Features – BollySpice.com http://bollyspice.com The latest movies, interviews in Bollywood Tue, 26 Jul 2016 09:00:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.3 LIFF SPECIAL REVIEW: Toba Tek Singh http://bollyspice.com/liff-special-review-toba-tek-singh/ Sun, 24 Jul 2016 18:50:27 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=126275 Saadat Hassan (Vinay Pathak, whose character’s name serves as a nod to the author who wrote the story the film is based on) arrives at the Lahore Mental Hospital in 1947, just prior to Partition and the subsequent independence of India and Pakistan. He serves both as a narrator of events outside the hospital, and a witness to events inside it. Ketan Mehta (perhaps best known for Mirch Masala and Bhavni Bhavai)’s film is an adaptation of Saadat Hassan Manto’s short story, “Toba Tek Singh”, which deals with the exchange of the patients of a mental institution several years after

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tobateksinghSaadat Hassan (Vinay Pathak, whose character’s name serves as a nod to the author who wrote the story the film is based on) arrives at the Lahore Mental Hospital in 1947, just prior to Partition and the subsequent independence of India and Pakistan. He serves both as a narrator of events outside the hospital, and a witness to events inside it.

Ketan Mehta (perhaps best known for Mirch Masala and Bhavni Bhavai)’s film is an adaptation of Saadat Hassan Manto’s short story, “Toba Tek Singh”, which deals with the exchange of the patients of a mental institution several years after Partition. The Lahore Mental Hospital’s most curious inmate is Bishan Singh (Pankaj Kapur), a man who never sits, never lies down, and who, it is said, has not slept for ten years. Bishan Singh, generally quiet, does, nevertheless, have a bit of nonsense that he babbles every so often, and his babbling generally ends with the question, “Where is Toba Tek Singh?” This results in the other inmates and the hospital staff generally referring to him as Toba Tek Singh, after the place where he is from.

Manto’s story is, of course, a metaphor for the madness of Partition, and it requires us to ask the question: which is more mad, the world outside the lunatic asylum, a world that ripped families apart and resulted in incredible violence on a mass scale? Or the world within the asylum, which, despite its absurdities, at least seems to be a bit of a refuge for those who are there. In one very moving scene, a woman who was found at the train station is brought to the hospital. She has obviously been attacked and raped, and she is speechless and in shock. The inmates begin to ask about her religion: is she Muslim? Is she Sikh? Is she Hindu? “What does it matter?” is the answer – she’s a girl, and that’s all that matters.

On the day of the inmate exchange – the decision has been made that Muslim inmates will remain at the institution and Sikh and Hindu ones will be transferred to a hospital in India – Bishan Singh finally gets an answer to his constant and persistent question regarding the location of Toba Tek Singh. It’s in Pakistan, he’s told, causing him to become agitated and try to return to the Pakistani side of the border. Saadat Hassan has them leave him be while the exchange continues, with Bishan Singh standing on the small strip of no-man’s land between the barbed-wire fences that separate the two countries. At daybreak, Bishan Singh finally screeches his bit of gibberish one more time, and then falls down dead. Toba Tek Singh, it would seem, is a place that is neither here, nor there; neither in India, nor in Pakistan. It exists only in a place that no longer exists.

The film is anchored by two very fine performances: first, from the always reliable Vinay Pathak as the institution’s director, a gentle man who treats the inmate with utmost respect. He is moved by the events that overwhelm them all, even as he stands as a witness to them. Pankaj Kapur has very little dialogue beyond his bits of gibberish and his quest to find the location of Toba Tek Singh, but he manages to express Bishan Singh’s confusion and agitation and loss of identity, while giving this madman some small shreds of dignity.

Manto’s story and Mehta’s film adaption are both incredibly moving testaments to the heartbreak of Partition – to the questions of identity and the scars they leave, and the utter absurdity of living in one country one day, and another the next, simply because someone drew a random line on a map. It is a fitting film to close the London Indian Film Festival 2016.

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The Documentaries of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy – LIFF Special Review http://bollyspice.com/documentaries-sharmeen-obaid-chinoy-liff-special-review/ Tue, 19 Jul 2016 07:08:02 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=126125 There is a bittersweet bit of irony at play in the fact that Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Academy-award winning short documentary film A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is on the schedule at LIFF2016. I watched it the same day I heard about the death of Pakistani internet sensation Qandeel Baloch (allegedly an honour killing at the hands of her brother). A Girl in the River traces the case of the attempted honour killing of a girl at the hands of her father and uncle. Each year, the film tells us, at least 1000 Pakistani women are killed

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A_Girl_in_the_RiverThere is a bittersweet bit of irony at play in the fact that Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Academy-award winning short documentary film A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is on the schedule at LIFF2016. I watched it the same day I heard about the death of Pakistani internet sensation Qandeel Baloch (allegedly an honour killing at the hands of her brother).

A Girl in the River traces the case of the attempted honour killing of a girl at the hands of her father and uncle. Each year, the film tells us, at least 1000 Pakistani women are killed by family members who deem that they have sullied the family “izzat” or honour in some way. Saba’s “crime” was to run away and marry – in fact, to marry the man that her own family had arranged her marriage with, a marriage they decided to break off when Saba’s uncle objected on grounds that the groom’s family status was below the level of that of the bride’s. Saba was shot, stuffed into a bag, and thrown in the river. That she managed to survive is a miracle in itself. That her father and uncle were clearly the perpetrators of the crime is obvious – they admit to their actions, justified, of course by Saba’s attack on their honour.

The film is a fascinating and heartbreaking look at a system which pits tradition against modernity, at varying interpretations of Islaam, and at community pressures which come into play – it turns out that in the cases of honour killings, perpetrators may be acquitted and released if close family members of the victim forgive them. Saba, having survived, must be the one to decide if she will forgive her father and uncle and allow them to go free.

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Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary feature Song of Lahore is about honour of a different kind. Lahore has been a major South Asian cultural centure for well over a thousand years. And the Pakistani film industry during the years that Zulfaqir Ali Bhutto was thriving, and providing work for many of Pakistan’s traditionally trained musicians. The military coup staged by General Zia in 1977 changed all that – and the establishment of sharia law and the increasing islamization of the state saw the decline and virtual destruction of the film industry and the musicians it employed. Song of Lahore traces the revival of this rich musical culture by looking at the musicians who were most affected by it, as they share their memories and their music with a younger generation who have no idea of what they have been denied.

