What makes us re-visit our favourite films?

 Fan of the movies or not, most of us can name a couple of films that we have watched many times and know that we will keep going back to them. Watching a new film asks for too much of  our attention to the images, the actors, the music and how all of it weaves in together. More often than not, I walk out of the theatre not knowing what exactly it was that made me so invested in the movie. What’s even more bizarre is that there have been times when I have had no particular fondness for a movie until it suddenly hits me after a couple of days how much the movie and its scenes have stayed with me. This happened with The Lunchbox. I watched the movie while on a break from rooted cinema and after months of watching junk cinema and series. I remember being restless throughout. After a couple of days, while stuck in mundane routine, I realised how I couldn’t stop getting flashes of the way Bombay was presented and then it dawned on me how beautifully the movie romanticised the boring and mundane. I keep going back to The Lunchbox every now and then. So what is it that makes us go back to our favourites? Is it always one thing, a genre, an actor, a director?

If you’re a particularly attentive movie viewer, it’s just easy on the brain to keep going back to what you already love. As much as you want to be blown away by new techniques of storytelling, a part of your mind wants to just enjoy the experience without nit picking, but that almost never happens. Inevitably, I find myself obsessing over what made me like the film and am drawn to articles, notions and opinions on the movie. What we re-watch is like our comfort food, we know we’ll be left satisfied the way we want to be and it’s still entertaining.

Many times, I have found myself longing to watch a film again because there’s that one scene that randomly started replaying in my head earlier that day. These are sometimes the most crucial scenes that the movie was building up to and sometimes just a moment that passes by. I have watched Masaan multiple times and most of the times it is to build up my emotions till Deepak’s break down scene and I have watched Piku for the smaller moments between the characters.

To further break it down, we feel like watching certain scenes because of the emotions that they infuse in us. Here’s the thing. Cinema is really images and sounds strung together. The movie as a whole provides you with an emotional closure and individual scenes viewed in isolation can not make you feel for them as strongly as the whole movie. This is what prevents me from fast-forwarding any movie. But I get it, re-watching just your favourite scenes is a short cut to reaching where you intended to, emotionally.

Actors are like the surface of a huge iceberg. What the actors do with their parts is mostly the first and sometimes even the only thing that stays with us. As viewers, most of us do not know enough about cinema to understand what goes on beneath the surface but a performance is something anyone can have an opinion about. Some like actors that disappear into their parts without a trace and some like the ones who bring their personal charm to every role. Hindi cinema thrives on creating aspirational characters and that makes so many of us watch and re-watch the movies of our stars.

I keep going back to Carol and I know that every time it has been to go back to Rooney Mara’s wonderfully delicate performance. Apart from being a fan of many different things about that movie, Rooney’s performance is singularly my favourite thing about it. There are however, also instances when an actor’s performance has had a profound impact on me despite not liking the movie. I have lost count now, of the number of times I have seen American Hustle. Not once was I able to feel strongly for the movie but each time I have found myself more in awe of Amy Adams’ performance. I keep revisiting it to catch her expressions in every possible long and close-up shot.

Like many other wonderful actors, Amy Adams tends to disappear into the part she plays, allowing us to be engrossed in her character’s story rather than her stardom. Yet, I go back to only some of her movies despite liking her work in almost anything that I have seen from her filmography. If we are so in awe of our actors and stars then why don’t we keep revisiting all their work? It’s because of the way cinema works. Audience may not fully understand what went into the staging of a scene but all those elements add to the tone of the scene or the movie and together attempt to leave us with strong emotions.

The distance of the lens from an actor, what the actors do, how the camera moves or stays, the background and staging, the colours that come alive, the faint or the loud music that kicks in and a million other such things come together to make us feel a certain way. Once our minds and hearts buy into the emotions that a scene or the movie is trying to convey, we will want to watch the film again. We will want to chase that feeling that the movie left us with the first time. Sometimes, only to realise that we have grown out if it and a lot of the times  we are left amazed at how we keep finding the emotions that we were chasing every time we revisit the film. Sometimes even discover other layers to it and after that it’s all about solving the mystery of how it was done!

