Friday, 26 September 2014

Desperately Seeking Stereotypes(but Finding Fanny)

Published in The Navhind Times on 27th Sept. 2014

The release of Finding Fanny and the fact that the story is based in Goa has brought an old non-issue back to the fore: the portrayal of Goa and Goans by Bollywood. Although a couple of dozen Hindi films are shot in Goa every year, the treatment of Goa by Bollywood raises hackles time and again, like it did with Dum Maro Dum and Go Goa Gone in recent times.

Just as a reminder, Dum Maro Dum had Abhishek Bachchan playing a cop who takes on the drug mafia (which existed then, and exists now), but the fact that an attempt was made to highlight that topical issue was not the focus of criticism at all. The uproar was about a line which Bipasha Basu uttered in the movie, and those who have seen the film know very well it was taken out of context. The film – even before it was released – saw protests, and the matter was even discussed in the Assembly. Some women’s group protested and put up a banner outside INOX which said, “Bollywood b**bs coconut size, brains peanut size”, which was far more offensive than anything Goan that Bollywood has portrayed in its chequered history.

Go Goa Gone was a zombie story set in Goa, and even before the film’s release there was a hue and cry about it. “Is the director trying to show that there are zombies in Goa?” asked an ultra-sensitive Goan in a letter published in the local newspaper. He would perhaps have been perfectly happy if the zombies were in Delhi or Darjeeling. But Goa is a no entry zone for zombies.        

The French author Jules Renard once said, 'Look for the ridiculous in everything, and you will find it'. Given today’s scenario of people getting offended at the drop of a hat, I would simply replace ‘ridiculous’ with ‘offensive’ in that statement. 

As for the fuss over Finding Fanny, let me quote from an editorial in a local daily which said, “Hello Bollywood, Goans of today live in penthouses, lavish bungalows and drive Audis and BMWs too and holiday in Thailand!” which the writer no doubt considered a devastating critique of Homi Adjania’s film. That ‘Goans of today’ live such a lifestyle is indeed news to me, and perhaps to all those who are reading this. The acclaimed Konkani film Paltodcho Munis (The Man Across the Bridge) didn’t have any Audis or BMWs in it either, but some people get riled up only when Bollywood doesn’t show proper reverence for Audi-driving penthouse-living Goans.

And therein lies the problem. What exactly is the ideal or accurate portrayal of a Goan that would please everyone? Should a Goan man never be shown drinking, or a woman wearing a skirt in any film ever?  Is there an archetypal, acceptable Goan according to those who criticize Bollywood’s portrayal of this entity? Hindi films have portrayed and often lampooned communities from all over India, but I don’t quite see Tamilians or Punjabis endlessly debating how and whether they are accurately depicted in Hindi movies. 

A lot of these false notions are propagated when facts go unchecked and when people who don’t know the subject speak or write about it with more passion than sense. On social media and online forums, everyone has an opinion but very few have the facts.

If someone writes about, say, cryogenic technology, you assume the person is either an expert or has some knowledge of the subject, but that doesn’t apply to culture and certainly not to films. On this matter, everyone is an expert. It’s a myth that Bollywood stereotypes Goa, and this stereotype doesn’t originate from Bollywood but from the very people who buy into the myth without evidence. 

Fairly typical of this mindless myth-making is a piece that appeared on the NDTV website  which talks about ‘Five Goan characters you know well.’ The article is plain drivel because three of the five films mentioned in it – Baton Baton Mein (a memorable film by Basu Chatterjee set in Mumbai), Julie (the story of an Anglo-Indian family, remake of a Malayalam film - Chattakari) and Amar Akbar Anthony – have nothing to do with Goa or Goans. 

The fourth, Premnath in Bobby, is described as a Goan with a “paunch, striped skin tight shirt, a joke in the name of a lungi, a skull cap.” Now, this sounds plausibly stereotyped, until you ask yourself: “When was the last time I saw a Goan depicted in this unusual manner in a Hindi film?” Only in Bobby, obviously, because that was probably the only time such a character was shown in a Hindi movie. Premath’s Jack Braganza may be a character and his appearance is certainly striking, but how exactly is he a ‘stereotype’? 

The same applies to the fifth film, Saagar, where Kamal Hasan’s character is supposed to be typecast. Incidentally, the character’s name is Raja, but for some unfathomable reason the NDTV article lists him as a Goan stereotype. 

It is a misconception that every woman in a Hindi movie who wears a skirt is Goan, but this idée fixe exists in the minds of many. 

