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Anya Kong

PriyatamaWise men say only fools rush in but Neetu Singh cannot help falling in love with Jeetendra in Basu Chatterjee’s breezy Priyatama.


She’s the sort of impulsive romantic Bollywood looks at dotingly, indulgently. Only unlike Nargis (Chori Chori), Pooja Bhatt (Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin) or Kareena Kapoor (Jab We Met), she isn’t running off to someplace. Actually she sort of is — right in the beginning of the film — from her South Bombay abode to her boyfriend’s snug pad in suburban Bandra.


It’s a spur-of-the-moment, monsoon-triggered decision. Perhaps she’s been listening to too much of “Raindrops and roses” as the Sound of Music record lying about her seems to suggest. Or maybe it’s an aftereffect of the fresh, wet breeze gliding across her face. Rains do crazy things to the romantic-class and in Neetu’s case it’s reinforced her desire to tie the knot immediately.


Meet Dolly – wealthy, spoilt, starry-eyed, effervescent, clingy, champagne-glugging, loveable albeit ever ready to jump the gun — she’s new-fashioned yet comfortably dependent on her men for money. Being the only daughter of an affluent judge, she’s never had to worry about economics. It’s a familiar narrative but when essayed by a vivacious Neetu, barely even 20, it develops a spirit of its own.

Priyatama

Marriage is akin to a game of ‘ghar-ghar’ in her naïve head. And so when she badgers her beau Ravi (Jeetendra) to propose marriage to her father, he plays along.


It helps that Utpal Dutt (ever a delight) isn’t a fire-breathing dragon daddy but a pleasant paternal figure, the kind Ravi can sheepishly confess about his pre-meeting rehearsal with Dolly or argue love conquers all in defence of his 1200 bucks salary as a Doordarshan TV producer.


That’s a decent remuneration for 1977 but not nearly enough for a spendthrift like Dolly who, post-marriage, immediately blows up all their earnings in redecorating the flat, canned food to whip up exotic delights like “Hungarian goulash” and, consequently, multiple STD calls to her family cook to improve her cooking skills.


Even if Priyatama doesn’t dwell on it specifically, Dolly’s excess energy needs a greater challenge than domestic goddess or Emma-esque cupid between her best friends (Asha Sachdev and Rakesh Roshan).


If Sachdev, who won a Best Supporting Actress Filmfare trophy for her Big Ethel in Ali MacGraw glasses chasing Roshan’s perennially disgruntled Jughead is refreshingly droll in its contrast, Roshan raises laughs with his ‘not amused’ interjections. He’s happiest strumming the guitar to younger brother Rajesh Roshan’s lilting tunes, the winsome Koi Roko Na Deewane Ko.

Priyatama

On the other hand, Jeetendra, always a revelation in middle-of-the-road cinema, has no trouble getting under the skin of Dolly’s affectionate husband. His chemistry with Neetu is effortless and incredibly warm. Before he hits the point of exasperation and starts fantasizing about a obedient wife (Main Jo Bolun Haan To Haan), his Ravi makes genuine attempts to please her. Be it complimenting her horrid cooking or the sequence where he’s endlessly delayed in traffic for her birthday dinner.


True to his style, Chatterjee’s examines the teething troubles of newly weds — its exhilarating ups and discouraging downs — with characteristic humour of everyday milieu.


Yeh Dher Se Kapde Main Kaise Dhoyun, a supremely catchy jingle I grew up listening to on radio, pops in the background of a dinner scene as an analogical reference to Ravi’s plight in finishing a mound of offensive food sitting on his plate. During the afore-mentioned traffic scene, a poster of Sanjeev Kumar’s Yeh Hai Zindagi looks down knowingly at our distraught hero.


It’s these witty touches, deft writing of believable characters and relatable scenarios — Bambai mein jab do doston ka ek flat hota hai jiski shaadi pehle ho jaati hai flat uska hota hai— lending Priyatama its enduring freshness and repeat value even after more than three decades.