What makes us re-visit our favourite films?

Agar Tum Saath Ho and Gender Roles in Hindi Songs

There are multiple reasons that lead to the song Agar Tum Saath Ho striking a chord with the public. It is a rich and melodious composition by A.R. Rahman, it seen as the return of Alka Yagnik into mainstream Hindi film songs and the song also marks a critical plot point in the movie (Tamasha). Sensitive performances (especially by Deepika Padukone) give this song another dimension and make it extremely difficult for emotional viewers like myself to hold their tears back. Infact for me, this song sequence is an outstanding highlight of an otherwise average film. But there is more to this song. Let us take a closer look at the lyrics. The woman sings:

Pal bhar thehar jao,

Dil yeh sambhal jaaye,

Kaise tumhe roka karoon? 

Meri taraf aata,

Har gham phisal jaaye,

Ankhon me tumko bharoon.

Bin bole baatien tumse karoon,

Agar tum saath ho.

which roughly translates to:

Just wait for few moments; let my heart settle down. How do I stop you from leaving? Let me fill you in my eyes. If you are with me all my sorrows slip away. If you are with me I can talk to you without saying much.

She further adds:

Behti rehti nehar nadiyaan si,

Teri duniya mein .

Meri duniya hai,

Teri chahaton mein .

Mai dhal jaati hoon,

Teri aadaton mein,

Agar tum saath ho.

which translates to:

Your world is filled with rivers and streams; My world is set only where your interests lie. If you are with me, your habits become mine.

While the man keeps repeating:

Teri nazaron mein hai tere sapne,

Tere sapno mein hai naarazi.

Mujhe lagta hai ke baatien dil ki,

Hoti lafzon ki dhokebaazi .

Tum saath ho ya na ho,

Kya fark hai?

Bedard thi, zindagi bedard hai,

Agar tum saath ho.

which basically means:

Your eyes are filled with their own dreams and I can see anger in those dreams. All these talks of love are nothing but deceptive words. What difference does it make if you are with me? My life was merciless and will be merciless even if you are with me.

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We can see that the woman is expressing her love and her desire to stay with the man but the man is turning her down. This is a refreshing concept to see in a Hindi film song.

Back in the day, we had enough songs where women used to express love and romance as unabashedly as the men. Lag Jaa Gale, Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi Shikhwa, Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya? etc  are some such examples. However, somewhere and somehow we lost the plot. Most songs started conveying through their lyrics and/or picturization that the burden of expressing love falls only on the guy’s shoulders. He had to ‘impress the girl’. Scenes where a guy follows the girl to impress her while the girl either shows arrogance or blushes  became a popular concept so much so that a lot of songs are based on this concept even today.

Take for example, Mai Koi Aisa Geet Gaaon (Yes Boss). Yes, it is a cute song with a catchy tune and Shah Rukh Khan is rather charming here but the problem arises when bulk of songs being produced are based on a similar concept. It gives a wrong idea about gender roles when it comes to romance. Palat Tera Hero Idhar Hai is a recent example. Clearly nothing much has changed except that the lyrics have become ridiculous.

I have heard opinions that call the girl (in Agar Tum Saath Ho) weak and submissive because she says “Mai dhal jaati hoon teri aadaton mein”. The question is when we can accept the guy expressing Tu dil tu hi jaan meri (you’re my heart and my life) in Samjhawaan as romance without passing a judgement on the character then what troubles us when a girl is expressing love with similar intensity? Years of guy-impresses-girl based songs have lead to a rather funny images of a girl in love. She is either classified as ‘Door khadi sharmaaye‘ type or as the haughty who is difficult to please or worst as a ‘bold’ item girl dancing to misogynistic lyrics. We have stopped expecting girls on the celluloid to express deeper emotions when in love.

