LIFF Closing Night: Bombay Talkies

Bombay-Talkies-posterStarring: Rani Mukherji, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Ranvir Shorey, Katrina Kaif, Vineet Kumar Singh, Amitabh Bachchan

Directed by: Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Indian Cinema, producer Ashi Dua brought together four exciting directors of Bollywood, giving each a chance to tell a story in 25-30 minutes. Given that the four stories are essentially four separate short films, I will review them individually as well.

Karan Johar – Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh

Karan is the most established director of the four, but also probably the most ‘Bollywood’ as well, used to working on massive budgets, and shooting in foreign locations. Instead, he’s limited to the city of Mumbai, and a tiny budget. Apparently when he found out how much he could spend, he said the clothes he was wearing were worth more. In spite of having to work within the constraints of this production, Karan Johar proves himself as a storyteller. His story revolves around a gay intern at a Mumbai tabloid Avinash (Saqib Saleem), and his associate editor, Gayatri (Rani Mukherji), who is unhappily married to Dev ( Randeep Hooda).

I really liked the use of old songs, particularly Lag Ja Gale, which I too love. I’ve read a lot of people say Karan’s film is “brave”. It’s a very good film, and credit is due to Saqib Saleem for playing his character with such sincerity, but it’s about time gay characters and story lines need to be accepted into mainstream Indian cinema, so Karan Johar just did what needed to be done. Even still, the main character ends up being Gayatri, not Avinash, so how brave is it really? Karan Johar has a lot of influence, it would have been much more exciting and shocking to see a bigger star play Randeep Hooda’s character. Not that Hooda wasn’t good, but an A-lister would have had a greater impact.

Dibakar Banerjee – Star

I love Karan Johar, and I said this on Twitter as well that I would defend his films till I turned blue in the face, but Dibakar Banerjee’s film is a masterpiece, and it works so well because of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He plays a wannabe-actor, who always expected to just be given his chances, but never tried too hard. One day he gets the chance to be an extra on a Ranbir Kapoor film being shot in the street, and instead of waiting to get paid for it, he rushes home to tell his daughter all about it. Not much happens in it, but it is an incredibly sweet and heartwarming piece of cinema. It is adapted from a Satyajit Ray short story, which is a nice touch, using inspiration from one of the all-time greats of Indian directors.

I think it’s worth mentioning the crowd applauded following Dibakar’s film at the UK premiere, which they didn’t do for any of the others.

Zoya Akhtar – Sheila Ki Jawaani

Following Dibakar Banerjee’s film was going to be tough for any of the other three directors but the best one to do so is Zoya’s overload in cuteness, about a little boy with a dream of being a dancer, who realises this after seeing Katrina Kaif in the song “Sheila Ki Jawaani“. It is essentially about following your dreams, which is such a key theme in Indian cinema. The kids who play wannabe-Sheila, and his sister, are both quite good, and I think the fact that he’s quite sweet looking helps a lot in sympathising with his dream.

The film is sweet, but it doesn’t quite match up to the two films that come before it. It is also a bit too like Billy Elliot, and I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but it’s too similar, especially since Billy Elliot is so well known in the UK. It also feels like it is about to echo themes that Karan Johar tackled in his film at any moment, but then never goes that far.

Anurag Kashyap – Murabba

The final film had a lot to live up to, given the three works it follows, and I think there was a lot of expectation from what Anurag Kashyap would come up with. What he has made has a great story, and possibly the most celebratory of Indian cinema and its star power, but unfortunately execution of isn’t as good as it should be. I think my main issue is Vineet Kumar Singh’s portrayal of Vijay, a small town guy sent by his father to Mumbai to feed his idol Amitabh Bachchan half a murabba, so he can eat the other half. I think the idea is great, and I could have enjoyed it, but I found the character of Vijay so very irritating. It’s really quite off-putting, and not how you’d really want the experience of Bombay Talkies to end.

The finale song wasn’t quite as cringeworthy as it seemed in the promos on the big screen in it’s entirety. The montage of clips from old songs was well done, and much better than the line-up of current Bollywood stars that follows it. The song, by Vishal and Shekhar really isn’t nearly as good as anything else they’ve done, I really can’t believe they couldn’t come up with a better composition, but it’s a cute ending. It’s a nice effort by Ashi Dua to mark the centenary of the industry, but I don’t think it will be remembered a few years down the line.

Bombay Talkies had its UK Premiere at the Closing Night of the London Indian Film Festival 2013.

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