From Harshvardhan's cameo in AK vs AK to Fatima Begum in Gulabo Sitabo, on-screen moments that helped us survive 2020
2020 has truly been a miserable year. Maybe, that's why it's all the more important to find our silver linings in an otherwise bleak 12 months
As most people reading this will attest to nearly surviving a pandemic (no reason to be lax now!), it's also time to acknowledge the role of films/shows in our lives during this past year. After being sentenced to our homes for almost three months through the summer, most of us might not have been half as glad to be locked up in our privilege, if not for the uninterrupted internet services at the residence, and the steady output of films/shows to hold our attention. We lost some of our favourite actors, humiliated the industry through what can only be described as the most vindictive 'journalism' in a year where integrity gasped for its last breaths, and yet, we also found ourselves coming back around to 'content' to escape the horror stories outside our cocoon.
2020 has truly been a miserable year. Maybe, that's why it's all the more important to find our silver linings in an otherwise bleak 12 months. Whether it is AR Rahman subscribing to his self-prescribed 'take it easy policy' in Dil Bechara, where he seemed to be having the most fun in a decade, or Hansal Mehta's biggest hit as a filmmaker in a genre (a financial thriller) that had always proved to be a failure — 2020 has brought with it a few reasons to smile.
Here are 10 moments from Hindi films/shows, that left us with a big, goofy smile... even when the world around us was falling apart:
1. "Mujhe Party Karni Hai" in Chhapaak
Emotions were running high around the time Deepika Padukone-starrer, Chhapaak released in January. Nearly 12 months later, it's easier to look back at it in a clear-eyed manner, and appreciate the film's many merits and its few shortcomings. One scene that's stayed with me after all this while, is where Padukone diffuses the tension in a room using her familiar dimpled-smile, and the glint in her eye, that is impossible to miss even under her elaborate make-up while playing an acid attack survivor, Malti. When her righteous-than-thou colleague, Amol (Vikrant Massey), lectures her on the grim reality of the acid attacks and asks them to stop celebrating a tiny amendment in a provision for acid attack survivors, she confidently walks up to him, takes the glass of cola from his hand, and tells - "Aapko pata hai aapki problem kya hai? Aapko lagta hai acid aap pe phika hai. Acid mujhe par phika hai, aur mujhe party karni hai" (You know what your problem is? You act like you’re an acid attack survivor. I’m definitely one, and I want to party!) Everyone is tongue-tied for a few seconds, including Amol, soon after which giggles fill the room. It's a fine moment, where Gulzar brings levity to the film, telling us that a 'serious' film doesn't need to be bogged down with 'responsibility'.
2. "Kya Karte The Saajna" in Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan (SMZS)
Projected as one of India's few openly gay love stories in the mainstream realm, Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar make an admirable effort to lift the veil on Indian society's casual homophobia. No one is speaking in hushed tones in this one, or tip-toeing around the 'issue' that the film plans on unpacking for the middle-class family based in the heartland. This style is what sets the movie apart from its predecessors, and also the reason why it ultimately crumbles. However, along the way, it gives us one spectacular moment. Kartik (Khurrana), donning a rainbow cape, confronts his lovers' father, Mr Tripathi (Gajraj Rao) about his deep-seated homophobia. It's a classic filmy moment, where the lovers openly profess their love in front of their antagonised parents. Kumar's Aman tries to convince his lover, Kartik, in the same fashion that Simran (Kajol) did with Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) in DDLJ. And much like Amrish Puri, even Mr Tripathi assaults his son's "unacceptable" lover, as a Tanishk Bagchi remix of Anuradha Paudwal's 'Kya Karte The Saajna' plays in the background. Bagchi has been on several "kill lists" recently, given his remixes of many classic songs in the T-Series repository. But his nice-ish reimagination of the song from 'Laal Dupatta Malmal Ka' (1990), elevates the scene. Along with Khurrana's perfectly-timed grimace of pain while being 'lathi-charged' by his lover's father. It's played for laughs, but it's also a scene where subversive narrative soars the most.
