First Take: The good, the bad, and the ugly of Siddharth Anand prior to Shah Rukh Khan's Pathaan

War is a beautiful film to look at. The picturesque landscape is used to shoot beautiful people in repose as well as a landing spot for decimated opponents. The prolonged action sequences are the centerpieces of the plot. They fire up the narrative engines and keep our interests alive.

Subhash K Jha January 28, 2023 06:00:16 IST
First Take: The good, the bad, and the ugly of Siddharth Anand prior to Shah Rukh Khan's Pathaan

Siddharth Anand

His career doesn’t begin  and end with Pathaan. Director Siddharth Anand has helmed  several films, good bad and ugly, prior to Pathaan.

In 2005, Anand made his directorial debut with Salaam Namaste. “My heart goes mmmmmmmm…” That  was one of the eminent tracks in this romantic film that hums and sings songs of urban relationships…It could well be the anthem for debutant Siddharth Anand’s film. A dishy look at mores, sexual or otherwise, in the extremely urban setting of mouth-watering Melbourne, Salaam Namaste bends the rules of mainstream Hindi cinema. It flows against the currents by going fiercely current.

But the contemporary feel of the presentation isn’t in-your-face. Never do you feel the characters, even the minor ones, being with-it for the heck of it. A glorious spirit of ebullience takes over the film even when in the second-half things get incredibly grim between the love pair, Nicky (Saif) and Ambar (Preity).

It isn’t easy to film a story where the characters grow through events that define their lives without over-dramatisation. The rhythms of a routine courtship in a far-off city are marvellously mellow in tone. You never feel the weight of the Nicky-Ambar love story. Gosh, these are lovebirds who probably laugh their heads off while watching Laila-Majnu and Romeo-Juliet do their mythical love turns.

And yet, Salaam Namaste doesn’t take love lightly. Beneath the vibrant veneer the film makes a v telling and serious comment on commitment phobia, especially among the ambitious 25-plus urban male who would rather have his cake and sleep with it too. Saif Ali Khan‘s consummate skills as the modern urban yuppie with an attitude that screams a scoffing rejection of sentimental attachments to long-lasting relationships has gradually brought into focus a new kind of Hindi film hero who’s hip and yet not impolite about homespun values. He is a ticklish mix of the young and the bewildered.

First Take The good the bad and the ugly of Siddharth Anand prior to Shah Rukh Khans Pathaan

Salaam Namaste

The constant search for answers about the quirks and whims of the female species was also a presiding theme in Saif’s earlier romantic comedy Hum Tum.

Salaam Namaste goes a lot further in terms of exploring the ever-expanding parameters of the man-woman relationship. Ambar’s obstinate decision to have Nick’s baby after sharing a live-in relationship with him might seem like a saucy repudiation of traditional values. But the director never aims to shock. He takes the opposite route by generating a sense of bonhomie within the messy conflicts in the couple’s life.

The scenes are effectively and intelligently written to accentuate the lead pair’s individual charm and collective charisma. While we watch Saif and Preity, we also see Nicky and Ambar emerge from the two actors’ personality. Then there’s the ever-dependable Arshad Warsi playing Saif’s best friend. Warsi’s daunting marital subjugation gives the film a revealing sub-plot while providing a broader canvas for the director to suggest his ideas on the way a man sees a woman, and vice versa. There are some truly magical moments of love and lovemaking. That whole interlude from the time when a gigantically pregnant Ambar craves for a particular brand of ice cream to the time when Nicky finally finds a place that serves up her desired delight, is done in a wondrously chocolaty enchanting mode.

You just have to see Preity pigging on ice cream and Saif’s expressions of alarm, amusement and pleasure as he watches her gorge to know what truly effortless screen chemistry is all about.

But Salaam Namaste is more than a triumph of the together spirit. It also gets high points for creating scenes that spotlight the urban sensibility in words that flow naturally and yet make you stop to listen. Abbas Tyrewala’s skills as a dialogue writer are on full display. You can’t but chuckle at the way Saif says the words, as though he just thought of them. Clever but casual, hip but hefty. The rippling repartees and the exceedingly enchanting mood of romantic banter keep the narrative’s spirits up till the jolting climax where, Abhishek Bachchan playing a goofy, forgetful doctor, delivers  an endearing performance.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee meets Walt Disney in Siddharth Anand’s Tara  Ra Rum Pum (2007), an utterly heart-warming take on life’s most serious and cruel jokes. There’s a moment in Anand’s film where Rani plays that clichéd sequence where the hero’s fallen-on-hard-times wife rejects a fat cheque from her rich father. “I did the right thing, didn’t I?” Rani asks her screen-husband Saif, who looks aghast. “You turned down a cheque for $50,000? For that sum of money I’m ready to be compromised every day. “The above sequence is a strangely subverted interpretation of the sequence from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Satyakam, where Dharmendra’s idealism was weighed against Sharmila Tagore’s ability to ward off temptations.

