Ever since the pandemic restrictions eased last year and people had the scope to travel and take that long-craved vacation, our social media feeds were flooded with pictures of Bollywood celebritiestravelling to the Maldives. Now, is this insensitive? Actor Amit Sadh thinks so.
According to the Hindustan Times, Amit Sadh recently took a dig at celebrities and the “privileged lot” who shared their vacation pictures online while the country suffers from the coronavirus.
First, he took to Instagram to announce that he will be taking a break from social media, adding that his gym posts aren’t helping anyone while Mumbai is in a difficult situation.
“The recent events have made me reflect on whether I should be posting my pictures and reels. Especially when my city Mumbai and the entire state is under strict COVID restrictions. I believe my posts…will not heal or entertain anyone. I personally feel the best way to be sensitive about the situation is to pray and hope for things to get better,” he wrote.
Have a look at his full post here:
According to News18, he opened up more about his decision in an interview. Commenting on celebrities sharing their vacation pictures online, he said that “some celeb profiles are startlingly disconnected from reality” and that “the privileged lot should be more sensitive at this time, and not rub their privilege in people’s faces.”
“Is Brad Pitt showing you that he is on an exotic island while the rest are battling corona? No, right? There’s so much suffering around and how can you pretend that it’s all okay because it hasn’t affected you? This has been on my mind for weeks. Everything is fake, where’s the place for simplicity?” he said.
Do you agree with what Amit Sadh has to say? Tell us.
The best of screenwriters cannot imagine writing something like the Mahabharata because there are so many plots, subplots, and characters. And one of the most fascinating characters is Karna, who is born a demi-god. He is the son of a queen (Kunti) and a god (Surya). But he’s abandoned by his mother and raised by people from oppressed communities. So it’s no wonder he’s often seen as an outsider; a tragic figure who never gets what he wants. He doesn’t get to be with his mother, brothers, or even the woman he loved (Draupadi, in some versions of the epic).
My favorite film version of the Mahabharata is Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug. He sets the tale between two feuding industrial families, and Shashi Kapoor plays the Karna character. But Tamil viewers are probably more familiar with Mani Ratnam’s unofficial “biopic” of Karna, Thalapathi. The film has all the familiar characters — Karna, Draupadi, Kunti, Duryodhana — but Karna is the hero of the story, rather than the traditional Arjuna. And then we have the actual biopic called Karnan, starring Sivaji Ganesan and made by BR Pathulu in 1964.
There are minor callbacks in this Karnan to those earlier films, which may be unintentional. There’s a scene with the sun shining in the background as the mother rocks a child in a cloth cradle. The frame gives us a mother, father, child dynamic happening in the same frame, even though this particular child is not Karnan. There’s also a scene where characters are wearing a T-shirt with Rajinikanth from Thalapathi.
But this retelling is very different. The song ‘Kanda Vara Sollunga’ says that Karnan might not have the traditional markers like kavasa-kundalam, but he had a sword and he fought with it. I thought the film might be a rousing story about a “saviour” saving his oppressed community. Seen in the broadest possible way, it is kind of that story. But this is also a story of the tragedy of the community.
At the start of the film, a little girl lies on the road, dying. Passing buses don’t stop. That’s one of the many, many metaphors in the film. The village where Karnan’s community lives has no bus stop of its own. So, the people have to hitch rides on vehicles passing by. The subtext is that the lack of a bus stop prevents these people from travelling too much. It keeps them “contained” in their village. And that’s where (and how) the dominant caste wants them.
When speaking to Film Companion South, Mari Selvaraj said Karnan is a lifestyle movie. I didn’t fully understand it then, but I think I get it now. The first half of the film is dedicated to the lifestyle of the community. The way they live, the games they play, the death ceremonies, customs and rituals, the joy the neighbouring (dominant) community derives from oppressing this community, and especially how people who die transform into native gods.
And even as this “lifestyle movie” unfolds around us, we begin to get the arc of transformation of Karnan (Dhanush). At first he is the kind of guy who sees an eagle taking away a chicken and says that this happens every day and there’s no point fussing about it. It’s a metaphor about how the powerful always prey on the weak. But as atrocities against his community increases, his anger also begins to increase. A girl is humiliated, there’s an unfair kabaddi match, a conductor humiliates his village — all of this builds and builds until we get a spectacular intermission moment.
But this is very unlike the usual intermission moment in a “hero” movie, which leaves us with a high. This one leaves us with mixed feelings even though Karnan technically “wins” and takes charge of the moment and unleashes his anger to the fullest. This doesn’t feel like a rousing moment at all. And this moment, too, involves a bus, the thing that refuses to stop at their village, the thing that restricts them to where they are.
In a way, Mari Selvaraj’s second film is very different from his first. Pariyerum Perumal was all about having a discussion; Karnan is about people being oppressed and their retaliation. And yet, both films are similar in one way. They’re not celebratory films. They are not about one community “winning” over the other, or the “hero” conquering the villain. In fact, at the very end, when we get a celebratory dance, Karnan is forced into it and he’s dancing with tears in his eyes. It’s a mixed kind of happiness that the film ends with.
In the second half, Karnan’s anger has been unleashed. He literally becomes a “pariyerum perumal”, a god or a savior sitting on a horse. There may be another subversion here: in the epics, it was the kshatriyas who used horses while the ‘lower’ communities were foot soldiers. If Karnan was angry in the first half, he really wakes up now. This is where the film differs from Thalapathy which was a closed drama with a one-on-one conflict between Arjuna and Karna characters.
