Tuesday, September 29, 2015


(This is the English version of an article published on BBC Hindi on September 22, 2015)


The Central government’s unrelenting propaganda against FTII’s striking students and the institution itself hints at a goal that goes beyond ending the current impasse

By Anna MM Vetticad

(Above) A still from this year's Bollywood hit Badlapur starring Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, directed by FTII alumnus Sriram Raghavan who is from the institute's 1987 batch; and (below) Malayalam film actor Vinay Forrt who passed out of FTII in 2009 

This week the Central Government is expected to begin “unconditional talks” aimed at ending the strike at Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). About time too. In the 100-plus days since protests began against the Centre’s appointments to the prestigious institution – including actor Gajendra Chauhan as FTII Society president – the sarkar has run a blatant misinformation campaign against the striking students.

Apart from being embarrassed by the strike, the government’s antagonism could be attributed to the ruling BJP’s conviction that FTII is a bastion of Communists. The party insists that students would have objected irrespective of who this government had chosen. Facts indicate otherwise. When actor and BJP MP Vinod Khanna helmed the institute under the previous BJP-led government, students did not question his appointment. His acceptability came from his eminence in the field of cinema.

Interestingly, government propaganda is also being directed at FTII per se, with the repeated suggestion that it has not produced noteworthy alumni for many decades. Chauhan himself has been widely quoted as saying: “Barring Rajkumar Hirani, the institute has not produced any important artiste.”

In reality, FTII has churned out numerous luminaries. Hirani’s batchmate from 1987, Sriram Raghavan, directed this year’s Hindi hit Badlapur starring Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. In theatres now is the Malayalam hit Premam with which actor Vinay Forrt, from the institute’s 2009 batch, has audiences rolling in the aisles laughing. 2014’s National and international award-winning Marathi film Killa is directed by Avinash Arun, who passed out in 2011, and written by fellow FTII-ian  Tushar Paranjpe. The list is endless.

While the government is right in pointing out that the institute is battling major systemic problems (a matter that students themselves have been raising for long), it is insidiously misleading the public about the track record of the institute’s alumni.

A possible motive for this propaganda has been emerging from mainstream and social media commentary by prominent pro-BJP voices. One columnist asked the party to “yank central funding” from FTII and “create a new institution manned by the right kind of academics and intellectuals… friendly to its way of thinking”.

Another alleged that annual government expenditure per student is Rs 13 lakh, four times the amount spent on a student at the Indian Institute of Technology. The figure has since been proved dubious by an RTI application filed by a student, the response to which shows that institute expenses unrelated to the students are being attributed to them (such as a film appreciation course for outsiders, a contest for film schools across India and a contribution to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund).

FTII’s Students’ Association alleged in a press release that during a dialogue on July 3, I&B Minister Arun Jaitley indicated that if they did not end their strike, they could face “shut down and eventual privatisation.” The Ministry has denied this, but film personalities present at the meeting back the students’ version.
Was privatisation on the agenda in June when Chauhan was annointed? After all, a respected artist is unlikely to be as pliable as a non-entity entirely beholden to his sarkari bosses for the post. Besides, most heavyweights might avoid supporting a proposal that has been decried by students and many in the film industry in the past.

The widespread support for the ongoing strike would make it hard for the Ministry to openly propose privatisation for a while now… unless of course it succeeds in convincing tax-payers that the striking students are a talentless, expensive burden on the exchequer and that investment in the future of Indian cinema is a waste of public money.

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

Link to original column in Hindi:

Photographs courtesy: 

Note: These photographs were not sourced from bbchindi.com

Related article by Anna MM Vetticad: “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” published in The Hindu Businessline

Friday, September 25, 2015


Release date:
September 25, 2015
Madhur Bhandarkar

Akanksha Puri, Avani Modi, Kyra Dutt, Ruhi Singh, Satarupa Pyne, Madhur Bhandarkar

It feels sad to write this review. Was this film really made by the man who gave us Chandni Bar, Page 3, Corporate and Fashion?

No doubt the concept of writer-director-producer Madhur Bhandarkar’s Calendar Girls is worth expanding into a full-fledged film. This, however, is not that film. This story has a been-there-seen-that feel to it – a whiff of Page 3, a dash of Corporate, a sprinkling of Fashion all chucked into poorly fleshed out scenarios. No new insights. No new perspective. And plain tacky.

If good writing is the cornerstone of a good film, then Calendar Girls is on the verge of collapse from its opening scene. The dialogues are of embarrassingly bad quality, most are heavy-handed, many mix Hindi with awkwardly handled English, and too many try too hard to sound clever.

The over-smartness is irritating. Such as when a photographer tells a bunch of models: Each of you must do something for me now that every model has to do for me the night before a shoot. Cut to the girls, all taken aback at what they assume – as we are no doubt expected to assume too – is a blatant request for sex. The music changes to reflect their fears. Grim silence follows, during which I could picture the writer visualising viewers thinking, “Oh, he wants to sleep with them.” At last the lensman speaks up, asking an offensive but different question. Dan ta tan!