Tara Rum Pum is like a romp through the highest emotional summits of life’s blows. Anand situates this riches-to-rags drama of a spendthrift car racer, his cautious and principled wife and his two adorable kids in New York where the economically challenged family moves from up-market Manhattan to downtown Queens. Cinematographer Binod Pradhan captures the underbelly of New York and the racing driver’s family story in a restrained rush of emotional adrenaline. In true Walt Disney tradition, the family makes the best of its challenged morality when it falls on hard times.

First Take The good the bad and the ugly of Siddharth Anand prior to Shah Rukh Khans Pathaan

Tara Rum Pum

There are moments, like when Saif’s hungry little son, played naturally by Ali Haji, devours a half-eaten burger retrieved from a trashcan, where eyes can’t but turn moist.You can’t fault the director for pumping up the tears. Commercial cinema is all about the pleasure you derive in bringing the fundamental emotions of love and life together. Tara Rum Pum does just that. Anand’s screenplay is original from far. Get closer and you see scenes from Days Of Thunder and a whole chunk from the Russell Crowe boxing film Cinderella Man packaged in vibrant colours.

Let’s get real. Commitment phobia is endemic among 20-something urban yuppies, especially in the metros. Siddharth Anand  pulls out all stops to expose the suave urbane heel who cannot feel above the waist. Raj is a man on the path to redemption. That of course comes later, much later in this elaborate but tightly-edited and engaging comment on the prowling dude’s demoniacal insensitivity towards girls who give him the chance to dance into their lives. There is ‘salvage’ grace in Ranbir’s redemptive journey from cad to closet-saint who wants to set things right in the lives of the women he has wronged. One of these scorned women makes him her glorified slave in scenic Capri. And boy, does Bipasha Basu pull out all stops. The other hurt lady just makes him dance to a tortuous Bhangra tune in Amritsar.

All’s well that mends well. Ranbir inadvertently turns the whole concept of romantic love as propagated by Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and its zillion spin-offs on its head. Love now can easily be taken to bed. Though no one is thinking of sleep. Not the characters, not the audience. The first episode with the starry-eyed Mahee (Minissha Lamba) is a rather diverting homage to Aditya Chopra’s “DDLJ“. That’s a pretty auto-erotic thing to do considering Chopra is this film’s producer.

But then, you win some when you try to be winsome. Ghar ka khana served up with affection is not unacceptable. Ranbir and Minissha are pretty much taken through the same Swiss terrain as Shah Rukh and Kajol in the earlier film. Even the circumstances created to bring them together can’t be told apart. Except that this boy-man is out to have a ‘good’ time with the girl who lives in a bubble. There’s a bit of Ken Ghosh’s Ishq Vishk combined with a dash of Sajid Khan’s Heyy Babyy here. You know the hero who takes the innocent romantic girl for a ride will find his comeuppance. She shows up an hour later.

First Take The good the bad and the ugly of Siddharth Anand prior to Shah Rukh Khans Pathaan

Bachna Ae Haseeno

Some of the sassiest, sauciest and smartest lines come in the second overture of this anti-romantic comedy when Ranbir, now 20-something and suitably hormone-driven courts and mates Bipasha with ferocious intensity. Ranbir has been there, done ’em all. He lives the characters to the ‘jilt’, swathes the character in the cruelly cool quirks that make utter self-centredness a fashion statement in contemporary societies. One of the film’s most stirring moments is when Bipasha is shown sitting on the steps of her marriage venue in her bridal finery waiting for her bridegroom to turn up, her mehndi getting washed in the rain.A very Raj Kapoor thing to do in a film that’s all about being cool and finally falling flat on one’s face when the hero meets his match.

Deepika Padukone as the statuesque but spunky cabbie in Sydney has the shortest feminine presence in this made-to-order Ranbir vehicle. She gets to mouth the best throwaway lines and to hit the commitment-phobic hero where it hurts the most. And we don’t mean below the belt. The director has the guts to show his hero as a man thoroughly exposed in his self-seeking egocentricity. Ranbir doesn’t spare the character. He penetrates Raj’s nerve-centre and portrays him as a smooth-talking charlatan who’s looking for trouble in shapely places. Ranbir plays the Casanova with just the right dollops of dips and curves. The fact that he has already done it all in an abundant flourish in “Saawariya” doesn’t take away from the sincerity of the performance. Watch his surprise when he sees himself cry after Deepika rejects him. No one has done this before.

