Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - May 03, 2013, 12:15 PM IST
Everyone from Allahabad, I suppose, somewhere in the back of his mind thinks that in the context of Amitabh Bachchan, he is a “ghar ka aadmi”. As does the lead character in Anurag Kashyap’s film here. A generation ago, I know Biharis used to somehow feel the same about Shatrughan Sinha.
It is perhaps natural for audiences to develop an over-familiarity with faces they have watched on a screen again and again. At some point they will begin to believe that those heroes can see them too and that this relationship is in fact mutual. It helps if that movie-star has something in common with the viewer – the same regional background, as is the case with the fellow in this film. Such is the power of the visual medium. Indian mainstream filmmakers have always been aware of this, which roughly explains the star-system in Bollywood anyway.
Homes of leading actors – like Bachchan’s Jalsa in Juhu – are city landmarks that rival Gateway of India. Their hairstyles and clothes begin to define public fashion. The size of the mob is a measure of their fame. From the producer’s perspective, there are crores to be made on movies with any of the lucky stars with whom the audience has decided to cosmically connect on a plane that is only best known to God.
One of those blockbusters, titled “Tashan 2, 100 Crore” is being shot in Dibakar Bannerjee’s short film in this collection. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the curious onlooker watching this Bollywood shoot from the sidelines. Ranbir Kapoor is the hero of the film that is being shot. We don’t get to see Ranbir’s face, but we see the faceless crowd and it immediately tells you why film-stars fascinate masses. Screw the acting or story-telling, their presence as heroes on a huge screen reduces all of us to the size of their eye-lashes. Of course we will look up to them, be enamoured, in real life too.
Karan Johar’s short film incidentally isn’t centred on a larger-than-life male character who can sweep mushy women off their feet. It explores the relationship between a bored husband and an otherwise effervescent wife, just as Zoya Akhtar’s film looks closely at two lovely little siblings. Akhtar’s film in fact could be a prequel to Johar’s and should have ideally been placed before his. As you can perhaps tell, it’s difficult to review films that are about half an hour long, when even discussing the essential plot can be a spoiler. Suffice it to say both Johar and Akhtar’s films deal with the same theme and while one is rather rebellious and angry (and that is Johar’s film by the way!), the other movie is bitter-sweet and dreamy.
Bombay Talkies, as you would know, is a set of four short films commemorating 100 years of Indian cinema. May 3, the date of this film’s release, is the day Dadsaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, widely believed to be India’s first film, released exactly a century ago (it premiered on April 21). Short films are an appropriate medium for such a mark of respect, because that is really how we first fell in love with cinema. Silent Raja Harishchandra itself was a 3,700 feet long film, which would make it about 40 minutes in duration. Also, if you look ahead at the next 100 years, I sadly suspect, short films could entirely replace long theatrical features altogether. The amount of shorter visuals we currently consume and produce on television, Internet or phone seem to confirm this heartbreaking theory.
None of the movies in this anthology however play around with movie narrative, break new grounds in form, structure or general content, something that a lot of great short films attempt to do quite often. This is but natural. The main reason audiences would to go to theatres to catch this collection are the filmmakers participating in this project whose past works they have thoroughly enjoyed. These directors are stars in their own right. Like superstars now (Aamir, Akshay, Salman...), I notice, regular cine-goers refer to these directors by their first name (Karan, Zoya, Dibakar, Anurag). This also holds true for some other filmmakers (Ramu, Vishal, Imtiaz...) and is possibly the biggest change to have occurred in Bollywood over the last 15 years as compared to the 15 years right before it.
While these shorts from four different directors appear in the same film, it might be unfair to judge one against the other, only because the basic intention of each isn’t the same. If anything, Karan’s film is the most experimental of the lot, at any rate it is the most unlikely one from the director. Zoya’s is the most intimate, Dibakar’s is the most evocative, and Anurag’s is quite easily the most ‘filmy’.
What connects these movies are delusions and escapism at one end and simple bonds at the other that cinema manages to create among all of us. The little boy in Zoya’s film finds life’s lessons through his fascination for Katrina Kaif. The uptight husband in Karan’s film briefly connects with his wife’s much younger colleague over a common love for old Hindi music. Dibakar’s and Anurag’s films on the other hand amply show how cinema is probably the opiate (perhaps with strangely healing powers) for the masses. Even if not astoundingly great, this is a fine tribute to an enthralling phenomenon that captured the human imagination almost all through the 20thcentury. Here’s to 100 more years!