.

The opening credits suggest that Suneil Shetty and Ashutosh Rana are the film’s leading men. As if the thought of watching approximately two-and-a-half hours of Shetty-anna on screen is not intimidating enough, comes the realisation that the truth is even worse. In reality, Shetty and Rana play supporting characters. Desi Kattey’s actual heroes are TV’s Jay Bhanushali about whom we will speak later, and debutant Akhil Kapur who does the most comical take on “intense” we’ve seen in Bollywood in recent years.

Kapur glares. He glowers. He lowers his head and looks around menacingly. He dips his voice to do a poor imitation of a baritone. He does a drunken rant that’s so bad, it’s good. And when he looks lovingly at his girlfriend/wife, it appears like he’s leering more than Prem Chopra, Sadashiv Amrapurkar and Ranjeet rolled in one. Media reports will tell you he is the nephew of veteran Vinod Khanna. After watching the film I googled him and discovered from an interview that he thinks he was “in Tony Montana mode from Scarface” throughout this film. Umm. I can visualise Al Pacino watching Desi Kattey and voluntarily entering a grave just so that he could turn in it in protest. I, for one, fell off my chair laughing at the reference. Picked myself up off the floor to write this review.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this young actor will be better with better guidance in a better-written film. This one’s too cliched for anyone’s good, even while failing miserably in its attempt to be a Ram Gopal Varma film. At first it seems like it is about inseparable friends who are like brothers, the legendary Hindi film chaddi buddies, orphans who become hoodlums. Oh boy, how many of those have we seen! In this thread, two child actors grow up to be Bhanushali and Kapur playing the characters Gyani and Pali. The boys go to work for the UP gangster-turned-politician Harishankar Tripathi (Rana). At some point it becomes a film about second chances, with the entry of Shetty who plays an ex-Army Major with an air of mystery about him that leads to nothing, and a contrived backstory about corruption allegations that destroyed his career as a champion shooter, I didn’t understand how and why. Of course there’s a romantic element in this sea of triteness: Bhanushali is paired with Sasha Agha, Kapur opposite a perennially mournful-looking Tia Bajpai. And towards the end, Desi Kattey turns into a thriller with a hilarious twist that suggests Pakistan’s involvement in some inexplicable scheme to shame India, by which point I didn’t care enough to make the effort to understand how or why.

It doesn’t feel like a screenplay as much as a desperate attempt at a complex story, with random elements chucked in to spice up the bland proceedings. Hey, it’s too sour, throw in some salt. Too much salt? Add more tomatoes. You get the picture? Good for you, because I watched the entire film and I still haven’t got the picture. Here are some important points to be noted though:

·     * Don’t be misled by the fact that the music is by the usually wonderful Kailash Kher. Except for one nice-though-not-distinctive song that he leads with, the rest are a bore.

·      * Ashutosh Rana is the one bright spark in this disaster. However, he needs to get past his penchant for speaking shuddh, clear, concise Hindi in his trademark fashion, irrespective of what character he’s playing.

·     * Salma Agha’s daughter Sasha Agha in this film is a good example of what indifferent direction and poor written material can do to a promising actor. She was truly interesting when she made her Bollywood debut in a small role in Aurangzeb last year. Here she’s just a sideshow with painted claws that change colour in every scene, that’s all.

·      * On the positive side, Jay Bhanushali, who was laughably lacklustre in his debut Hindi film Hate Story 2 earlier this year, shows some potential here. In that film, he was being paraded about by a director who clearly found him hot. He’s not strutting around in Desi Kattey, which shows him up as a rather attractive guy who is not such a bad actor after all. It’s his good luck that he’s up against Akhil Kapur and Suneil Shetty, who could make boulders look like better performers.

·    * In a weird quirk that harks back to Bollywood of the 1990s and before, in all this film’s romantic scenes, for some reason lovers’ lips always stop short of meeting.

·      * Desi Kattey should be played at medical schools for that one killer scene in which a doc with a brain monitoring contraption of some sort gravely points to graphs showing what we are told was Gyani’s “state of mind” while he achieved various shooting scores.  

Okay, my apologies, but I can’t continue this review. I just fell off my chair again, and I’m finding it hard to type from the floor.

Rating (out of five stars): ½ star

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
143 minutes

Sunday, September 21, 2014



Most inter-community romances in Hindi cinema feature a Hindu man with a woman from a minority community. Is this a coincidence? Or closet patriarchal-communalism at work?

He’s not known for making cinematic references. The past month, though, has been an exception for Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav. Taking a potshot at the Sangh Parivar’s ‘love jihad’ campaign, Yadav asked at a public function whether Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP and Bollywood actress Hema Malini was promoting ‘love jihad’ through the Indian-Afghan romance in her film Dharmatma (1975).

