Film: Bombay Talkies
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan (Cameo), Rani Mukherji, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Katrina Kaif (Cameo), Vineet Kumar.
Directors: Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap
The first thing that strikes you about Bombay Talkies is how pre-release the four directors have overshadowed a stellar ensemble with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji. But then as you read the names – Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap, it is evident why these directors can actually lure in audiences at the ticket window. With each one of them being successful in delivering commercial hits, Bombay Talkies offers them a platform to indulge and explore another side of their creativity. Mind you these aren't necessarily art-house stories and each chapter has that signature stamp of their makers.
Karan Johar opens the film with his tale of a married man (Randeep Hooda) struggling to come to terms with his sexuality after being in the closet for long. His wife (Rani Mukerji) is a tabloid editor and like any other modern day working woman looks at the lack of sex with her husband as nothing more than an occupational hazard. But when an openly gay intern (Saqib Syed) enters her world, she has no idea what's to follow! The dialogue is smart, witty, and very contemporary, devoid of any celluloid cheesiness you might have encountered in the director's previous work. Karan uses the immaculate 'Ajeeb dastaan hai ye' track to serve as a catalyst in his story. Like the lyrics of the song – this tumultuous triangle between the three is definitely 'ajeeb'. Full marks to Rani for once again proving she's the queen of subtlety when it comes to stripping off the makeup and letting herself fly. Both Randeep and Saqib show that vulnerability and evoke empathy for the choices they make. While one uses violence to masquerade his emotions, the other glorifies the idea of unrequited love. Johar handles the sensitive subject with maturity and shows a side to him we hope he digs deep into.
Dibakar's story begins in a Parel chawl with Nawazuddin Siddiqui petting an Emu (that quirky looking bird) in a congested space. His character has an ambiguity that serves him well. A failed actor and now struggling to find a day job, Siddiqui has a 'moment' when he accidentally walks onto a film set and ends up being an extra in a scene opposite Ranbir Kapoor (played by a bad looking body double). While this might sound simple, the buildup leading to this actual scene is what Banerjee's story is all about. Sadashiv Amrapurkar does a fantastic cameo where he alludes to the legendary one act play of Natasamrat and questions Siddiqui's hunger to be an actor. The interaction between them doesn't make a lot of sense, but it is their characters that draw attention and keep you engrossed. On paper Dibakar's story must have been a fantastic read, but its transition to the big screen is a bit sketchy. While you can't really go wrong with casting Siddiqui, there are parts where the actor himself seems a bit confused about what's happening around him. Be it the Emu, his bed ridden daughter, the silent monologue towards the end, or his refusal to accept money for his short film stint, none of this is either explained or explored.
Zoya's tale is about Vickey (Naman Jain) a cross dressing boy who worships Katrina Kaif idolizes her item songs. He believes anything can happen if he worships the Barbie doll of the actress on the mantle and even gets a Disneyesque visit from Kaif in his dreams dressed up as a fairy. While boys his age are playing cricket and football, Vickey spends time dabbing his mother's lipstick and dressing up in a frock dancing to the tunes of Bollywood songs. His tyrant father's (Ranvir Shorey) disapproval is expressed through a hard hitting slap that strengthens his dreams and makes him pursue his plans with greater fervor. However, the story has an abrupt end, and Zoya doesn't really delve into the boy's psyche. She merely presents a situation that focuses more on his craze for Katrina rather than the outcome of that emotion. Naman is fantastic in his role and his casting alone makes this episode worth watching.
Last in the sequence is Anurag Kashyap's chapter about an Allahabad resident Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) who travels to Mumbai on his ailing father's (Sudhir Pandey) request that he meet Amitabh Bachchan and ask him to taste the home made sweet pickle (murabba). This odd request has a back story which involves Dilip Kumar licking off honey and saving Vijay's grandfather from meeting his quick end. The entire story revolves around Amitabh Bachchan- his fans, his stardom, his duplicates, his security guards, and the stray dog lurking outside his bungalow. Even though Big B and his images take up most of the screen time, it is Vineet's struggle to get face time with the actor that emerges as the main draw. We even get a sneak peek into the Bachchan bungalow (not the interiors but beyond those wooden gates) and the most dramatic climax of the series.
Bombay Talkies is a format that needs to be praised for its concept. The sequencing of the stories works and the pace is swift, never showing signs of lethargy. If this was a tribute to 100 years of cinema, then we need to have an array of directors from different genres pay such homages more often.