PriyatamaAlthough the disagreement between the husband and wife reaches a point of legal intervention (I S Johar and Asrani’s squabbling Parsi lawyers targets the funny bone), Chatterjee doesn’t position their quarrel around a standard battle of the sexes, social expectations or role-play. They’re victims of their own immaturity and impatience triggered by the usual suspects—ego and misunderstandings.


Priyatama has none of the chauvinism of Shashi Kapoor-Hema Malini’s Abhinetri but, like them, Ravi-Dolly too put on a similar facade of hunky-dory marital life to prevent distress to the parent.


The charade never feels contrived under Chatterjee’s simple but nuanced storytelling as he shares the cosiness, the disappointment, the uneasy silence and the inexperience of young marriage without once judging his characters.


It it what makes them so flesh & blood and Priyatama worth a revisit.


This article was first published on rediff.com.




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Anya Kong

FanEvery star’s greatest fear is a fan. If he ceases to exist, so does he. An actor takes satisfaction in applause but a superstar craves adulation.


Early on in the 1990s, when Shah Rukh Khan hit the big league and acquired a formidable fan following, he acknowledged what terrifies every major celebrity but few admit to in Simi Garewal’s Rendezvous.


“Philosophically, I think many times this is not permanent. This is a phase in my life. There’ll be another phase. I could very confidentially say that if this success was taken away, I’d take it very well. Realistically, I’d be shattered. It’s very nice to be loved by people. Honestly speaking, every little bit of attention that I get, I find it a little less. I want more. I love the fact that people clap when my shoes enter the frame.”


In Maneesh Sharma’s Fan, he plays one such furiously cheering member of the audience as well as confronts his worst nightmare of fading fame and shrinking support to satisfaction.


The superstar here is not really SRK (no, not in the absence of a single cigarette, he can’t be), he’s Aryan Khanna, fictional in the vein of Billu’s Sahir Khan but relies on the original’s accomplishments for authenticity and creating evocative, surreal imagery.


On the other hand, his fan, again played by SRK sporting prosthetics that could do with better consistency, has not only imbibed his physicality but also internalised the luminary’s persona just till the point it looks deliberately affected and derived.


Solely as a script, Fan is an underwritten, messy construction of unrealistic proportions. But when viewed as a jugalbandi between Shah Rukh Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, the experience is unique and rewarding.


Sharma kicks off on a fairly predictable terrain of starry-eyed worship but lends it freshness by way of ambiance. Gaurav Chandna, a middle-class Delhi bloke — presumably in his mid-30s, Punjabi twang et al, is an ardent Aryan Khanna bhakt running a cyber cafe buried inside a typical DDA market and enjoys the unquestioned support of his parents (a solid Deepika Amin and Yogendra Tiku, easily one of the most credible on-screen papas post-Queen and Neerja).


Gaurav is a familiar face in his neighbourhood, a big hit at the local Super Sitara competition, where he mimics his hero to perfection and basks in the deception of momentarily assumed identity.


When SRK ‘the fan’ dances against a giant montage of SRK ‘the star’ recreating the iconic moves, it’s a moment that articulates more than words. Exactly why when the fan scrapes off the star’s umpteen photos off his wall and burns them into a glowing pile pledging disturbing consequences, the upshot has desired effect. That’s the beauty of Fan; it’s rich on visual metaphors.


What’s flimsy is the motivation for his intense albeit innocent ardour to descend into vicious onslaught. Unlike Hollywood’s The Fan or producer Yash Raj Films’ previous Darr, films it brings to mind, which explained its protagonist’s demented dedication to mental instability, Gaurav is portrayed in an amiable light. He could be the eager-to-please Sunil of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa unable to propose to the girl-next-door (a charming Shriya Pilgaonkar) until Sharma rudely activates his nasty impulses around ageing Aryan’s young, upcoming rival (loosely reminiscent of SRK’s real-life scrap with director Shirish Kunder.)


