As I sat in the dark dingy single screen in nondescript Katpadi village a forty two second teaser of my favorite superstar’s comeback film unspooled on the silver screen. Just a glimpse, a fleeting glimpse of the star on the big screen five years since the last outing drove me to tears of joy. That is the power that cinema holds in this film crazy nation of ours. It is this power and hold on the collective conscience of the masses that Bombay Talkies celebrates.
Bombay Talkies is a unique experiment. Four voices as different as chalk and cheese coming together to make an anthology, that is being sold not on the names of the stars acting in it, but only on the name of the directors making them- a first for Bollywood for sure . The trailers made me to expect a mish mash of the gaudy and the high art mumbo jumbo that no one can understand. What one gets instead is something that’s nuanced, well-crafted and delectably un Bollywoodish in many ways.
The anthology starts with Karan Johar’s piece. On the face of it, KJo sounded the only disharmonic note in the entire orchestra that BT was- what was the maker of bubble gum candy floss cinema, whose last was a beef and bikini charade SOTY- doing in the company of Kashyaps and Akhtars of the world? KJo nonetheless makes you look hard at your judging ways with his short. The story of an exuberant gay intern who blasts into the lives of his married boss only to push the boss’s husband out of the closet shocks you to put it mildly. KJo pulls out all stops, even getting the male leads to lock lips, while ditching his trademark OTT melodrama and penchant for grandeur. There is subtlety and sensitivity in the way he handles the story of closeted gays living a life of lies and masks. Aided by some amazing actors, he delivers his masterstroke in the process taking a giant leap ahead as a story teller. Rani, Saqib and Randeep slip into their roles with the ease of a chameleon. They play with metaphors the dialogues throw up creating moments that force a thought and at times even jolt. As Rani removes her makeup saying she is now free, it’s almost an unmasking of her husband’s real self. As Saqib asks Randeep out for a coffee, his come out almost begs for his closeted self to liberate. What is the connection to cinema you ask? The evocation of emotions through Hindi film songs- every moment every emotion sung in verse immortalized by the songs of our movies. Who would’ve thought KJo could come up with this!
Dibakar Banerjee enthralls next with his short based on Satyajit Ray’s Patol Babu Filmstar. A story of a failed actor bogged down by life, regales his immobile daughter with movie stories. A random brush with shooting crew gives him the chance to redeem himself in his daughter’s eyes, for he now has a story where her father is the hero. Nawazuddin delivers a power packed performance, even as Sadashiv Amrapurkar takes us into a surreal realm questioning the ideas of when and where we are acting, in reel and real lives. The short leave you with a lump in the throat.
Post interval, BT does drop down the bar it set with the first two stories. Zoya Akhtar takes centre stage with her story of how cinema and filmstars are idols for millions of impressionable minds. From Salman’s hair cut to Aamir’s goatee, trends are followed religiously. In her short, a small kid is awed by Sheila and Katrina, and wants to be a Sheila when he grows up. On the face of it, there is a lot that troubles me with the story, why encourage cross dressing, why Katrina and not Hrithik or Shahid, how right is watching a kid dance to Sheila ki Jawani and enjoy the performance, not bothering about the lyrics and gyrations and the vulgarity of it all. Yet, as the kid dances to the song, one cannot but feel the joy of utter liberation that cinema brings to us, the belief of following ones dreams that film stars and their cusses stories give us.
Anurag Kashyap’ s is the last act, with his story of a guy who comes to Mumbai to meet Amitabh and make him taste murraba made by his mom, at the behest of his dad. Now this is a complete Bollywood fan boy saga where the obsession we have to films and heroes is brought to the fore. Matinee idols are Gods, part of our families, and that is what the story tells us. However, it is a tad too long, with too many songs and repetitiveness. Enjoyable nonetheless, this is the surprisingly weakest story of the four.
Ending in a quintessential item song that actually is drab and unimaginative, BT reaches a finale that fittingly celebrates cinema. The stars in the end credits song, tackily made though, set in with the festive note at which the movie intended to end, making it all come together. You go out of the theatres with a smile on your face and a lot of food for thought.
An ode to Bollywood could have been tacky, loud garish spoof of our own cinema. Mercifully, it is an anthology so varied and mature, it makes you proud that Hindi cinema today is on a new path and a new lease of growth unimaginable a few decades ago. A fitting start to the next century, catch Bombay Talkies for sure, for the love of cinema