We produce enough musically and lyrically appealing romantic songs but why is it that in most of these songs the girl merely seems to be replying to a guy’s proposal and more importantly why do we not see girls being turned down by guys more often when girls in reality get a crush and get their hearts broken as often a guy.  It is not that we haven’t had such songs at all, but they are few in number and here’s to hoping for more songs (which are not item numbers) where we can see a girl trying to impress a guy or getting rejected by a guy!

Here is the song as it appears in the movie. As I have already stated, I really like the lyrics, performances and camera work in this sequence.

Agar Tum Saath Ho and Gender Roles in Hindi Songs

The Local Stories

India is home to many contrasting worlds. We have villages dwelling in darkness and we have cities that do not sleep. This is a country where the way a language is spoken or the way a festival is celebrated changes after every hundred kilometers. There are people embracing their age old traditions, some abstaining from them and some confused. So many worlds, so many debates and so many stories. It is therefore not surprising that almost 200 Hindi films release every year. What is disappointing however, is that despite being surrounded by so many stories and despite producing numerous films every year, only a handful of them are true to the milieu in which they are set.

The stories that surround us even when put simply, seem so much more appealing than a lot of the ones we see on-screen. Most of us do not know people who ran away from their grand wedding after realization of true love, yet this concept continues to be overused and reused till date. However, almost all of us are aware of the initial awkwardness that follows an arranged marriage but not many films have explored this space as non-dramatically and honestly as it actually is. There is also a humongous difference between the characters we see on-screen and the people we often meet. Many films tend to judge their own characters by putting them in boxes of black or white, beautiful or comically hideous, intelligent or dumb and so on. Such categorizations not only result in one dimensional and unrelatable characters but also lead to very rigid notions about beauty, heroism, romance etc.

Over the last couple of years, we have seen a dozen films that have managed to hold a mirror to the society we stay in or are aware of. These films have been lauded by critics, welcomed by a section of domestic audience and have even won praises from international audience despite addressing issues that are unique to India. Masaan, last year captured the pulse of young Indians trying to break away from the parochial society they reside in, with the religious hub of Banaras as its backdrop. The film introduced us to Devi, a woman who refused to be judged by the society, fighting for what she truly deserves while seeking closure. The film also captured the desperation of many youngsters to move to larger cities and the general thought of “Jitni choti jagah, utni choti soch” .

In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, we saw a confident and ambitious woman unapologetic about her weight. We finally saw an over-weight character who was neither used as a comical prop nor did she demand viewers’ sympathy. The Lunchbox told the tale of a bored housewife and a crabby older man who fall in love by exchanging letters in lunchboxes delivered by Mumbai’s dabbawalas. The film was unique not only in its concept but also in the way it presented Mumbai as a city of working class in contrast to a glamorous city of dreams or a ruthless city with an air of despair, as seen mostly in cinema. Court (2015), informed us about the gut wrenching reality of working conditions of sewage workers with a straight face while taking on the Indian judiciary with subtle humor. The scene where the deceased sewage worker’s wife is interrogated in the court room is among the most compelling scenes I have seen in recent times. Piku managed to hold a mirror to our living room conversations and more recently Kapoor and Sons redefined the family drama genre by analyzing the complexities of family ties with a non-judgmental eye. Such films help us see the simple stories that are hidden in lives that we lead, they make us more aware of our society and its problems, archive the present time and more importantly do not invoke exaggerated expectations of sacrifice, beauty or romance.

Sadly, Hindi cinema continues to be dominated by star-power. Box -office collections take precedence over art which restricts the space for experimentation. There are more businessmen producing movies than artists or connoisseurs of cinema.  A middle class Indian is mostly over-worked and exhausted, so for him grand and over the top cinema is entertainment as it helps him escape day today problems and thus a cinema closer to reality becomes too serious. Commercial masala films have become his comfort food. While so much is being made out of this apparent new wave of Hindi cinema, the hard reality is that even today Housefuls mint crores of money while Ankhon Dekhis are barely able to stick around for a week. Despite these deeply ingrained problems, there are courageous film makers and producers who bring to us the stories they truly believe in. There might be just five good movies out of the 200 of the year but you deserve to watch them because it is these five films that alter your thinking about our society, that expose you to new ideas and that make you appreciate the simpler stories around you.

