Fatema Kagalwala dives into the music of Bombay Velvet and comes out mighty impressed. In fact, it seems like she doesn’t want to come out of it. Read on.

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Disclaimer – This is not a music review. Just rambles. Just my experience of it.

Back in 2009 when Dev D music hit the market it hit me (and many of us) like a thunderbolt. I drew everyone around mad by listening to it like my life (and theirs) depended on it. The things it did to me, the things it evoked, the things it made me want to do – it was these unexplainable things that make the album unforgettable to me even today. And now it’s Bombay Velvet songs that are doing unthinkable things to me. Maybe its just me, but I thought it warranted an un-review, its too good for anything else.

I’ve been listening to Bombay Velvet songs, on loop since it came out. At first, I couldn’t differentiate one song from another except maybe Sylvia and Darbaan and the remaining 12 merge into one another like milk and water. Give it all to my complete ignorance of the jazz music harmony but I’ve never been the one to listen to music with anything but my heart. I connected to hard rock the same way, till date I don’t know anything about yet I love it because it speaks to me in ways nothing else does and I respond like I never knew I could. Bombay Velvet’s retro-jazz does something similar to me.

Is it the haunting darkness of it? The style, the retro-style which is very modern at the same time. Or the upbeatness of the track covering up the darkness? Every song reminds me of a lot of things, songs, references but when I try to pick one I can’t. The song suddenly gains a credential, an identity of its own. Which is when I realise how homogenous is Trivedi’s mixing of a multitude of elements, moods, strains into something with its own uniqueness.

It’s an album that is a visceral experience of ethos of the 60’s Mumbai, steeped in its still predominant Anglo-Indian culture that continued to give shape to the idiom of modernity in society and our films in those times. We may also call it neo-colonialism. And there are three things that when combined have created magic in the past as well. The resident Kashyap quirk, dystopia and desperation. The typical Trivedi touch of using prevalent sounds in new ways and hence fucking up mainstream music once again. And the staple Bhattacharya habit of taking us to newer worlds within amidst the commonest of commonalities.

Darbaan – Papon’s honey-soaked voice over uncluttered, single or two instruments only music track. Love the way the words melt into each other.

Baadshah sadko ka tu, sadke hi teri taqdeer hain,

daakhila oonche makaanon mein kuchh thekedaaron ki jaageer hain.”

Somehow, this refuse to leave me. It touches a little more, just a little than how much it is meant to and I am wondering if it’s the Papon-effect or the words or the sweeping, swaying nature of the tune. It’s got the ‘Hain apna dil toh awara’ abandon, the gypsy-fakir tone but with a disheartened voice. Also, it seems like it’s a 3rd person pov, commenting on the protagonist or the everyman as we may want to see it, and that gives it one of those singing fakir kinda moods, which is what I love.

In the seductive and tempting mode, a male version of this is super interesting, such moral kind of songs are generally sung by women in films – the upholder of all things virtuous.

The Bombay Velvet Theme – Rarely do I listen to themes, I enjoy them while watching the film but hardly ever take them back home. Except BV theme. I’ve been imagining Amitabh type swashbuckling fights over it, Humphrey Bogart-Carey Grant type chase sequences, Baz Luhrman type grand bars and ballrooms with a sweep of darkness, intrigue and debauchery. It’s what film theme music used to be back in the 60’s thrillers. Grand, sweeping, moody, dark. It literally takes me back to the 60’s, without any help of visuals. And I am already loving what it is making me expect from the film which I shouldn’t be doing. Let’s stop here.

P.S.: Take a bike ride while listening to it, Especially ghats. You won’t regret it.

Aam Hindustani – I was tickled no end when I first heard this –

roothi hain mehbooba, roothi roothi sharab hain,

aam Hindustani teri kismet kharaab hain!”

*insert rolling on the floor and laughing my ass off smiley here*

Oh but it doesn’t end there!

Pyaar mein thenga, bar mein thenga,

inki botal bhi goronki gulaam hain’.

Whoa! And I love the slightly scathing tone (name) has sung it in. Of course what else would do justice to this! But I’m thinking about the very idea of having a scathing song at all to mock the guy. Back in the 50’s and 60’s our filmy women, even in bars, only sang encouraging songs (Tadbeer se bigdi hui) or teasing ones (Babuji Dheere Chalna) to the man. Interesting subversion I really wanna know more about from the film.

Circus music! I laughed when I read this description of the unconventionally long prelude. Coz by then I had already started tripping on the soundtrack ‘like crazy’. The waltzy-jive feel is too good to ignore, feet begin tapping on their own. And then follows a sweet la la la and bang! There is that Trivedi whiplash – it is followed with a curt, snide ‘Dhobi ka kutta kaisa ghaat na gharka!’ and you’re like ‘whaaaaa…’? In Shefali Alvares’ boisterous and refreshingly uninhibited vocals. This is Bhattacharya in ‘paan mein pudhina’ zone :P full on quirk!

Khwahish huyi hain degchi, khadai

Taqdeer teri abhi bhi chamach hain!