Here, even if Karnan is the one who’s really fighting, even if he is a savior, he is inseparable from his community. So, the whole community gets involved in the war — the equivalent of the Kurukshetra war — that Mari Selvaraj stages in the second half. On the one side, we have members of Karnan’s village and on the other, we have the police force, which represents government, politics, even society. The leader of the cops, brilliantly played by Natarajan Subramaniam, the cinematographer, plays the Krishna character. He is literally named Kannabiran.
There’s an inevitable comparison when a director makes a film as unique as Pariyerum Perumal. You want to know what the second movie is, whether it’s going to measure up. I think I found Pariyerum Perumal much more powerful because it’s the story of a single man’s angst and the anger that boiled inside him like lava was the driving force of the movie. Here, because it’s the story of a community and because Karnan is never separated from this community, there are many, many characters—and the screenplay doesn’t do justice to all of them.
Some characters really stand out. Kannabiran, for one. (I wished he had been introduced earlier.) Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli plays a very good role as Karnan’s elder sister. But Karnan’s love interest (the Draupadi equivalent, with the same name) played by Rajisha Vijayan could be taken out of the movie and you would never miss her at all. Azhagam Perumal who plays the dominant leader of a village, too, has very little to do. We all know what a great actor Lal is. This isn’t an especially challenging performance for him but he’s very good on screen. He plays the best friend equivalent of Karnan even though he is much older and I wish he had been given more shades. He’s this guy who is solid and is always by Karnan’s side, but you kind of don’t get a sense of him as being more than a kind of BFF.
The screenplay also doesn’t expand some touches it sets up. There’s a chilling and fascinating moment in the first half where Karnan’s father is visited by the goddess-spirit of his dead daughter. He seems to be able to communicate with her in a way that other people in the house don’t seem to be able to. I thought that would have a big payoff in the second half when Karnan is walking away from the war in his village. I thought the father would ask him to go back into the village, because he has had a visitation from his daughter. But these payoffs don’t happen, and the set-ups remain set-ups.
There’s another moment that wasn’t used, as well. Karnan’s mother throws his sword in the river and he finds it immediately. That could have been a really rousing mythical moment, but maybe because the film was already a bit too long and had to be cut short, it doesn’t quite have the impact you want it to have.
But there are other mythical moments that work fantastically. There’s a moment when Karnan has to slice a fish into two. It’s this big “heroic” moment, though (again) it involves the community. In the Mahabharata, during Draupadi’s swayamvara, Arjuna hits the eye of a fish and wins her hand. Here, the heroic act with the fish is performed by Karna.
I felt the most overdone bit of symbolism in the movies was the presence of so many creatures. You see pigs, a horse, a snail, a dog like karuppi, a donkey which is the “spirit animal” of the hero and the community. You get the point that we are all one and we share this world with everybody. But the visual symbolism seems overdone, though perhaps a second viewing will settle some of the doubts in our mind.
At the same time, there are other touches that work wonderfully, even though they may appear only once or twice, unlike sustained motifs. Early on, we hear the use of the Alai Osai song ‘Porada Vaalendhada’, which is actually about asking the oppressed community to rise. That’s exactly what Karnan does. And my favourite scene in the film is when Karnan is in a running race for military selection. You’d think he’d be happy because he is one of the few who have passed the finish line. But Mari Selvaraj turns the camera to Karnan’s point of view and shows us the man behind Karnan, the man who almost made it. He makes us see that even if we win it comes at the cost of another person’s loss. This is when you realize what a wonderful humanist Mari Selvaraj is.
And the big moments work beautifully. I am not talking just about action scenes or the big confrontation scenes. I’m talking about the scene where Dhanush barges into a police station and wants to find some people from his village; when he actually finds them, it’s an overhead shot and the sun is shining. I had gooseflesh the way the whole incident was framed.
There’s so much to talk about Karnan, not just from a political standpoint which I’m sure a lot of people will do, but from a cinematic point of view as well. As a masala movie fan, we all know that one of the big moments is the face-reveal. But here, the actual hero is in custody with his face hooded, while the face-reveal happens as his image is drawn on a wall. We get the masala trope of people praising the hero but we don’t see the person, only the representation of this person.
And just as Karnan’s face is hooded, a Buddha statue is headless, a mural begins to be painted on the wall but its face is not painted until the end. Kannabiran loses his face because he is beheaded. This has to be about identity, because the minute you lose your face you lose your identity.
Like Pariyerum Perumal was carried by Kathir, Karnan is carried by Dhanush. This is a fantastic performance which is not very surprising but what surprises you is how many variations he brings in. When a friend of his dies, we get a closeup of his eyes with tears, but before that we actually see a closeup of his face. His reaction has the look of not just tragedy but also the futility of it all. It’s so magnificent that you can’t imagine anyone but Dhanush pulling it off.
I love the fact that though Dhanush does his share of hero roles, when he gets the right director or a director he respects, he completely lets go of his ego. In Asuran he went and fell at everyone’s feet. Here he allows himself to be slapped by his sister and a cop. There are natural things that happen to characters but the hero character in our films is so built-up and unreal and godlike that when these small things happen without interference, you get this feeling that the hero is allowing himself to be a normal person.