Combine this mediocre writing with lousy casting and what you get is a non-starter, not a film.

Were Calendar Girls’ five female leads really picked by the man whose heroines so far have included Tabu, Konkona Sensharma, Priyanka Chopra and Bipasha Basu?

Here we get Akanksha Puri as aspiring model Nandita Menon from Hyderabad, Avani Modi as London-based Pakistani girl Nazneen Malik, Kyra Dutt in the role of Sharon Pinto from Goa, Ruhi Singh as Mayuri Chauhan from Rohtak and Satarupa Pyne as Paroma Ghosh from Kolkata. The five do not have as much charisma collectively as Tabu, Konkona, Priyanka or Bipasha possess in one little toe. Avani in particular cannot act and her personality is completely unsuited to the itsy-bitsy Westernwear that is the ladies’ wardrobe almost throughout the film.

Kyra and Satarupa hold out some hope. Kyra acts better than the others, but she either gained weight half way through the film or is poorly served by the clothes and camera – I can’t be sure which. Satarupa fits the glamour girl mould better than the rest, but needs to work on her acting. All five – especially Akanksha, Avani and Satarupa – suffer greatly from the combined assault of over-done make-up and poor lighting that highlights rather than camouflages their pancake.

The story is about five women from diverse backgrounds selected to feature in a high-profile, high-glam corporate calendar, clearly drawing on Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Calendar. This is their big break. The film is about the hurdles they face in tinseltown and how they get past them.

The point being made by Calendar Girls is this: that though films and modelling are life-suckingly challenging, you don’t necessarily have to sleep around to make it as is assumed by the public. Now if only this point was being made in a more polished, less exploitative film.

Madhur’s last two ventures – Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji and Heroine – were certainly problematic, but any objections to them are dwarfed by the aura given off by Calendar Girls that he had a low budget here and/or that he made this as a quickie while waiting for his next project to take off.

Nothing else can explain the all-pervading sloppiness of the film. Take for instance the titular calendar. The Kingfisher Calendar is an exclusive product that is gifted to a select few people, but the calendar in this film is shown hanging sadly at cheap eateries in Mumbai.

Elsewhere, at an agitation against Pakistanis, the protestors include men in skullcaps and women in burqas. Was a profound point about secularism being made here? If yes, it was lost on me.

A woman is told by her dad-in-law that her husband’s serial infidelity is a family “parampara”. She is heart-broken. Without any evidence given of a progression of feelings, we are later given a passing shot of the same woman, pregnant and being mollycoddled by that same husband. Had she accepted the “parampara?” Or had hubby turned over a new leaf? No idea.

Get get get Idea. Go go go go, get Idea. Aha ah ah, get Idea.

Don’t mind me. I got so sleepy revisiting this film for my review that I sang Idea Cellular’s ad jingle to wake myself up. Now seriously… Calendar Girls lacks attention to detail. For instance, TV anchors do not walk away from the camera the second they utter the last word on a show; they pause briefly to be sure they’re done. You wouldn’t learn that though if you were to take tips from a character in this film who is an anchor. Nitpicking, you say? No, demanding finesse.

Filmein toh bahut banti hai, par film wahi hota hai jo release hoti hai (many films get made but a film is truly a film only if it is released), says a character in Calendar Girls to a starlet.

Here’s a thought: Filmein toh bahut banti hai, par kuchh filmein aisi hai jo release nahin honi chahiye. After Calendar Girls, it will take a lot for Madhur Bhandarkar to redeem himself.

Rating (out of five): ½ (half a star)

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
132 minutes

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


(This interview by Anna MM Vetticad first appeared in The New Indian Express on September 25, 2011.)
HEADLINE: “I can’t keep doing performance-oriented roles like Jab We Met