In someone else’ hands this would have become ‘tujhko mirchi lagi toh main kya karoon’.

There are so many turns of the tune, dramatic ones that I wonder how the song has been used / picturised. Hide-n-seek, chase, robbery, in bits, in parts, in whole? Phew!

Behroopia – Of shadows, of doubts, of lies and half-hidden truths, mysteries and the subtle threat of it all…This is the wine of the album for me. Classy, seductive, romantic, moody, dark, a slow high. The fabulous trumpet giving way to almost minimalist vocals and that giving way to a full-blown orchestra is a transition I can’t get over right now. Between this, Darbaan and Sylvia what would I choose as the best? I’m still trying to figure out. And after Rockstar, in my imagination, Mohit Chauhan is to Ranbeer what Balasubraniam was to Salman at one point :P

Dhadaam Dhadaam – This one is ‘Duniya’ level good. The operatic touch gives it that grandness of lost passions, a passion critical and deadly at the same time. Throughout the album Bhattacharya uses words we used to use in cinema back in time, but don’t anymore like ‘malaal’, ‘sehra’, ‘gila’, ‘daga’, (the Urdu influence fast disappearing from our films and lives today but immersive back then). This infuses a refreshing old-world-ness to the song only to be taken down with a dhadaam, literally! Someone, once said, everything that had to be discovered has been discovered, now we just create newer meanings and expressions by playing around with those discoveries. And AB puts a very quirky and unpoetic ‘Dhadaam’ bang in the middle of light and beautiful Urdu. The effect.

Ka Kha Ga – The fabulous trumpet makes an appearance again, with a band taking over. And then a seductive, drunk. ‘Ay’. Geeta Dutt would have been so happy! This one I love singing! And I do, chilla chillake. (The corridors at Girls Hostel echo, all the more joy :P)

Naak Pe Gussa – Here’s my ‘Tadbeerse Bigdi Hui’ J but as modern as it could get! Bhattacharya’s choice of words is so mellifluous, it’s a delicious thing to keep listening to. Teasing, warm, naughty, and one of those rare happy songs in the album J And it sounds like it has been literally sung with a smile on! (Like one feels about Ashatai’s songs!)

Sylvia – This is the true-blue retro song of the album, lovingly and truthfully recreating the O.P Nayyar-verse.

Bhavra tha sayana, mukar hi gaya na,

Rusvayi reh gayi, (Oh ‘rusvayi’!)

Ghosla suhana, ujad hi gaya na,

Tanhai reh gayi

Tanhai…

Aankh ke surme ko daag banaya,

Kaanch ke aashiyan ko phook jalaya

Fitrat mein hi thi bewafai

Tu pyaar pe tohmat chhod gayi

Yeh kya kiya Sylvia !

Rusvayi, aashiyaan, fitrat, tohmat haye!

Mohabbat Buri Beemaari – I’m not too much of a fan of this, something is very laboured about it…something isn’t right and I can’t put my finger on it yet. I’ve simply stopped listening to it.

<detour> (Sylvia is playing right now. And I am yet again giving myself up to it. My first favourite of the album, its retro-ness calling out to those long-lost childhood memories. Growing up on O.P.Nayyar in a family that hailed him as a path-breaking musician when he was somewhat of an outcast in the mainstream more Indian-classical-is-music alone world, the quality of his songs and sounds make me smile even today. (really wanna know if it’s a conscious hat-tip) There is something searing in the rendition and the use of march rhythmic chorus to underline that entire effect wanting to overpower…well, succeeded there!)

Shut Up – Drum rolls!!! Drum beats now, foot-tapping, jubilant trumpets and others follow. All upbeat and celebratory. And when things are about to settle down, Trivedi throws a spanner in the works. And then the song starts. Then you realise the effect this juxtaposition has on the expectation of the opening and the surprise in what follows.

Aisi kya, aisi kya, aisi kya bhookh hain…The first time I heard this I tripped on how the use of repetition fits in so beautifully! And lately I’ve been noticing how ‘harqatein’ almost sound like ‘harqutein’ and suddenly it gains more quirk. Remember ‘sufed’?

And the merging of light, lilting, Urdu words with a crude ‘Shut Up!’ Why isn’t this today’s ‘Emotional Atyachaar’ of the youth yet?

Conspiracy – ‘Conspiracy’ is so well-named! And Trivedi plays with extremes once again, kabhi silent, kabhi ceiling-crashing, extremes – tempo mein, scale mein, aur emotion mein. Leaves me a little breathless every time I listen to it. And I love that feeling of anticipation as the music keeps picking up scale only to peter out, without any fulfilment, without any answers…letting a dullness set in that’s ‘safer’.

Out of 15 tracks, 12 are with vocals. Out of the 12, 11 are romantic songs. Only one is about the overarching ambitions of the protagonist, the central conceit of the film. Let’s see how the film treats the music and vice-versa.

