Rise oF the underdogs
By Khalid Mohamed
Friday, May 11, 2012

From big budget flops to unconventional hits, the industry is seeing changing trends on local and international fronts — and about time too

It’s worry time — for the Bollywood trade bosses at least. The biggies have lost their thunder, while the relatively medium-budget films are wowing the audience, both commercially and in terms of sheer quality. A star-packed action flick bites the dust while queues lengthen at multiplexes for the unconventional and the daringly different.

The downbeat news first: there was barely a soul at the first screening of Priyadarshan’s Tezz when it opened at Mumbai’s Metro cinema — still the best of its kind in town because of its retro-décor and chocolate brown Italian marble walls dating back to the 1950s. Audiences throng here just to experience the cinema hall’s ambience, which exudes nostalgia unlimited.

Despite that, the Metro recorded its poorest attendance in decades, with barely half a dozen viewers fetching up for the 10am screening of the vastly-publicised thriller — headlining A-list actors Anil Kapoor and Ajay Devgn and shot extensively in London.

The thumbs-down to Tezz serves as a lesson to its producer, the well-heeled Ratan Jain and to its director Priyadarshan, an excellent technician. In his bid to be prolific more often than not, the director hacks out retreads of his own successful Malayalam films, besides cloning Hollywood products.

The 55-year-old Priyadarshan did attempt to change his stripes with the uncompromised Kanchivaram (2008), a blistering comment on the exploited lives of silk weavers. It garnered critical hosannas as well as awards galore. But incorrigibly, he was bitten by the commercial bug again and has belted out as many as six films in the last two years, all of average or sub-standard quality. Tezz stands out as his most uninspired and unoriginal work yet: a mishmash of Speed, The Taking of Pelham 123 and Japan’s The Bullet Train.

Another lesson to be learnt from Tezz is the misuse of charismatic actors in roles that are way below their stature. Kerala’s superstar Mohanlal and Priyadarshan have worked together umpteen times before and are chummy. Strange that the director could convince Mohanlal to accept a part that barely goes beyond three to five minutes and could have been enacted by a bit-player. Legions of Mohanlal’s fans could not have been amused by the actor’s downgrading.

On the upbeat front, the news is that Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani is a rock-solid hit and has revived the trend for women-oriented films. There was a time when actresses of calibre — Nargis (Mother India), Madhubala (Mughal-e-Azam), Meena Kumari (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam) and Nutan (Bandini) — got that one special role of their lifetime that would enshrine them in public memory forever. Vidya Balan has achieved a double whammy with The Dirty Picture and Kahaani. Who knows? She could even move on to the next level if she selects her films judiciously.

Director Ghosh, a former journalist with Reuters, is now hot property in the market and is contemplating a remake of Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri. Best to leave great masterpieces alone but then let’s not judge Ghosh prematurely.

A cheeky sex comedy, with a serious sub-text, is the other winner of the summer season. Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor, with its cast of newcomers, has its awkward and crude moments but is undoubtedly a notch or two above the commonplace. It narrates the story of a young wastrel who is sweet-talked by the doctor of an infertility clinic to sire as many as 53 surrogate babies. Incredible! But then what isn’t nowadays?

The eponymous Vicky is played confidently by newcomer Ayushman Khurana, who is already being swarmed by offers to act in a business that is direly shot on male acting talent. Sircar essentially spins a male fantasy yarn, depicting his hero as a super-stud. Redeemingly, there is also an underlying criticism on the proliferation of sperm-donor clinics all over India to ‘mass manufacture’ babies for barren couples.

Set against the backdrop of Delhi’s middle-class backdrops — Lajpat Nagar and Daryaganj — one of the film’s strengths is in the true-to-life depiction of a milieu that breeds unattainable aspirations.

In addition, Sircar doesn’t fight shy of dwelling on the clash of values between Vicky’s Punjabi upbringing and the more literary outlook of his girlfriend’s Bengali family. The mood throughout is tongue-in-cheek, faltering somewhat towards the finale. Despite the many flaws, Sircar’s comedy is still one of the better films released in recent times.

On the international front, the Cannes film festival authorities have resisted the temptation of spotlighting a typical Bollywood extravaganza. Back in 2002, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas was screened before delegates and critics — only to evoke a lukewarm, if not hostile, response. By the time the marathon three-hour-long film ended, practically every critic had walked out of the auditorium.

Come mid-May, Cannes will premiere Anurag Kashyap’s two-part Gangs of Wasseypur, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely and Vasan Bala’s Peddlers. Meanwhile, Tezz remains a clear case of derailment. Appealing neither to the masses nor the mandarins, it may be remembered — if at all — as just another Hollywood copy gone seriously wrong.

(The writer has been reviewing Bollywood for decades, has scripted three films and directed three others.)



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