The Local Stories

Geet Mein Dhalte Lafz

I have spent all my life in urban Indian settings. I have always only been to English medium schools, where being fluent in Hindi was considered trivial and fluency in English was stressed upon. Thanks to my South Indian roots, since childhood we were encouraged to speak and think in English. But since I grew up in North India, Hindi was the first language I picked up and till date it’s the only language that enables me to make comfortable conversations.  But what kind of Hindi did I pick up anyway? The kind we use every day, casual and unrefined. The kind we treat as a means to an end while bargaining with shopkeepers and riksha walaas without really understanding its potential depth and beauty.

Being a millennial, the songs that were popular during my teenage years were Just Chill, Dhoom Machaale, Dard-e-Disco, Salaam Namaste etc. I do not mean to say that there were no meaningful songs written those days, it’s just that I did not have the sensibility to comprehend them. Even today the songs that catch momentum are not necessarily the most lyrically appealing. In fact, sadly the songs that become top hits these days are Baby Doll, Munni Badnaam, Laila Teri Le Legi etc that sow the seeds of vulgarity in young minds and do nothing to popularize the finer dialect.

Probably the first time I really enjoyed the lyrics of a song was when I heard Aaoge Jab Tum (Jab We Met). In an album that had chart-busters like Mauja Hi Mauja and Yeh Ishq Haye, I could not stop listening to Aaoge Jab Tum. Soon my mp3 player was filled with Naina Thag Lenge (Omkara), Yeh Honsla (Dor), Ha Raham (Aamir), Sapno Se Bhare Naina (Luck by Chance), Arziyan (Dilli 6), Maula Mere (Chak De! India) and many more such songs. It was also around the same time that I got my hands on a CD of Manna Dey classics and a CD of classics from ’50s-’80s. All these made me relish the language (Hindi/Hindi-Urdu). Here, I would like to mention my favorite lines from few songs mentioned above:

Sone chamak mein, sikkon khanak mein-milta nahi

Dhool ke zarron mein, dhoonde koi toh- milta wahi

Kya majaal teri marzi ke aage, bandon ki chal jaayegi

Taane ungli jo tu katputli ki chaal badal jaayegi

Ha Raham, ha raham farma aye Khuda

Mehfooz har kadam karna aye Khuda

(One does not find happiness in wealth, search for it and you’ll find it in trivial things. How dare we think everything will proceed according to our will when we are but mere puppets in Your hands? Oh Lord show some mercy, protect us at every step.) – Ha Raham (Aamir)

 

Poocho na kaise maine rain bitaayi

Ik pal jaise ik jug beeta

Jug beete, mohe neend na aayi . . .

Na kahin chanda, na kahin taare

Jyot ke pyaase mere nain bechaare

Bhor bhi, aas ki kiran na laayee

(Do not ask me how I spent the night; moments felt like ages. I could not sleep as ages elapsed. I could not spot the moon or the stars; my eyes deprived of light. Even the dawn could not bring a ray of hope.) –Poocho Na Kaise Maine Rain Bitaayi (Manna Dey)

 

Door he se sagar jise har koi maane

Paani hai woh ya reth hai yeh kaun jaane?

Jaise ke din se rain alag hai

Sukh hai alag aur chain alag hai

Par jo yeh dekhe woh nain alag hai

Chain toh hai apna, sukh hai paraye . . .