I wasn’t convinced about Gaurav’s sudden hostility, his aversion to reason or the ill written cell sequence the events lead to. It could be a telling first encounter between a fan’s setback after he learns the object of his adoration is nothing as he imagined and a star’s realisation of what’s a boon is also a burden. What comes through is an ineffective sparring of antagonised pride and standoffish admonition.


At the same it’s nice to see SRK take abundant jabs on the scrupulous superstar front, be it the prevailing insecurity or obsequious behaviour towards the moneyed, the whims around his entourage, the irritation at surly foreign officers oblivious to his popularity.


When he fiercely demeans his own wax statue at London’s Madam Tussauds, an actor synonymous with arrogance, the irony is not lost. Nor is the artful glance of a waxed Salman’s amused figure witnessing the mockery in the same gallery. It’s a nice touch and yet another proof of Manu Anand’s camerawork working its own parallel narrative.


If only the script was as invested at making sense, Fan would truly fly. Instead the disturbing nonchalance of cops or Gaurav’s international spread and smooth access to movie units and private parties renders it far-fetched.


FanConsidering, spoiler alert, Aryan knows of his imposter’s identity and whereabouts from the beginning, it’s ridiculous he’d allow so much damage to his career and image.


Sadly, Fan is happier building itself on wobbly grounds to unleash dramatic confusion and high-speed chases in exotic Croatia or dusty Delhi. The prolonged action gets bloody and exhausting towards the end. And so when SRK’s character suggests “Chal khatam kar khel, ho gaya tamasha,” to the other SRK character, you see the point.


Though designed like a thriller that doesn’t shy from calculated risks, Sharma substitutes the genre’s punch to squeeze in the proverbial silver screen idol’s sanctimonious appeal to his followers.


Despite its squandered possibilities, Fan is always engaging.


What keeps this Fan going is SRK’s star power. The actor treads a delicate space in playing his own biggest supporter but also of the community he represents. He’s careful in his zeal, ensuring real-time fans don’t feel as though he’s mocking their affection just as he’s responsible in his response to such swaying attention.


This review was first published on rediff.com.




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Anya Kong

The Jungle BookWatching Disney’s live-action take on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is bound to evoke a myriad of sentiments among anyone whose childhood has imprints of Mowgli and gang. But for first timers too, it’s a treat they simply cannot afford to miss.


It’s the sort of spectacle where your senses savour in the details for as long as it lasts and sulk over the inevitable return to civilization.


And so instead of writing a conventional review, I thought I’d share the seven emotions I experienced most keenly while watching Jon Favreau’s breathtaking adventure.


Nostalgia

I was only a knee-high tot when my mother first took me to, I am not sure — either Mumbai’s Sterling theatre or (the now defunct) Strand — to watch The Jungle Bookon big screen. Although it came out in 1967, Disney re-released it in the early 1980s, along with some of its other animated fare and Ma made sure I caught every single one in theatre.


No kid could have resisted the dazzling vivacity of hues, frolic and warmth of an adorable man cub trying to fit in around his wild friends (Bagheera, Baloo) and wilder foes (Shere Khan, Kaa). I was no different. Besides the Hindi-dubbed anime series, high on Gulzar-Vishal Bhardwaj’s combined wizardry in Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai, from Doordarshan days only strengthened my association with Mowgli.


Nostalgia hit me hard as I stepped into the movie hall, with Ma once again, to witness The Jungle Book in its live-action avatar. But it’s not just me who’s grown up. The new version does away with the cutesy razzmatazz to embrace the dark and dangerous tone of Kipling’s books.


Awe

The Jungle Book owes much of its success to ingenious CGI.


Be it nature or beast, the raging chemistry between the two, the conflict it produces, the comfort it provides and scenes of Mowgli living on the edge could not be more expressive or authentic.


The majestic elephants showing up every now and then in the tradition of Tolkien’s Ents radiating ancient wisdom and supremacy, the fanatical aspirations of an enormous Gigantopithecus or this strange paradox of revulsion and draw the animal world demonstrates towards fire, or what they call the ‘red flower’ assumes a tangibility that’s rare in the realm of fantasy.