But the real hero of the film is of course Mari Selvaraj who proves that Pariyerum Perumal was no fluke. Most people work on their first story all their lives and once they’ve put it out they struggle to find a second story. That doesn’t happen here at all. He keeps giving us touches and metaphors and bits of subtext that one viewing is simply insufficient. Take this: Kannabiran is the villain of the piece. But at first, he seems like the only guy who is interested in the village. You think he might actually be a good guy. Like with the Krishna character, Mari Selvaraj names people from Karnan’s community Abhimanyu and Duryodhanan and makes us wonder why the children of farmers can’t bear the names of kings.
Most mainstream directors aim to leave the audience with a high at the end. Mari Selvaraj prefers to leave us with mixed feelings. He says that a movie can’t solve everything but at least it can make us ask questions.
In the trailer for Promising Young Woman, a chilling violin rendition of ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears, coupled with stills of Cassie (Carey Mulligan) smearing hot red lipstick and smashing a car, sets the stage for what we’re in for. It seems like a pulsating no-nonsense revenge saga comparable to the likes of Kill Bill. However, the very first scene of Promising Young Woman subverts our expectations when we find ourselves chuckling to slow-motion shots of men busting moves to Charli XCX’s ever catchy ‘Boys’. The first shot is a mere precedent for what is to follow. Nothing is what it seems. Underneath the veneer of an innocent and almost Barbie-esque candy-coloured palette lies a gritty narrative – an underbelly with horrid realities of a patriarchal system so incapable of seeing the truth that it would rather marinate in its own vicious ignorance.
When such a system humiliates, silences and eventually fails Nina Fisher as a victim of sexual abuse, the trauma arising from her death propels our protagonist, and Nina’s best friend, Cassie, to embark on a vigilante mission of sorts. By night, the otherwise girl-next-door medical school dropout who seems to have no direction morphs into a harsh reality check for men who seem to live in a bubble that they’re the ‘nice guy’. As Cassie herself observes, every night that she pretends to be blacked out drunk, the nice guy creature emerges from his den of chivalry, takes her home and inevitably takes advantage of her – up until the point when Cassie drops the charade and reveals that she is in fact not drunk. The chivalrous beast touching her cannot even recall her age or name. So much for being Mr Nice Guy.
The engines of the narrative however rev into their full potential when Cassie begins to act upon a more personal vendetta – directly confronting those involved in Nina’s abuse. Interestingly, it is when the film gets more personal, leading us into what exactly happened with Nina that it serves to function as a true exposé of facets of a larger society, which, out of selfishness and convenience, gives room for abusers to roam scot-free. Facing consequences for their actions is a far cry: they don’t even have to live with them. When Cassie meets those who knew about Nina, the ignorance they feign and the excuses they come up with coalesce to form a system that serves to be a soft cushion to protect pristine careers and put up an untainted front. The cost? Leaving those like Nina to be forgotten names and her loved ones marred with survivor’s guilt and haunting memories. It’s cruel and unfair. Sprinkled consistently throughout the narrative are indicators of what Nina and Cassie could have been. At the top of their class in medical school, they were promising young women in every sense of the words, now reduced to merely forgotten college gossip.
The gut-punch of the film however comes in the form of Ryan Cooper, Cassie’s love interest. Ryan can be comparable to a siren that lures us in with his charming disposition but unfortunately ends up being one of the many men Cassie knows all too well. The lovebirds jamming to Paris Hilton in a pharmacy store seems to be a montage from an early 2000s rom-com, making us believe for a split second that maybe Cassie can move on and leave her past behind. Yet, the film jarringly pulls the rug out from beneath our feet, bearing us back to the cold touch of reality when Cassie is handed a tape from the past which evidences Nina’s abuse and those involved. From this point onwards, there is no turning back. The events in the third act leave us horrified. We feel defeated, frustrated and helpless, a testament to director Emerald Fennell’s prowess to make the audience feel empathy for victims of abuse. While Fennell generously gives us a silver lining by the end, acting as a small redemption and catharsis, we are still rooted in our seats, paralysed and overwhelmed when the end credits roll.
Promising Young Woman feels like a fresh breeze. In a world where feminism has somehow garnered a bad rep and ambiguity clouds cases of abuse, Promising Young Woman serves as a fitting response to what is wrong and what needs to change. Cassie is fiercely independent, intelligent and could well be a poster child for what one could consider the modern young woman. Yet, despite her numerous attributes, the film makes us aware of the fact that the scales are not titled in her favour. In a system where walls are built relentlessly to silence victims, one cannot help but feel like a martyr walking into a fire if one were to take matters into one’s own hands. Oftentimes, films have a tendency to be akin to a public service announcement when trying to reflect social issues. Emerald Fennell however gives the narrative gusto and rhythm with thriller-like revenge-saga beats that consistently keep the audience on its toes. Unpredictable and raw, Promising Young Woman is an important and unforgettable experience that does not hold back.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.
Karnan is a humanist retelling of parts of the Mahabharata and the legend of King Arthur and his sword, Excalibur. Both are fused together in a superb myth-making scene at the beginning of the film: Karnan (Dhanush) slices a fish and becomes the custodian of the community’s sword and wins over Draupadi’s (Rajisha Vijayan) heart. But Mari Selvaraj fashions mythology into something that represents Podiyankulam and the oppressed community that’s confined to it.
Arthur’s Excalibur gives him the right to rule Britain; Karnan is merely the custodian of a collective property, the sword doesn’t give any power or right. In fact, throughout the film we see him sharing it with others. He won the sword in a competition and there isn’t anything predestined about it. More importantly, King Arthur needed the right to rule while Karnan’s people needed the right to survive. Superficially modeled on the Anglo-Saxon legend, Karnan is in an inverted image of King Arthur; Karnan has no destiny save for the one he chooses.