Sapno se bhare naina, toh neend hai nah chaina

(To the distant viewer even the sand appears as the ocean. Only the one who dares to venture knows about the struggle of finding the ocean. Happiness and peace are as different the day and the night, the one who sees this difference is the one with a different vision. Peace accompanies us but happiness continues to be elusive…Eyes filled with dreams can find neither sleep nor peace) –Sapno Se Bhare Naina (Luck by Chance)

 

In recent times if there is a writer who has made my heart pound with happiness with his writing, then it’s Varun Grover. He uses the most unadulterated Hindi in his songs. He manages to bring out the beauty of the language like no other present day writer. His songs have made me fall in love with Hindi all over again. As the writer of the film Masaan, he infused the story with beautiful shayaari and poems. In times when most songs and dialogues are written in hinglish, here is a film that celebrates classic Hindi literature and yet tells the story of modern India. The song Moh Moh ke Dhaage from the film Dum Laga Ke Haisha is in my opinion, the best written romantic songs of recent times. In the song he writes:

Ke aisa beparwah mann pehle toh na tha

Chiithiyon ko jaise mil gaya, jaise ik naya sa pata

Khaali raahien, hum aankien moondein jaayien

Pahunche kahin toh bewajah.

Yeh moh moh ke dhaage teri ungaliyon se jaa uljhe

Koi toh toh na laage, kis tarha girah yeh suljhe?

(My heat was never this careless before. All letters seem to have found a new address. On empty roads, I am walking with my eyes closed; hoping to reach somewhere for no reason. These threads of endearment have entangled themselves on your fingers; there is no compulsion, so how will this knot get resolved?)

My favorite work of Varun Grover is the song Mann Kasturi Re from Masaan. When I first heard the song, it sounded very fresh and appealing, but honestly I did not understand much about what the song was trying to tell. A few months later I came across an interview in which he briefly explained the song. Intrigued by this, I searched for a detailed explanation online and realized how beautiful the song is. Here, he says our heart is similar to a musk deer, which goes around searching for the scent of the musk, not realizing that it is within him. He writes:

Khoje apni gandh na paave

Chaadar ka paibandh na paave

Bikhrey bikhrey chhandh sa tehley

Dohon mein yeh bandh na paave

Naache hoke phirki lattu

Khoje apni dhoori re . . .

(My heart is searching for its own essence, cannot find it. It cannot find the pattern to this existence. It wanders like scattered verses; it cannot be tied into a couplet. It spins like a top in search of its own axis . . .)

My love for Hindi is extremely vague. I never considered it as a serious subject in school; in fact I struggled with it. I even dropped the subject in 8th grade to pursue French. I struggled to read and write in Devanagari.  However, it is also the only language that I have ever used to think to myself. My love for Hindi grew as my love for Hindi cinema started developing. Today, I still have a tough time reading and writing the language but I feel my dialect has improved. Sometimes my sister calls me a banarasi because of the kind of words I use while speaking, I happily accept it as a compliment! I have a very long way to go on my path of becoming a Hindi geek but I can only hope that many more such amazing songs emerge to accompany me on this journey.

Finally, I am going to end this post with a shayaari by Bashir Badr which was used in Masaan because I absolutely love the film and this couplet:

सितारों को आँखों में महफूज़ रखना, बड़ी देर तक रात ही रात होगी| मुसाफिर हैं हम भी, मुसाफिर हो तुम भी; किसी मोड़ पर फिर मुलाकात होगी|

Geet Mein Dhalte Lafz

Why Hunterrr is an Important Film.

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There isn’t a dearth of films talking about sex and sexual relationships in Hindi cinema. What is appalling is the manner in which this subject is dealt with. Every second week we are served with sex comedies or erotic thrillers that revel in their double meaning,sexist and immature humor. In the backdrop of such films Hunterrr stands out and impresses.

As a society, rarely do we talk openly about intimacy or sexual appetite. Even in the most urban households parents are hesitant to educate their kids about sex, sex education provided in schools is either ridiculous or non-existent and among peers it boils down to just banter and humor. As a result, many of us don’t have an honest conversation about passion and desire even with ourselves for the longest time. I strongly believe that at any given time, cinema and society ape each other. This is the reason why there is a paucity of stories that deal with such subjects in a mature manner and present them as simply and casually as any other subject.

Our protagonist in Hunterrr, Mandar Ponkshe(played by Gulshan Devaiah) is an average looking, regular guy who just happens to have a higher appetite for sex. The film doesn’t give an explanation as to why he is the way he is, because it really isn’t required. He is not a porn star, or an addict and neither is he a poster boy who gets all the female attention. Mandar has to work to find a match for himself and with years of hard work  he has learned to score with ease. Quite simply put Hunterrr is nothing but Mandar’s love story.