Déjà vu

Years ago, Kaa, the giant python terrified me in its cartoon form. And perhaps  planted a lifelong fear of snakes.


Turns out, nothing’s changed.


Scarlet Johannson’s seductive hissing cannot wipe out my heebie-jeebies. Rather one glimpse of her vast slithery form is enough to convince me I am better off covering my eyes while she’s on screen. I don’t know if all young kids can handle such (U/A rated) ferocity but the ones in my screening did not squeal.


Thrill

Favreau seizes the opportunity to extract a novel texture of action with the different varieties of animals he engages in to create unique set pieces. 


The politics and pace of the new Jungle Book is aggressive and revolves around survival. Naturally things get rough for Mowgli conspicuous by his species. Bites, blood and bruises sit not so prettily on his sprightly frame.


And yet there’s little to feel sorry about the man cub as he confidently leaps into the mouth of adventure (and on the back of a rushing bison) refusing to bow down to pressure or intimidation. In the 1967 classic, Mowgli is more of a helpless peach in constant need of chaperoning but the one essayed by a fabulous, soulful Neel Sethi is all spunk, scruff and tricks.


The Jungle Book lays constant emphasis on man’s advantage to think.


Ultimately, Mowgli’s intelligence is his sole weapon whether gathering honey for the free-spirited Baloo or taking on his ultimate nemesis Shere Khan.


Overwhelmed

Special effects can do little if there’s no love in labour. The Jungle Book brims with affection, of Favreau for the material, the star voices for the characters they embody and the deep friendship that runs between them.


Idris Elba spills menace as the much-feared tiger Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley’s protective instincts permeate through the Black Panther Bagheera, and the two duelling is a long harboured fantasy, only wish it was long drawn out.


Two of its more sensitive protagonists, and their tender interactions with Mowgli left me teary-eyed on more than one occasion. Bill Murray’s Baloo doesn’t hit a single false note as the bear wearing his heart on his sleeve. Ditto for Lupita Nyong’o’s doting wolf mother.


Mild frustration

Watching movies in 3D is problematic in this country. Often, the screen appears so dimly lit, robbing the scenery of all its impact and detailing, it’s annoying to say the least. Given the frequency of 3D films, the lack of proper presentation ought to be addressed sooner than later.


The Jungle Book posterA friend in the movie business tells me we aren’t short on technology or knowhow, it’s just that cinemas cannot help their cheapskate mentality and want to extend the life of the lamp lighting up the screen for as long as it will resulting in downsized luminosity and ruined cinematic experience.


Happiness

There is something timeless and pleasing about the sight of a perky Mowgli playfully perched on Baloo’s bulging belly splashing through the stream and humming the iconic The Bare Necessities. 


This refreshing and rip-roaring new adaptation recreates the said moment and many others to perfection without compromising its own voice.


Among all the emotions I felt while watching The Jungle Book, happiness tops the list.


Relive your childhood or enrich your kid’s but revisit The Jungle Book you must.


This review was first published on rediff.com




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Anya Kong

Cricket I am no expert on cricket. I cannot tell outside edge from inside. I don’t know who broke whose record in what year. I have never experienced the thrill of watching a live match in a jam-packed stadium.


For what it’s worth, I once set foot inside India’s legendary Eden Gardens — so what if it was only to take a picture — and stood outside Wankhade eavesdropping on the highest decibel of crowd euphoria.


But, hey, don’t feel bad for me. I love the game (And Sachin Tendulkar). I am what you call a dime-a-dozen cricket fan — a commonly found specimen in admirers albeit the most indispensable too.


My type exists in heaps — millions really — cheering, cussing and calculating from the comforts of our living room as if the television screen can magically convey our woe or wisdom to the player. Except without our frantic cheering, irrational logic and infectious gusto, the sport would have half its appeal.