When Karnan bisects the fish and wins the sword, it looks like he’s thrusting it into the clouds and opening a small crack of light. This is not a weapon from heaven, but one that opens it.
In the Mahabharata, Karna is spurned by Draupadi during a competition to choose her suitor on account of his birth. In Karnan, Draupadi is in love with Karnan and hopes that he would win the sword. She judges based on actions, not birth. She would have judged Karnan above even King Arthur.
The counterpoint to Karnan’s sword are the several headless figures in the film. The titles appear over a headless Bodhisattva, it’s head commonly lost due to vandalism. But it’s also believed to represent a personality without identity. There’s a painting of Che Guevara without a face. Even the blood-thirsty police officer, Kannabiran (Nataraj Subramanian), who is killed by Karnan is reduced to a chalk drawing of the body and a splatter of red for head in the end.
In addition to this grand, mythical framing, Karnan also has minor, fascinating narratives that add layers of interpretation to what seems to be the usual mythical journey of a hero.
The staring goddess is the keeper of Podiyankulam’s memories
The death of Karnan’s sister is just one death in government statistics. Barely ever noticed, the system is now only too eager to also forget her. When both life and death lack dignity, the goddess restores it. Just as Jesus saves humanity in the Bible by giving them his own flesh as bread, the local goddess of Podiyankulam gives the statistic without identity a face—her own. She becomes the head of those who are deceased, as a way of making sure their suffering isn’t forgotten. She’s the head of those forsaken by the headless Bodhisattva.
And in fact, the chain of events leading to the smashing of the bus and the rebellion in Podiyankulam begins with a dream. Collective memories gather force with a momentum individual brains cannot, and Karnan’s sister — now with the goddess’s head — appears in her father’s dream, pointing to hidden treasure in their house. They do find treasure —a few coins.
But this scene foreshadows Karnan’s destiny: he will dig out his people’s treasure—their freedom. Their goddess has buried it under them and seems to represent the insistent thrust forward of Podiyankulam’s past. She’s not merely a deity to whom they supplicate for favors. She’s a living presence of their lives—and deaths.
In ‘Uttradheenga Yeppov’ children wear masks of the goddess as the village prepares for a faceoff with the police. So far, village elders had prevented children from knowing or reacting to the community’s past, so they could move on and get government jobs. But the goddess won’t let them, the peoples’ own subconscious won’t, and the children dance as goddesses to reclaim their identity.
By using the device of a dream, Mari Selvaraj connects the religious and psychological. A lofty god in the sky is replaced by one that is a kind of collective conscience. It’s as if injustices of the past can be forgotten but never erased permanently from the mind. The native religion of Podiyankulam appears to be an organic expression of their lifestyle. Their gods are as humble and practical as the people.
A donkey rides a horse: metaphors for Karnan’s past and future
You could read Karnan as the story of a donkey learning to ride a horse. Early on in the film, we are introduced to a donkey with its front legs tied (to prevent escape). It hasn’t given up, though. Once in a while, it lifts up its front legs but can’t free itself.
We also meet a horse belonging to a little boy, the first and only horse in Podiyankulam. He treasures it, but never rides it. It’s practically a donkey for him.
When Karnan frees the donkey it gracefully gallops like a horse (though the horse in the film hasn’t) and climbs a hill to stand next to his sister with the goddess’s face. Karnan has allegorically freed his own mind through the donkey; but can a donkey ever become a horse, even with untied feet?
Later in the film, when Karnan mounts a horse (like the donkey climbed the hill) towards his destiny, you see how the ‘donkey’, a thankless beast of burden, now has the skill to commandeer a ‘superior’ animal after it’s shackles are removed. What’s interesting is that Karnan is not the first person in his village to mount the horse.
It’s the little boy who keeps the horse who figures it out. This makes sense in a film that often puts the collective before the personal. In ‘Thattaan Thattaan’ the words ‘jeyichidu kannu’ might be addressed to Karnan, but the image we see as we hear the words is that of the hopping donkey.
Human conflict in a world of animals
Though the donkey and horse bear most of the metaphorical load in the film, we get frequent episodes with or intercuts to various other animals. The mere fact that Podiyankulam has an elephant angers a caste group. We get visuals of eagles swooping to steal chickens with Karnan arguing that there’s no point in begging eagles to be kind. That’s the first scene of the film and also its whole in a nutshell.
And it’s not just that animals are used as ornamental metaphors. Pariyerum Perumal was set in a law college which provided an ironic backdrop for a film on caste discrimination. Karnan, especially in the first half, feels like a story of people set in a world of animals. It’s as if Mari Selvaraj wanted us to think of natural law and not constitutional law as the solution to the problems depicted in Karnan.
For example, in a scene where the village is gathered in the commons to decide on a response to a specific instance of everyday injustice — no bus stops in Podiyankulam — you hear the bleating of goats which stops once the group agrees to take risky action. The goats seem as much a part of the conversation as the people who can often sound as scared. Members of the oppressing caste have their meetings in spacious and well-appointed homes, totally cut off from nature.
A fight between Dhanush and members of the opposing group happens in the middle of a herd of buffaloes. Their intergenerational conflict — implacable as a buffalo — forces them to fight amidst the suffocation. Crows, snails, cats, fights, they all play a role in the film as a reflection of the world view of people who live in close contact with animals and hence, likely to think of the world in terms of them.
