There were, and perhaps are, quite a few rave reviews either in the newspapers or from the friends and social media of the film Bombay Talkies. It is a film which has four short films in it bound by no common thread. They are all independent and somehow, I don’t know how, it was an attempt to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema.
However hard it might sound but that is what the truth is. Of all the four movies with themes of relationship/sexuality (Karan Johar), failed actor to a star for his family (Dibakar Banerjee), following the dream (Zoya Akhtar) and Amitabh’s fan (Anurag Kashyap), the only story that is close to celebrating the Indian cinema is Kashyap’s which somehow to most reviewers like Anupama Chopra appears stretched.
Let’s have look at each of the four short films one by one.
Karan Johar: There is no doubt that Karan is good at showing relationships and sexuality on the screen. His story is more about liberation for all the three characters who are unsure of their own feelings at some point of the time in life and realise it later to have a huge sigh of relief as well as freedom.
The protagonist of this segment, Saqib Saleem, is gay and he decides to stop listening to his father’s taunts of being called a ‘chhakka’. He takes his father by collar, hits him and steps outside the house and so from a world of prying eyes where having a different sexual orientation is unacceptable. This is his moment of breaking free.
He meets his new boss, Rani Mukherjee, and tells her his story and realises that her husband, Randeep Hooda, is gay. He woos him, gets hit publically in latter’s office, then Hooda comes and apologises and kisses him with passion and aggression. Hooda is unsure who he is. Rani knows about it and in the process there is a realisation that his sexual disenchantment is not because of her but his own sexuality.
She walks out of the marriage and breaks free. This is her realisation of liberation. Hooda is left to himself as the film ends. This segment is all about breaking the perceptions and how Bombay (or say India) however modern it says it is, it is not. People don’t approach psychiatrists as if only mad people go to them. Whole life passes and one never knows that he/she is gay!
The institution of marriage, many relationships starts and people carry on just for the sake of it. Very few of us get that feeling of liberation as very few of us have guts to stand for ourselves and say what we are.
There is a whole process of convincing to ourselves and trying to mould to suit to the false constructs of the society which sadly doesn’t stand for yourself when you are falling apart inside. Karan Johar aptly brings that feeling to us. The performances by all the three are compact. Rani stands out with her expressions. However, her wiping off the face with tissue paper reminds us of Priyanka Chopra of Fashion when she wakes up with a Negro in bed.
How does this pay tribute to cinema is beyond my comprehensions other than the fact that Indian cinema always celebrated modernity in its journey till date. Be it the benevolent villain at the end of the movie, the love story of the poor and the rich, the aspirations of a young man in a just free India or widow marriage, child adoption. That is all the connection I could derive that too when I delve deep and see it vaguely. It is not as subtle as it should be.
Dibakar Banerjee: The plot is about a father and a husband who is a failed actor as acting couldn’t feed his family and he never gave it a hundred percent. He starts his day to go find a job of watchman and finds himself to become the ‘dhakka man’ on an ongoing film shoot involving Ranbir Kapoor. He just have to walk towards the actor who will brush him on the way.
He asks for his dialogues from the casting guy who writes in big fonts in Hindi, “Aey” and says this is your dialogue. His old self comes out and he starts rehearsing classic dialogues from old films without realising that all he has is a few seconds and a letter as a dialogue.
Here he has an encounter with his subconscious, as happened with Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, in form of an old theatre buddy who makes him realise that he left his dream for other things and challenges him that he can never do the part. He does it and then runs to his daughter to tell a real story in an exaggerated form.
This segment celebrates a struggler who couldn’t sustain as he had a family and the world was too tough. Everything doesn’t come served on platter and one has to make his way to the top by giving all one has.
This too doesn’t convey much. It is a poor choice of story and apart from Nawazzudin’s acting there is nothing much in it. Cinematographically, certain parts look good. But it fails to convince me as a story paying tribute to Indian cinema.
