Cast: Randeep Hooda,Rani Mukerji,Saqib Saleem,Nawazuddin Siddiqui,Sadashiv Amrapurkar,Ranvir Shorey,Naman Jain,Vineet Kumar
Directors: Karan Johar,Dibakar Banerjee,Zoya Akhtar,Anurag Kashyap
IE Rating: ***1/2
One film. Four segments. And a great way to celebrate the centenary year of Indian cinema. Bombay Talkies is a film that gives you what all good films should: it has stories,it has emotion,and it has drama. It has people you want to know. You want to tap them on the shoulder,and ask,’hey,you got a minute? Sit,talk to me.’ Finally,Bombay Talkies fills you with hope. If Bollywood can make a film like this,then it must be doing something right.
The strong connection that runs through all four is the love of movies. A character derives a life lesson from an evergreen film song. Another embarks on a journey to his holy grail,a legendary superstar. A drifter has an epiphany on a surreal film set. And a little boy begins his own search for self,via his favourite film star: did I say this film was about the movies?
The most unexpected segment is the first,by Karan Johar. Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh is about a good looking but distant couple,the reason for which is revealed in a manner which takes the characters,and us,down a rocky,unsettling path. Rani Mukerji plays a tabloid journalist who favours low-cut blouses and cotton saris. Her husband (Randeep Hooda) is a TV presenter. Brash new entrant in this ménage (Saqib Saleem) is quick to pick on the thread of dissatisfaction in his pretty colleague and her strangely disinterested spouse. What follows is quick and impactful,and leads to an affecting use of one of the most haunting Hindi movie songs,whose beauty refuses to be tamped by a couple of contrivances. The acting is good,the lines razor sharp and sexually charged: if it hadnt been for those tiny lapses,this would have been flawless. This is a Johar we havent seen before,minimalist and real, not baroque and make-believe. And hard -hitting as opposed to airhead-fluffy. Come make more such movies,KJo.
The second,based on a Satyajit Ray short story,Patol Babu,Film Star is the one that is full of surprises,and the one that is most satisfying. Dibakar Banerjee chooses Nawazuddin Siddiqui to play yet another ordinary man,trying to make a life in the hardscrabble belly of Mumbai. He wakes up with the sun in his eyes,and then he drifts,looking for something to do,for respect in his daughters eyes, for relief in his wifes face : the only uncomplaining component in his life comes from a large bird. An emu in a chawl? The fact that you accept an exotic bird alongside this most unprepossessing fellow is a Dibakar triumph,as is this whole segment. It has Nawazuddin in yet another stellar performance,as he negotiates his way through an impromptu film set in a Mumbai street; it also brings back to the screen one of Hindi cinemas best actors,nearly forgotten now : Sadashiv Amrapurkar. Karan Johars dastaan is wonderful,but this one,aptly called Star,made me sigh with pure,unvarnished pleasure.
Not quite as novel or insightful is Anurag Kashyaps ode to Amitabh Bachchan and the insanity of the true fan. Vineet Singh,whom weve seen in Gangs Of Wasseypur plays Vijay from Allahabad,who is sent off on a mission to that other world-famous Vijay,formerly of Allahabad,now of Mumbai. The sender is his Babuji who claims to be mortally sick and who says he will hold on till the sendee,his son,returns after that chora ganga kinarewala has partaken a bite of some home-made murabba. Murabba has its moments,especially when Vijay first asks,the artlessness done just so: aap bhi Allahabad se hain ka bhaiyya? This is Kashyap’s territory and he is spot on with the lingo and the leheja,but the exchanges between Singh and the guards guarding Bachchans house become repetitive,and flatten the tale. The idols appearance is deftly done,though. Bachchan,in that single flash,is played just right,and Singh has again left me wanting to see more of him.
A little boy earns his square fathers (Shorey) ire because he hates football and likes girly stuff in Zoya Akhtars Sheila Ki Jawaani. He loves dancing. He also loves Katrina Kaif. How Kaif and her shimmy-shake-shake comes to his,and his sisters rescue forms the rest of it. The children are both natural and endearing,particularly the young boy (Jain),but this one doesnt wholly satisfy either,and not just because the sight of little kids bumping and grinding to Bollywood item numbers is discomfiting. Its more because this conventional father- not wanting to stick to the prescribed masculine path son is a familiar trope. The smart closing ploy makes up for it somewhat : bright-eyed kids pushing past their parents hidebound ideas,and forging ahead are always going to be a win.
Bombay Talkies speaks of you and me,and speaks to you and me. Not all segments are even,but they are all cracklingly real. So much like life,isnt it?