For now, let the trumpets and trombones lull me to sleep, like they are used to by now. I wonder which one of these I will wake up singing tomorrow morning! Will let you know :)

Bombay-Velvet

There is so much that has already been ‘lectured’ to us on Bombay Velvet that I would refrain from saying anything else and just begin with whatever I thought of music of the film.

The film is 1960s and quite loudly so in whatever we have heard or seen so far and with whatever little I know, the words like tattu and nikhattu were surely not heard in the jazz of those days. To me, they dilute the feel of the song and even though it might go with the situation of the song, it is quite a put off for me. If you leave this slip aside, Aam hindustani is top class. Shefali has stressed on pronunciation a lot which is quite refreshing and goes with the attitude of the song. The tempo of the song varies teasingly and creates a great club like atmosphere.

Mohabbat buri beemari by Neeti Mohan is dominated by brass and even during the antraas, you can hear a faint notes of brass in the corner of your ear. The song is filled with tease which can, in terms of setting remind you of ‘mud mud ke na dekh’. Neeti mohan and her ‘come on!’ Is grey, purple and all shades of Stimulation. Another version of this song which is sung by Shefali Alvares is cute and sounds fancy but is not as aggressive as the one by Neeti Mohan. Both versions end with flourish and are of exact same duration.

Neeti Mohan’s Ka Kha Gha has an adorable tune but the words are a big let down. I am sure this would not be a common opinion but when you produce such a rich tune, you have got to have better choice of words than ‘sab bhula ke jo doob jaye kyu wo hee tair paata hai‘. Neeti Mohan cannot be praised enough for her exquisite singing. Sadly, she is stuck with ordinary lyrics in a song that has everything going for it otherwise. Easily the most ordinary song of the album and ONLY because of the lyrics.

An insightful guitar, quiet brass, whip-smart set of violins and a general evening-ish atmosphere is what makes up dhadaam dhadaam. Neeti Mohan has poured her heart out in the song and the part where she goes ‘malaal mein’ can actually be used as a ‘goosebumps checking device’ for all humans to see if their bodies are adequately producing goosebumps at right moments or not. Call me fussy, but the use dhadaam dhadaam is the only thing that put me off in the song. It sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise superlative song.

Naak pe jo gussa features a madly in love Neeti Mohan who is playful, yet stays within the ‘jazz’ brief of the song. Successful attempt is made to recreate a bar scene with the lead singer of the bar trying to cajole her love interest to give up anger. The lyrics of this song are terrific to say the least. A top class song.

Sylvia is an enjoyable song which has a generous pace and lyrics that tell us everything about a certain ‘Sylvia’ who enjoys a stranger’s touch more than someone who loves her. The song has a sad undertone to it in spite of being fast paced and that to me appealed a lot! Did I like the song? Yes. Will I hear it again and again? No.

Darbaan by Papon has a lot of sadness laced around a hummable tune. Generally the first hurdle between the disadvantaged and the rich of the society is the darbaan (gatekeeper) who doesn’t let the poor get as much as a peek inside the club where ‘mem log and babu sahabs‘ have fun, high society style. Singing wise, a strictly average song because the composition didn’t give much to Papon to play with. It might be a great spectacle on the screen (or not) but it is unlikely this would be a ‘repeat’ song in the playlist.

Shut up is an interesting song with Shefali Alvares asking the ‘lecturers’ to shut up. The bass lends good depth to the setting. Brass swivels along with Shefali and what we get is a thoroughly enjoyable song about something sinister, something vulnerable and someone being way too naughty.

Behroopia is perhaps the lightest song of the album, arrangement wise. Even here, you will find a quiet appearance of brass. The tune of the song is oddly familiar at times but nothing to complain here. In fact, it doesn’t sound like a typical Amit trivedi song and that is such a relief. An easy song, worth a play or two.

A nearly 5 minute Bombay Velvet theme is my favorite piece from the album without a doubt. Of course the film is touted, hyped, over propagated as noir and what not, and the theme heightens this feel to maddening levels! This could easily be one of the best theme music we have heard since Bombay Theme. The sense of occasion is palpable and the build up is magnificent. Kudos to Amit Trivedi for smartly using brass, clarinet and that Guitar…ooh la la! Such themes are the reasons we wait for films to be out! So filmy and so bloody good! You want ‘grand’? Here it is.

Conspiracy, like the name suggests has ominous written all over it. The violins build up the atmosphere and don’t be surprised if you start expecting a ‘twist’ in everything after you listen to this track. The clarinet keeps the track grounded and concludes it leaving an air of uncertainty. Nothing play worthy on repeat, but for film buffs, a track to re-live the film.

Tommy Gun in reality shuts up everyone forever so it isn’t surprising that a track with the same title will have nuanced presentation of the shut up song among other things. Again a film piece and good of makers to include it in the album.

There are two rather embarrassing remixes in the album and I would refrain from mentioning anything else about them. Perhaps, the makers wanted to see the name of McCleary in the film credits. In what is an extremely rare occurrence, McCleary makes you want to skip the tracks. The tracks are a misfit in the overall scheme of things and that is just what it is.