One of the challenges of returning to the musical fold, of course, is that the destruction of the film industry also resulted in the destruction of the audience – and these musicians respond in the most creative way possible to begin to rebuild an audience, knowing that the younger generation is more interested in western beats and instruments. They decide to make their audience a global one, incorporation Western musical principles into their own traditional one, writing new compositions that speak to traditional lovers of music, as well as to a newer, global one.

The situation is not totally rosy, however; the musicians describe playing in soundproof rooms, in keeping their status as musicians from their neighbours, lest they be seen as low-lifes; their re-interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s jazz classic “Take Five” is tempered with the news that with the arrival of the Taliban in Pakistan, musicians are being targetted for reprisal – you only have to look at the most recent case, the shooting of Sufi singer Amjad Sabri last month, to understand that music in Pakistans remains a fragile, risky business.

Song of Lahore’s most fascinating moments, however, occur once the Sachal ensemble comes to the attention of jazz great Wynton Marsalis, who invites them to perform with his band in New York. The joys of being given such a great opporunity give way to the tensions of learning, and quickly, how to adapt to a Western working style – and to have Western musicians adapt to Pakistani ways of working, as well. The result is a remarkable concert experience, and, for the Sachal ensemble, a great feeling of honour.

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Jugni – LIFF Special Movie Review http://bollyspice.com/jugni-liff-special-movie-review/ Mon, 18 Jul 2016 06:00:10 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=126081 When Vibhavari (Sugandha Garg), an up-and-coming Bollywood music director, finds herself facing a creative block, she sets off for Punjab to meet and record folk singer Bibi Swaroop (Sadhana Singh).  She first meets Bibi’s son, Mastana (Siddhant Behl), a charming and personable local singer himself, who insists that Vibs must listen to him sing and record him.  In Mastana and his mother Bibi, Vibs finds the inspiration that has been escaping her.  It’s not surprising that Vibs and Mastana grow close – close enough to spend the night together, admittedly encouraged by not only their music, but also by a

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Jugni posterWhen Vibhavari (Sugandha Garg), an up-and-coming Bollywood music director, finds herself facing a creative block, she sets off for Punjab to meet and record folk singer Bibi Swaroop (Sadhana Singh).  She first meets Bibi’s son, Mastana (Siddhant Behl), a charming and personable local singer himself, who insists that Vibs must listen to him sing and record him.  In Mastana and his mother Bibi, Vibs finds the inspiration that has been escaping her.  It’s not surprising that Vibs and Mastana grow close – close enough to spend the night together, admittedly encouraged by not only their music, but also by a bottle of Gulabo (the country liquor that also featured inVishal Bhardwaj’s  Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola).  Mastana is mortified; Vibs sees it as something pure and natural, but, in the end, no big deal.

This, frankly, is one of several refreshing things about Shefali Bhushan’s film Jugni (literally a female firefly, but the word also refers to a kind of life essence, making it an incredibly apt title for a film that deals with music as a great life force for those creating as well as those listening) – there is no grand romance between our two leads, and, in fact, they both have partners (Preeto and Sid) with whom they share equally messy relationships.

The film is not without its flaws, however.  The story indulges in clichés (especially around the film world); performances are inconsistent.  There are moments where I feel like more direction was required, where actors should have been pulled back.  In a film where music takes the centre stage, it’s unfortunate that the actors are woefully inadequate at playback singing, making those moments seem awkward and forced.  There are, however, some cracking dialogues, and many of those are delivered deftly.  It’s too bad that both the story and its performances are uneven and sometimes downright clunky, because where Jugni is good, it’s very good and very entertaining, and when the performances work, they’re spot on.

Shefali Bhushan spent a number of years gathering folk sounds and folk music (she was the force behind the wonderful site Beat of India), so it’s no surprise that Jugni’s music director Clinton Cerejo’s music (with a little help from AR Rahman’s sufiana qalam) is the heart and soul of the film.  And probably my favourite sequence is the one in the opening credits, where we see Vibs wandering throughout Punjab, learning to play traditional instruments, and talking with the region’s singers – a region where, she is told, everyone is a singer.  Moments like those are when Jugni truly shines.

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Island City – LIFF Special Movie Review http://bollyspice.com/island-city-liff-special-movie-review/ Sun, 17 Jul 2016 07:20:00 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=126045 With Island City, director Ruchika Oberoi presents a tryptich of stories dealing with oppression and alienation in the modern island city of the title, Mumbai. In the first story, “Fun Committee”, Vinay Pathak is perfect as Suyash Chaturvedi, the corporate drone working at Systematic Statistics. The company’s Fun Committee has decided that the best way to combat declining productivity is to subject its employees to orderly, organized, obedient fun. Chaturvedi is taken to the mall in the company “Fun Van”, given an envelope of coupons, and a set of instructions that he is required to follow to maximize his fun.

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Island_CityWith Island City, director Ruchika Oberoi presents a tryptich of stories dealing with oppression and alienation in the modern island city of the title, Mumbai. In the first story, “Fun Committee”, Vinay Pathak is perfect as Suyash Chaturvedi, the corporate drone working at Systematic Statistics. The company’s Fun Committee has decided that the best way to combat declining productivity is to subject its employees to orderly, organized, obedient fun. Chaturvedi is taken to the mall in the company “Fun Van”, given an envelope of coupons, and a set of instructions that he is required to follow to maximize his fun. An accidental swap of coupons with a terrorist undergoing a similar experience has him mindlessly gathering the pieces of a rifle and putting them together, something he seems to find more engaging, at least, than gathering up pink teddy bears and riding the carousel in the mall.

“Fun Committee” is absurd and surreal and deliciously funny and dark at the same time – think of Jacques Tati crossed with Aki Kaurismäki. It’s a sharp send-up of everything wrong in the corporate world, and highly entertaining and thought-provoking.

In the second story, “The Ghost in the Machine”, a man lies on life support after being the victim of an odd office shooting, an event that allows his long-suffering wife (Amruta Subhash) a chance at managing the household on her own without his constant requirement of having her account for everything spent. She regains control of the family finances, goes back to work as a teacher, and her family begins to thrive and be happy, especially as they enjoy the latest serial on television (“Purushottam”, involving the tales of a perfect husband). Their joy at the recovery of their favourite perfect television husband is tempered by the sudden recovery of their overbearing husband and father, who is far from the model one seen in the popular serial. “Ghost in the Machine” uses the device of the television serial to parallel the experience of the real world family to great emotional effect.

