Defending Tanu. And Manu too: About Character And Its Assassination

Okay. About Tanu and Manu. I believe in them. I believe they are real, flawed people. Of course it’s considered inappropriate to flirt with people. But that Ricksaw driver is her ex boyfriend. There are flirty people in this world who spare almost no one.

But I think the main issue people have is with Manu’s choice. Let’s revisit the Manu from part one. A sincere, quiet lover who says nothing, does nothing. He just keeps worshipping, rather than loving, her from a distance. He sees a girl full of life. She takes risks and lives by her own rules. She keeps flirting with him without intending to take it any further. She drinks, smokes and is overall the kind of girl people frown at. Both of them are okay with that. If you notice in both the films, she drinks to have fun at times but mainly when she’s upset. When her husband is locked up in a mental facility for example. (By the way, she didn’t get him locked up. The psychiatrists did. And she made sure she gets him released).
The Manu of the last film took that girl and made her a housewife in an alien land. How was the relationship going to thrive? Of course it didn’t. She rebelled and took it out on the only person there. When she returned home, she felt important. She felt like she’s somebody. She was just lounging around at home till she got a legal notice from her husband. Then she just went out on a “I’ll show him” spree. The look on her face in one shot when no one was watching conveys that she’s moving to hide her pain and anger pain, not to have fun.
And what about Kusum, the seedhi-sadhi girl? Why didn’t Manu choose her? But wait he did choose her, to begin with. And what did he like about her? First, her looks. Then her courage, her vivacity. And her courage. Her refusal to follow the dictates of her society. See a pattern here? Everything he likes in Kusum, he liked in Tanu first. There is a nice parallel of him watching Kusum dance. It echoes scenes from the last film when he watched Tanu dance and fell for her. We are supposed to see that. And see that he doesn’t see it.
And there is also an inversion. In this film Tanu is the one vying to be selected and Manu doing the selection. So you see Tanu trying to do the right thing. Talking, cajoling, working for her marriage, and when all fails, showing her desperation and love openly by dancing in front of him in public.
Its the easiest thing in the world to write black and white characters. Villains that just want to kill for no reason, or heroes that run an orphanage while saving the world. Those are the staple of ordinary fiction. Create characters that have flaws but rise above them, and you create stories that last. So Manu dithers, and sulks. And he realises that he loves Tanu when he sees her again. But he stays steadfast with Kusum when he feels that her duty lies that way. And Tanu is a flirt and a rebel. Maybe even spoilt. But she stays with the man she loves when it matters the most and when it was the hardest for her to do so. Thats what matters. Thats what I mean when i say that the characters are trying to do the right thing. Flaws and all.