The film pertains to a set time period revolving around jazz music and to create the music of the film Amit Trivedi with his team have really given everything to the soundtrack and what’s more sound oozes the effort. My complaint is only with somewhat lazy lyrics and at times, the over produced sound. Unlikely that all the songs will remain in your playlist after the film goes out of theaters but a good effort which is worth an applause or two, club style!

For an ordinary music-booze lover and someone who is least bothered about jumping the ‘social class’, and who doesn’t care if it is a local, cheap beer or an expensive wine with an unpronounceable name, the songs might take a while to grow but they will grow for sure. The others are well, already busy revealing how they found the music to be ‘magnifique’.

Overall, a good album that fits the narrative.

@Rohwit

(Ps – Click here to get the credits for each song)

 

 

Court : On Celluloid and otherwise

Posted: April 24, 2015 by moifightclub in cinema, Indie
Tags: , ,

This post is by Mohamed Thaver, who has covered the Sessions Court proceedings for Hindustan Times for over a year. As he watched Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court, he could not stop himself from making some Court-notes. Blame it on good ol’ journalism.

Thaver is a former journo who still finds it difficult to keep his nose out of crime, movies and book. Over to him now.

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It is easier to hate people if you do not see them in human form. Especially, if, with the help of stock phrases, you just have to reduce them to pre-moulded narratives. After moving to report on the Mumbai Sessions court from crime reporting, the first thing that hit me was the absolutely direct access to the accused. While though initially it gave me a kick, seeing all these accused about whom I had been writing, soon I realized it was a tricky position to be in. To see these ‘demons’ in human forms was a bit inconvenient.

Seeing them in full view of the pathetic condition, their wives-mothers squatting at one end of the courtroom, missing a much needed day’s salary on most occasions; trying to understand first the English and next the legal jargon from the expressions of the judge and the lawyers. One had to be heartless to not feel for them. The irony of women reporters telling a rape accused that he had ink smudged on his face and giving him a tissue to wipe it with was never lost on me.

I almost felt possessive about the domain that debutant director Chaitanya Tamhane’s court deals with. The other day I saw a former colleague covering sessions court say ‘Finally a movie about us’ on a social media platform. Court’s have always aroused curiosity, as it is on most occasions wrongly construed to be a place of high drama. However, the exclusive access to this beat, sometimes encouraged us to keep the myth going, as we would regale our colleagues and friends with stories from the court. I remember during the final stages of the Shakti Mills trail, several colleagues of mine reporting on other beats, had come to the court to ‘just see’.

Had I seen Court, as against other bollywood movies before I started covering the Mumbai sessions court, I would have been more at ease making the transition into the world of the black coats. Like the act of the Judge, repeating the just concluded arguments of the two lawyers for the stenographer to put in on record bizzarely worked as comic relief when it was screened at the MAMI film festival, so was it a bit amusing in my head when I first entered a courtroom in 2013. As days passed by, I realized how different the actual courts were as compared to their sexed up versions dished out in movies after movies. The heart at the most courtroom movies: drama, is reserved for handful of days in the court; mostly on the days the verdict is pronounced.  On most days, the court is like it is in Tamhane’s movie, slow, dreary, confused, boisterous and more than anything a distant soporific hum that continues with robotic monotony.

Such is the monotony, that in the nearly yearlong period that I was reporting on sessions court, I found a familiar cycle in most cases. Most cases began with the accused and family members initially trying to understand every word that their lawyers and judges were saying. However, with the innumerable repetitions of sometimes the same set of facts looked at differently from both sides, slowly but steadily their helplessness induced determination is hacked down by the sheer lifelessness of the trial till they go on auto pilot. They ultimately emerge during the crescendo of final arguments and wait for bated breath for the day of judgement.

To explain how taxing the process is in words itself,  the initial stage of the trial, framing of charges, is when the police produces a chargesheet in the court that carries the sections under which a person is to be tried in addition to a detailed account of the crime and the evidence against the accused. This is the point in court, when Vinay Vore (Vivek Gomber) argues before the judge that section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code  slapped against his client, the folk singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) should not be applicable as there was no intention on his part to provoke people to commit suicide. Kamble is arrested after a sewerage worker’s body is found in a manhole. The police allege that Kamble’s ‘inflammatory’ poem ‘exhorting’ sewage workers to commit suicide outside the sewerage worker’s residence, led him to commit suicide two days later.

And since abetment to suicide it is the only charge his client is booked under, Vora asks for his client to be discharged from the case. Like in most court cases, the judge decides to go ahead with the trial and leaving the decision of whether the charge is applicable for a later starge after going through the evidence. What I found is that this stage would tend to get technical as lawyers quibble primarily on technical law points.

Then we come to that part of a trial, which, in movies, is normally seen as the be-all and end-all of all courtroom dramas. The public prosecutor (who represents the state) calls forth witness and then examines them, trying to extract information that can be used as evidence against the accused. Once the prosecutor finishes with his examination, the defence lawyer starts a cross examination or cross- as called in legal lingo – of the witness. Of the few technical glitches that I could spot in the movie as far as court room procedures were concerned, was the one in which the first police witness was not cross examined by Vora.