In the film’s final story, “Contact”, a serious, quiet, young woman named Aarti (the always excellent Tannishtha Chatterjee), who works at a newspaper printing press, is engaged to Jignesh (Chandan Roy Sanyal), a foul-mouthed lout who appears to care more about his motorcycle than he does for her. “All this romance-shomance is rubbish,” he tells a buddy, happy that his future in-laws have arranged their marriage so he can concentrate on his business. Aarti suddenly begins receiving love letters from an admirer who seems to be the only person who truly understands her, and for the first time, hope blooms in her face. The truth of who her correspondent really is, however, manages to quash what little flame of joy that had been lit in her life.

Oberoi cleverly connects her three stories in ways that allow Island City to stand as a thematic whole. Her characters are dutiful, orderly, obedient; their lives leave little space for fun. And yet, as the film reveals, there are moments of hope, of love, of relief from the oppression of daily life in the Island City, though perhaps not enough to result in a completely fulfilling life.

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Moh Maya Money – LIFF Special Movie Review http://bollyspice.com/moh-maya-money-liff-special-movie-review/ Sat, 16 Jul 2016 09:00:04 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=125992 Moh Maya Money (“In Greed We Trust”) opens in the most explosive way possible, with a fiery car crash and a grieving widow.  “Why do you take so many risks?” Divya (Neha Dupia) asks her husband Aman (Ranvir Shorey).  Aman’s response is one many of us can understand:  he wants to be rich.  A real estate broker, he’s no stranger to fiddling timelines and skimming funds, but when a chance for a bigger deal comes along, he’s willing to take the risk when others advise him he should not.  “You don’t get to go to heaven unless you die,” he

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Moh Maya Money imagesMoh Maya Money (“In Greed We Trust”) opens in the most explosive way possible, with a fiery car crash and a grieving widow. 

“Why do you take so many risks?” Divya (Neha Dupia) asks her husband Aman (Ranvir Shorey).  Aman’s response is one many of us can understand:  he wants to be rich.  A real estate broker, he’s no stranger to fiddling timelines and skimming funds, but when a chance for a bigger deal comes along, he’s willing to take the risk when others advise him he should not.  “You don’t get to go to heaven unless you die,” he justifies.  Even the small-time real estate dealer and full-time thug, Raghuveer (Dev Chauhan), who Aman takes the deal to, wonders if Aman shouldn’t be nervous, but all Aman can think about is the multi-million dollar slice of the pie that will be his share.  “The client gets the cake,” he justifies, “but we get to enjoy the cream.”

It’s Aman’s greed, not surprisingly, that serves to set everything unravelling, though we see the first stitches begin to run before he even has a clue that things are coming undone.  The script sets Aman up like a bunch of dominos, and when the first one falls, we understand that it’s only a matter of time before they all come tumbling down, one by one.  The film doesn’t follow this predictable pattern, though, choosing to circle back in a non-linear timeline in order to give us different perspectives of the same scenes.  We know what has already happened – or we think we do, but the film adds layers to our understanding as it shifts back and forth in time, and every detail, no matter how small, has the potential to be of greater importance later on.  We learn, too, that Divya, a newsroom executive with a bright future, has secrets of her own to keep.

The film’s dialogues are crisp and clever, Munish Bhardwaj’s direction is meticulous, and all the performances are spot on.  Ranvir Shorey and Neha Dupia have always done their best work in independent films, and Moh Maya Money is no exception to this – Shorey takes Aman from cocky dealer to someone desperate enough to do anything to get out of the trap he’s found himself in, and Dupia is solid as his suffering wife who must reluctantly get involved in his white collar crime in order to save the both of them.  A special mention needs to be made of Oscar-winning Resul Pookutty’s sound design, which adds another layer to the film. But the real star of this film is the story itself, infused with Delhi noir and enough twists to keep us guessing until the very end.  Moh Maya Money is compelling viewing and a must-see at this year’s London Indian Film Festival.

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OTTAL – LIFF Special Movie Review http://bollyspice.com/ottal-liff-special-movie-review/ Fri, 15 Jul 2016 15:48:29 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=125933 Award-winning Malayalam director Jayaraj turned to an Anton Chekov short story, “Vanka”, to find the inspiration for his most recent film Ottaal (“The Trap”), proof that some themes transcend place and time. Eight-year-old Kuttappai (Ashanth K. Sha), orphaned after the death of his parents, is raised by his Vallyappachayi or grandfather (Kumarakaom Vasudevan, a fisherman in real life) in Kuttanad, in the backwaters of Kerala. Together they fish and raise ducks. The film’s most moving moments aren’t grand and dramatic, but flow out of the relationship between grandfather and grandson. Pointing out a bird’s nest to his grandfather results in

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OttaalAward-winning Malayalam director Jayaraj turned to an Anton Chekov short story, “Vanka”, to find the inspiration for his most recent film Ottaal (“The Trap”), proof that some themes transcend place and time.

Eight-year-old Kuttappai (Ashanth K. Sha), orphaned after the death of his parents, is raised by his Vallyappachayi or grandfather (Kumarakaom Vasudevan, a fisherman in real life) in Kuttanad, in the backwaters of Kerala. Together they fish and raise ducks.

The film’s most moving moments aren’t grand and dramatic, but flow out of the relationship between grandfather and grandson. Pointing out a bird’s nest to his grandfather results in a lesson about bird migration, but when Kuttappai wants to know what happens to the little birds with no parents, his grandfather is unable to answer him. But Vallyappachayi is more certain about which night-time stars are Kuttappai’s parents, reassuring the boy that they surely can see him running and playing. Kuttappai’s parents, it turns out, committed suicide after realizing they would be unable to pay back their debts. Kuttappai was given the poisoned food they ate, but was lucky enough to survive.

Kuttappai is a curious and sensitive boy, asking questions about everything he sees around him, giving his share of food to a local dog, helping out his rich friend Tinku by delivering pupa and tadpoles to school, and showing him lotuses that his grandfather makes into necklaces for the boys. He wants to go to school. His grandfather wants to send him, but can’t fathom how to do such a thing, when their life is so nomadic, drifting up and down the backwaters with the ducks.

