A letter to Vishal ‘Bard’waj

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Date : Sept 30, 2014

Subject : Your Chutzpah.

My dear Vishal,

Firstly, thank you for inviting me to watch Haider last night. Thank you for thinking of me. Let me tell you that you robbed me of my sleep last night. Your chutzpah had me awestruck, wondrously grateful and might I sheepishly admit, slightly envious.

Did you really write Haider? Or did you actually paint it? Those paintings of Kashmir and its people refuse to leave me. The characters in your chutzpah – where did they come from? Your mind or your heart? Did I witness poetry last night? Or was it cinema as it was meant to be but has ceased to be?

I’m now tormented by the pain of your world. I am overcome with Haider’s plight. I can feel Ghazala’s dilemma. I am still swept by the unspoken truth in Arshia’s sparkling eyes. The landscape that you painted, is a Kashmir I have never seen before. There is so much beauty yet so much melancholy. There is so much music in the silence of that stunning paradise. I can sing praises for your performers, for the impeccable casting, for the cinematography, for the gentle editing, for the seamless screenplay, for the mellifluous dialog, for the choreography, for the costumes, for the authenticity of the language used by your characters but I would hate to recount my experience with such mortal, hence limited measures of brilliance. Real brilliance cannot be quantified. Real brilliance cannot be compartmentalized or presented in bullet form. I will, therefore, not use my meager knowledge to dumb down what is truly a spiritual experience.

Dear Vishal, it is rare that a film can actually make somebody as egoistic as me feel so humbled, so moved. I witnessed a grand spectacle last night, a feat I thought our cinema was incapable of achieving. I became part of an operatic journey that transformed me. After Haider, I don’t think I will ever be the same director I used to be. The change, I hope, will be for the better. The change, I hope, will have me thanking you forever.

Nevertheless, thank you for Haider. Thank you for making a sleepless night so fulfilling. Thank you for a meditative experience. Thank you for the chutzpah!

Lots of love,

Hansal.

PS : I must tell you that watching Haider last night made me lament your absence in my life as a music composer. Your music is special. Give me more.

 

 

A Time for Audacity

I saw the honest, deceptively simple and thoroughly engaging Kaipoche last week. The film has apparently opened well at the box-office. It’s producers UTV seem to have backed a film without stars and without ‘safe’ ingredients to the hilt. Kaipoche is a triumph of conviction and a celebration of audacity. I believe this is the time. A time for the mavericks to shine. A time for the mad to blossom. A time for the honest to express. A time for the artist to create. A time for the fearless. A time for audacity.

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4 reasons for me not watching (or not being able to watch) the increasing number of films released every week –

  1. I am perennially broke
  2. I am lazy
  3. I need to work
  4. My wife is not in the mood
  5. I am hoping I get invited for a preview/premier.

The past few weeks have been different though. The spate of films released and due for release stared at me in the face because

  1. They featured friends in lead roles
  2. They were directed by friends
  3. They were produced by friends
  4. I was looking forward to the films
  5. I felt compelled to watch them

I am going to limit my post to the Hindi films I saw because in the case of foreign films:

  1. I feel inadequate commenting about commenting on them
  2. I did not feel like watching many of them
  3. I am waiting for uncensored DVDs of some of them
  4. I don’t get invited for previews of these films

In the past few years, most significantly 2012, I am seeing a pattern in films that are successful (relatively) and appreciated. A majority of them stand out for their choice of actors, their choice of subject, their non-formulaic narratives and a host of other similarly intellectually stimulating reasons. One factor that has begun to increasingly stand out in these films is sheer audacity. The more I think about what drew me to watch the films, to like some of them, to dislike some of them and to find some of them memorable was the lack of apologetic film-making that has mostly led our films towards pathetic levels of mediocrity.

I’ve noticed that many film-makers no longer feel pressured to make the same formulaic nonsense with the same boring people over and over again. Many of the older directors also seem to realize the futility of formula and are trying hard to reinvent. Those who aren’t will soon be history.

Ever since I made Shahid I’ve been asked over and over again about how the trend of biopics is on the increase. The media unfortunately reads trends very poorly and looks for convenient analysis. Trade pundits who have in the past thrived upon silly generalization are very shallow in their understanding of artistic/creative decisions taken by film-makers or in analyzing the success of films that don’t fall into their formulaic comfort zones. The truth is that book adaptations, biopics and stories inspired by true events are an indicator and not trends in themselves. We now have film-makers looking for newer stories to tell. We have film-makers looking for new ways to tell stories. We have film-makers who are fearless. We have film-makers who are not afraid of audacity.