After the prosecution witness are examined and cross-examined, the trial them moves to 313 – in court lingo – which refers to the recording of the statement of the accused as ordained by section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. While, it seems like an interesting phase, what it is, is, just a rough question – answer format document that the judge reads out before the accused, to which he has to reply in a yes or a no. This stage, in my humble opinion, which has not been shown in the movie, could have been exploited to get us a sneak peek into the mind of Kamble, who gives the impression of a person who has so much to say but has decided to turn his back to the world.

After the final arguments of the two lawyers are over, the judge will then allot a date for pronouncing of judgement. Like any god fearing person I thought that the ‘day of judgement’ was final. But the wheels of judiciary run a tad slower than organized religion. Because while on the day of judgement, the court may pronounce the guilty- not-guilty judgement, the quantum of sentence is still remaining. After the judgement, both sides argue about the quantum of sentence – which in the Shakti Mills gangrape case – stretched for  days on end – before the judge on most cases sets another date for the quantum of sentence.

On this date finally, when the judge pronounces the quantum of sentence, you approach the family of the accused – now either a convict or a free man– and one of them will tell you that they will approach the High court and failing which the Supreme court. The cogs of the machinery keep rolling. During the last few scenes of the movie, Vora pays Rs 1,00,000 as bail amount for Kamble. When Kamble – who earns a living by giving tuitions – questions Vora in the hospital about why he paid such a big amount, Vora’s who is also representing him in another case slapped against him by the police, replies, “Now you have just got bail. You case will go on for years. You can repay me the money by then.”

– Mohamed Thaver

 

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SPOILER  ALERT

If you are into cocktails, you know Margarita is hardly ever served with a straw, but who is to say you can’t have it with a straw? Who sets these standards of normality? What is normality? When life throws a lemon out at you, make lemonade? That might be the “normal adage” but don’t doubt that you might as well slice wedges of that lemon to spunk up your cocktail – have it with a straw, if you may. The magic, after all, is in the concoction – not the goblet, glass or straw.

I don’t think the highlight of “Margarita With A Straw” is that it is the story of a patient of cerebral palsy. Neither is it her unusual journey of discovering her sexuality.. I think the biggest achievement is how “normal” the story is.

Sex and handicap have so far both been terribly misunderstood and/or misrepresented in our movies (and perhaps our society). Let’s recall what Bollywood has us believe mostly:

  • Handicap in bollywood – a good human being, who is tragically handicapped and the big bad word is mean to this person for no fault of his/her. Poor he/she lives a life of suffering and sympathy is the least you can give him/her.
  • Sexuality in bollywood – (usually means homosexuality) and is the butt of all jokes (pun intended). So a gay angle in mainstream Bollywood is usually intended to provide comic relief (?) and almost always is physical comedy – to evoke laughter over dressing or mannerism. At best, it titillates homophobia (remember kantaben!).

“Margarita with a straw” is a slap-on-your-face impolite departure from both these stereotypes. It is in the end a story of a girl with her unique flaws (and I don’t mean her physical flaws), and how she handles her life on her terms. Yes, her disability is a factor, but who in this world is perfect. And then again, who is perfectly happy. Aren’t we all but a group of mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive list of flaws?

But then who are we to call anything a flaw. Perhaps there are no flaws, simply facts – which we all accept and get on with life. So what would a mother do, if she found her child was challenged physically? Brood? Perhaps momentarily. But, Brood forever? Nope. She will take it in her stride and do what she must to make sure the child does not feel the pinch.

So welcome to Laila’s (essayed remarkably by Kalki) life – different, but raised normal –  A girl whose dreams do not show any signs of the struggle that her mortar skills do. A musician, composer and writer, in her late teens, who Skypes and messengers with her boycrush, even writes him a song in his languages, only to get her heart broken. But she is a today’s educated girl – who can dabble between software, men and even porn, at her will and has no shame asking a desi dukaandar for a vibrator.

With crushes and sexcapades behind her, her story takes a defining turn when she is accepted in New York University. A lot changes for her and for her Aai (the ravishing, refreshing, rare, Revathi) in the Big Apple. For starters, Aai no longer needs to carry a manual ramp in her non-cosy van, for the developed country is equipped to give her daughter the wings she never imagined. But old habits die hard – in her brief stay in New York she still shadows her daughter without her knowledge only to make sure she is fine. As a confident, yet worried mother returns to India, the brave, yet newly independent daughter stays on to pursue her dreams and live her life.

While academic flight is underplayed, it is the unfurling of Laila’s inner self, that forms the crux of MWAS. When she meets Khanum from Pakistan (Sayani Gupta) in New York, you can sense sparks flying. Make way for Hindi cinema’s most unconventional coupling  – one a patient of cerebral palsy and other with no eyesight. Both women. Chemistry crackles and couple starts to live together. But is Laila sure of herself? Is she as committed as her partner?