When Vallyappachayi falls ill, decisions must be made about what will happen to Kuttappai. Vallyappachayi asks Tinku’s family to take the boy in, and Tinku’s mother wonders if the boy could be a companion to Tinku, while also helping them out with their houseboat and home stay business, but her husband (who already finds the “duck boy” an unsuitable friend for his son) refuses, on the grounds that it could be considered child labour. He is, however, more concerned with what would happen to them, than what will happen to Kuttappai, though. When all options run out, Vallyappachayi has no choice but to give in to Mesthiri (Shine Tom Chacko), a local duck boss who thinks children like Kuttappai should be working anyway. Under the pretense of being sent to a faraway school, Kuttappai is sent to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu to work in a fireworks factory.
Ottaal
Ottaal manages to reveal the devastation of child labour without actually having to show much of it in the film – instead, director Jayaraj focuses on the relationship between grandfather and grandson, showing us that despite the loss of his parents, Kuttappai thrives with the love and care of his Vallyappachayi. The two share stories that Kuttappai reads from a book borrowed from Tinku, and Kuttappai loves both to tease his grandfather, and learn about the natural world of the backwaters from him. This loss, of a nurturing presence and the innocence of childhood, more than anything, underpins the emotional weight of the film and its message.

I’ve seen Ottaal several times since it was first released, and this is the first time I’ve reviewed it. The film packs such an emotional punch that I’ve been left speechless each time, and even now, I feel the inadequacy of words to describe the power of this film. So many moments stick with me: the look on Mesthiri’s face when Vallyappachayi asks him if Kuttappai will be well cared for; the uneasy look on Tinku’s mother’s face when told that Kuttappai is going away to school; Kuttappai twisting his grandfather’s moustache and giving him a kiss; Kuttappai’s joy at the thought of going away to learn, and his sorrow at leaving his beloved Vallyappachayi, his cries covered by the sound of his grandfather’s paddle hitting the water as he rows faster and faster in this unbearable moment of separation; Kuttappai’s letter to his Vallyappachayi, a desperate plea to be liberated from the trap he’s fallen into. For children like Kuttappai, learning how to live comes much too soon.

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Cinemawala – LIFF Special Movie Review http://bollyspice.com/cinemawala-liff-special-movie-review/ Fri, 15 Jul 2016 13:00:47 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=125912 If I were asked about the one sound in the world I love, hands down the answer would be the whirring of a film projector.  In this day and age, when digital is king, I still remember the joys of watching films at my uncle’s house, the whirr of the projector, the dancing of dust in the light in front of the lens and – joy – the ability to send the thing into reverse, which gave us countless hours of silly pleasure.   I still remember the excitement of learning how to use the projector myself, a skill that I’m

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CinemawalaIf I were asked about the one sound in the world I love, hands down the answer would be the whirring of a film projector.  In this day and age, when digital is king, I still remember the joys of watching films at my uncle’s house, the whirr of the projector, the dancing of dust in the light in front of the lens and – joy – the ability to send the thing into reverse, which gave us countless hours of silly pleasure.   I still remember the excitement of learning how to use the projector myself, a skill that I’m sure has grown rusty as I’ve enjoyed a world of media streamed right to my computer.

The changing nature of the film business in India acts as a catalyst to explore the relationship between a father and a son in Bengali director Kaushik Ganguly’s latest film, Cinemawala.  Pranabendu Das (Paran Bandopadhyay in a wonderfully subtle performance) sees himself as a true “cinemawala”, a film exhibitor, a grand merchant of hope and passion of dreams that will allow people to forget the troubles of the world as well as their own.  He is ashamed of his son Prakash (Parambrata Chatterjee), who sells pirated DVDs, an illegal business that his father finds both immoral and a desecration of everything he holds dear.  His son is a thief, and his thievery is causing the decline of cinema halls, of a beautiful world that allowed people to forget their problems.

Pranabendu Das lives in the past:  his world is the one of India post-Independence, post-partition, when people needed distractions to lighten the burdens the world placed on them.  His is a world filled with stories of Supriya Devi and Uttam Kumar – especially of Uttam Kumar, whom he calls the prince of fairy tales.  His son’s world is whatever people want to buy – usually the latest Dev or Jeet film on DVD.  The irony, of course, is that Pranabendu compares cinema to alcohol, allowing people to forget their pains and sorrows, but he drowns his own sorrows at the disappearance of his kind of cinema world in a bottle of rum, each glass prepared by his projectionist Hari (Arun Guhathakurta), who sits and listens to his ramblings and tries to take care of him now that he no longer has films to project.

Frustrated by his father’s judgement of him, Prakash decides to use a gold bracelet given to him by his mother Kamalini (Aloknanda Ray), for whom the family cinema hall is named, to buy a DVD projector in order to show movies at the local fair, and it’s a decision that serves to bring the relationship between father and son to a confrontation.  Prakash refuses to work in the fish wholesale business anymore, calling his father a fisherman, which the old man sees as the ultimate insult – not because the work itself is demeaning, but because he sees it as Prakash’s rejection of the one bit of honourable employment he has, in favour of something illegal.  “No business is demeaning, if it is truthful,” Pranabendu tells his son, asking him how he will justify what he does to his own child, already on the way.

Judging which of these worlds is better – old or new – is not as simple as it seems.  Pranabendu raises a temple, in which cinema resides, but he is estranged from his family – his wife, Kamalini, for whom the cinema hall is named, has left him; though his son and daughter-in-law live with him, the relationship is anything but warm (though the long-suffering Mou clearly cares for her father-in-law, she is caught between father and son).  “Now that you have a family,” Kamalini tells her son upon learning that her daughter-in-law is pregnant, “give it time.  Don’t make a Taj Mahal in her name and then forget her.”

Ganguly’s films, especially Shabdo and Chotoder Chobi, have marked him as a filmmaker willing to explore the stories of marginalized professions and communities, and Cinemawala is no exception.  But Cinemawala, perhaps, is a film that represents the concerns of a modern, globalized world and the society and moral values it is struggling to replace.  Ganguly asks not only what it means to be a cinemawala in this age; but what it means to be a human being?  What things will we place value on?  What choices will we make, morally, socially?  Are there values we should be hanging on to, even as we replace the things that represented them?

A wheel of change is turning, but change doesn’t mean anything more than different joys and different sorrows.  And a father’s sorrows over his son need no retribution in this turn of the wheel – it’s the next generation,  as a son becomes a father and discovers his own son’s betrayals, that will make up for the previous generation’s sorrows.  Children betray their fathers; husbands betray their wives; and the world continues to turn.

Which brings me full circle: Ganguly’s storytelling is brilliant, as in the scene presenting the removal of the projectors from the Kamalini Cinema as a funeral procession for a disappearing art.  I am, most definitely, firmly entrenched in the digital age; but I couldn’t help but shed tears at this moment, and, like Pranabendu, feel some sorrow at a world that will never experience the pleasures of seeing an actual film, and hearing the sound of a proper film projector.

