Bombay Talkies review: Karan Johar trumps Anurag Kashyap
While you might not have seen this coming, Karan Johar takes the cake in Bombay Talkies.
Bombay Talkies, Bollywood’s celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema, begins with a short film directed by Karan Johar and ends with an Anurag Kashyap film. Squeezed in between these two films is Dibakar Banerjee's masterful adaption of a Satyajit Ray short story followed by Zoya Akhtar's warm narration of the story of a little Katrina Kaif worshipper. It makes sense to begin and end Bombay Talkies with the headliners, but this arrangement also sets up a subtle face-off between Johar’s masala and Kashyap’s intelligent cinemas.
Here’s a spoiler: Johar steals the show in Bombay Talkies.
Shrugging off all the candy floss and melodrama that are the trademarks of his films, Johar seems to have picked a subject that’s close to his heart and not necessarily guaranteed to win over audiences. And he proves he is a consummate storyteller.
Johar tells the story of an urban couple, played by Rani Mukherji and Randeep Hooda, whose lives change when Rani's character invites a cocky intern (played by a brilliant Saqib Saleem) from office to dinner.
Let’s not beat about the bush: it’s a gay love story, and Bollywood has never treated it with as much subtlety and care. Elements that could have been ham-handed become poignant, like a street urchin with a rag doll who croons old Bollywood hits like “Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh” because it is indeed a curious story.
In another scene, Mukherji is seen noticing but then choosing to ignore the freckles on her cheeks. Instead she puts on a little more kajal and smiles her brightest smile into the mirror. You can’t help but notice this is almost exactly how she’s dealing with her dysfunctional marriage: by overlooking certain things and putting on a fake smile. Trust me when I say that this film will leave you wondering how the same director could have come up with sequences in which the lead pair run around pyramids to profess their love for one another.
While Johar finally comes out of the cinema closet and admits to being a smarter, more sensitive and less masaledaar filmmaker, Kashyap seems to be running out of ideas.
Kashyap's short film begins with an ailing father expressing his wish to share a murabba with the legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan. He orders his son Vijay (Amitabh's oft used onscreen name), played by Vineet Kumar Singh, to go to Mumbai, visit Big B's mansion, ask the actor to take a bite of the murabba and then bring the leftover back. It seems the father had done the same when his father was on his deathbed, except back then it was Dilip Kumar who was the matinee idol and instead of murabba, it was honey.
At this point we see a tear trickle down Vijay's (played by Vineet Kumar Singh) eyes. Is it because he’s moved by the story of his father taking a jar of honey to Dilip Kumar? Or could it be that he doesn’t want to go all the way to Mumbai? Perhaps it’s the realization that his father sounds a little bit senile? Or maybe they’re khushi ke aansu because he’s getting to go to Mumbai and meet Amitabh Bachchan? Who can tell? Not Kashyap.
Kashyap’s film is about Vijay’s journey to Mumbai and back to Allahabad. Vijay's wait in front of Bachchan's bungalow, Pratiksha, seems never ending; not only for him but for the audiences as well. The saving grace is that the tongue-in-cheek repartee between the watchmen and Vijay is delightful.
Kashyap is good at capturing streetside Mumbai: the busy roads, horns honking, a stray dog sitting on the pavement with Vijay, Amitabh Bachchan's lookalike being chased away by guards and an andaa bhujji thela at the road side. But we've known he’s good at this since Black Friday. Rather than complexity, it’s actually the simplicity of the story that seems to trip up Kashyap. He fills the story with bits and pieces like characters named Perpendicular and Tangent (remember Gangs of Wasseypur?), which are funny but smacks of trying too hard.
The audience is torn between the story, the histrionics and the ridiculousness of certain scenes. Most of the time, the story suffers and the cool but meaningless distractions win. It’s a recurring feature in Kashyap’s films but usually, the distractions don’t take away from the film and they do have entertainment value because Kashyap’s sensibility is so different from the rest of Bollywood’s.
But, with Bombay Talkies, the distractions don’t work. Perhaps because after 5 long hours of his magnificent crime saga, Gangs Of Wasseypur, we’re familiar with his tricks and we can even predict them now. There is a scene in Bombay Talkies where Vijay falls on the feet of the watchman and begs him for an appointment with Amitabh Bachchan. One familiar with Kashyap's tricks will easily make out that he has his heart set on making the scene 'his-kinda-funny' with a lot of antics.
Kashyap also seems to be in a terrible hurry to finish the film.
However, Bombay Talkies is an excellent cinematic experience, watch it to see Dibakar-Nawazuddin duo nailing it to perfection and Zoya Akhtar tell a heartwarming story of a little boy who worships a Katrina
Kaif barbie at his dresser and draws inspiration from her fairy tale success story.
But more importantly, this film is a severe blow to everyone who thought that Anurag Kashyap is the torch bearer of new wave, intelligent Hindi cinema. Because what Bombay Talkies will reveal, is that not only can a masala Bollywood director like Karan Johar make an intelligent and sensitive film, but he can tell his story better than the poster boy of alternative cinema.
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