Julie, for instance, is the story of an Anglo-Indian family which is obviously not the same thing as a Goan family. This fallacious identification of Indian Christians with ‘Goans’ is a trope that doesn’t necessarily have currency outside Goa. (There are Peters, Roberts, Monas and Lilys from Mangalore to Mizoram, but this is conveniently overlooked, not least by those who criticize Bollywood). 

It is also a fact that there was a time when Hindi films gave the impression there were only Christians in Goa or, at least, that Goa was a Catholic dominated state. This impression, unfortunately, continues to remain in the minds of people who are not in sync with either Hindi films or reality.]

True, Bollywood is not particular known for doing a great deal of research, but if you go by the malcontents’ view, you would think they are all out gunning for Goans. The least Homi Adajania and his co-screen writer Kersi Khambatta could do is, spent a few months, learning, respecting and appreciating Goan culture and civilized lifestyle,’ said the editorial in the Goan daily. If only the edit writer had done a bit of homework, or stayed back till the end credits had rolled to see that the film makers indeed had a consultant in Goa to ensure they got the details right. They brought on board Cecil Pinto, arguably one of Goa’s finest humor columnists – and a thoroughbred Goan – for his inputs. 

Interestingly, Cecil had written, many years ago, a very insightful piece on the subject of Goan stereotypes which you can read here

To come back to Finding Fanny, the film was conceived in 2009 and Cecil was a part of the project since then. His services were on tap during the shooting of the film in Goa. Some parts were altered and the script was fine-tuned as per his suggestions, and many new details were incorporated.  

But hey, he forgot to recommend the Audi, the BMW and the penthouse, which apparently are the hallmarks of Goa these days.    

In a dismal misconception of life in Goa, the editorial further claims, “even homemakers get their chicken and fish cleaned in the market itself” (the last time I checked, Goa also had villages, some quite like Fanny’s fictional ‘Pocolim’) and “the use of non-inverted verbs in every question like “You’re ok no, Ferdie?” and “What man?”” was ‘sickening’, as if everyone here is a descendant of the Wren & Martin family of grammarians.

The fact is that Bollywood has evolved and changed considerably. But some people, unevolved themselves, fail to observe that the world outside does not always conform to their suspicions and prejudices.  

There are several films shot or set (sometimes both) in Goa that give lie to these mythical stereotypes, but more about these films and their characters in my column next fortnight.

Published in The Navhind Times on 27th Sept. 2014

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Film Review - Khoobsurat

Royal Treatment

Film: Khoobsurat
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Fawad Khan, Ratna Pathak Shah
Directed by: Shashanka Ghosh
Duration: 2 hrs 10 mins
Rating: * * *

Director Shashanka Ghosh has a couple of diverse films to his credit (Waisa Bhi Hota Hain Part II, Quick Gun Murugun) and has added another one to that list. Khoobsurat is a remake of the 1980 film of the same name starring Rekha and given the fate of remakes these days, the expectations were on the lower side. 

But I am glad that this film turned out to be a pleasant experience and eminently likable. It is feel-good, fluffy fairy tale like story (it is produced by Disney after all) with a few laughs thrown in for good measure.  Given that the original film was a plain simple story (that was Hrishikesh Mukherjee afterall), the screenplay writer Indira Bisht and her co-dialogue writer Juhi Chaturvedi have done a commendable job of adapting it.

Sonam Kapoor plays Mili Chakraborthy a physio-therapist (for the Kolkata Knight Riders) who is forced to pick an assignment in Rajasthan, to treat an elderly gentlemen (Amir Raza Hussain) from a royal family, whose feet are paralyzed.  

If Mili were a detective, she would be like Jacques Clouseau – bumbling, falling over things and not knowing what to say when. This doesn’t augur well in a family where everything happens with clockwork precision under the command of the lady of house Nirmala Devi (Ratna Pathak Shah, her mother Dina Pathak played the same role in the original). 

The son Prince Vikram (Pakistani actor Fawad Khan) is mostly busy dealing with business matters and is already engaged with the wedding around the corner. To say that the hyper Mili doesn’t follow the norms will be an understatement but it is her charm and innocence that works wonders on the young man and she also helps the father to get better and smile again.

While the story is predictable, it is the scenes and the dialogues that provide a zing.  In such a setup you are expecting any surprises and the journey is smooth.  Initially the humor is a little slapstick but within acceptable norms and enjoyable in fact.  

The costumes and production design also lend an air of credibility to the proceedings and the visuals gel very well. Sneha Khanwilkar’s rustic tunes are several notches above the usual and you want to revisit those tunes again. 