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Director Shefali Bhusan On The Magic and the Music of Jugni http://bollyspice.com/director-shefali-bhusan-magic-music-jugni/ Fri, 15 Jul 2016 09:00:38 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=125917 Making its premiere tonight at the London Indian Film Festival is Shefali Bhusan’s magical musical tale Jugni. The film, set to the rustic beats and full of sound and feeling music by Clinton Cerejo, stars Sugandha Garg, Siddhant Behl, Sadhana Singh, Anuritta K Jha, Samir Sharma, and Chandan S Gill. Set in the beauty of Punjab, Jugni tells the tale of Vibhavari (Vibs) a young composer from Mumbai. She is in search of Bibi Saroop, the voice that she believes will be the saviour of her new score. She bumps into Bibi’s dashing son Mastana who also has an incredible

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Jugni posterMaking its premiere tonight at the London Indian Film Festival is Shefali Bhusan’s magical musical tale Jugni. The film, set to the rustic beats and full of sound and feeling music by Clinton Cerejo, stars Sugandha Garg, Siddhant Behl, Sadhana Singh, Anuritta K Jha, Samir Sharma, and Chandan S Gill.

Set in the beauty of Punjab, Jugni tells the tale of Vibhavari (Vibs) a young composer from Mumbai. She is in search of Bibi Saroop, the voice that she believes will be the saviour of her new score. She bumps into Bibi’s dashing son Mastana who also has an incredible voice. Vibs records Mastana’s renditions of Punjabi folk songs as well as Bibi Saroop’s song. What happens next? Is it a bittersweet tale or happily ever musically after? You have to watch the film to see! The film is all about dealing with the hardships in life and the search of a place which one can call home; where the firefly is at her brightest.

I was lucky enough to be able to see a screener of the film and I absolutely loved it. Each note was in perfect pitch. But that is for another article.

I was happily able to catch up with the director right before her flight to London to talk about the story, the actors, the incredible music and much more. See what Shefali had to say in this exclusive and in depth conversation on all things Jugni!

What was the spark that began your journey to making Jugni?
I have been close to music all my life. Ever since I was a child I was always close to folk music and it was played a lot in my family. I sang a lot with my mother and cousins. In the year 2000, along with a group of people, I started a project called Beat of India. For that project, we traveled to different parts of the country, to the interiors, to the villages and small towns etc, looking for unexplored folk musicians and talent. We made recordings of them; something like what Vibs does in the film except she was working towards a film – here we were just working towards putting it up on a website. Basically trying to fill the gap between the availability and the love for that kind of music. People might want to hear it, but there is no way that they can get to hear it. We recorded with about 70 to 75 musicians all across north India. We found some very rustic music. On our journeys we came across some very interesting characters. In fact, two of the characters in the film are very loosely based on some of the Punjabi singers that I have met. Mainly a lady called Swarn Nooran and her son called Dilbahar. Interestingly, Swarn Nooran’s granddaughters have become very, very popular in the music industry today – the Nooran sisters. Swarn’s mother was actually a legendary singer called Bibi Nooran. So Swarn Nooran and her son were the inspiration for Bibi Saroop and Mastana.

How long did it take to go from page to screen?
I think I started writing it in 2011 and it finally released in 2016, so maybe 4 years of writing, but not to say I was working on it continuously. It was actually in 2013, me and my 2 partners Manas Malhotra and Karan Grover joined together and that is when it really started to fall into place. By then I had more or less finished writing – you know how it is with writing a script… it never ends. It will continue to go on and on until you actually do say: ‘Okay, fine, finished, closed. I am just going to shoot this script. I am going to finalize the dates and lock it.’ That is the only way you can close a script or else it will just keep going on and on. There is never any end to it. (Laughs) It took a long time in that sense, but the shoot was actually very, very short. We had a schedule of about 35 days; but we had a very quick DOP and a nice cohesive team so we managed to wrap up the schedule in 28 days actually. Which is almost unheard of, especially with a first film. It was very, very good. I was very lucky in my first film to have found a dream team. I mean starting from Clinton Cerejo [music director] to my DOP to my editor to my co producers, it really has just been a dream team absolutely. I have been very lucky.

I loved how Sugandha Garg played Vibhavari and how her character was not what was expected. What was it like working with her to create Vibs?
It was absolutely wonderful. As an actress she brings a lot of nuance, her eyes talk and she brings a lot of layers to her character. The interaction with her was very, very exciting because she already brings it to level seven. Then as a director you want to add more layers because you can already see the possibilities and you try to take it even higher.

It was difficult to convince her initially. In fact, she was rather reluctant in the initial talks that we had. Her concern was why is the audience going to root for her character. My answer to her was that it is not necessary for the audience to root for that character because it is not necessary to be a protagonist that everyone roots for. Even so, because that character is so real if she is true to whatever she is thinking and true to what she is doing, people are going to root for her or at least enough people are going to root for her (laughs) as a protagonist. She asked me to give her an example of a character that is the protagonist of a film who is so grey. I gave her an example of film called Bhumika, starring one of my favorites Smita Patil. It is a film in the 80s and she is playing an actor who is wonderfully grey and wonderfully complex. I love her in the film, everybody loves her and the film is fantastic. I gave Sugandha that example and that is when something clicked into place in her head and that is when she really became enthusiastic. For me, she has done a fabulous job. There is a lot of subtext in her performance and that is the way I wanted it to be.

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Mastana played by Siddhant Behl was also amazing. What was it like to work with him and bring this character to life?
He is somebody I have known for a very long time. We came from the same theater group though we were actors in that theater group at different times. I knew him for a long time and we had a comfort level. He is also an associate writer on the film. He brought a lot of stuff to table. However, he was more difficult to work with as a director because he has his own ideas and he wanted to continuously argue about those ideas. To my mind, film is very much a director’s medium. At some point you need to submit to the director otherwise there’s going to be 35 different visions going on. Sometimes I had to be very, very hard (laughs) to kind of get my way with him. He finally did. Because he is an actor who is very, very spontaneous and loves to improvise, which is very good in the theater space but in cinema sometimes you cannot do that because from one angle to another you cannot be doing something different, I think all of that used to restrict him a lot, which I understand. He is a fabulous actor. He has got that X factor, if you know what I mean. There is something about him that when he smiles the screen lights up. He is very, very charming. And audiences by large have just loved him. It has been fabulous.