Modi Sarkar: A Year In Review

So it’s been a year since the mandate came into effect. A time to take stock. A time to reflect on the choice the country made.
The first thing to consider is that fact: choice. Every election is a choice. This time, it was clear. We could have elected the same people again, and found out whether an idiot PM was better than a smart mute one. (spoiler alert: it would’ve been worse, and would’ve spoilt the holiday plans for our spoilt brat of a scion). We could have gone with the “third option” and handed over the whole country to the people who have done such a splendid job in UP, Bihar, Bengal etc. then we could’ve followed the famous path that divides us even further than religion, even further than caste. (Nitish practices special policies for subsections he calls Ati-Pichhra and Maha-Dalits)
Or we could’ve chosen the party that has never had a clean run, and which projected a face that has had a clean run in a state. A guy who is popular in his state. And a party that keeps winning the states it runs.
Leave aside all other concerns and think what choice would be better for the nation. I think we made the only rational choice. We said welcome to PM N D Modi.
Soon, we experienced a cacophony: kahaan hain achchhe din? It was either people having exceptional expectations from a new govt or people who hate looking to justify their hatred. But the signs of change have been present since the start: signs both that lead me to hope and despair.
The babu-dom has been utterly shaken in the last year. From biometric attendance, random inspections and regular performance reviews to freedom and encouragement for new ideas. Streamline, discipline, and get them to work. Answerable directly to a strict PM. All done without any public drama or childish acts like locking offices.
There have also been a lot of grand plans, announcements and investments. There has been no crackdown of criticism as people were predicting. (There was one person who pretended to be scared of saying the names of Gadkari/Modi/BJP, saying that a “media cell” will “arrest him” if he did that.)
There was no persecution of minorities. The “church attacks” were either mistakes, or had nothing to with them being Churches. There have been no Khoon Ki Nadiyan as predicted by riot fear-mongers. There was, however, a spotlight on everything Hindu, and an emboldening of the Hindutva fringe. There has been no support whatsoever from the govt for these people, and there is frequent, public renouncement of all ideologies except “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”, but there is no real crackdown on the crazy ones either.
Contrary to what was feared, Reliance has actually been fined heavily when found lacking and the informants of corporates, including Reliance presumably, who were found snooping have been investigated and prosecuted. That “snoopgate” was unearthed because of specific measures to check bureaucracy leaking info.It worked. Do I think snooping today is at level zero? Of course not. But is it much lower than earlier? Of course it is.
In fact, contrary to Mr Jaitley, I don’t think political corruption has been eliminated, but it sure has shrunk a lot. Rafael jets were purchased for the same price for the Indian army as for the French army. The era of ever-increasing scams seems old news. There are reports in all sort of international publications that  showcase this fact.
And talking of international, there have been trips. This PM has spent more than a month and a half on foreign trips, often equated with tourism. Even forgetting the fact that the “crown prince” spent longer on his “introspection” in Thailand, what do we think these trips have been like? How many days has the PM kissed work because of these trips? As someone who knows people who have to travel a lot for work, I can attest that there is zero fun to be had on a business trip. The prime minister of India doesn’t need to travel abroad to experience luxury. His travel is MORE work for him, not less. He meets really big, influential, tough people out there, and comes back with his reputation enhanced. Who thinks that happens without a whole lot of preparation? Despite being less than fluent at English and pretty rustic in his ways, he connects with the rich and the powerful of the world because they see a kindred spirit: a driven workaholic working for something more than his immediate needs.
This is the man the world sees. A hard working guy working to improve his country. I don’t know what the critics think his motives are, but this much is true. He is a hard working man, working to leave his country better off.
Not necessarily because  he is a Messiah, or a selfless worker. Not just as a patriotic citizen, but as a leader with a large ego. Ego, a sense of self worth, a spirit to leave a mark, is a sine-qua-non of a leader. A guy who wants to be remembered. This guy wants that. Because of his ego. And here, unlike the late Mrs Gandhi, this works in our favor. Hopefully.
Because there lies the problem too. The assessment of the whole government seems like a job review of a certain N D Modi. From his inspired ideas to his monogrammed suit, this is Modi Sarkar, a top heavy system. I believe the bottom up systems last longer, are less dependent on individual honesty/zeal, and just better. I don’t trust the babus to stay as disciplined once there is a change at top. I expect greed and malaise leading to corruption at high levels again, unless…..
Unless the man at the top takes charge of building a second line. A credible second line with popular base that will one day replace him. Thankfully there is no genetic heir.
And the more intangible part of a legacy would be the policies and institutions created. Jan Dhan is a great way to reach the pocket of the poorest and bypass the corrupt machinery. But Swachh Bharat needs more than just volunteerism. It needs a system. Clean Ganga is headed in the right direction because of commissioning of hundreds of waste water treatment plants on cities draining into Ganga. We need to make this universal.
I could go on, but the issues are myriad, and so are the solutions. It’s the job of a leader to pick not only the right solution, but also the right issues to focus on. For the rest, you have a team. Expand it if you need, and use it, Mr Modi. This was a good start. Make it better, make it last. Otherwise your legacy won’t.

Tanu Weds Manu? But they’re already wed! 

kangna-story-650_032415125349Yeah they’re wed, and that’s the problem. Tanu met Manu in the brilliant, rustic, chaotic land of North Indian marriages. But they live in the clean, organized, sterile English country side. Neither their marriage not their sanity was safe there.

So they’re back. To a world full of amazing characters, where Tanu is a legend in her street and where Manu is…. well the same dull, sincere guy. There is contemplation, then serious contemplation about separation, a legal notice gets sent, and then life throws a curve ball.