The acting and chemistry between the lead players is also a big positive.  While Fawad Khan fares well, Sonam Kapoor gives her finest performance as the bubbly Mili. The supporting cast is also apt – Kirron Kher as the Punjabi mother has been there done that a zillion times and a special mention for Ratna Pathak Shah who is first rate.

All in all, with a high feel-good quotient, Khoobsurat delivers a pleasant outing at the cinemas.

Published in The Navhind Times on 21st Sept 2014

Film Review -Daawat-e-Ishq

Feud For Thought

Film:  Daawat-e-Ishq
Cast: Parineeti Chopra, Aditya Roy Kapur
Directed by: Habib Faisal
Duration: 2 hr 5 mins
Rating: * *

It’s been a mixed bag for writer/ director Habib Faisal so far – his directorial debut Do Dooni Chaar was a delight and he followed it up with yet another endearing film, Band Baajaa Baaraat which he scripted. Bewakoofiyaan was not great shakes and his latest, Daawat-e-Ishq is also in the same mould.  

Like in his previous films, he knows how to etch out the characters but when it comes to the situations, there are problems aplenty here. 

It starts off with a zing and I was convinced that there are good times ahead. But that was not to be, it was like a sprinter participating in a long distance race. The take off was good but there just wasn’t enough steam after sometime. 

Set in the city of Hyderabad, Gulrez (Parineeti Chopra) and her father (Anupam Kher) are living a routine life. She is a salesgirl in a shoe shop and his whole aim is to get her married but the dowry is a big mountain to climb. Several suitors reject her and at times it is the other way round because of the D factor.  So far so good, you are quite relishing the Hyderabadi flavor. But then 
in a fit of pique the girl comes up with a rather outrageous plan.  Get married to a rich guy and then file a case against him under section 498A of the IPC claiming harassment and then opt for a settlement. It’s a loony idea to begin with and you can only shake your head in disbelief when the father, a sensible man otherwise, actually accedes to it.

More madness – they have to change their identity, assume new names and move to a new city, Lucknow in this case and book themselves the fanciest suite in a hotel. All so that she can get married to guy and then dump him. Becoming a nuclear physicist might be a relatively easier proposition but the father-daughter duo is busy scheming. 

They find a soft target in the form of Tariq (Aditya Roy Kapur) whose family runs one of the most popular restaurants in town. No kebabs for guessing that he turns out to be a soft target who falls in love with her and all that jazz.  The finale at the railway station is in the grand tradition of YRF but you couldn’t care less even if it was in an aeroplane.

For a film that is barely over two hours, there is incredible amount of time that is wasted. There is a song just before the interval and in case you doze off for that one, there is another one immediately after. Also the whole idea of trying to make of social point about dowry is self defeating by the motives of girl and all that talk about section 498A which is dealt without any seriousness.

The acting, especially Parineeti Chopra and the reliable Anupam Kher are the saving grace. While the film has got some of the things right, the fact is that the story is a dud.  I was left hungry, not for food but for a good film. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 21st Sept 2014

Film Review - The Maze Runner

Running to Stand Still

Film: The Maze Runner
Cast: Dylan O’ Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter
Directed by: Wes Ball
Duration: 1 hr 53 mins
Rating: * * *

After The Hunger Games and Divergent we have another young adult story, albeit this time the main protagonist is a male unlike the other two films. The debut for director Wes Ball, The Maze Runner is the first of the trilogy adapted from the books by James Dashner.

The primary motive of the film is to establish the characters and the settings for the sequel to follow and at the end of the film, you are left with more questions than answers. But that is how this system of trilogies work as far as films is concerned.

At the very beginning we see a young man being transported in a cage, he lands in huge meadow called the Glade which is surrounded by gigantic walls. He is not the first to reach there and perhaps he won’t be the last. His name is Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) but he remembers that only eventually. What is he doing, why is he  there, the answers don’t come easy from the young men who are already there.

All we know is that there are certain rules to be followed- only the Runners are allowed to cross the walls and enter the Maze and they usually come back before sunset. There are shades of the sci-fi story Logan’s Run (1976) and the more recent Japanese film Battle Royale (2000).
Thomas is determined to get out of there after a girl arrives in the cage with a note. The antagonist is played by Will Poulter who decides to abide by their old rules instead of trying to find a way out.

For most parts, the film is engrossing because of the way it progresses, there is the odd revelation from time to time making you wonder how it will all tie up. The finale is a tad disappointing for the simple reason that it builds up for the sequel instead of satisfactorily finishing this one off. 

Wes Ball doesn’t rely too much on special effects although it would have been tempting to do so given the technology that is at disposal today. The Maze Runner is better than many of the mainstream super hero movies and is worth a shot.  

Published in The Navhind Times on 21st Sept 2014