Sadhana Singh played Bibi Saroop brilliantly; she brought so much strength and depth to the film. I think I read she had acted before in films…
Yes, she had debuted in the film called Nadiya Ke Paar in the 80s I think, which became a big hit. It was her first film and she has known by the name of that character in the film ever since. Then there was a long gap in between. She is a fantastic actor. She is very, very precise, like for example for the dubbing of the film, which is one of the portions I actually hated because I wish I had done sync sound; I didn’t so I had to dub the film. But getting back, at the dubbing she looks at her own take once and she delivers it too the tee, perfectly, absolutely. She is just amazing in terms of precision. And like you rightfully said she brings a lot of depth, there is a lot of subtlety and gentleness and a lot of depth in everything that she does. It was lovely.

Of course we have to talk about the incredible music. I absolutely loved it. How did you and Clinton Cerejo create the sounds of Jugni?
Clinton was sort of an unlikely choice. He comes from a very, very different school of music. When he heard the narration of the film just the excitement in his body language was enough for me to know that this is the right person, he is the person we need for this film. I have had a very, very, very good interaction with him. It has been very, very creative. You know when you just kind of hit it off – things just grow from there. You just build on each other’s ideas and this just leads into something, which creates magic. Music is so close to my own heart and it has been a magical experience working with Clinton. He doesn’t have an ego at all – he is completely open to ideas and suggestions. You know like the ‘Hatt Mullah’ song, the first version that he did of that did not work for me at all. The great thing about the interaction was that he leaves space for you to fight and argue, and talk and discuss and he will keep on trying it until both of us are happy. I think with two creative people that’s the only way it works is that if only one person on the team is happy – it is not quite right. If both people say, yes this is it, that is when it is really all there. So if he isn’t happy with something than I am not happy with it either yet because I know something is still missing. We worked on the ‘Hatt Mullah’ song until we’re both really happy. He’s somebody who really loves challenges. He’s someone who completely gives himself to whatever it is that he has on hand. He loves to immerse himself to the extent that he listened to a lot of music of that genre while he was composing the music for the film. In fact, when he was composing the Qawwali, he listened to a lot of Qawwalis. It is not his genre, it is not music he has grown up listening to, unlike me who has heard a lot more of it so I gave him tons of references. He completely immersed himself into those tracks until he is internalized it completely.

Clinton came up with songs that are not exactly in the zone that it always is in in traditional music and yet it is not so far away that it is still believable. That is what I like the most about it. That it is a different sound and yet it is true to its milieu and true to its context.

Then of course you had some incredible singers on the tracks including Rekha Bhardwaj, Vishal Bhardwaj, AR Rahman, Javed Bashir, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. What was it like to hear them bring this music to life and how did this happen?
We knew that the music was going to be the USP of the film. We were hoping that since we didn’t have a “star cast”, the music was going to be the way to bring audiences in. So we needed to make the canvas of the music as large as possible. We got the opportunity to work with some of the fantastic musicians and singers and it was unbelievable to me. I think Vishalji has worked so closely with Clinton that he agreed to sing with him and he was so lovely through the recording. I think that when it is about their art and it is about the creative arena it isn’t difficult. You realize that things just flow. Everybody’s on the same page by virtue of the fact that they connect to the art. They just become so much easier. Similarly with Rekhaji. AR Rahman has composed his own track, so Clinton has not done that. I have interacted with Rahman a lot but basically this track was made possible because my partner Karan is someone who has worked closely with AR Rahman. He was very gracious and he kind of gave it as a blessing. That was a different kind of blessing for the film.

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You earlier mentioned the ‘Hatt Mullah’ song. I loved the joining of the modern and traditional in that song.
For me, that was the crux of the whole story. That is actually the summation of the story. That was very important for me to get this song right in every way. I had a certain vision for it and the brief to Clinton was that this was really them making love to that song and the end of it should be like an orgasm in music. So in a sense we are not going to show them making love, this is it, they connect musically and that is what we want to see. That was my brief to the actors as well. That song holds a very special place for me. I think it is the film. Now Clinton did the scratch and though it is in Punjabi there was just so much emotion that he brought to it that we did not want to go with another voice. At one point of time he said oh no, no, no I think, you should get somebody who can enunciate better to sing it. I said oh no, no, no I don’t care about the pronunciation I just want that feeling that you’re bringing to this. It has to be you. You have to sing it. People who know Clinton can’t believe that he has done a Punjabi song he can’t speak a word of Punjabi to save his life. (Laughs)

Would you say that that is your favorite song or do you have another favorite song?
‘Hatt Mullah’ was my favorite song all along until he did ‘Bolladiyaan’, the one that Rekhaji has done. In fact, one version of the song was only there in little bits of the film and that has been sung by Neha Kakkar, who did Bibi Saroop’s voice in the film. He wanted to keep it as a song on the album and get Rekhaji to sing it. I said yes, fine go ahead and do whatever you want for that song. One day he called me and said, ‘Hey Shef, I’ve done something with it come and hear it.’ I was just absolutely mesmerized. It’s just so haunting to me. So that has become my favorite one for a while now. Then I had to figure out how I was going to use it in the film so I decided to use it in the background score. You know, everything has its own journey on how it comes together.

Looking back from that first thought about this script to the finished film what are your thoughts?
At the script level it changed a lot, it evolved a lot. I think that the film that I went out to shoot and the film that it has shaped up to be are quite close and that gives me a lot of strength. Now that I’m writing the next script I know that whatever I am visualizing in my head I can translate it and I know the way that is going to happen. That for a writer – for a director is the most empowering feeling. The other thing that it has done is that I know audiences, a lot of them or most of them, relate to it in the way that I intended them to. That again is very empowering. Then you know, well you don’t know because each film is its own monster, but it just does make you feel that yes I know I can take this from paper to a different medium and it will look the certain way that I have in my head or pretty close to that.

Why is it important to bring artists like Mastana and rural music to the forefront of music?
I think it is just so dynamic. As I said earlier there are no avenues to finding this type of music, to hearing it. You know to bring it to people in the form like Coke Studio does or Coke Studio Pakistan especially is doing is wonderful. There are so many artists that if you bring them in their raw form, like we did in the Beat of India project, there are only going to be an X number of listeners. It is very, very niche. If you take it into a form that is accessible and enjoyable by a larger number, I think, that just helps to keep it alive – to keep those artist who are practicing that alive even after they may be gone. I just think it is so important because there is such gorgeous music that is scattered all across India and the world I’m sure. A lot of it is dying. I mean most of the artists that we recorded with the Beat of India project were over 70 and their children were not doing the same thing so a lot of their music is dying with them.

How exciting is it to be screening in London at the London Indian Film Festival?
It is very special because it is the first time I’m taking the film to an audience outside of India. It is even more special because I’m going to be there and I’m going to see the responses and interact with the audience. I think London is a great and I think the London Indian Film festival is a great forum. I am extremely excited! I am really looking forward to it. I have some butterflies in my stomach as well but I think that’s all good.

