There was a time when I thought Bollywood was absolute nonsense. No… I’ve always thought Bollywood was absolute nonsense. But there used to be this time when I liked all these independent films that were made in Hinglish, thought they were the Real Cinema, Artistic Expressions of the First Order, would obviously not be popular because the Indian audience wasn’t mature enough, and in any case I considered myself good enough to see the good in all these flicks.
I don’t quite know how this preference for not-so-popular films began with me, but I think it was due to the Times of India in its heydays, [when it was yet to turn into Trash of India], which targeted the younger generation and at the same time gave outrageous viewpoints on popular movies and music. Dev Benegal was venerated, and Manmohan Desai scorned. The Week as usual focussed on little-known actors and directors, more prominent of who were Nagesh Kukunoor and Dev Benegal (again). India Today had a last page full of little-known people doing little-known things which all sounded like they didn’t quite get the publicity they deserved. Sympathy with the underdog, I think, caused it.
Guess the first one to catch my attention was the Aamir Khan-Nandita Das starrer 1947-Earth. The music was by AR Rehman and (hence) too lovely for words. And it was something that turned my head when a well-known actor like Aamir of the Ghulam fame would do an art-house-ish film with the then-little-known Deepa Mehta. All those interviews with the director and lead actors, apart from the fact that it was based on an Indian English book [oh, that was another phase I went through] based on real experiences made it all the more alluring. Well, I hardly remember what I was thinking then, but I’d sure like to know! ‘Coz I read Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Man a while ago, and found it obnoxious at the very least. And I caught the movie again, it failed to impress me, being but a cheap copy of the book. But the music… aah, I think it’ll take a long while more to get the strains of Hariharan singing Dheeme Dheeme out of my system.
And then was Nagesh Kukunoor, with his Hyderabad Blues. Poignant flick, I daresay. Again, reading media reports of it “being shot on home-video” by a “chemical engineer” had the adverse effect of making me sympathize with the movie. I shouldn’t blame myself too much for wanting to watch the movie; after all dialogues like “Man, he’s such a pondaatidaasan already!” and “Remember the time we were waiting for the pallu to fall?” didn’t happen in every movie, and any movie daring to have such a dialogue would have to be an Independent flick, which was, by definition Different and hence Good. But I must admit, it was quite okay, and I still liked it when I watched it a few months back.
Nagesh Kukunoor’s next offering, Rockford‘s premiere on television was eagerly awaited by me and most of my friends from school… it was about kids, right? Who have crushes and all? On a teacher at that? And it was by the Hyderabad Blues guy… it had to be good. And the music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy was nice, wasn’t it? Hummable… Well, anyway, it was on the last day before school opened for Class X, so it sort of held a senti value for some of us… some coming-of-age type of sentiment which I don’t quite get now. The dialogue delivery sucked with most of the actors, but Kailash Atmanathan as the hero’s sidekick carried off the whole flick for me. And also the various gags like the Suicide Frog, and the episode where Selva [Atmanathan] tries to give a love letter to one of the girls and just narrowly misses being caught by the Jesuit nun, just after which he’s reprimanded for his useless tries for which he says “Try, try until you succeed!”. Oh, and also the sequence where the lead actor [Rohan Dey] has his recurring vampire nightmare, wakes up scared and goes to the Warden[Brother Sebastian]’s room, where… well….. after which Bro clutches his palms together and chants “Lead us not to temptation, lead us not to temptation”.
Then there was some flick called Snip! starring Sophiya Haque and Nikhil Chinappa, which got the same sort of reviews as the previous flicks I’ve mentioned. It was about some hairstylist who snips off the ear of a rich customer… never got to watch that, and I’m thankful.
Another barber-shop flick was Rahul Bose’s Everybody Says I’m Fine starring Rehaan Engineer and Koel Purie [daughter of India Today‘s editor Aroon Purie]. It’s some cryptic flick about this hairdresser-for-the-wealthy who can read the thoughts of people whose hair he is doing. It’s boring at best, and the only highlight is Rahul Bose’s over-the-top act [even that gets irritating after the first bit], and the opening track.
And then two films starring Deepti Naval, which hit the screens at around the same time. One was called Leela, and it focussed on Dimple Kapadia, while Naval had a bit role as the mother of the student of Dimple Kapadia who is subsequently seduced [the son, I mean] by her[Kapadia], in some foreign university. There was this one dialogue Dimple Kapadia had, where she’s addressing the first class, where she says “I know you all are used to call your professors by first name, but make an exception in my case; call me Professor.. just humour me, won’t you?”
The other one was by and far more likeable. One called Freaky Chakra. Here, Ranvir Shorey’s the writer who tries to have a working story for his novel. He first sketches three characters, one played by Deepti Naval who is a widowed ex-doctor who now spends her time decorating dead bodies [now don’t ask why someone would want to have that done], an obsessive secret admirer of Deepti played by Sachin Khedekar, who makes obscene calls to her house, and swallows pills when she hung up on him, the third was Sunil Raoh who’s this happy-go-lucky college student. Now Ranvir Shorey fixes up Sunil Raoh in Deepti Naval’s house as a paying guest to base a plausible story. He keeps promising a Kahaani Mein Twist soon to the audience, and tries his level best to get the two to fall in love, succeeds, and subsequently fails in separating the two. The most poignant scene in the movie was the last scene where he’s succeeded in poisoning Naval’s mind against Raoh, she subsequently chucks him out of the house, and Ranvir turns up at her house with a bunch of flowers hoping to turn hero, but the script has a mind of its own… Sunil Raoh opens the door, tying up his pajamas, and a pigeon craps on Ranvir Shorey’s face. This was a Bangalorean flick, with most of the cast and crew being from the city, including Sunil Raoh. Notable among the cast would be RJ Sunaina Lall who played this perpetually turned-on girl in the elevator.