It’s an emotion that resonates even more effectively since the invention of Twitter and other social networking platforms. Now I can instantly share my frustration or felicity, unmoved idiot box notwithstanding, right away on Twitter and exult in the company of fellow fools. Thanks to these cue-perfect gifs, my timeline is a sight on match days.


My preoccupation with cricket began in the 1980s and hit its peak in the 1990s. Some early motivation was provided by one of our family friends, Navbharat TimesSports Editor Keshav Jha.


Jha Sahab Uncle, as I addressed him, kindly lend me cricketer biographies and Sportstar issues from his enormous library of countless books and magazines. Sadly, he passed away long before I could figure my growing interest in the game.


I have fuzzy memories of the 1983 World Cup, the 1985 World Championship of Cricket, mostly Ravi Shastri and his Man of the Series prize — a swanky Audi, my first introduction to the German automobile giant. Part of this nostalgic montage includes rooting for a fading Sunny Gavaskar before he announced his retirement and a fascination for buying notebooks with bowler Chetan Sharma’s face plastered on the cover.


Perhaps I still have Sharma’s autograph tucked away somewhere in my unopened cartons, one my brother helped me obtain when we accompanied our mother to an Indrajal Comics event, where he and Buniyaad sensation Kiran Juneja played star attractions.


This imagery pales when compared to the glorious 1990s or what for me is the golden age of cricket. I can barely wipe the smile off my face as I pen down my highlights from that decade.


That proud ‘humari building ka ladka‘ entitlement every time a fresh-faced Sachin Tendulkar marched towards the ground or raised his bat to acknowledge a century or a half and, sometimes, getting stoked over the delightful breakthrough he’d offer as an occasional bowler even more than the centuries.


That unquestioned belief in former skipper Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja’s score-boosting middle-order partnership as well as the indescribable heartbreak that followed on learning about their alleged roles in a match-fixing scandal.


Take your pick between Navjot Singh Sidhu’s superlative 80 against Sri Lanka or all-important century against Pakistan, his sublime display as the man of the match and even fewer words. At that point, his jokester avatar was unthinkable.


The priceless expression on Anil Kumble’s mum and grandma as he and fellow tail-ender Javagal Srinath led India to a rousing victory.


Or instinctively picking The Wall over Dada when young guns Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid made a promising debut in the world of cricket in the tradition of a Karan Johar launchpad.


And, of course, nothing says ‘pwned’ better than the ultimate demonstration of the gaming expression in Venkatesh Prasad’s triumphant, telling gesture after he dismissed a smug Aamir Sohail during the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal.


My response isn’t limited to home turf. I’ve loathed the likes of Waqar Younis, Shane Warne and Damien Fleming every time they bowled to India with their characteristic cockiness.


There’s admiration too, truckloads of it. Like marvelling at Michael Bevan’s Flash-like running in between the wickets or Arjuna Ranatunga’s ability to run at all. Or spending hours looking for my jaw every time I witnessed god’s most nimble creation — Jonty Rhodes — in action.


I’ve had my share of cricket crushes. Few would recall the South African bowler Richard Snell. Boy, was he a treat for sore eyes!


Later, in my teenage years, I stumbled on the gorgeous all-rounder Christopher Lance Cairns. That spectacular, radio-smashing six hit by the controversial Kiwi cricketer while touring the West Indies in the mid ’90s is a visual I’ll take with me to the grave. Because when someone demolishes an attack spearheaded by Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, you do not forget.


All my quietly harboured enthusiasm could barely contain itself when I joined Rediff.com


Here I tiptoed around legends like Prem Panicker, paying little heed to his ‘sheesh’ expression while flocking his television-equipped cubicle to catch a glimpse of my favourite Cairns on a roll.


Here I’d be indulged by the exuberant Faisal Shariff — he called me “Choti” — and whose juicy anecdotes and clever insights about the cricketing world would make my day.


Here I’d take the significance of commentator Harsha Bhogle for granted because his presence then in Rediff‘s office was a regular affair.