What are you working on next?
I am working on sort of a biopic of another musician. There is also another script that a colleague is writing for me. If you are going to be in this business you need to have as many scripts as possible in the bank because you don’t know what’s going to get made and how it will see the light of day. Music is something that I will continue to be working on one way or another. Getting back to this biopic, it’s going to be fictionalized so it’s loosely based on a real person – a very, very inspiring musician. So yes, let’s see how that shapes up.

What do you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing Jugni?
I think that they should relate to one of the characters, some of the characters or all of the characters at some moments. It should feel real to them. If it feels like they felt even a certain moment was true and real and it touched their hearts that is enough for me as filmmaker.

If you are not lucky enough to be in London to see this great film at the festival you can also experience it on Netflix! Then be sure to download the album, I know you are going to want to… I did!

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Writer Naman Ramachandran: “Brahman Naman pushes boundaries and tells a story that has never been told before in the Indian context” http://bollyspice.com/naman-ramachandran-brahman-naman-pushes-boundaries-and-tells-a-story-that-has-never-been-told-before-in-the-indian-context/ Fri, 15 Jul 2016 07:00:36 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=125903 What do you get when you mix together 4 losers, quiz competitions, girls and a lot of hormones? You get the indie comedy film Brahman Naman! Written by Naman Ramachandran, Brahman Naman is directed by Indian indie director Q (Gandu, Tasher Desh and Ludo). This In-Betweeners style coming-of-age comedy backed by a rock anthem score is set in 1980s Bangalore. Know-it all teenager Naman (Shashank Arora), and his fellow nerdy mates Ajay and Ramu win every local quiz competition and get hammered on the prize money. Then their big chance comes as the All-India Quiz Final in Calcutta is announced.

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Brahman_keyart_UK (1)What do you get when you mix together 4 losers, quiz competitions, girls and a lot of hormones? You get the indie comedy film Brahman Naman! Written by Naman Ramachandran, Brahman Naman is directed by Indian indie director Q (Gandu, Tasher Desh and Ludo).

This In-Betweeners style coming-of-age comedy backed by a rock anthem score is set in 1980s Bangalore. Know-it all teenager Naman (Shashank Arora), and his fellow nerdy mates Ajay and Ramu win every local quiz competition and get hammered on the prize money. Then their big chance comes as the All-India Quiz Final in Calcutta is announced. The three quiz musketeers set out on a chaotic train ride north, but on the journey Naman has a mighty crush on the super-quiz heroine Naina. Naman and his mate’s quest for glory by outsmarting their rivals gets confused with exploding testosterone levels and the trio slide into a mad-cap adventure with hilarious consequences.

After screening at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, the film made its debut on Netflix, garnering great reviews and views. The offbeat comedy is getting ready for its premiere at the London Indian Film Festival tonight. I got the chance to talk with writer Naman Ramachandran about creating the world 80s Bangalore, the quizzes, the characters and more! Check out what he had to say about Brahman Naman.

What was the first spark for this story?
The spark for the story was when Steve Barron and I were in India working on Prakash and we were in Bangalore for close to four months. Every evening, I would take him to my club and there we would meet all of these old quizzers from like 25 years ago – all my mates. He would sit in the corner and he would listen to all of our stories of the good old days. When we got back to London, he said why don’t you write this up as a script. It can be really funny. So I did and here we are!

Then how did it develop from there, taking those stories and putting them all together in a full-length feature film?
The initial stage of every script is that the first thing that you do is that whatever is in your head you just vomit everything out on the page. Then you shape it slowly. I had Steven in the development process and I also had a lady named Rose Garnett, who is now the head of development for Film4. I had them as bouncing boards and they would tell me what was working and what was not working. The script took about 2 years to develop fully and then it took us a further 4 years to find the money. So this process began in 2008. This one took particularly long – 8 years from page to screen. Hopefully the next one will go quicker. (Laughs)

Tell us about working with Q.
We sent Q the script and he absolutely loved it. He came onboard immediately. We had seen his earlier work – Gandu and Tasher Desh, and I thought and Steve thought that Q’s intensity and energy would work for the script. It was a very interesting experience working with him. I was there on set as well. We shot the whole film in 22 days. There was calm, there was storm and there was everything else in between as well.

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So, you were very involved then in the development of these characters from the page to who these kids became on screen…
Yes, I was involved in all the casting and on set I was mainly the script supervisor. I also was the diction coach because the boys and girls had to speak in a certain way – that certain English speaking slow drawl. That was how people spoke in Bangalore in the 80s. Both Q and I wanted to recreate that slowness. You know, it was a time without mobile phones or multichannel television or all of that. Because these kids are millennials, we workshopped with them for about five weeks to get them into that space. In general, the whole idea was to keep it slow and deadpan as possible to reflect the 80s.

What did you think of Shashank Arora as Naman?
I thought he has done a great job. In fact everybody, even the most minor character, I think, has done an amazing job. That is what really makes the film work.

That’s true, because you felt like you were in that world, no character was a wrong note.
Q had a lot to do with that. See we had the cameras rolling even during the workshops. He told the boys and girls to imagine that someone is making a documentary on your life and this thing is going to be in your face and there all the time – so get used to it. And they got used to it and that is why they are not self-conscious in front of the camera. Because that camera was in their face for five weeks before the shoot began.

For me, Shashank Arora as Naman had somewhat the look of a young Shah Rukh Khan, was that something that was intentional or just happenstance?
No, it was not intentional at all. You know we were only looking at him as Naman, it was only during the shoot that we noticed, and ‘Oh there is a resemblance’. It was completely coincidental.

One of the things I noticed was the boys all had a very interesting body language. Was that something that was just them or was that something that developed, as they became the characters?
We wanted them to have the body language of losers, which is what they ultimately are in the film. For Shashank, we just told him to observe me since I was there and observe all the physical tics that I have and incorporate that into his character, which I think he has done brilliantly. Then Ramu, well he broke his foot three days before the shoot so we had to write that into the script rather than find a new actor. We also showed them footage of quizzers and told them to observe the body language of those people and become chameleons.

Did you base your characters on real life?
They are formed by some real life characters but mostly they are composites. You will find a little bit of X in Naman and a little bit of Y and obviously what they brought themselves to the character and what they had inferred from the script.

