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Front seat: Bombay Talkies marks Bollywood centenary

Updated May 19, 2013
—File Photo
—File Photo

Akkar bakkar Bombay bo, assi navvay pooray sau; sau sau baras ka hua, yeh khiladi na boorha hua

There isn’t a better way to commemorate a 100-year-old film industry than Bombay Talkies — a bouquet of four films designed brilliantly and presented in a very mature manner.

The winds of change are obvious here: no more mere dance drama but instead hardcore storylines told in an equally hard-hitting way.

The only hitch is that there is a presumption that all Hindi films revolve only around the city of Mumbai just because the industry headquarters is located there.

Maybe the four well-established contemporary directors — Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap — had to face financial restrictions in making the anthology within Rs60 million and so couldn’t go out of town to grand locations.

This has resulted in a selection of commonplace stories which any aam insaan can identify with. Day-to-day stories representative of the urban middle class milieu told in a realistic style. Both Dibakar and Anurag have established themselves in this genre of filmmaking but Karan and Zoya was a surprise packet.

Even the background song penned by Amit Trivedi and sung by Mohit Chauhan — Akkar bakkar Bombay bo, assi navvay pooray sau, sau sau baras ka hua, yeh khiladi na boorha hua — instantly has your feet tapping.

The opening shot of the first film, Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar, has Avinash (Saqib Saleem who debuted with Mere Dad ki Maruti) barging into a typical matchbox Mumbai home, haul up his sleeping father and shout, “I’m not a eunuch but gay!” It tells you that this fare is going to be different: bold and not afraid to come out of the closet.

An urban couple, played by Rani Mukherjee and Randeep Hooda, both media professionals, have been living a make-believe happy life without realising their falsehood.

In comes a trainee journo Saqib and their life turns upside down.

The bold and snappy banter of Saqib and Rani is very much like the present-day office tête-à-tête. Within 30 minutes, Johar manages to convince us that films needn’t be a mere dance and song affair.

“Start accepting the truth,” says the director.

All of the three protagonists have lived their character.

The second film in the anthology, Star, is by Dibakar.

He always gets his casting right and knows how to get his actors to do the needful.

He has gotten the Kahani-fame actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

This guy can act and touch your heart with his powerhouse talent.

Added to this Dibakar has adapted the story idea from the original Patol Babu Film Star, a short story by filmmaker and writer Satyajit Ray.

What more could he have asked for?

The way he has used space, camera moving seamlessly from close-ups to long shots across the backdrop of high-rise buildings which dwarfs the protagonist — Ray would have been very proud of the young director.

It is story of a failed theatre actor struggling to make a living with a depressed daughter and a cheerful and understanding wife.

To bring cheer to his daughter’s face he makes up stories and enacts them with an intention of proving himself. Siddiqui is Ray’s Patol Babu.

The third story, Sheila Ki Jawani by Zoya Akhtar, is a short film about a school-going child who dreams of becoming Sheila (Katrina Kaif).

Child actor Naman Jain of Chillar Party fame is good in his innocent portrayal of a child wanting to pursue his dream of becoming a dancer against his father’s (Ranveer Sheroy) wishes to see him grow up as a strong man by pursuing sports activities in school.

The dialogue “Mujhe football nahin khelni hai.

Sirf goal maro, goal maro bolte rahte hain. Mujhe Sheila banna hai” is delivered with such innocence and sense of frustration that you feel like grabbing hold of Ranveer and shaking him by the shoulders.

Naman’s ideal is Katrina Kaif and he dreams of her as his fairy godmother and loves dancing to the Sheila Ki Jawani dance number.

Films inside films is Zoya’s forte if you can recall her debut, Luck By Chance.

The last film in the series is by Anurag Kashyap titled Murabba.

At first it will make you think that it is an ode to Amitabh Bachchan.

But a closer look will remind you of the madness, euphoria and obsession people have of film stars, especially people from small cities and towns.

In India when people come to know that you are staying in Mumbai, the first thing they ask you is about the film stars you have encountered.

And to make oneself known in your hometown you start concocting stories about dalliances with film stars and that is exactly what Anurag has portrayed here.

He has a gem of an actor Vineet Kumar Singh who comes to meet Bachchan Sr. at the behest of his father with a lone murabba in a glass bottle for the veteran actor to taste.

Any day of the year, especially on birthdays, hundreds arrive at the locked gates and wait for hours to have a dekho at their favourite stars. Some even wait for months to have a glimpse.

A glimpse which becomes a story to be retold hundreds of times to eager hometowners.

Anurag has captured this essence well. Looking at Vineet’s acting, one feels that even he sometimes in his life must have waited patiently outside Prateeksha for a glimpse of Amitabh Bachchan.

The icing on the cake of Bombay Talkies is vignettes of milestone films and stars from the day films started being made in India and ends with a title song-cum-dance by the current crop of commercial film stars.