HEADLINE: “Having something substantial in a Salman Khan film – that hasn’t happened to any actress in the last five years!”
Kareena Kapoor’s friends say that her famed lack of diplomacy has been tempered by her relationship with Saif. Fortunately her frankness remains intact, as Consulting Editor Anna M.M. Vetticad found during this interview:
How did you get involved in Bodyguard?
When Salman saw the original film, I think the first thing that he told his sister was, if we’re making this movie I want Kareena to play this character. When I watched the original Malayalam film I loved the girl’s role. Having something substantial in a Salman Khan film – that hasn’t happened to any actress in the last five years!
So it’s important to you that your role should be substantial?
Absolutely. Golmaal 3 had so many male characters but I was very sure that the female lead has to be the focus. After a decade in the industry, the most important thing for me is that I must have an equal role to the male in my movies.
Is it easy to find substantial roles as an actress?
Not when you constantly focus on the fact that you want performance-oriented roles. And I don’t mean to sound stand-offish or cocky but the fact is that you’re offered work on the basis of your talent, because ultimately you have to act, you know.
Have you interpreted your role differently from the way Nayantara did in the Malayalam Bodyguard?
The Malayalam film was made for the south Indian palate. We’ve tweaked it for northern audiences.
What is the difference between the southern and northern palate?
People here like to see action with a bit of the typical Salman comedy. All that has to be incorporated into a Salman film. The treatment of our films is different to what the south does. Though I feel some of the south Indian scripts are fantastic, they’re ahead of their times, especially Malayalam. They’re better than our Bollywood films.
You watch a lot of Malayalam cinema?
I don’t, but I’ve seen a few films of Priyan (Priyadarshan) and Siddique has told me about films he’s written. Their ideas are ahead, they’re forthright. It’s more interesting than what we guys come up with.
How was the response to the Hindi Bodyguard in southern India?
No Indian film has had the kind of collections that Bodyguard has had in south India.
No Indian film or no Hindi film?
I mean no Hindi film has got the collections that Bodyguard has got in certain places in south India.
Have you ever been offered roles in southern films?
Yes. But I have a thing that when I don’t understand the language, I don’t think I’ll be able to perform my character. So I’ve constantly stayed away from languages that I don’t understand.
The position of women in Bollywood was better in the black and white days than it has been since the 1970s. Are we returning to a phase when heroines will have more longevity than in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s?
I think so. It’s also on the basis of talent and how you look. Yes there is a longer innings for women of this generation for sure.
After a long time we’ve had someone like Aishwarya who did not slow down on her career post-marriage. Since the 1990s it’s been assumed that if an actress got married she’d slow down for 5/10 years, then maybe come back. Do you think Aishwarya’s career track has opened doors for younger heroines like you?
I completely come from this school of thought, the Meryl Streep school where your talent will take you places. If you can work for 25 years and still do Bridges of Madison County and The Devil Wears Prada, then why not? I hope our cinema will be like that some day.
Has your attitude towards marriage changed? I remember you once saying in an interview, “I won’t be one of those actresses who gets married and still continues acting” and “what’s the point of getting married if you do that?”
When I am married I want to give more time to family and to the person I love. I think I can manage. I mean I’m the only actress in the last decade who has balanced her professional and personal life. I’ve managed beautifully till now, touchwood. I am absolutely proud of the fact that I clearly do have a life apart from films. I sleep, breathe, eat films when I am on set, but I enjoy a life apart from this. My passion is films, but I am also passionate about love, so I balance both and I want to continue doing so forever.
You think you are the only actress of your generation who has managed to balance her personal and professional life?
Not everybody is open about a relationship. I don’t know of any actress who has ever said, I am going out and I do have a personal life, the way me and Saif are. For some strange reason nobody likes to be as public as we’ve been. For me love is a celebration and I would want everyone to know when I am in love because there is nothing wrong in it.
Salman is on a high right now, but Shah Rukh has not had a release for 19 months and in between he did a TV show that didn’t do well. Any concerns on that front?
These things keep changing from Friday to Friday. Somebody’s film will work on a particular Friday and somebody else’s will not, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are superstars.
Why didn’t you accept Heroine when you were first approached for it?
I was busy.
Was it not because you couldn’t agree on the money?
I didn’t reach that stage. I was shooting five movies together, so it was impossible to do the movie at that point.
Did it have anything to do with disagreements over the script?
Not at all.
You were approached again after Aishwarya was dropped from it. She’s Abhishek’s wife and Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter-in-law. Since there’s a very small pool of talent in the industry, do actors need to worry about such things?
I said yes to the movie on the basis of the script. What happened is not my concern. I hope actors sign movies on the basis of their script – that’s what I do. There are movies that I haven’t done that somebody else has done, how does that matter? We’re here to do our work, not to hold hands and sing in the park.
But there’s a difference between Heroine and films that you have not done which others have accepted in the past. The parting of ways with Aishwarya was very public and unpleasant. Are you not worried that your acceptance of this role will affect your relationship with Aishwarya, Abhishek or Amitabh Bachchan?
I don’t see it in that light at all. It’s quite shocking that people would think that. They have their own life, and the Kapoors have the deepest and utmost regard and respect for the Bachchans and vice versa, so this is not something that has crossed my mind for a minute.
Is a film like Jab We Met more creatively satisfying than a Bodyguard?
Yeah, of course but we must balance every kind of film. It just so happened that Shah Rukh, Salman, Aamir, Saif all happened to want me in their movies in one particular year. And I can’t keep doing performance-oriented roles like Jab We Met. I must balance the small films, the big films, do a mix of everything.
Is it infuriating that when films fare brilliantly at the box office, the industry and the country as a whole tend to credit the success primarily to the hero?
India and our industry in particular are male dominated, but with me there’s always been an exception. Bodyguard, for instance, will always be a Salman Khan-Kareena Kapoor film because the girl had such a strong character. It wasn’t just that I was showing up in the songs. I would never want to do that.
(Anna M.M. Vetticad is on Twitter as @annavetticad)

Related link: Kareena Kapoor profile
Photograph courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/BBThisEid

Note: This photograph was not sourced from The New Indian Express