In the second half of the film, once the State has taken over the conflict, we don’t see as many animals. Animals recede as the human war intensifies and breaks both human and natural laws.
Veteran actor Satish Kaul, who had 300 Punjabi and Hindi films to his credit and played the role of Lord Indra in the TV show Mahabharat, passed away due to coronavirus-related complications on Saturday in Ludhiana. He was 74.
Kaul’s sister Satya Devi told indianexpress.com, “He had fever for the last five-six days and wasn’t keeping well. So, on Thursday, we admitted him to Shri Rama Charitable Hospital here and then we learnt he had tested positive for coronavirus,” she said, adding the actor’s funeral will take place on Sunday. Kaul is survived by his sister.
The actor had spoken to PTI last year about his financial woes, which he had mentioned had only gotten worse due to coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown. “I’m struggling for medicines, groceries and basic needs. I appeal to the industry people to help me. I got so much love as an actor, I need some attention now as a human in need,” the actor had said.
Kaul started an acting school after moving to Punjab in 2011, he said in his interview to PTI. The project, however, didn’t fly. “It came to a halt and whatever work I was doing later was affected after I fractured my hip bone in 2015. For two and a half years, I was bed-ridden in the hospital. Then I had to check in to an old age home where I stayed for two years,” Kaul had said.
The actor began his career in the early ’70s, juggling between Hindi and Punjabi films. While his popular Bollywood films include Ram Lakhan, Pyaar Toh Hona Hi Tha and Aunty No 1, his Punjabi career was more flourishing and lasted longer with credits like Maula Jatt, Sassi Punnu, Ishq Nimana, Suhag Chooda and Patola. On television, besides Mahabharat, Kaul was known for 1985 Doordarshan series Vikram Aur Betaal.
How do you know that the second wave of the Covid 19 outbreak is upon us? Just take a look at the list of movie stars who’ve got it in the past few of weeks. Akshay Kumar, Aamir Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Katrina Kaif, Vicky Kaushal, Bhumi Pednekar, Manoj Bajpayee, Kartik Aaryan. Directors such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Some of them were in the middle of shooting their films, others in other stages of production. One way or another, the Hindi film industry is working on full swing. The numbers were going down, vaccination is on. But the unprecedented spike in cases (currently counting at over a lac per day, with the Government declaring the next four weeks as critical) has meant that film shoots—one of the most complex collaborative endeavours involving a large number of people—have become even more difficult.
Increasing number of cases among actors, directors, technicians and other staff have sent productions into a logistical chaos. The film shoots, divided into Zones, as prescribed by the directives of the government of Maharashtra, have upped their precautionary measures. Some productions have made it mandatory to test every alternate day—with new people joining the cast and crew can only do so after they have tested negative twice.
When the director of a film tested positive, this is what happened. According to the creative producer of a major studio who was working on it, “every single thing had to be relooked at.” Owing to a delay of two weeks, the first things to be affected were the location and the availability of actors, whose dates were arrived at after rounds of permutation combination. The booking dates for the location on the other hand also expired. As a result, the shoot had to be rescheduled. A new location had to be scouted. Then there was the problem of matching the actor’s dates with that of the heads of the different departments.
When the lead actors, directors (and maybe the cinematographer)—people without whom the shoot just won’t happen—test positive, the trickle down effect is huge. For example, even when there is no shoot, the team of assistant directors and daily wage staff have to be paid because they’ve been hired on a monthly basis. Same with people who have to be replaced, for example the VFX guy. He still has to be paid, even though you have to hire a replacement. All this has shot up the budgets.
In another production, to keep the budgets in check, a supporting actor was replaced after he tested positive, even though he had already shot for a day. “I had to let go of this actor and cast another person because if I lost the location, then I would have lost about 15 lakh a day. We reshot that footage that the actor had previously shot with a new actor. That meant getting the location, the actors and the crew together for one additional day of shooting,” said the creative producer on the project.
The new curfews in Maharashtra have added to the complication. “I have had to make a 100 versions of the schedule,” said Pooja Kadam, an assistant director at Excel Entertainment, “Like earlier night shoots could happen, now they cannot. We cannot do split days anymore; you can’t shoot from 2PM to 2AM because after 2AM the crew can’t go back home. Till recently, we were hopeful of being able to shoot on the weekends and now we’ve found out that we can’t.”
Despite all the adversities, the shoots are on. Filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane started shooting his next four days ago. Even though no one has tested positive on his set yet, the director of such films as Udaan, Lootera and AK Vs AK is fully aware that things can go “haywire”. “Everybody is mentally aware what you are planing to be a 4 month shoot is going to be a 6 month shoot, a one year project is going to be a 14 months project. Everybody is just figuring that this is the reality,” he said.
Actor Taapsee Pannu recently won the Best Actress FilmFare award for her performance in Thappad. Recently, a video clip of Taapsee’s acceptance speech went viral on social media . In the clip, Taapsee is seen thanking her fellow nominees including Kangana Ranaut.
“Thank you so much Kangana for pushing the boundaries. The benchmark of your performances just keeps going higher every year,” Taapsee is heard saying in the speech. The Thappad actress also thanked Deepika Padukone, Vidya Balan and Janhvi Kapoor in her speech.
A fan of Kangana Ranaut tagged the star and shared the video. Responding to the video clip, Kangana wrote, “Thank you @taapsee well deserved Vimal elaichi filmfare award…. no one deserves it more than you.”