In the last leg of the story, the couple of New York arrive in Delhi to make a few announcements. Attempts are made, and Aai, misunderstands bi for baai – and can only empathise that all women are but baais at home – dealing with chores day in and day out. A determined Laila makes it but obvious in the next attempt but has little chance to converse. For beneath the fighter exterior, Aai is losing her battle against cancer.

The protagonists real battles are finally not about her physicality or her sexuality, they are about her family, her infidelity, her personal choices. Does she tell her partner the truth? Does she choose convenience over companionship? Career over family?

Margarita with a straw is more than a film, it is a perspective. Sexuality is not a situation, it is a fact. If you accept that your child has cerebral palsy, why not accept a child who discovers he/she is gay/bisexual? Cerebral palsy can not be cured, but as a parent (and society) you can try and make the environment more conducive to help the person lead a normal life. Is it a lot to expect the same for a person with uncommon sexuality? For everything that is uncommon is not unnatural.

To say so much about this film is to mean without saying that it excels in all departments, and superlatively so in performances. Revathi’s portrayal of Aai is as real as it can get – angry, loving, caring,  sometimes doting and nosey, she is the typical Indian mother, an epitome of affection. Both Sayani Gupta and Kuljeet Singh (as Laila’s father) deliver memorable characters for what they bring to the screen.

But the movie belongs to Kalki Kochlin – who makes Laila very three dimensional, very believable. She works effectively to nail the body language and voice without ever making Laila a caricature. You can see her inner struggle flash on her face and can feel for her everytime she struggles to move or to communicate or make a decision. This is definitely a performance of an international standard.

Kudos to director & writer Shonali Bose, who not only breaks stereotypes but sets a new benchmark of sorts. She has more than pushed the envelope in Bollywood. MWAS is a bold, daring, refreshing and very important film. It breaks conventions and asks you accept what you mustn’t question, and love without conditions.

Do not have fixations of what is right, what is acceptable or what is normal. And the next time you have a Margarita, (or even a filter coffee for that matter), remember you can also have it with a straw ;-)

Kartik K J

(Based in Pune, a marketing professional in daytime and a movie buff during night, Kartik K J is currently working on something which he hopes will be a novel someday)

This post is by Salik Shah, whose twitter bio says his location is Milky Way, and he is addicted to speculative fiction. Once in a while, when he remembers us or finds a film worth talking about, he sends us his cinema notes. Over to him.

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The story about struggle behind the making of a film shouldn’t be criteria for judging a film. The act of borrowings, bold decisions and compromises made can’t be more important than the film.  When a film reaches the theater, or the screen, it stands on its own feet. There is no director to defend it. No producer to sell it. No critic to lead. The decision is tough—whether we like it or not. Our choices reveal more about us than the film.

Let’s take two very different films for comparison, The Drop (Dir. Michaël R. Roskam, 2014) and Court (Dir. Chaintanya Tamhane, 2015)—both set around a fixed point—to see the differences between the choices made by a master screenwriter and a promising debutant.

The bar in The Drop and the court in Court have one thing in common: they don’t move. Written by an American, Dennis Lehane, and adapted to the screen by a European director, The Drop is a striking film set in an American neighborhood. Nothing happens in The Drop—nothing extraordinary—until the beginning of the end, or an end. The Drop ends at one point, and then starts again. Same with Court, like MFC said. Tamhane pushes the violence off the screen. Lehane embraces it. Tamhane denies a verdict. Lehane delivers justice.

Storytellers have to make tough choices—and those choices make or break them. Tamhane’s earlier effort, Six Strands (2011), is mesmerizing minus the political comment. Forerunner (Dir. Sahej Rahal, 2013) is clever and intriguing, also equally political and confident. But it is Pati (Dir. Sohrab Hura, 2011) which emerges as the winner among the three with its stark realism. Pati reminds one of Satyajit Ray’s early films—though it isn’t supposed to be a film.

Court is made with paper, but the script is not the film. Pati’s strength comes from the camera, which isn’t afraid to move when the need arises. Kamble embodies anger, movement and restlessness, but the still camera doesn’t quite capture his free spirit. Court doesn’t let Nutan’s kitchen speak for itself. It chooses noise over silence during the train journey, which could have been a memorable and powerful scene. Pati sings, Court stings.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (Dir. Jabbar Patel, 1999) is a Bollywood film—but manages to offer nuanced characters and scenes. Though I struggled to get past my bias against the style of the film in the beginning, I was really interested in the subject. When the style became unimportant, the story took over my senses. Towards the end of Ambedkar, the struggle is lost but the spirit remains.

Court doesn’t offer such comfort. It refuses to be subjective. It is a balanced work, and therein lies its flaw. It is fair to everyone, but unfair to itself. Jai Bhim Comrade (Dir. Anand Patwardhan, 2011) from where Court borrows its strength isn’t such a sleek and sanitized film. Patwardhan isn’t easy to watch not just because of the controversial subjects of his documentaries, but also for his low-production value, unplanned, haphazard shots and unprofessional cutting by our ‘high’ standard.