Here I would bully one of my best friends Ashish Magotra to bring me a New Zealand jersey while covering the 2003 World Cup in South Africa along with a photograph and autograph of Chris Cairns. The kind soul obliged with Allan Donald’s as a bonus.


Does it matter? A great deal. I am a better fan because of these experiences. The more personal it gets, the more adrenalin I pump. My knowledge of the game is sparse, but my sentiment is profound.


When I sit with crossed fingers for sixty minutes straight or sacrifice a personal wish for Team India’s triumph, I am a small but significant speck in snowballing unconditionality. Exactly why I have earned every right to express my displeasure on being let down too.


If not distasteful, it’s this very hyper and humorous art of cheerleading prompting Virat Kohli to go wild with the bat, activate M S Dhoni’s Finisher mode or propel Carlos Brathwaite to nuke England’s almost certain win with four forcible sixes in the final over that reinforces the cult of the living room-confined spectator and renders the unremarkable cricket fan into someone of value.


This column was first published on rediff.com.




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Anya Kong

The Blueberry HuntThe furrows on his forehead, the flourishing laugh lines, the crinkly crow’s feet residing at the corner of his eyes and the extent to which they deepen when stirred. Looking at Naseeruddin Shah is like staring into a labyrinth.


There are stories, secrets and surprises in that profoundly expressive face.


I found a lot of time to observe and appreciate his physiognomy while watching The Blueberry Hunt, which spends most of its duration reporting a rifle-toting Naseer’s daily routine of feeding his Looney Tunes-addicted German Shepherd, surfing the Darknet and wondering what music he should play to the marijuana crops he’s cultivating within a remote forest of Kerala.


Given the nature of his occupation, he safeguards his privacy — CCTV-equipped estate, satellite phones — with visible paranoia.


Still, if not for the dark details, this could easily be a tale of a lonely old man and his four-legged best friend living the charmed mountain life far away from the maddening crowd.


What you see is what you interpret in software writer Anup Kurian’s second venture as director.


The Blueberry Hunt is deliberately devoid of form or context. And so there’s little information on Naseer’s character (appearing a bit exhausted if not exasperated by the mighty dreadlocks stuck to his real hair, one he sported in Kaizad Gustad’s Jackpot too). Only that everyone calls him Colonel and that he deals in marijuana supply.


But the banal conversations he has with his dog, Kuttapan Patti hint at a woman (voice of Ratna Shah) he loved and lost.


The green albeit reserved ambiance of Vagamon, its eerie quietness and the charisma of the house Colonel resides in generate intrigue that Kurian’s meandering approach, sluggish pace and rambling dialogue falter in.


Some of his narrative calls are even more perplexing, wherein an interesting character is build up promisingly only to be rudely bumped off to no impact.


Meanwhile, a contrived turn of events compels Colonel to safe keep a college girl (Aahana Kumra) abducted by his client (Vipin Sharma) and middleman (PJ Unnikrishnan) as an outcome of a professional rivalry we only hear about but never see.


Kumra’s presence brings in a hope of momentum in the absence of motivation but what follows can only be described as the wobbliest if not outright absurd take on Stockholm’s syndrome.


Kumra isn’t the problem though. Her raw appeal reminded me of Titli‘s Shivani Raghuvanshi. Except the latter’s desperation is soul crushing while Kumra’s play cute impulses and premature sympathy couldn’t be more misplaced.


Part of Kurian’s informal look at a life of crime leads to Colonel’s inadvertent interactions with out of bounds locals. Like the troika of ladies doing a census survey — the artlessness they bring to the scene is instantly charming if not meaningful.


Made at a shot-string budget, The Blueberry Hunt is typically art-house in its aesthetic with a dash of Nagaland mysticism thrown in for effect.I found its graphic novel rendering by Baburajan Muliyankeezhil a lot more edgy and captivating.


But as cinema, even if consciously experimental, it’s much too inert and latent to engage.


This review was first published on rediff.com.




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