Zoya Akhtar: This segment is about following your dream. This young kid doesn’t like playing football as a boy rather wants to be Sheila (Katerina Kaif) and dance. He watches Katrina’s interview on TV where she says one must follow one’s dream and there comes a time when people accept you even after you have short comings.
This is a good story but not a convincing one. The connection to cinema is how it affects popular culture and shapes aspirations in whatever ways it does.
Anurag Kashyap: This story convincingly portrays the crazy fans of stars and to what extent they tread. It is story of a young son, Vineet Kumar, whose father is sick and wants him to go to Mumbai, trace Amitabh Bachchan and make him eat half of a ‘murabba’ the remaining half of which will somehow let him live a bit longer on earth. He tells the son a story about how his father, a fan of Dilip Kumar, sent him to Mumbai with a pot of honey and asked him to make Dilip Kumar dip his finger and eat it. That honey somehow let him live for another six years when doctors and pundits has said he would die within six months.
Vineet, named Vijay (Amitabh’s name in several movies) from Allahabad, goes to Mumbai and goes through which thousands of fans do: waiting, trying to convince the watchman that he is so and so and he needs just a chance, wait and wait and wait….
Kashyap aptly shows how people change themselves over the period of time. How they don’t go back from Mumbai thinking of the mockery of failure that awaits them. How hellish the life becomes when you don’t have a place to shit let alone live. The faith that someday his wait will be over when the Godot comes. And how fulfilling is the moment when you get to see the humble Amitabh calling you and eating a part of the murabba to show you that he has indeed eaten it.
Out of all the four movies, this one has a single line story but is most subtle in its execution. This is a tribute to the impact of cinema where people actually believe the stars to have some kind of godly effect.
Someone in the train, out of irritation of his narration of experience of meeting Amitabh, drops the jar containing the murabba and someone steps on the murabba after it comes out of the shattered jar. This is the moment when all his ‘waiting’ and excitement of it evaporates. He is so near of ‘saving’ his father’s life and someone stomps it.
The desperation and in hope of some placebo effect, he decides to buy another murabba and put it in another jar. Father asks about the journey and, “when did the jar shatter?” Vijay has no answer and father tells him how his own false story allowed his father to live for another six years.
Vineet gives an outstanding performance of an obedient son of Allahabad who is hell bent on making Amitabh eat that murabba and add years to his father’s life.
That was not just a murabba but the cinema itself which would make him happy and somehow boost his self-belief. This is the impact of cinema, the aura and a Godly faith created in the mind of the common mass which consumes it as something real.
The last ‘item song’ with all the stars in it is worthless. There are hundred better ways to pay tribute to 100 years. Even award shows with actors dancing on the tunes from different ears have better concepts and choreography. The song is bullshit in lyrics and choreography. It is advisable to leave the auditorium once Kashyap’s segment is over.
If we see all the four movies in totality, this is not a convincing work. And certainly not worth even half a star over three. Add to that, you take four relatively young directors who are considered to be out-of-box thinkers (apart from Johar) and make this. It raises your expectations and fails to deliver.
You get high hopes reading the reviews that are full of praise (and I don’t know why?). May be a compulsion that there are four star directors and whatever they will make have to be great. This is not a masterpiece. This is not a must watch.
Some will ask what my idea of a tribute to cinema is. First thing is, I am a reviewer and need not have an opinion of how it should be. Still, I would like it to be a compact package which has very subtle relations to Indian cinema. It could have been just one story with all the four directors collaborating to direct parts or whole of it. What has been the journey, how the times have changed, how have the perception of cinema changed over the years, what is the impact that cinema now has and it had decades ago, what are the themes that made people go to theatre again and again, the culture in the Indian cinema, the life of the Indian cinema is what it could have been.
Anyway, I just observe and put how the film has done justice to what it intends to say. And at that particular point it fails. Had it not been advertised as a celebration of 100 years of Indian Cinema, I wouldn’t have cared to go and watch it.