There are any number of scenes displaying inspired cinema in this work of cyber-art. The characters are etched with a contemporary air without making them overly illustrative. Bipasha’s turn as a wannabe supermodel ready to chuck it all for marriage only to be jilted at the altar is notably powerful. What the script says about a career women is that sometimes male insensitivity forces their true métier out of a woman. An interesting thought, and one that the narrative holds in place with grace on Bipasha’s expressive face.

But the most interesting female character is Deepika’s. A self-willed, humorous and gritty cabbie, she drives the Casanova round the bend and beyond. Deepika exudes a reined-in grace. She is the future of Bollywood Hiten Paintal, playing that age-old thankless part of the hero’s friend, joins the ranks of the natural-born scene-stealing supporters like Ninad Kamath, Kabeer Sadnah and Vishal Singh.

The film has been beautifully shot. The azure blue oceans of Italy form a telling contrast to the bronzed, tanned and probably tattooed actors who clutter the Swiss, Italian and desi locales. Cleverly crafted and structured to contour the severely flawed characters, “Bachna Ae Haseeno” is not meant to be a mammoth social comment on love and marriage. But in its own tongue-in-cheek manner it manages to say plenty about life in the fast lane.

Interestingly Anand had shot a fourth  episode with Katrina Kaif  as Ranbir’s nemesis . It was never used ,as  the film turned out too lengthy.

Again. it’s that man-woman thing again. This time the rom-com goes in to so many directions, you wonder what happened to those good old films where Boy Met Girl…and they lived happily ever laughter. Laughter, there’s plenty of in Anjaana Anjaani. Raucous laughter, bitter laughter, silly laughter, goofy laughter…The couple Akash and Kiara are portrayed more like two beer-swigging buddies on a road trip through the USA (shot with shimmering restlessness by Ravi Chandran) than lovers staring at the moon and dreaming of the ever-after. This is that 1940s’ Bette Davis-Clark Gable county upgraded with plenty of pub-texts where love emerges from the verbal skirmish between two people thrown together by fate. There isn’t much plot propensity on display here. Once we know that the two suicidal protagonists are together for the rest of the movie the only mystery that remains is why such vibrant lives would want out.

The drama of death as defined by the rituals of daily living are rather elaborately sometimes engagingly other times tediously, mapped in the plotline which is slimmer than Priyanka Chopra’s waistline. Regrettably for an interactive rom-com the dialogues are not always as savvy sassy and seductive as they ought to be. Many times you feel the dialogues are translated from the English rather than conceived in the spoken language. Then there are the songs. Sigh. Tediously carpeting the soundtrack of the second more-pointless half , Vishal-Shekhar’s music just seems to be creating a dimension to divert our attention from the two belligerent characters played by two very engaging actors who quite often seem to be inventing pretexts for their characters beyond those provided by the plot, character and the lines they mouth.

First Take The good the bad and the ugly of Siddharth Anand prior to Shah Rukh Khans Pathaan

Anjaana Anjaani

Perfect timing in the comic scenes, skillfully and subtly seductive in the bed roomy interludes and boisterous when in a drunken rage Priyanka Chopra takes over the show from her first inebriated appearance on a bridge where she spots our hero trying to jump to her death. Ranbir Kapoor in comparison is surprisingly subdued. It’s partly to do with the nature of his character (an arrogant misguided soul with little control over his ego). But you suspect Ranbir just decided to sportingly play the backseat boy this time because on Priyanka he had finally met his match on screen. Anjaana Anjaani is a film that sets off on a tender saucy engaging trip. It somewhere loses its way. But still gets to its targeted destination because of the lead players who appear to know all the signposts and U-turns. By heart.

Bang Bang is the director’s weakest film to date. There are many beautiful locations in Siddharth Anand’s Bang Bang (2014). Prague, Greece, London, Shimla, Dehradun and…Pizza Hut.Yup, one major action sequence featuring Hrithik and Katrina, the Golden Couple on the run (gee, what fun!) is set in a pizza shop. In fact, this particular chain seems to be very good at delivering their goods, considering Danny Denzongpa, playing an international kingpin, is seen nibbling the same pizza brand at the start of the film. Appetizer, anyone?

Wish we could see the same zeal for delivering the goods in the direction of the film. In one word Bang Bang is pointless. In two words it is annoyingly pointless, with Hrithik Roshan cast as a double and triple agent with a fake version of what this week’s other release describes as chutzpah.

Katrina Kaif plays the kind of vexatious dreamer who would allow a renowned criminal to convince her that she should abandon her boring life for some supposedly cool hi-adventure. And hi-adventure in Bang Bang means somersaulting cars, vertiginous jumps from heights and Hrithik trying to pass off water sports as stunts performed to save the world from catastrophe.