Turns out theres a Tanu lookalike. Same face, different person. This one is not a flirty rebel, but a tomboy. And our guy is first intrigued and then enamoured. Amazingly, so is she. Meanwhile Tanu is rekindling old flames and setting fires. In addition to the same old suitor from part 1, there’s another, more cunning and a lawyer to boot. What happens next is an entanglement that seems hard toconciee and nearly impossible to resolve.

But it is not simple. Never simple. because we still have to add the eccentric parents, the races atmosphere, and for the sake of variety, this time we add Haryana. Not the scary Haryana of NH 10, though we saw its traces here, but a Haryana revelling in a wedding. Not a grand one, but small, intimate and amazing fun. And we have another wedding, where Sardars and Sardarnis are trying hard to garba. There is the hero’s sidekick, the lovingly named Pappi, who wants a starring role this time, to show our guy how marriage is done. And plans to rescue his love before she is forcibly married off to another. And there’s a twist there too.

tanu1april21All in all, this movie takes the tradition of celebrating love in the midst of weddings, and showcases a shattered marriage, a few smouldering flames and a lot of real characters, real drama. The choice, this time, is primarily with our hero though. And the love he has for the look-alike, is it the differences from Tanu that he loves, or the similarities?

This movie is about a complex web of relationships. About conformists and rebels, about the dull and the bright, about the things people can and won’t do for love, and about things people can and don’t accept for love. And this film is about Kangana Ranaut.

Kangana-Ranaut-Tanu-Weds-Manu-Returns-300x208For too long we have had hero led films. Even though Madhavan is a star in his own right and a good actor, this film is about Kangana. She is a powerhouse of performance. In the two roles as different as can be, she expertly manages the accent, the mannerisms, and the body language. She does the big things right, she is able to establish the two as separate expertly. But what she does brilliantly is getting the subtleties right. In small, subtle reactions, she shows what the character is really feeling underneath how she is behaving. She shows how people who only see the surface judge both of them wrong. That our hero is not the male actor here.

Kangana is the hero of the film in so many ways. Doing the hard heroic things while Manu is the stoic, silent type. He has his strength, and his moral compass telling him to do the right thing, but he sometimes fails to see the bigger right. The right thing to do and the right of the person standing with, or against, him.

And thats what the film is about. The people who are, for the most part, trying to do the right thing. Just unaware of what the right thing is. Isn’t that what marriage is all about? Isn’t that what life is all about?

Bombay Let Down: A Review Of Bombay Velvet

There are several stories in the western folk lore of selling the soul to the devil. Usually about the devil tempting you with fame and fortune but damning you to an eternity in hell. It usually is about an innocent guy, hard on luck, making a deal when he sees no other option. Bombay Velvet is about one such deal.

