What if


Over the past few years, I have found myself gravitating towards the conclusion that any movie can be improved by the presence of Vadivelu in it. Examples (some of which I have mentioned in earlier blog posts and comments) include:

  • Wanted (the English version involving curving bullets and a curvier Angelina Jolie): Given how often the lead character gets beaten up, he could easily have been played by Vadivelu and given the moniker of Bullet Bhupati.
  • 7 aam Arivu: Surely Body Soda (Pokkiri) was Bodhidharma’s descendant?
  • The Harry Potter series: Snake Babu (Arya), the true heir of Slytherin. Think about it: when a dark wizard of Voldemort’s stature faces off against a teenager he is unable to kill, wouldn’t his first thought naturally be: Enna chinna pulla-thanama irukku?
  • Mission Impossible 4: The fate of the Anil Kapoor character is the epitome of vada pochche.
  • The Star Wars series: Body Soda (Pokkiri) for Yoda or Kanduvetti “Terror Face” Karuppu (Kathavarayan) for Jabba the Hutt. Your choice.
  • The Fantastic Four: Admit it, Theeppori Thirumugam (Englishkkaran) would’ve kicked Johnny Storm’s butt.
  • King Kong: Bannerjee (Aadhavan). In his own words.
  • The Seven Samurai: Oh, come on, had it not been Toshiro Mifune playing Kikuchiyo, wouldn’t it have occurred to you as well?

I am yet to figure out how Citizen Kane can be improved. Given our man’s physical proportions, rosebud comes to mind. But beyond that, nothing. Ideas are welcome.

ps: Yes, I need therapy. Thank you for noticing.

A few weeks ago, Memsaab posted a review of Makdee wherein I had commented that Shweta Prasad would be my choice for Hermione if someone were to remake Harry Potter in Hindi. So I got to thinking: If I had to remake the Potter franchise in Hindi, what would my casting choices look like? I’m gonna assume that I can pick actors from across the ages to play various roles, so that a really appropriate casting choice doesn’t get thrown out simply because I didn’t have a time machine handy.

Ron Weasley: Kunal Khemu.

Hermione Granger: Shweta Prasad, hands down. 

Albus Dumbledore: Amitabh Bachchan. One of those choices that seems obvious in hindsight, but trust me, I spent a lot of time agonizing over this one before deciding that it really had to be AB. For what it’s worth, my next choice would’ve been Prithviraj Kapoor.

Severus Snape: Kay Kay Menon.

Sirius Black: I’m thinking Vinod Khanna.

Remus Lupin: Boman Irani

Minerva McGonagall: Dina Pathak. 

Hagrid: Dara Singh.

Draco Malfoy: Really can’t think of anyone for this role.

… and in minor supporting roles:

Arthur Weasley: Anupam Kher

Molly Weasley: Kirron Kher

Lucius Malfoy: Jeevan.

Gilderoy Lockhart: Salman Khan. A lot of people can play handsome, but Salman can play silly like few others can. He comes by it naturally, I think.

Horace Slughorn: Utpal Dutt

James Potter: Dharmendra

Lily Potter: Sharmila Tagore

Peter Pettigrew: Pankaj Kapoor. 

Mundungus Fletcher: Keshto Mukherjee. Not really a major character, but I had to give ol’ Keshto a part somehow :-)

And finally…

Lord Voldemort: Naseeruddin Shah.

Any suggestions on who should play Harry? Write in with your casting choices, or post them on your blog and drop me a note. I’ve restricted my choices to Hindi cinema, but one can consider other Indian languages as well.

Ages ago, I took an undergraduate elective on Shakespeare along with two of my friends. We were probably the three most interested students in our class, and had a great deal of fun discussing the Bard on hot Wednesday afternoons over shikanji at the Sky Lawns. One of our assignments was to write a paper on some aspect of Shakespeare we were interested in exploring. I picked a somewhat ambitious topic: Absurdist elements in Shakespeare’s plays. In my most charitable mood, I would describe my paper as complete and utter crap. But that’s besides the point.