First Take The good the bad and the ugly of Siddharth Anand prior to Shah Rukh Khans Pathaan

Bang Bang

None of this is as exciting for us to watch as it is for Katrina to do through. She is having fun the way other boring girls in our films do when they meet the unpredictable adventurous hero. Check out Deepika Padukone in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. The difference between Padukone’s and Kaif’s awakening is palpable. You see the first girl transform in front of your eyes. Here, you only see the girl prancing like a kindergarten to get attention.

Where is the plot to suggest there is a simmering chemistry between Katrina and Hrithik ready to erupt in the midst of all the blazing guns and screeching cars? Somewhere tucked away in this glamorous mess, there must be a plot that you are expected to spend a good 2.5 hours searching for. All we see is a cocky Hrithik Roshan infusing an extra dose of bravado into his jewel-thief hero’s role. This is Hrithik’s loudest performance since Sooraj Barjatya’s Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon.

But we are digressing. Bang Bang is not about the finer points of the cinematic expression. For that check out this week’s other release HaiderBang Bang is about smooth surfaces, beautiful faces, well-toned bodies and locations that are chosen for no rhyme or reason except to beat the next Big Bollywood Blockbuster from getting there. It’s not just the finances that are squandered in making the film look scenically adventurous (maybe to hide the bottomless pit of nothingness that such bang-bang actioners aim for). The criminal wastage of acting talent makes you wish there were laws preventing actors like Pavan Malhotra, Vikram Gokhale, Ankur Vikal, Danny Denzongpa, Kanwaljeet and Deepti Naval from signing on for these films that presumably pay well.

The best performances come from two actors in cameo parts playing waiters in two different restaurant scenes, one of them in the aforementioned Pizza Hut sequence. The other is in a classy eatery where Hrithik cocks his eyebrow knowledgeably and identifies the red wine as foreign, only to be politely snubbed by the waiter who says it’s local wine.

The above little scene sums up the wannabe spirit of Bang Bang. It aims to be a clever slick remake of the Tom Cruise starrer Knight & Day. It ends up borrowing all the absurdities from the original and burying them under tons of idiotic posturing by a leading man who should’ve known better and a leading lady who is happy speaking her Hindi lines with a British accent.

Despite the enormous resources, Bang Bang doesn’t seem to get it right. The action is motivated by an urge to impress rather than as a part of the plot. The stunts are shot in the spirit of item songs and strewn across the narrative with scarcely any room for the characters to breathe. Director Siddharth Anand takes the Tom Cruise original out of its naturally stupid habitat and makes it look spruced up. But where is the face behind the farce?

Bang Bang gets the boredom quotient bang-on. The rest is all noise and fury about a diamond, Kohinoor no less, stolen from a British museum. The way the thief carries the precious ‘diamond’ (which looks like a paperweight) around in his pocket goes to show how little a certain group of filmmakers respect the audiences’ intellect.They think Hrithik Roshan dancing, singing, fighting and taking off his shirt amounts to entertainment. Little do they know.

Siddharth Anand’s War is a lot of fun to watch. It could have been a lot more enjoyable if the script didn’t take itself so seriously. This is a film version of a cartoon strip. It plucks the language of espionage bravery from its natural habitat and plants it into a never-never land. The transplantation survives. Locations shift fast and furiously to all possible exotic spots in the world, and so does the mood.

War is a beautiful film to look at. The picturesque landscape is used to shoot beautiful people in repose as well as a landing spot for decimated opponents. The prolonged action sequences are the centerpieces of the plot. They fire up the narrative engines and keep our interests alive. There is an not-unwelcome break from action midway when Hrithik’s Kabir romances a sexy single mother who dances around the world to support her daughter’s upbringing. It’s an interesting role, played with sincerity by Vaani Kapoor. But then, hell, like all good things must come to an end, so must this film’s mood of suave seductive action and intrigue. The endgame is stupid and so crudely forced into the plot, it seems as if the storywriters just didn’t know how to wind up the shindig. It’s like a party suddenly gone bust. War is a rollercoaster ride, a catchy cat-and-mouse bromance where the two protagonists Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff play the mentor-turned-tormentor and pupil with a large level of conviction and warmth.

First Take The good the bad and the ugly of Siddharth Anand prior to Shah Rukh Khans Pathaan


It’s is heartening to see Tiger keeping pace with Roshan, even though the latter uses a lot of tricks to get our full concentration (notice how he swallows in between sentences to suggest tension and anxiety).You wish the two actors would have danced together some more. Watching them glide together was to me all the entertainment that I could hope for. War has more. Its slick spin on the spy genre is welcome. The stunts are well edited so as to merge into the plot and not to let the two heroes play a game of one-upmanship. If only the closing 20 minutes had not decided to go rogue!

Pathaan gets the adrenaline momentum right.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.

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