Thank you @taapsee well deserved Vimal elaichi filmfare award…. no one deserves it more than you ????
On Tuesday, actor Sanjay Dutt made a public statement through a Twitter account, accusing publishers Juggernaut Books and author Yasser Usman of publishing a book on his life without his authorisation. Released on March 13, Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy, written by film journalist Usman, charts the course of his life through relationships with his “many glamorous girlfriends”, his struggle with addiction, love for guns, and his embroilment in the 1993 Mumbai blasts and the city’s underworld.
Taking umbrage at the details that have emerged from the many excerpts that have been published since the book came out (mostly focused on his relationships), Dutt said they were based on “hearsay, 1990s tabloids and gossip magazines, most of which are figments of imagination and not true”.
Dutt said his lawyers had sent a legal notice to Juggernaut Books before publication, to which the publishers had responded with a reassurance that the contents of the book were based on “information available in the public domain from authentic sources”. While threatening further legal action, Dutt said he hoped “there will be no further excerpts that will hurt me or my family”.
Chiki Sarkar, publisher of Juggernaut Books said they still stood by the book and echoed the statement released by the publishing house on their Facebook page.
Defending the book and its sources, the publishing house stated that Usman had “relied extensively on direct quotes from Mr Dutt, associates such as Mr Mahesh Bhatt, and members of the Dutt family” in addition to widely-reported and uncontested stories in the public record.
Juggernaut Books is no stranger to legal controversy. In August 2017, a Delhi district court, in an ex-parte order, restrained them from publishing From Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev,after Ramdev filed a petition against the book for “irresponsible, false, malicious content”. The case is still being fought in court with the publishers defending their book as factual and thorough.
Unlike Ramdev’s biography however, in the case of Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy, the publishing house has promised only to refrain from putting out any more excerpts from the book in “short-form media” to “pay respect to Mr Dutt’s wishes”. Without an order from the court, a route Dutt appears not to have availed of yet, the publisher is under no compulsion to stop the sale of the book. With excerpts already in the public domain and the book widely available in stores and online, the promise of restraint remains a placatory measure.
A deluge of Dutt books
Dutt has, by any account, led a far from ordinary life, the details of which are scandalous to anybody who isn’t already familiar with them. The actor has been the subject of intense media scrutiny for years, with several lengthy profiles written on him, many of which Usman lists in the footnotes to his book. Until now, however, there has been no book on the notorious superstar, and therein lies the rub.
In the text of the tweet accompanying his statement, Dutt informed readers that his official autobiography will be out soon – “authentic” and “based on facts”. Publishing insiders say final negotiations are still underway for such a book, which predictably comes at a high price – for the would-be publisher – and will be written by a Mumbai-based journalist. A book that promises to tell his “crazy untold story” before Dutt himself gets a chance to put out his version is bound to compete with any other book on the subject. The story doesn’t just stop at these two books, however.
Another major publishing house is planning on releasing a book on Dutt in a matter of months, once again without the authorisation of the actor, and is keeping it under wraps until publication, for obvious reasons. Why is there a mad scramble among publishers to put out books about Dutt’s life at this moment? While the fascination for a star child who went on to attain unparalleled levels of notoriety is evergreen, the release in June of Sanju, a biopic on the mercurial actor, might be the answer. The film may lead to a spike in interest in its subject, and a juicy book about the man in the news will be well-timed.
Assembling the story
In an interview with Scroll.in before Dutt tweeted his statement about the book, author Yasser Usman said that he had approached Dutt’s manager to speak to the actor for the book but was turned down. “I got a long interview with him at the time of the release of Bhoomi [in 2017],” Usman said. “The book was half done by then. I have used bits from that interview and relied a lot on archival interviews. Of course, I always believe that if he had spoken to me, it would have been better. It’s a research technique that Usman has down pat, employing the same strategy when he wrote Rekha: The Untold Story, which was also published by Juggernaut Books, in 2016. The book was criticised by some for being a “quickie” – a neatly assembled patchwork of existing material, since he did not have access to the subject he was writing about.
With Sanjay Dutt’s biography, once again the same questions arise. If you are writing about a living celebrity and they refuse to talk to you or grant access to information, how much of a story will you be able to tell? “We know most of the episodes from Sanjay Dutt’s life,” Usman said. “The untold story is in revealing the lesser-known anecdotes from his life and seeing them all together – the complete story.”
Legally, Usman should be on solid ground, as long as his sources check out. In an interview with Scroll.in last year, lawyer Dahlia Sen Oberoi, who has been representing publishing houses for almost 18 years, said “Anyone can write about anything or anyone as long as you are not violating any laws. Basically, in a biography people want to bring up dirt and for that, yes, your sources have to be impeccable. Our courts say that if you want to talk about a person’s private life, either get their permission or write only that which is part of public records – there’s nothing ambiguous about this law.”
Dutt’s contention seems to be precisely about these sources – “tabloids and gossip magazines” which the publishers defend as “leading film periodicals”. While Usman said he also spoke to several people off the record, a large chunk of the book relies on these magazine archives.
A Catch-22 situation
Even as Dutt chastised the book for being “unauthorised”, Juggernaut and Usman are far from the only ones publishing books about Indian film stars without their involvement. Entertainment journalist Aseem Chhabra is reportedly writing an unauthorised biography of Priyanka Chopra to be published this year. His last book, on Shashi Kapoor, published by Rupa Publications, was once again written without the actor’s contribution, owing to his illness at the time.