All major and minor characters are very well written and played out. Each of them come across as people we meet and know in our own lives. The locations are real and the dialogues flow out as normal conversations. The film has an understated humor which adds to its strength. Coming to the performances, Gulshan Devaiah plays Mandar with utmost honesty and conviction. Sai Tamhankar shines as Jyotsna. She has a smaller role, fewer dialogues and most of her scenes are presented in a montage but her presence is felt vividly. Finally, its Radhika Apte as Tripti  who steals the show with her subtle yet powerful performance.  She makes viewers fall in love with Tripti. The role is not particularly challenging on paper but what Radhika brings to the character is worth experiencing. She and Gulshan manage to create a very pleasant chemistry from the word go.

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However, despite amazing performances there are times, especially in the second half of the film, when the writing stops engaging you the way it did in the beginning.  There are times when it feels almost exhausting to invest more time and emotions on Mandar. The climax of the film could’ve been better had it been presented in a much simpler way. Unnecessary cuts between real and alternate events add no value whatsoever. All this being said, Hunterrr should be watched for its mature and simplistic dealing of a subject that is grossly presented in Hindi films and of course for the kick-ass performances.

Why Hunterrr is an Important Film.

Firaaq

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Firaaq is a heart wrenching movie set one month after the Gujarat carnage of 2002. It captures the repercussions of the riots for people across different religious and economic boundaries. The film, as it asserts, is a work of fiction based on a thousand true stories. It is co-written and directed by Nandita Das. I have admired Nandita for her portrayal of strong and meaningful characters in Fire, Earth, I am and Bawandar but  it is her directorial venture Firaaq , that affected me the most.

Being politically correct is the last thing that this movie is concerned about. It does not shy away from pointing towards the participation of the state in the riots but at the same time  isn’t  about the blame-game. It quite simply states the facts and captures the aftermath. One of the distinctive and most impressive feature is that there is hardly any violence depicted in the movie, yet there is a lingering sense of fear. In the opening scene we see a graveyard where a truck drops off a load of bodies in front of the diggers, who cry helplessly as they bury them. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie. At one point a character says “Inssan, Insaan ko maar raha hai iss baat ka gham hai” and this is exactly what you feel throughout the movie.  The movie does not end on a hopeful note and does not want us to feel as if everything is going to be okay in the world again. Sadly, the movie finds its relevance even today.

The film cuts through different narratives and consists of a highly eminent ensemble cast. The gist of different story-lines is given below:

Arati and Sanjay (Deepti Naval and Paresh Rawal): Arati lives in the guilt of having denied shelter to a Muslim lady who came knocking at her door. Her guilt only increases on hearing about the slaughter of Muslim women through news channels. Ironically, her brother-in-law was involved in gang-raping of a Muslim woman and robbing stores and her husband is trying to prevent his arrest. I found this to be the most chilling story-line. We see Sanjay complaining about how media never adequately reports about Hindu deaths and defending his brother’s action by stating how can you dishonour someone who has no honour. He also asks his brother if he enjoyed “the taste of the fruit”.  Deepti Naval’s performance is my personal favourite in this film. She single handedly depicts the guilt of a large section of the society for being the silent spectator.

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Muneera and Hanif (Shahana Goswami and Nawazuddin Siddiqui):  Muneera and Hanif return to their home from their hiding only to find it ransacked and burnt. Hanif sets out to take revenge along with his friends while Muneera struggles to trust her friend Jyoti’s innocence.  The Muneera-Jyoti story line is extremely well written and played out very well by Shahana Goswami.