Anand Patwardhan tells the truth, and he shows that it can be really ugly, quite literally. He has a signature that doesn’t need introduction in the history of Indian filmmaking. And he isn’t afraid to go the court to fight censorship and secure release of his films. We can label Patwardhan as an activist filmmaker, but Anurag Kashyap (Gulaal), Vishal Bhardwaj (Haider) and Imitiaz Ali (Highway) are also activists in their own fashion and target audience.

Subjectivity comes with the position of power—internal and external—and Court was wise to recognize that it didn’t have such power early on. Court tempered the anger, harshness and spirit of Jai Bhim Comrade to reach out to a wider audience (who might actually commit suicide if made to watch a Patwardhan). Its strategy worked, but our cinema lost. Again.

“In the last few years, [I] have discovered that there is nothing bigger than a filmmaker’s ego. And [I] would surely worship that ego the day I get to know that a film is cure for AIDS or some serious disease like that. Till then, it’s just a film, a fucking film…

Does it deliver anything new? A new cinematic language? A new/hidden India that we weren’t aware of? A new art? A new craft? The answer is no. It’s a new voice that’s assured, makes brave choices but is still following the diktats set by the Top 5-fest-selection-committee.  It felt like what an European art-house director would do if he is asked to direct the film. Even when the lights are switched off one by one in the Court, you knew at that moment that the film won’t be over there. He would go back to the mundane life of one of the characters. And he exactly did that – its predictable in that way, you know whom the film is trying to please.”

MFC  

The above criticism is harsh, but necessary. It is true that a film can’t be a cure to physical diseases, but it can be a balm to spiritual calamities.  It can save marriages and prevent suicides. It can give hope to those who need it desperately. It can also make life bearable and worthwhile. It can help people to grow beautiful from within. It can also lead one astray, sow guilt, and kill. It could be a world event promoting science, or a political tool to ensue genocide. It can be extraordinarily mundane, or remain just a film, a fucking film. Should it be pathbreaking or formulaic? The choice is ours and ours alone to make.

Dear Bollywoodwallas, the good news is: the most famous scene from the court of Indian cinema is yet to be convicted. The bad news is: the world has changed. Chaintanya Tamhane is a confident voice of our changing times, and Court is better than most of our paper mache. Vivek Gomber, you’re the quiet hero we need. (Though I must confess that 12 Angry Men (Dir. Sidney Lumet, 1957) is still my favorite court film.)

In memory of Bollywood, and to good times ahead:

Salik Shah

(Pic Courtesy – Court’s FB page)

NFDC Film Bazaar’s Screenwriting Labs: Deadline Extended

Posted: April 23, 2015 by moifightclub in cinema

writingNFDC Labs has announced deadline extension for its all three labs. The last date for submitting applications is April 30, 2015.

In 2014, NFDC Labs introduced Romance Screenwriters’ Lab. In 2015, they continue the tradition with the introduction of the Children’s Screenwriters’ Lab.

Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, Kanu Behl’s Titli, Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha were some of the scripts which were selected in the earlier edition of labs.

For those, who aren’t clued in, here is an introduction of the labs –

NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab

Six independent screenwriters to develop their skill under the guidance of a variety of industry experts from across the globe. Through one-on-one sessions with their Mentors, the Screenwriters are advised on tools and techniques required to improve their scripts and methods to pitch the same in the international domain. The lab takes place in two parts – one in association with an International Film Festival and the second at Film Bazaar in Goa.

For more information, please click here

Romance Screenwriters’ Lab

As the name suggests, the lab will focus on developing scripts centered around love and romance. The Lab will be held in three stages and the participants will be  mentored by three eminent people from the Indian film industry. The last stage of the Lab will culminate at Film Bazaar, Goa, where the participants will be given the opportunity to pitch the projects to prospective producers/investors.

For more information, please click here

Children’s Screenwriters’ Lab

NFDC introduces its first-ever Children’s Screenwriters’ Lab, where writers with Children’s films will be able to work on their respective films under the guidance of mentors. The Lab will be held in three stages and the participants will be mentored by three eminent writers from India and Abroad. The last stage of the Lab will culminate at Film Bazaar, Goa, where the participants will be given an opportunity to pitch the projects to prospective producers.

For more information, please click here

COURT_Pic1_©Zoo_Entertainment copy

I was in two minds about writing this post. Knowing how it goes, how it is received, and how it ends up with any criticism here, it feels futile and exhausting after a point. Mainstream or indies, the tactic remains the same – a new nomenclature, a new way of shaming, a new email, a new threat, or just a new guilt of killing-my-baby. Knowing too many people from both sides, i always get to know what’s coming, how and when. In the last few years, i have discovered that there is nothing bigger than a filmmaker’s ego. And i would surely worship that ego the day I get to know that a film is cure for AIDS or some serious disease like that. Till then, it’s just a film, a fucking film. And since the love for being a vacuous versovian overrules everything, you wonder if you should pick that weary self again, and do it once more, pick one more fight, for old times sake.