It was very interesting how much stronger and wiser the girls in the movie were than the boys.
That was completely intentional from the script stage because we knew that the boys were epic losers and we wanted every single one of the girls beginning with Naman’s mother to the other 4 girls – we wanted them to be really strong people. You know the boys actually treat them with a fair bit of contempt. We wanted the girls to win because you can’t lose to losers. (Laughs)

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What do you think is the most important thing about making a film like this?
It is basically to push boundaries and to tell a story that has never been told before in the Indian context so to speak. There has been one documentary about quizzing, but apart from that there has been nothing committed to film about these English speaking elite. Whether it was the boys or the girls they were all a part of that upper middle class urban English speaking elite. You don’t see that in Bollywood or in the regional films speaking our native languages so that is something that we wanted to bring out. Basically creating a world that no one has seen before. Q and I and a few others were of that time, the rest were all millennials so we wanted to imbue them with our spirit.

The film was showcased at the famous Sundance Film Festival.
When we were selected for Sundance that was something really exciting, we really were not expecting it. Then we found out we were in competition at Sundance so that was like the cherry on the cake.

So then how exciting was it to find out that Netflix had picked it up?
Once the whole Netflix thing happened everything became surreal. We were ecstatic because rather going through the usual process here we were getting distribution in 192 territories in 22 languages. We really could not have asked for more.

You are getting ready to premiere at the London Indian Film Festival, what makes that so special?
There is a lot of interconnectivity because Steve Barron, the producer, he saw Q’s film at the London Indian Film Festival and that is when we decided to request Q to direct the film. And as you know I program the festival, so it is kind of like a homecoming for me. Also the film is being played at the British Film Institute Southbank and that is like a cathedral of cinema in the UK. It is the best movie theater in the country. To play at that particular venue is a huge honor.

What are your thoughts on the increase in popularity of Indian independent films the world over?
Two things. One is that films are getting better and better. The second thing is that especially in the last 2-3 years the world is sitting up and taking notice and it not just Sundance it is also Venice, Rome, Toronto, Rotterdam, Tokyo, Busan. I mean last year Busan opened with Zubaan, it was the first time that Busan had opened with an Indian film. It is the combination of the two, I think, the filmmaking is getting better and the world is recognizing it and showcasing it. Things can only get better from here.

What do you think of Hindi films today?
Well, there will always be a market for the big commercial films and people want their entertainment and they get it. But if you look at the new age and not necessarily independent films like Vikas Bahl’s Queen, these are films for the mainstream audience but telling different stories.

Are you working on anything else?
I am looking at a number of things including a couple of projects with Q but we haven’t finalized anything yet. Q is coming to London for the London Indian Film Festival so I will sit down with him there and decide. Apart from that there has been a lot interest in a script that I have already written so I am just going to take some time to see which ones are good and which ones are shit and then send the good ones out and see what happens

How would you describe the tale of Brahman Naman and if asked why someone should see this what would you say?
It is a coming of age comedy directed by India’s leading independent filmmaker. You should see it because you have never seen anything like it before.

Brahman Naman, which you can see on Netflix now if you’re not in London to see it at the festival, stars Shashank Arora as Naman, Tanmay Dhanania and Chaitanya Varad as his sidekicks, and features Biswa Kalyan Rath, Vaiswath Shankar, Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy and Sid Mallya.

 

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“Sultan is staggeringly engaging, remarkably rugged and unexpectedly romantic” Subhash K Jha Review http://bollyspice.com/salman-raging-bull-act-blockbuster/ Wed, 06 Jul 2016 14:15:52 +0000 http://bollyspice.com/?p=125750 Sultan Starring Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma Directed by Ali Abbas Zafar Nope, you can’t touch this. Salman Khan’s superstardom is beyond the precincts of rationale or logic. To his credit he is now finally surrendering to his characters. After last year’s Eid’s heartwarming Bajrangi Bhaijaan act, this festive season Salman pushes himself physically and emotionally to a new level of commitment in Sultan. Playing the goodhearted solidly dependable Haryanvi wrestler Salman brings a kind of feisty vulnerability along with a spiritual certainty to his instantly likeable character. He is no longer interested in being Salman Khan on screen. The physical

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sultanPosterNewSultan
Starring Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma
Directed by Ali Abbas Zafar

Nope, you can’t touch this. Salman Khan’s superstardom is beyond the precincts of rationale or logic. To his credit he is now finally surrendering to his characters. After last year’s Eid’s heartwarming Bajrangi Bhaijaan act, this festive season Salman pushes himself physically and emotionally to a new level of commitment in Sultan.

Playing the goodhearted solidly dependable Haryanvi wrestler Salman brings a kind of feisty vulnerability along with a spiritual certainty to his instantly likeable character. He is no longer interested in being Salman Khan on screen. The physical and emotional transformation is so palpable and authentic as to remind us of what Robert de Niro achieved in and outside the boxing ring in Martin Scorcese’s Raging Bull.

Salman’s accent is pitch-perfect. And that’s where the performance begins. While the actor takes himself dead seriously, the film is remarkably light-hearted and free-spirited even though the underlining message—sometimes to be a true hero you’ve got to fall hard on the ground before you pick yourself up again—is never squandered in the outward frivolity that grips the narrative as, for long stretches, Salman plays the super-smitten lover-boy who can’t get enough of the plucky Aarfa (Anushka Sharma).

Though their scenes of courtship and romance are unnecessarily stretched-out and over-cute, the pair works largely because Anushka is the first Salman co-star who doesn’t seem overwhelmed by his presence. Yup, she gives him tit for tat, wit for wack, with such nifty nonchalance that we are soon rooting for them as a couple.

This is a funny engaging and satisfying film brimming with many moments of joie de vivre. The wrestling sequences, done with a choreographic candour, are outstanding. Salman slams his opponents with such intensity that you wonder if the ricocheting ruckus in the wrestling ring is a metaphor for the what this film is sure to do at the boxoffice.

All said and done, Sultan is a love story first, then a sports film. Director Ali Abbas Zafar doesn’t distill the drama with interpolations. Though lengthy, the characters never lose their plot. They are written into a tightly edited pastiche of pain and pleasure unleashed with honesty and charm.

The film is shot by Artur Zurawski with the stress on capturing the glory and grandeur of the sport only in the context of the protagonist’s emotions. Nothing in Sultan stands out. It all blends in and merges into the very impressive larger picture.

Staggeringly engaging, remarkably rugged and unexpectedly romantic Sultan is every bit the comprehensive blockbuster it promised to be. Watching the accomplished storytelling and the deft characterizations in Sultan it is hard to believe that this work comes from the director of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Gunday.

Quite a dizzying climb!

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