My friend Mallu picked a somewhat strange sounding topic, a line from Hamlet: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies. When presenting his work, he would ask us questions like, what if Hamlet’s dad’s ghost wasn’t around? What if there was no storm in King Lear. I remember us (Renu and me) arguing with him that it was no more than a dramatic device, and I remember him getting frustrated with us for not getting it. To this day, I am not sure I got what he was getting at.

But that line from Hamlet stayed with me. Initially, it would pop up from memory when trivial things happened that I couldn’t explain, like my computer choosing to reboot suddenly. But over time, as it settled and percolated into the deeper reaches of my understanding, it began to take on more significance. It came to be about locus of control.

I bring this all up because of all the hype surrounding Sarkar Raj, set to release this Friday. It reminded me of an earlier RGV movie called Darling, a small venture that followed close on the heels of his disastrous Sholay remake. If Sarkar proved that it is possible to make a great tribute to a great movie, Aag proved that it is equally possible to make an abyssmal one. But more on that movie later.

Darling had an interesting premise. Fardeen Khan is a successful businessman with a loving wife and kid, who has an affair with his secretary. On a weekend rendezvous with her at his friend’s beach house, she tells him she’s pregnant, he doesn’t react well, things get ugly and he ends up accidentally killing her. He buries her in the backyard of the beach house and goes back home, but finds himself haunted by her ghost.

Here’s what I don’t get. The subject of the movie isn’t the ghost. The subject is his fear of discovery. In those initial scenes after the murder, this is what you see: A man who has committed a crime, covered it up and now finds himself unable to sleep. Up until this point, the movie is amazing. And then it decides to become a ghost story. Why, I wonder?

What if there was no ghost? Couldn’t RGV have made the movie simply about this man, and left the supernatural out of the picture? Just the relentless tension as he slowly gets dragged into his own grave as the people around him dig up hers… that would’ve been a fantastic movie, I think.

By far the most often quoted (and parodied) line in Deewar is: Mere paas maa hai.

It comes at the point where the smuggler Vijay (Amitabh) taunts his brother Ravi (Shashi) saying he now has every material comfort he can think of, as opposed to his honest cop brother. And Ravi responds by referring to the one thing Vijay doesn’t have: the support of their mother. While this isn’t the single important choice that the entire movie hinges on (that would be Vijay working for Dawar), it is definitely the one that matters most to Vijay.

When I think about it, this choice seems to be the jump-off point for Sanjay Gupta’s Aatish. It’s like, he sat down after watching Deewar and asked himself: What if the mom chose the criminal over the cop? I mean, the guy turned to that life so that he could support his family, not because he wanted to. Surely his mom recognizes and appreciates how difficult that choice must have been for him?

In essence, that is what Aatish is about. Sanjay Dutt becomes a criminal, his brother Atul Agnihotri becomes a cop, and when they face off, their mom Tanuja chooses Sanjay. Everything else about that movie is fluff and nonsense. Which is a problem, because once you see past that interesting idea, there’s really very little to write home about.

I wonder if there are more examples like that: Movies that develop the same way and then diverge from one crucial choice. If you can think of any, let me know, willya?

Rang De Basanti was playing on TV recently, so I settled in to watch some of it. It is a very well made movie with strong performances all around, and could rightfully claim to be one of the best movies of that year. What some people had a problem with, though, was the ending.  The business of killing the defence minister, hijacking the radio station and getting killed seemed like a very sudden and unnatural denouement.

My feelings on the subject were ambiguous. The alternative endings all seemed cliched. Somehow, a sad ending with some kind of message seemed to make the most sense. The trouble was in the implementation. Something was off.

So I sat down to watch one of the key scenes in the movie, one where the group decides to kill the minister. The scene keeps cutting between the conversation between these friends and a conversation between Bhagat Singh, Azad &c. Now, there are earlier scenes where this particular stylistic device has been used, to indicate how playing these roles in Sue’s documentary has slowly seeped into their subconscious. So, it doesn’t feel unnatural here.

The problem is, this is too critical a scene to be monkeying around. Up until this point, the movie portrays a bunch of happy-go-lucky youngsters who are slowly waking up to the responsibilities of their generation, and get a rude shock when one of their number is killed and the government covers up its folly. While the plot takes a sudden turn with the pilot’s death, the characters still remain who you’ve so far seen them to be.