Over two decades ago, author Mohan Deep was severely criticised for his lurid portrayal of Madhubala in a biography published in 1996. He followed in quick succession with a book on Meena Kumari in 1998 and one on Rekha titled Eurekha in 1999, once again a gossip-heavy account focused on the sex life of the actress.
If some unauthorised biographies are dismissed for being quickly thrown together, authorised biographies, on the other hand, often tend to be sanitised, PR-driven accounts. Indian film stars are of course, famously obsessive about controlling their image – one that especially can’t be tinkered with when it reaches godlike status – and we’re yet to read a comprehensive biography of Amitabh Bachchan, for example.
“It’s a Catch-22 situation,” said Kanishka Gupta, founder of the literary agency Writer’s Side. “If a biography is authorised, it risks being a hagiography and might not generate as much attention, media interest and readers. If it’s an unauthorised biography, there’s a risk of facing legal action.”
Where then does the middle ground lie? There’s the conversation book, a format of interviews with film personalities pioneered in India by Nasreen Munni Kabir, who has done book-length interviews with the likes of Lata Mangeshkar, AR Rahman, Gulzar and Waheeda Rehman. But it remains a niche genre, with mainstream fans less interested in the craft of film as much as anecdote-rich personal stories.
That fine balance has been achieved most recently by two books that came out in 2017 where film stars told their own stories, supported by more than capable journalists. Karan Johar’s An Unsuitable Boy and Rishi Kapoor’s Khullam Khulla– co-written by Poonam Saxena and Meena Iyer, respectively – bucked the trend by being well-written and revelatory with a healthy dose of scandal. “With Rishi Kapoor, even we weren’t expecting the kind of material he wrote, he surprised us,” said Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, Executive Editor at HarperCollins India, the publishers of Kapoor’s autobiography.
Even when a writer is on board, however, things can go awfully wrong. Nawazuddin Siddiqui famously withdrew his autobiographyAn Ordinary Life, a few days before its launch, after his Miss Lovely’ co-star Niharika Singh and former girlfriend Sunita Rajwar criticised the actor for misrepresenting their relationships. In an highly unusual move, copies of the memoir, co-written with the US-based journalist Rituparna Chatterjee, were pulped.
“It’s a difficult time for books on film stars and I’m definitely wary of taking one on. At least one publisher has told me they aren’t publishing any books on Bollywood at the moment,” said Gupta, adding that most publishing houses now want a No Objection Certificate from everyone who has been quoted in a book about a celebrity. It’s a highly restrictive move, reflective of the paranoia in publishing about costly legal cases or injunctions that leave them unable to recover the hefty advances and marketing costs involved with high-profile books. “This is likely to spook publishers even more,” Gupta said, referring to the threat of legal action by Dutt.
He added: “There’s too much risk involved. Even when stars have given permission for biographies, they can sometimes change their mind halfway through the writing process and withdraw their support. Or in the case of a celebrity who is no longer alive, their family members might take up the matter in court.” Gupta has represented several books on or by celebrities, including Pooja Bhatt, who is supposed to come out with a book detailing her battle with alcohol addiction this year.
Despite the legal risks, Ray Chaudhuri, who has built an enviable list of books on cinema at HarperCollins India, admits that apart from the rare Rishi Kapoor, most authorised biographies or autobiographies tend to be sanitised. “As long as the information being used is in the public domain, I don’t see anything wrong with unauthorised books about film personalities. But even then, we use the information with caution, even when prefixed with ‘allegedly’,” he said. “And the focus should remain on the person’s work, not on gossip,” he added.
A chequered tradition
The unauthorised biography, while still a nascent form in India when it comes to film personalities, has a long but chequered tradition in the US and the UK. Several writers have made a name for themselves as the go-to authors for books whose subjects are less than excited about their publication. Not without a fair share of a backlash, however. British journalist Andrew Morton has written books about everyone from Princess Diana to Tom Cruise, criticised along the way for his sources. When he tackled the story of Angelina Jolie in a biography, several mainstream media outlets ignored the book and refused to engage with it.
Oxford professor Jonathan Bate was famously derided by The New Yorker journalist Janet Malcolm for writing a book on Ted Hughes even after his widow withdrew support. Back in 1993, she wrote about the form: “The biographer at work is like the professional burglar, breaking into a house, rifling through certain drawers that he has good reason to think contain the jewellery and money, and triumphantly bearing his loot away.”
Most writers, however, believe in their right to present the facts in an unfiltered manner. “It’s not my business to decide what it is the reader should or should not know,” said Christen Andersen, author of books on Madonna, Michael Jackson, and the Kennedy family, among others, in an interview with CNN in 2010. “I’d be cheating them otherwise. I’m a journalist, not a censor.”
Back in India, underpinning all the friction is the uneasy compromise between the worlds of film and publishing. Books about, or by, film stars sell more than the average non-fiction title, with publishers vying furiously with one other for the rights. Yet they can often be reduced to slim gossip volumes lacking nuance and analysis. The most crucial consideration for an author in such a situation then, as with any story you tell that is not your own, is to ask repeatedly why, other than the sales, you’re writing it. And of course, make sure you’re really assiduous about maintaining that list of sources.