Is ‘love jihad’ actually happening? Let’s set aside that question for the moment to examine Yadav’s misplaced choice of film. Statements from the Sangh Parivar and from BJP leaders, in particular, define ‘love jihad’ as a conspiracy to lure Hindu women to Islam by getting Muslim men to feign love for them. In Dharmatma though, it was the man (played by Feroz Khan) who was a Hindu.

Yadav would be hard-pressed to find the reverse happening in any Bollywood film. For the truth is, most fictional inter-community romances in Hindi cinema have featured a Hindu man with a woman from a minority community. Is this a coincidence or closet patriarchal-communalism at work?

The answer comes from real life. Those who speak of ‘love jihad’ always speak in terms of Hindu women (in some cases, Christian and Sikh women) being drawn to Muslim men. Why isn’t a gender reversal regarded as equally worrisome? Primarily because of our society’s deeply patriarchal notions of identity and religion, where a bride ‘leaves’ her family and — in the case of a mixed marriage — even her community, to adopt her husband’s name, faith and people. The resultant loss of a woman to another religious group, especially a much-hated one, wounds the community ego. For people who count the numbers in their fold too, it means a loss because she and her womb (for that is all a woman is worth to some people) are automatically assumed to now belong to the ‘other’. With prevailing proprietorial attitudes, a woman’s ability to choose a partner is considered questionable; her right to choose her partner or her religion is ignored. 

In the real world, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians find themselves on the same side of this battle, possibly because (let’s not mince words here) a majority of them view Muslims with fear and even greater suspicion than they view each other. Hindi filmmakers, however, seem focused on offering reassurances to their Hindu audience alone while telling inter-community romantic tales.

Nearly 30 years after Dharmatma, Yash Chopra’s Veer-Zaara (2004) narrated the story of the Hindu Indian boy Veer Pratap Singh (Shah Rukh Khan) and the Pakistani Muslim girl Zaara Haayat Khan (Preity Zinta). Couched in fluttering chiffons was the fact that Zaara moves to India, where the lovers are ultimately re-united. The film was a box-office success, and it’s hard not to wonder how most Indian viewers would have reacted to a mainstream commercial film in which an Indian Hindu girl moves to Pakistan for her Muslim lover.

The Hindu-boy-Muslim-girl liaison was a constant in Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995), not a Bollywood film but dubbed from Tamil, Shaad Ali’s Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007), Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya (2007), Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade (2012) and pretty much every fictitious Hindu-Muslim romance that comes to mind.

Not for a moment is this column suggesting that these directors are communal. Evidently though, they are playing it safe to cater to the overt or covert, conscious or subconscious, perceived or real patriarchal-communalism of majority community members in the audience. Clearly, most Hindi filmmakers consider a Muslim-boy-Hindu-girl romance too hot to handle. When they do portray inter-community romances, they opt for subtle populism, reassuring communal viewers — and even non-communal ones weighed down by subconscious prejudices and fears — that they need not worry: ‘our girl’ is not lost to ‘them’; instead ‘their girl’ has come over to ‘us’.

Rensil D’silva’s Kurbaan (2009) was uncommon and seemingly revolutionary in this regard since Kareena Kapoor played a Hindu girl who falls in love with a Muslim (Saif Ali Khan) in the film. Kurbaan even featured a wonderfully frank conversation between the girl’s father and the boy regarding the old man’s reservations about his daughter marrying a Muslim. The scene brought into the open the actual concerns such liaisons would invite in most Indian families. And then Saif’s character turns out to be a terrorist. If you view the film in isolation, that’s perfectly acceptable. If you look at it in the context of Bollywood’s track record in this matter, you will see why the writer here deemed it acceptable — even necessary — to make an exception in this film, and make the woman the Hindu partner in the relationship for a change. 

Hindu-Christian Bollywood romances are as rare as Hindu-Muslim affairs, but these too have stuck to a formula: Hindu – hero, Christian – heroine. Think Bobby (1973), Julie (1975), Ankhiyon ke Jharokon Se (1978) or, more recently, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani (2009), Cocktail (2012) and Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012).

It would be easy to pretend that this trend is a mere coincidence, or to cite exceptions to counter the argument being made, or to accuse columnists of a cynical over-analysis of innocent entertainment. Let’s not be naïve or lie to ourselves, please. Bollywood and its viewers would do well to introspect about the patriarchal-communalism evident in these ‘coincidences’. The last thing this country needs is for its film industries to unwittingly support off-screen bigots.

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

(This column by Anna M.M. Vetticad was published in The Hindu Businessline newspaper on September 6, 2014)