bombay-velvet-popopics-wallpapers-15-01Don’t get me wrong, Ranbir Kapoor’s character in this film is no innocent lamb. He is shown dreams of grandeur and becoming a big shot by Karan Johar, but he’s already a criminal. All he’s been offered is a chance to be a bigger, richer one. He didn’t need the devil.
Anushka’s character, though, is not as corrupt. She is more a victim. But she is forced to fall, not tempted into it. The only temptation she falls for is Ranbir. Sent to spy on him, she starts to love him even if it means risking it all.
So this is a love story, a traditional one, about a singer and a gangster. About two powerful men using these love birds as pawns. Soho is this about selling the soul? Zoom out, please and you’ll see Anurag Kashyap selling his soul to make this film.
This is the guy who placed a long documentary about politics of coal mining in Gangs of Wasseypur because he thought that is central to the film. This is the guy who fought with censors for 2 years because he didn’t want to put a smoking sign at crucial junctures in Ugly. This is the guy who took Devdas and made a dark feminist epic. This is the guy who insisted on using foul language because the characters demand it, who made a Black Friday, one of the most brutal takes on terrorism, even though it was stuck in censors and courts for years.
akaraaanThat guy took a political-crime drama about the founding of Bombay, and turned that fascinating idea to a sappy melodramatic love story. Now, there is nothing wrong with a love story. And nothing at all wrong with Anurag Kashyap making it. The problem is that his heart is not in it. There is drama, intensity, and audience interest in the film when Karan Johar playing Kaizad Khambatta is manipulating the game and players, pitted against Jimmy Mistry. There was potential for a story about their pawns, the lead couple taking charge of their own destinies and the pawns becoming players. Instead what we get is an angst ridden hero and a damsel in distress heroine. The story called for a Femme Fatale but what we get is a 60’s era heroine who stands quivering as the hero hits the guy who was harassing her.
anushka_640x480_41422950011This is not to criticize the film too much, though. The performances are stellar. Karan Johar is a find. His understated yet flamboyant menace is breathtaking. Anushka in a badly written role is fabulous. Her pathos in the song “Dhadam Dhadam” is heart wrenching. And Ranbir is a great mix of boyish charm and gangster bravado. Others are great too. The music is stellar. Amit Trivedi shows his versatility once again. And Kashyap certainly hasn’t lost his directorial flair. Two scenes stand out: Karan laughing uncontrollably in one and two players on the opposite side of phone, silent, menacing, weighing each other. The problem is the writing. No punches, nothing offending to anyone, nothing that might offend families or censors. It’s just a bunch of nothing.
This is the surrender of Kashyap’s integrity to please the gods of box-office. He sold the integrity of his story for a big budget and a stellar cast. His deal with the devil of populism. But we all know how deals with the devil go. You always get cheated. You weren’t an innocent down on luck small guy, Mr Kashyap. You have lost a lot of ground with this film.

Piku, her father and his bowels

amitabh-piku-story_650_103114032933Amongst the most famous first lines of a novel is this gem from Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ” I never quite agreed, but I’m not one to pick fights with Tolstoy. Let’s just meet the characters before we start judging classic lines.

Amitabh Bachchan is the oldie of your nightmares. He plays Bhaskar, sorry Bhaskor Banerjee. Hypochondriac, abrasive, aggressive, selfish, inconsiderate, loud and obsessed with his bowel movement. How his daughter Piku, played by Deepika puts up with him, no one knows. But she is so like him that you wonder how people put up with her.
So they go on a road trip, and surprise, surprise, no driver wants to accompany them across the country. Except the somewhat smitten Irffffan or Iiirrrfan or however he spells his name these days. Playing a Chaudhary, but a non-Bengali one, to Amitabh’s disappointment, he takes up the arduous task and almost immediately regrets it.
Piku, superficially, is about bowel movement. Many people must have made jokes about this being a real “Motion” picture. It’s also about eccentrics and foul-mouths and incessant talkers and Bengalis. This is a movie about relationships. The father-daughter relationship takes centre-stage. Veering between feminist idealism and utter selfishness, Bhaskor treats Piku such that most will run away. With her constant complains and folk temper, Piku herself is no bundle of joy either. Bhaskor publicly talks about things that no one in their right mind wants to talk about and things no one wants to hear about. He is the poster boy for old age being a second childhood. Far from quiet dignity, he relishes being loud, outside of the society’s “normal”, both endearing and infuriating. But he is a different character ias the film progresses, and the venue changes. That change in venue, along with a change in the company, brings another side of Piku out too. The father-daughter relationship, although crucial, is not all this film is about.
In a few succinct dialogues, all kinds of relationships come alive. From a friend with benefits to overbearing mom to affection in derision to sibling love, and also deep and abiding resentments. Irfan’ character provides an outsider’s view into this quagmire. And his budding relationship with Deepika and her family gives us a way into these guys. These crazy, unique people.
Irrfan-Khan-Deepika-Padukone-shoot-a-train-sequence-for-PikuSo different in their own way, yes, but to test the Tolstoy quote we need to determine whether they are happy. That’s where director Shojit Sirkar keeps dropping clues. Happiness is a continuum, its also a transience, and occasionally you may be profoundly unhappy with people you love whole-heartedly. The attachment is real, but the behavior is obnoxious
And so here we are, a counter-example to Tolstoy, a family that’s somewhat happy in its own unique way.
PS: Great performances. Superb dialogue. Amazing direction. Muuuuuust watch.