As far as films are concerned, I don’t know anyone who is so difficult to please. He never used to like anything. And I mean ANYTHING. Not a single damn film. That used to be our running joke. Maybe a Kusturica on a good day. He was the cinema snob. At least he used to be one few years ago when we used to have interaction. For his young age, he had seen lot of films from across the world.

During a late night cycle-wala-kaafi, once he was discussing whether he should assist any director and start his career as an AD. And then the bigger question came – which director? For him, no one was worthy enough to assist, and there’s not really enough to learn from them. After much deliberation, he came to the conclusion that in the last few years, he has liked just one Hindi film. Maybe he is the only director he can try, but still he wasn’t sure looking at his other films.

So we would always wonder what kind of films would Chaitanya Tamhane make since he doesn’t like (almost) anything – big, small, cult, legends. And I am happy to say that he is the snob who delivered. ‘Court’ shows confidence and bravery. With no film school or AD-ing anyone, CT went ahead by himself. So much international acclaim and national award for your first film, it’s a stupendous achievement and a dream debut. A big, big Congrats!

But if it wasn’t Chaitanya, maybe i would have been happy with this much. Since it’s CT at the helm of affairs, i expected more, much more. And so I am having second thoughts on it – does it deliver anything new? A new cinematic language? A new/hidden India that we weren’t aware of? A new art? A new craft? The answer is no. It’s a new voice that’s assured, makes brave choices but is still following the diktats set by the Top 5-fest-selection-committee.  It felt like what an European art-house director would do if he is asked to direct the film. Even when the lights are switched off one by one in the Court, you knew at that moment that the film won’t be over there. He would go back to the mundane life of one of the characters. And he exactly did that – its predictable in that way, you know whom the film is trying to please. And my fear is coming from that corner. Not specific to Court, but it gives a starting point to ponder over. I see a new generation of filmmakers who have grown up on world cinema culture – from dvd-wallahs to torrents, easy access changed the rules. And so before they get behind the camera, they know what the Cannes-to-Tribeca likes. You know the norms well, breaking away from the desi formula has sadly become another world-cinema-loved-by-fests formula in itself – take Non-actors, take long takes, unnecessarily stay back and hold the shot even when action is over, use no background music, say ok only on 897654897th take of the shots, show no emotional hook, cut it dry, nobody can cry their heart out, keyword is subtle, and other such routine stuff. It’s the Dogme 2015. And when you can see through the formula applied to achieve the desired result, you know where it’s heading. Not saying that all that is easy or not organic, but the calculative means to target in a specific way and to please a few has started worrying me.

I fear a day will come soon when if a character dies in our film, other characters will come in black suits, and would read eulogies. All formal. Nobody will cry their heart out, no wailing, no rudaalis. Because Remember, subtle! Remember, drama is bad. Remember, melodrama is NEVER. Even though that’s what we would do in real life. Death in our society has nothing formal about it. But we would go that suit-and-eulogy route because that’s the accepted norm by the west, by the film fests whose endorsement we crave for. If being feted by them because you are passing the exams on their terms and conditions, we are surely moving away from what was ours. And it reminds me of this incident which I keep quoting. I was in school then. There was a death in the family. My Granny started wailing, she came out, sat on the elevated platform just outside the door, and continued to do so. Neighbors joined in. And i was feeling so embarrassed. How can she do it?  Why is she crying like that? Can’t she do it more formally? It reminds me that we are in similar scenario – we are embarrassed to show our true colours. We are decorating our stories in the colours they like. Even if a woman is dealing with her dead husband, she remains calm and quiet. Felt bit strange. So give me ‘Fandry’ any day.

Nobody confronts the raw emotions of “Dada, aami banchbo” of Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ anymore. It’s so loud, they new-gen cringe at it, how can you have it? Song and dance are strictly no-no even when we really learn and choreograph steps at many occasions in our life and culture. Why? Because another diktat of the west-fest. If their cinema reflects their stories and culture, why our cinema can’t do the same? And am not talking about mainstream Bollywood here. That’s on different tangent. That’s why i like what a Bhardwaj, Kashyap and Ratnam does with their songs. Or what a Q tries in Tasher Desh.

I believe this was long due. Our cinema getting noticed at the top five film fests of the world. But can we push our envelopes now – our stories in a new cinematic voice? One that doesn’t follow the fest-diktats. Hopefully the new gen kids will lose the fear of rejection by west. A ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’ or a ‘Vihir’ didn’t really crack the top fest code but they remain an all time favourite. And who doesn’t love those voices when they break the fest-diktats at the biggest fests, be it as fluff and pop as QT’s.

(PS – FOR THOSE WHO THOUGHT WE HAVEN’T WRITTEN ENOUGH ABOUT THE MERITS OF “COURT”, CLICK HERE, and HERE. In Caps, because many seems to be going blind while reading this page)