There are several films in Indian cinema that did not receive much love and appreciation during its release, but with the course of time it went on to prove its worth. One such film is Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades starring Shah Rukh Khan which was released in 2004. The film tells the story of an Indian expatriate employed with NASA, who travels back to the country to find his nanny, but ends up advocating for the reform of a village. The music of the film was done by A.R. Rahman and all the tracks of the movie are still popular among the masses. However, Rahman recently revealed that the film did not receive the warmth and love that it receives today back when it had released.
In an interview with Bollywood Hungama, while talking about Swades, A.R. Rahman said, “I felt that it is the most underrated movie. When it came, people pulled Ashutosh (Gowariker) and all of us down. But, you know, very rarely does a movie make an impact on life. Swades, Ashutosh’s script and Shah Rukh playing the part more than Shah Rukh himself that was genius. At that time it felt like it was an underwhelming movie. But the impact which it created, the song ‘Ye Jo Desh’, whether it is in Hindi or Tamil. So it’s actually one of the highlights in our concert and not just because it is a song, it is very rare that a song and movie’s essence go to the inner core of the soul. And this is one such movie. A lot of people have come back and blamed us, ‘because of you guys I came back from the US came from Australia, Europe back to India to make Indian what it is.”
Meanwhile, A.R Rahman is currently looking forward to the release of the film 99 Songs for which he has turned producer and writer for the first time. The film is scheduled to hit the theatres on April 16.
Biopics continue to be all the rage in Bollywood these days. The last two weeks alone have seen two biopics release with Saina and Abhishek Bachchan-starrer The Big Bull. At a time when these films based on real figures show no signs of slowing down, we thought we’d look at some of our favourite examples of the biopic done right.
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
Most biographical dramas present their subjects as people who behave like they know a film will be made about them one day. These characters display their effect on history in real time; they are already aware of how their extraordinary presence will be viewed decades later. But the triumph of director Sharan Sharma’s crafty biopic lies in how it reveals Gunjan Saxena as someone whose legacy is an incidental consequence of her individualism. She is more of a dreamer than a public metaphor. She never says things like “I want to touch the sky” or “Red Bull gives you wings”. The music says it (“Bharat ki beti”), the treatment says it (slow-claps), her progressive father says it (“shatter the cage and fly away”), but her tender age (she’s 24 in Kargil) prevents her from being a mouthpiece. More importantly, her goal is hers. When a family member salutes her with a “Jai Hind,” she responds with a hug. When she airlifts the injured, it’s less duty and more instinct. Gunjan wants to be a pilot, and flying – both literally and figuratively – is the story that history writes for her; flying is merely a by-product of her ambition.
Director Damien Chazelle explores space in his film about Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. He explores personal space, professional space, political space and headspace. Perspective, as Armstrong admits in his NASA interview, makes all the difference. It depends on where you – we – look from: the man, or the moon. First Man is a poignant, thrilling and hugely affecting exercise in fusing these two perspectives into one. There’s much to appreciate about the way Chazelle and his core team magnify the journey of a man who finds solace in telescopic emotions. They paint Armstrong as a haunted father who refuses to be grounded. At no point does he seem like a genius, even when he continues to drive the Apollo program, because his brilliance is made to look like a reaction.
Mallesham is in many ways Pad Man (a film it will no doubt be compared to for the similarities in story), done right. Raj Rachakonda’s rousing biopic is based on the true story of Padma Shri-winner Chintakindi Mallesham who invented an ‘asu’ machine which revolutionized sari production to save the women of his village from dangerous, punishing work. Mallesham is the rare biopic that puts telling a story for what it is over glorifying its subject, and in doing so, goes beyond a mere checklist of its protagonists milestones.
Most biopics celebrate the human in the artist; Manto looks for the human in the art. At one point in this film, the formidable Urdu writer, who is being tried for obscenity by a Lahore court for yet another short story, decides to argue his own case. He presses on about the importance of “context” – don’t judge a word or a line in isolation, but in context of the writer’s career, his surroundings, his worldview. This could very well have been the filmmaker directly addressing the viewers of Manto.Director Nandita Das beautifully stitches five of the famous Urdu author’s short stories into the narrative of his life’s definitive five-year period. But perhaps her film’s most distinctive trait is its contextualization of his life through his work, rather than vice versa. Here it’s Manto, the person, which is weaved around the five stories.
Milk (directed by Gus Van Sant) is the story of gay rights activist, Harvey Milk who was also the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the US—at great cost to his own life. Milk starts out as a businessman and, after a few attempts, gets elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors. Though he is openly gay and his conflict with fellow supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin) is partly about his orientation, this is not a film about Harvey Milk, the gay politician; it’s about Milk, the politician who was gay and batted for everyone. Sean Penn brilliantly copies Milk’s winsome manner and ever-widening smile, and the film is as much about the dynamics of inner city politics in America as much as the personality and sexual orientation of Milk.
A Beautiful Mind
Though based on Sylvia Nasar’s book, A Beautiful Mind (directed by Ron Howard) is not a straight retelling of the nuanced life story of John Nash. Firstly, the book is written in a journalistic style. Also, how do you visually communicate a complicated ‘madness’ which is also a source of brilliance? Writer Akiva Goldsman chips away what — to his eye — is inessential and presents the narrative of Nash as a schizophrenic mathematician who wins the Nobel prize in spite of his condition. The maths, his larger family, the mistress—they are pruned away in favour of a narrative of intellectual redemption. Though the John Nash in this biopic is not the real one, Russell Crowe portrays him as a brilliant, dignified man without reducing him to a caricature and without becoming a hagiography: a tortured mind, too, can be a beautiful mind.