Taking these guys from that point and getting them to actually murder someone isn’t a smooth jump. The scene where they discuss it needs to be real, and the dialogue there needs to convey how they convince themselves and each other that this is what they need to do. Look at it this way: the viewer has identified with this group. By the end of this scene, he should feel like they are doing the right thing. There’s no margin for error here.

Instead, RDB handles this scene as if it is an opportunity to draw parallels with the past. It would’ve been okay if one or more of the characters had made a reference to Bhagat and Co’s actions or thoughts, and the others had responded. But to intercut between the two diluted the focus. Not a good movie, methinks.

The other crucial jump in continuity is right at the end, when the government’s response is to send a crack team to kill these guys in the radio station. Now, all you have seen so faer of the story is that these guys have gone on air and claimed responsibility for the minister’s assasination. They have admitted to being students of Delhi University who were disgusted with his corrupt ways and his indirect complicity in their friend’s death. None of this seems to warrant the response it received, and somehow it does not seem likely that a Government would try and do something this blatant.

I don’t really have a solution here, but surely there must have been some way to make the killing seem more plausible?

Warning: If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to reconsider reading this post. Here be spoilers.

There’s a scene at the end of the first half in Chak De India when the team has finally begun to act as one. It comes soon after they’ve mutinied against their coach and refused to play under him. He resigns and takes them out to a farewell lunch, where they respond to some eve-teasing by ganging up and thrashing whoever looks remotely male and in their age group. By the end of it, they decide that they want Kabir Khan (SRK) as their coach again. This could be either because they’ve realized what he’s been trying to do, or because they’ve vented all their aggro on those guys in the cafe and are ready to play again. No matter: the scene works. Right at the end of the fight, they assemble around Kabir’s table and try to stammer out an apology. After a couple of misfires, Kabir smiles and asks them to assemble at the grounds the next morning at 5 am. All is well.

Now, this is admittedly a minor quibble with what I consider a very good scene, but I’d have liked the scene better if they had left out the stammering apology part. The point has been well and truly made even before Komal Chautala tries unsuccessfully to word the sentiments of the team. To use her own phrase, Ab mare bhains ki poonch phadne se kya phaida?

The match-winning save by Vidya Sharma in the penalty shootout right at the end is another interesting scene. Kabir figures out that the Aussie player isn’t gonna hit to the right or to the left, but straight down the middle. He mentally wills Vidya to look at him, and makes a gesture that could mean either Relax or Stay where you are. She does so and saves the goal, and gives her team the championship.

Now, I admire how the gesture Kabir used was simple and effective. But I’d have liked to see her get it right even without that gesture. A weak point in the movie is Vidya’s characterization as well as the coverage of her goalkeeping skills. There’s a line that’s repeated a few times in the movie: Attack the goalie’s mind, not the goal. Somehow, you don’t get to see her mind enough – had Shimit Amin done that well, then I think he could’ve done away with Kabir’s gesture.

An entirely different way of portraying that goal would’ve been to show not the goal itself, but Kabir’s reaction to it when it happens. After that, maybe later, he could’ve shown the goal in replays. But the point of the movie is Kabir’s redemption, and this is, in some sense, the high point. Showing it all from his point of view would’ve been a very interesting move. I doubt too many people would agree with me on this, but I personally would’ve loved it if he had done that.

I’m starting a new series of posts called What If…?

Somebody, Jean-Luc Godard I think, said that the best way to criticize a film is to make another one. I’m not up to the task, but here’s what I’m gonna do.  I’m gonna pick some aspect of a movie that I wish had been done differently, and spell out what I might have done if I was making it. Would my idea have worked better? You read them tell me.

I’ve provided an example of this before, in an earlier freeze frame post on Dil Chahta Hai. In it, I spoke of how the opera scene involved an unnecessary holographic tour through Akash’s mind. The point of acting is to do a good enough job that such as tour is not necessary. Aamir had done well enough, as had the script – I didn’t see why the director felt like he had to spell it out for us. Especially after the way he handled railway station scene.

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