Another Bangie flick was Prakash Belawadi’s Stumble starring Suhasini Mani Ratnam, which was about the software boom and subsequent bust. Even ToI rated this bad.
Then there was this one called Mango Souffle, which was the movie adaptation of Mahesh Dattani’s play, On A Muggy Night In Mumbai. The only two things which stood out were Rinke Khanna in a leading role, and the theme being homosexuality [ToI needed no telling twice to go on at length about this].
Yet another movie which was in Hindi, or rather, Hinglish and shot in Bangalore was Bas Yun Hi starring Purab Kohli [of Channel [V] fame] and Nandita Das. Boring, at best, again.
And how could I forget American Desi? The main story was useless, but the gags masquerading as subplots were the best part, and the characters were all well-etched, my [and most people’s] favourite character being Kunal Vijaykar as the very Indian Professor Gautam Rao who came late to class, cooked his own lunch, brought it in a tiffin carrier to college, ate with his fingers, and burped loudly after meals… and also taught with his fly unzipped, mispronounced the roll call [“Jesus Alvarez!” “My name is Eh-seuss” “but there’s a J there!” “It’s silent”/ “Onathan Smith” “I’m called Jonathan” “but what about the silent J??” “It’s not silent”], referred to erasers as “rubbers”, and got punch-drunk on a single glass of champagne.
Carrying forward the Desis-abroad genre of movies, there was one called Masala, which was set in Canada, had a very weird sketch of characters, among who was the hero who kept getting recurring nightmares due to his parents dying in an air crash, and the Lord Krishna, and his brother Balram, who are pressed upon for help [reads more like hell, though] by the very demanding granny, Zohra Sehgal whose cruel, quickwitted repartees apart from the cut-throat demeanor add to the black comedy of the movie. There’s one scene where this hero’s on a flight after a very long time, the granny bullies the Gods into protecting him, and the flight turns out to be very tumultuous. Hero sarcastically quips, “Oh, no, this couldn’t be more comfortable if the gods were flying this” and the next shot is of Krishna asking Balaram a very tense “How do you fly this thing?” in the cockpit.
And then Monsoon Wedding… which I now realize was a bundle of nonsense put together with too many inane details intended to endear and strike a chord with the audience [Beta, change your underwear, no… naughty boy, didn’t change it yesterday], and a series of press campaigns [Mira Nair: “My whole family has helped with this movie… we’ve used my family home, my family members, my family’s underwear…..”]
There was also a movie called Bhopal Express, which was Nethra Raghuraman’s [of Thakshak fame] debut. It was about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. But I guess the movie is lost to the mists of time – not once have I seen or even heard of it being telecast on TV, quite unlike the other movies I’ve mentioned here. The only thing about the movie that is still remembered is Lucky Ali’s Tu Kaun Hai, off the OST of the film, with a music video that kicked ass in my opinon back then [can’t seem to find it anywhere now], and a haunting melody.
As for music… I used to obsessive about Indi-rock. I listened to Silk Route, Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Colonial Cousins, Alms for Shanti, Sanjay Maroo, Euphoria, Pentagram, Anaida, Shael, Vasundhara Das, Malgudi Shubha, Usha Uthup, Strings, Sagarika, Shaan and a whole bunch of people who weren’t very well known. It was almost a crime with me to listen to any song that was hummed by more than ten people. But I’ve mellowed since then, and am open to more different forms of music. I still like most of the Indipop I used to listen to, and find it a stark contrast to the Indian music scene now, where it’s deeply lacking in quality as compared to a few years ago when there was a plethora of talent, of independent artistes who flooded music channels… There’s no bringing back those rollicking times, is there? It’ll be like trying to recreate Woodstock.
But… Independent Movies… I don’t still like most of those I used to like back then. But there are these movies which I’ve always wanted to watch, but have never got the chance to; they are too rare, and are not shown on TV ‘coz the latest edition of Munnabhai is too busy playing, and the industry focuses on the cowbelt more than the urbane audience. And such movies don’t get made anymore.
Given half a chance, I’d really love to watch English, August the movie, I’m very obsessive about the book, and think it’s a wonderful piece of philosophical fiction no matter what anyone says and no matter how horribly Chetan Bhagat or any other loser tries to replicate the cynicism and anchorlessness. Rahul Bose is said to have done a great job, just like Dev Benegal and everyone else related to the movie.
And I’d also like to watch SRK’s first big-screen role, in an Arundathi Roy movie called In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones. It’s set in the Delhi School of Architecture, and is the radical-’80s type where the idealism is a more matured and refined and evolved version of Marxism, Naxalism, Feminism, and all those -isms that were the flavour of the ’70s and ’80s.
Till a new DVD of English, August is out, I guess I’ll have to be content watching popular hit flicks on LAN, or the sort that are shown on TV. * Sigh! * Now to get back to reality, and reality TV.