3. Fatima Begum's signature in Gulabo Sitabo
Shoojit Sircar and Juhi Chaturvedi's fiendishly clever Gulabo Sitabo sees all its characters trying to outsmart the other. But one of the high points in the film comes in the form of Fatima Begum (a crackling Farrukh Jaffar) holds up both her palms, with bandages around all ten fingers. Mirza (Amitabh Bachchan, with a distractingly false prosthetic nose) had tried to get her thumb prints on some property papers, which he's trying to usurp for himself. After being told that he's taken the thumbprints from the wrong hand, Mirza reluctantly and sheepishly returns to Fatima Begum, to try and get her to sign off on the paper work. Instead, Fatima Begum holds up both her hands with glee, having outwitted Mirza yet again. Jaffar also stars in another unexpectedly hilarious moment towards the end of the film, when she celebrates her 95th birthday donning sunglasses, with some hip dance music playing in the background. Sircar delivers a perfect bittersweet climax, while Jaffar nails her part by merely being present in her scenes.
4. "Magazine de" in Lootcase
Amongst a plethora of comedies that mistake their own laziness for silliness, Rajesh Krishnan's Lootcase emerged as one of the best surprises of 2020. Featuring a brilliant ensemble cast of Kunal Kemmu, Rasika Dugal, Vijay Raaz, Gajraj Rao, Ranvir Shorey among others, the film went one step further by arming them with funny lines. Lootcase keeps rolling out the funnies, even when the 'mistaken identity' trope in the multi-narrative is running on fumes. Like the final confrontation between what can only been described as a Guy Ritchie scene, where all narratives collide, and a bloody shoot-out ensues. Even in this scene, Raaz's character uses his straight face to ask for a (gun's) magazine from Nandan (Kemmu), who hands him a National Geographic magazine kept right next to him. Raaz stares at him for a couple of seconds after which he gets shot, and falls on Nandan. Raaz's character keeps doling out examples from National Geographic while instructing his minions through the film. As a punchline, the scene probably feels too on-the-nose, but it works splendidly because of both the actors' earnestness.
5. "Yeh Shanivaar bhi aapke weekend mein aata hai?" in Panchayat
If there was one face, whose mere sighting could help us cope with this doomed year, it would probably belong to Raghubir Yadav from Panchayat. Starring as the Pradhanpati of a village, Yadav is absolutely first-grade as he wrestles with the city-bred and newly-appointed secretary (Jitendra Kumar) to establish the set hierarchies of the village, and slowly morphs into a father figure. After he gives an earful for some of his Friday night indiscretion, Yadav's character lands up at Kumar's doorstep in the evening with a simple question - "Is Saturday also a part of the weekend?" as two men stand behind him with wide smiles and booze in their hands. It's a fantastic moment in an understated show, one that rings so sincere that it's hard to remain indifferent.
6. "Tik Tok" scene in Vishaanu (Unpaused)
Avinash Arun's short 'Vishaanu' (Virus) in Unpaused, starring Abhishek Banerjee and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, is worthy of a full-length feature film. It explores the plight of a family, evicted from their homes, seeking refuge in a ghost high-rise apartment during the migrant labour crisis. After the nationwide lockdown was announced in March, millions of labourers were documented walking/cycling thousands of kilometres, back to their hometown. Banerjee and Ohlyan, play a couple hailing from Rajasthan, trying to negotiate their days by looking to find a means of transport back home, and making the most of their limited supplies. In the midst of this quest for survival, the couple find time for something else. As the couple lies on the floor, with their son asleep in the middle, the man nudges his wife to go to the bedroom. We all think we understand what the nudge means, and a few moments later we see the couple dancing to a kitschy pop song, trying to lip-sync to atrocious lyrics and dance in the most uncoordinated manner. Both Banerjee and Ohlyan do a splendid job of making it look spontaneous and real. It's a superb moment, where the director uses our smartness against us, and adds a whole new dimension to the tale of the oppressed.
7. "The Langur scene" in Eeb Allay Ooo!
