Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reema and Zoya, Zindabad!

One spoiler ahead for Talaash, but it’s not the main one - just an FYI!

(Reema in an appropriate Star Trek T-shirt!! I cannot wait for this!)

There is a scene somewhere in the middle of Talaash where Roshni (Rani Mukherjee) and her husband Suri (Aamir Khan) go watch a film. Roshni has spent the entire film consumed by grief - for her son, who died, and for her husband, who is emotionally detached from everything around him. But in the darkened theater, cocooned in the audience, she laughs. And Suri watches her in wonder. Roshni comes out of the film with a smile on her face - a smile that lasts until real life creeps back up on her. For those few hours in the cinema, she was free of the troubles of her own life. Her burden was lightened.

The film she was watching? Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal 3*.

Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar get it.

(And by “it,” I mean the power of cinema.)

So-called “brainless” cinema has taken a real beating lately from the chattering classes and critics. And the more popular a film is, the louder the moaning gets. “Leave your brain at home” and watch Akshay Kumar beat up some bad guys in Rowdy Rathore; Salman and Katrina “mindlessly” entertain in Ek Tha Tiger. The implication being that anybody who can enjoy a film like that is stupid. Or lazy. Or stupid and lazy.

"Why aren't people rushing out to see 'realistic' films about serious topics that we approve of! Those are the only worthwhile films!"

But Reema and Zoya get it. The pleasure of escaping your life for a few hours. The pure pleasure of laughing until you cry at a well-timed pratfall or unexpected pun, of the uncomplicated adrenaline rush when seeing your favorite hero (or heroine) beat up a bad guy while delivering a punch line, of the butterflies in your stomach when forbidden lovers are transported to a beautiful wilderness...

The moment in the cinema, with Roshni laughing at Mukesh Tiwari getting hit in the face with a piece of fruit, really summed up the film for me. In the end, Talaash works not just because of the performances or the presence of star power or wonderful direction and cinematography (though those are all factors) - Talaash works because co-writers Reema and Zoya have respect for the medium, have respect for the conventions of traditional Hindi filmmaking, and, most importantly, have respect their audience.

Does the story make emotional sense? Are the characters consistent? Are the songs included in the story telling or just tacked on out of obligation? Does the filmmaker believe in the story he or she is putting across? These things matter far more than “logic” or “realism.” Audiences know when they are being pandered to and when they are being talked down to. Hype and star power may drive people to the box office but unless there is something genuine behind the film, that’s all you will get - a product people buy because they are curious after all the hype. And maybe the cash earned that way is enough for some people.

I finally got a chance to listen to the uPodcast episode on Jab Tak Hai Jaan and I was struck by something. Now, I haven’t seen the film and have no intention to due to my dislike of Shahrukh Khan when he is in “star” mode but I was struck by one critique that all the participants had - that the story was stupid. But it seemed to me that the complaint was really something deeper - that the scriptwriter thought the audience for a film like this was stupid.

And judging by Devika Bhagat’s previous work with Yash Raj, I believe that is the case. Devika wrote Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl and Bachna Ae Haseeno, both of which I’ve seen and both of which suffer from the same problem - Devika either doesn’t understand what makes filmi film conventions work or she doesn’t care enough about taking the audience on a journey to put use them properly. Though nominally both “romantic-comedies” there is very little romance in either film, at least between the leading couples. There are a few interludes that work thanks to the chemistry of the performers - Bipasha and Ranbir in Bachna Ae Haseeno; Ranveer with Parineeti Chopra and Aditi Sharma in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl - but on a whole, the two films share a cynical attitude towards filmi romance, shoving the lead pair together at the end with little concern for character development or the emotional narrative.

Why on Earth did they ask her to write Jab Tak Hai Jaan? While I'm more than happy to give Devika credit for writing charming, “modern” slice-of-life scenes and characters, she is the last person qualified to write an epic romance. If the writer doesn’t have respect for the material and the genre, the result is always going to be heartless and hollow.

Reema and Zoya’s collaborations on Talaash and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara are a contemporary take on Hindi film conventions, done lovingly and respectfully, with great talent and craft. And I hope more young filmmakers follow in their path instead of turning to Hollywood as the source of everything good and holy, reluctantly hammering songs into narratives that can't sustain them or using over-exaggerated “ironic” filmi moments to make a point.


Just as a final thought, on the uPodcast episode, they discussed epic romance and whether the genre was dead... or at least incompatible with modern ideals. I’m not sure. I will say that I’ve enjoyed some epic romances from the past few years but of the four films that immediately came to mind, two were Tamil and two were flops.

For the record: Madrasapattinam and Raavanan are fantastic epic romances, and almost flawless. Kites and Mausam had their issues but I enjoyed both of them very much.

I would also add Parineeta, Jab We Met, and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani into the mix as filmi romances - not romantic-comedies, which is another genre altogether - that I enjoyed quite a bit. Rom-coms, Holly and Bolly, tend to leave me cold.

* It might have been Sunday but it was definitely a Rohit Shetty film starring Ajay Devgn, Arshad Warsi, and Mukesh Tiwari.


getfilmy said...

OMG FG, How did I miss this post? SO ON POINT re Devika Bhagat - I feel like she just doesn't get filmy films or the charm they have, and ever since she joined YRF and became Adi's favorite, the films have suffered as a result. I have no doubt she's a good writer, and would excel at writing films that star, say, Abhay Deol (Manorama Six Feet Under and the like) - and I enjoyed the TV show Mahi Way, that she wrote. But they are not Hindi films as we know Hindi films.

I'm not sure how much of her contribution survived in JTHJ, I think Adi tends to be as shifty about the typical Hindi film as Devika is. KJo, on the other hand, embraces it and is finally getting over whatever insecurities and hangups he had over the last few years, for which I'm immensely happy.

Also agree re the Golmaal 3 scene in Talaash - they get it. You don't have to like a certain kind of cinema in order to understand why they work and what their appeal is. It's silly to write them off completely, or to judge the people who enjoy them.

Filmi Girl said...

@GF Either a lot of people missed it or a lot of people agreed with me and therefore didn't comment!! LOL! :))

I wonder about Aditya... I agree that he doesn't particularly get it, either. From what I've heard about JTHJ on uPodcast I think some of Devika had to survive - there was a scene mentioned with Anushka and some chicken (or something) that sounded like the kind of thing Devika does well.

She really should be writing for Abhay Deol or stuff like Vicky Donor... or even for Y-Films, which aren't trying to be as "filmy."

I saw another post - here - which divides Excel into Farhan films and Reema/Zoya films, with the latter just working better. And I agree 100%.

getfilmy said...

FG -

Yeah, I read that article and agree 100% re the Reema/Zoya vs Farhan films. Also, that the film works better when you know the twist.

That chicken scene in JTHJ is pure Devika, in fact the whole of Anushka's character was a Devika/Adi concoction, while Kat & SRK were more Yash Chopra creations.

Apropos of nothing, I wish they'd all stop doing the meta-Bollywood wink wink stuff, you know? It worked in 07-08, but at this point I wish they'd all just get back to good old-fashioned storytelling without self-referencing themselves to death.

This KJo interview with AC sums up everything I've been feeling lately about B-town -

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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