Khan Saab and His Servant(Naseeruddin Shah and Raghubir Yadav):  Khan saab is an elderly music teacher who is an optimist and is almost in denial of the gravitas of the current state of affairs while his servant keeps informing him about the mishaps.  Khaan saab realizes the magnitude of hatred perpetuated only when he comes to know about the overnight destruction of Wali Gujarati’s shrine. He accepts defeat to his servant and says  “sirf saath suron me itni kaabiliyat khaan ki aisi nafrat ka saamna kar sake

Anuradha Desai and Sameer Shaikh (Tisca Chopra and Sanjay Suri): Anuradha and Sameer are an inter-religious couple who decide to move out of Ahmedabad for a peaceful living. During a conversation with their friends Sameer opens up about the insecurities that he has to live with due to his religion and his anger at not being able to proudly proclaim his religion in public. I personally feel that this sub plot had a lot of potential but it couldn’t be tapped mostly due to weak dialogues.

Lastly there is the little kid Moshin who is orphaned during the riots and witnesses violence as his character cuts across the sub plots. In the end, we see Moshin stare  at us deeply after being robbed of his childhood innocence.

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Despite its few short comings Firaaq is an honest film that manages to hold a mirror to the impact of the carnage. It forces us to question the actions of our fellow citizens and deliberate about the times that we live in and the society that we are leaving behind for the future generations. The film consists of some exceptional performances and manages to trigger all the emotions that it aimed to.  As we debate about tolerance even today this movie reminds us about the most heinous acts carried out due to intolerance in the past.

This movie is freely available on Youtube!

Firaaq

Kahaani.

Let’s talk a bit about the 2012 thriller Kahaani. The film is about woman’s search for her missing husband in a city foreign to her and about the mystery that unravels as her search progresses. I remember being glued to the edge of my seat till the very end of the movie.

Kahaani was a movie that belonged to Vidya Balan in every sense. For the majority of  Hindi movie-goers she was the only known face in the film and man, how she delivered! There isn’t a scene in the movie where she hit a false note. She gave Vidya Bagchi an aura that was both vulnerable and strong. The scene where she looks out of the window, the one where she expresses anxiety and frustration as she tries to drape the saree and the vengeful look at the climax were all fresh in my memory as I watched the movie years later for the second time.

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In an interview, Vidya talked about how she prepared for the role. She mentioned how very early  in her career Mohanlal had advised her to always place art before comfort and that resulted in her decision to stay in that small hotel room for the entire shooting schedule. She gained every bit of my respect for this dedication.

If Vidya was the star of the movie the biggest supporting character was none other then the city of Kolkata. No movie has made me want to visit a city as much as Kahaani did. The cameras penetrate deep into the heart of the city, into the gullies and the streets, into the chai stalls and the tram depots. You feel like you’re walking with Vidya to every corner of Calcutta. The  depiction of Kolkata on the day of Vijayadashami (the crowd and the noise) is simply spectacular!

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The supporting cast does thorough justice to their roles. Bob Biswas sends chills down your spine as the polite assassin.  Rana shows his attraction towards Vidya brilliantly in subtle ways and Nawazuddin Siddiqui is outstanding as the ruthless Intelligence Bureau officer, Khan.

I loved how the movie built mystery around smallest of things, like the kid’s radio or the receptionist at the lodge,  forcing the viewers to suspect every character.  The point where the movie breaks off for intermission is just brilliant and so is the concept of coinciding the climax of the movie with the climax of Durga Puja.

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What doesn’t work for the film is climax being heavily inspired by that of the Angelina Jolie starrer Taking Lives, so much so that the style of attack and the weapon used are also similar. I was hugely disappointed when I found out about this as I really wanted this movie to be wholly Bollywood’s brainchild. Despite this, Kahaani was one of the few Hindi movies where I saw the city turn into a character, where a female actor carried the whole movie on her shoulders and where a man could not help but fall for an already pregnant lady!

Additional Notes:

  1. The album consists of an amazing track Tore Bina performed by Sukhwinder Singh. I heard bits and pieces of this song for the first time on TV at my college food-court and it was the first thing that made me want to watch the movie. You can listen to the song here.
  2. The above mentioned interview of Vidya Balan can be found here.

 

Kahaani.