Prateek Vats's directorial debut, that played at this year's Berlinale, also got a tiny theatrical release towards the end of 2020. Finding itself at the top of several lists naming the best films of 2020, Vats' film about a monkey repeller, is a fiercely political work about the marginalised labour in any metropolitan city. Anjani's (Shardul Bhardwaj) job is to chase away monkeys. And while he isn't very good at learning the sound (the name of the film) required to repel them, he does make it a point to raise the stakes in this battle of attrition between him and the stubborn monkeys of Lutyens' Delhi. Many unsuccessful days and several complaints later, Anjani dresses up as a Langur in one scene, and really scares the monkeys. The scene is underlined with a dubstep background score, telling us that the game between Anjani and the monkeys, is afoot. It's the scene where Eeb Allay Ooo! rises above its stature of a film merely about an 'odd' profession, and announces its ambition of reaching for more.
8. "Ashwin..." in Sir
One of the most miraculous things about Rohena Gera's Sir — about a man falling in love with his domestic help -- is how easily it could have turned into a bad film. Examining class, desires, and their intersections, it's in the film's final moment that the domestic help, Ratna (Tillotama Shome) finally works up the courage and takes that leap of addressing her employer by his first name. She's recently found work as a tailor at an upstart designer's boutique, and he's no longer her employer. And yet, she hesitates for a moment before calling him by his name. It's a charged moment that tells us about how a single word can sometimes help bridge centuries of disparity and kickstart fairy tales.
9. Harshvardhan Kapoor's cameo in AK vs AK
Supposed to be a sardonic take on Hindi cinema among other things, Vikramaditya Motwane's AK vs AK is at its absolute best, when Harshvardhan Kapoor is on screen. There's some history here that needs to be unpacked - Motwane's last film, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, starred Harshvardhan Kapoor as the lead. Kapoor hasn't had a single release in two years, after the film tanked. Playing himself in the mockumentary/thriller, Harshvardhan Kapoor maximises our impression of the 'failed star kid who considers himself too erudite for Hindi cinema'. From the moment he appears on screen, he's seen sucking up to Anurag Kashyap. Kashyap, playing the part of a trailblazing independent director who will sacrifice everything at the altar of his art, initially entertains Harshvardhan Kapoor. And then things take a turn. Kapoor storms the room with the two AKs, and he gives the most impassioned audition, unleashing an ocean of screenwriting lingo, popular movie tropes, movie references that will make even the most understanding person sit up and say 'Hollywood ki aulaad'. Kapoor is absolutely shameless as he goes around parodying people's perception of him while trying to impress Kashyap, as his father slips in the odd encouragement. Towards the end of the scene, Kapoor delivers the punchline - "Motwane fucked me with Bhavesh Joshi, Kashyap you're going to bring me back." It's a line that cuts close to the bone, and is funny because it's true. Towards the end of the film, Kapoor is seen in a car screaming "Insaaaaaaf!", which is also a nod to his failed collaboration with Motwane. An industry that routinely equates a flop on a similar scale of grief as a death in the family, it's nice to see an actor/director have a laugh at the expense of their own film. It's refreshing and it's bold - something one can hardly say for mainstream Hindi cinema.
10. "Jaa Zubedia... Jaa..." scene in Churails
Whatever maybe the consensus on Aditya Chopra Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (DDLJ), it would be hard to deny what a cultural totem that the film has been for Hindi cinema in the last three decades. And it becomes even more apparent, when a web series from Pakistan, casually mentions it in passing. Asim Abbasi's Churails is about four women, who start a vigilante detective agency, that unmasks all the philandering men of Karachi. In the show's second episode, after a girl is almost tricked into marrying a stranger by her domineering parents, the girl's accomplices’ barge through the front door. One of the girl's accomplices points a gun to the father's head, and forces him to say 'Jaa Zubaida jaa... jee le apni zindagi'. It's a nod to the controlling nature of desi parents, and it's followed by a peppy song as the Churails escape through the narrow staircases of the mohalla.
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