Whether it is Talaash, Gangs of Wasseypur, Ek Main aur Ek Tu, Vicky Donor, Special 26 or Kaipoche I notice a fearless streak in the directors and the team that has made these films possible. Even potboilers like Dabbang or before that Wanted or the recently released ABCD have displayed a certain audacious vision. Rockstar had the audacity to be deeply philosophical and sometimes meandering while pretending to have commercial trappings. A certain Anurag Kashyap whose films either got banned or termed as jinxed is now celebrated because of his delightfully indulgent Gangs of Wasseypur or his subversive take on Devdas. Sujoy Ghosh redeemed himself with the surprising Kahaani. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Pan Singh Tomar was commercially successful. English Vinglish marked the successful return of a Bollywood diva who churned out some of the most cringe-worthy films of my growing up years. Tanu weds Manu with it’s unconventional cast, relaxed pace and fresh music created a new benchmark for the romantic genre. The list could be exhaustive and I’m sure it will soon dominate successful box-office lists. On the other hand there has been a steady increase in films (Ship of Theseus, Miss Lovely, Peddlers etc.) that have found appreciative audiences in international film festivals and critics. These films have shown a fierce independence in their making while giving alternate Indian cinema a new lease of life and an unpretentious, fresh form of expression. They have been audacious in their abandonment of what we perceived as ‘art-house’ or ‘parallel’ cinema in India. They were unabashed in their treatment, style, narratives and expression. These and many other films that I have viewed over the past year and this year have challenged audiences, provoked critics and subverted formulaic convention with amazing audacity. Even more encouraging is the fact that producers, actors (including some stars) and trade have begun to embrace the audacious breed, backing them to the hilt.

So what is the point I’m trying to make? It’s simple. Audacity is in. Safe is not safe anymore. Take the second installment of Dabbang. It disappointed because it succumbed to ‘ingredientization’ and failed to live up to the fearless audacity of the first part. Films like ‘Zilla Ghaziabad’ or ‘Jayantabhai Ki Love Story’ are passé. They will continue to get made. They will continue to remind us of everything that is unimaginative and about how we have allowed ourselves to be taken for granted all these years.

So here is my two bit gyaan. Whether you aim for the mainstream or the alternate space, make it audacious. Just making it big will soon cease to work – neither for the makers or the audience. Yes we will have regular installments of successful franchises. We will have ridiculous remakes. We will have mindless, storyless films – but my guess is that all of them will work for their audacity and not for their adherence to convention.

Audacious will soon be safe. Safe is already dangerous. It could soon be suicidal.

Dev Anand, Chargesheet and me.

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When I was 30 I was troubled by questions of death and questions of life after death. The ‘soul’ was a fascinatingly escapist concept for me but supremely confusing. I have a spiritual friend – somebody who I end up having conversations with when my questions reach a point of extreme anguish. He told me that the soul was basically ‘impressions ‘ left behind by the deceased. These impressions were an amalgamation of deeds, work and relationships created by the deceased in his lifetime. I liked my friends simple logic but my hopeful mind did not wish to accept this one line solution to an abstract hope of immortality.

My twitter timeline which is a better source of information and concise entertainment than redundant newspapers or hysterical news channels was flooded this morning. Dev Anand RIP, Dev Saab RIP and many other eloquent, some not so eloquent, some downright rehearsed micro blogs have populated my timeline all day. Dev Anand is no more. And my spiritual friends simple logic has reappeared.

His soul will remain in this world for many generations. Through his films, through his songs, through images of a man who epitomized life. His impressions will remain with me until I leave behind my own impressions for the mortal world.

For me to write about Guide, Hum Dono, Tere Mere Sapne, Kala Bazaar, Jewel Thief, Johnny Mera Naam is futile. There are many more articulate writers out there with a better command over this language and with a deeper insight into Indian cinema than me. I am not qualified enough to write a treatise on my idol Dev Saab’s body of work.

My first film ‘Jayate’ was mixed at Dev saab’s Anand Studios in Bandra. I wanted to get a glimpse of my idol. I loved standing in the studio lobby surrounded by posters of Navketan films. Dev Saab by then was sadly reduced to a caricature by distasteful mimicry in even more distasteful films. He was still prolific but the output was an embarrassment to even his most ardent fans. I was happy to forgive all his cinematic misdemeanors and to live in my unabashed admiration of his delightful past body of work. Every time I caught glimpses of Dev Saab running up the stairs, jumping out of his car and always looking terribly busy my day would be made. My romance with Anand Studios and my distant romance with Dev Anand continued through most of my films.

Cut to December 2008. I was living in the village. Temporarily separated from films. Living a detached existence. My phone rang. “Hansal… Dev here… Dev Anand… I want you to do a character in my new film. Karle. Mazaa aayega…”. I left for Bombay the same day. I met Dev Saab at his Anand Studios office. I met a frail, fragile bodied man with the energy of an eighteen year old and with the childlike excitement of a debuting film-maker. “Thank you Hansal for coming over. I’m glad you are working in my film. Mazaa aayega… Mazaa aayega…”. He gave me a quick brief on the character and my costumes. Not that it made any difference to me. I was, I am and I will remain a terrible actor who never gives up. But there was no way I was going to let an opportunity to be a part of a Navketan film pass by. There was no way I was going to let an opportunity of sharing screen space with my idol pass.

We shot in Mahableshwar, a hill station that Dev Saab has frequently used in numerous films over the decades. Dev saab would simply give me and my co-actors single lines to deliver. All our lines were delivered looking straight into the lens without much thought or background. Dev Saab would correct us or cut the shot the moment we paused while delivering our line or if we shifted our look away from the lens. All our lines were delivered breathlessly in classic Dev Anand style – without the panache. Dev Saab would come running to us from behind the camera to make corrections in our delivery, to mark our exact positions and to demonstrate how he wanted us to act. Every ‘ok’ take would meet with a high energy shout of approval from him. We had no idea who we were really talking to in the film or what we were doing in the scene. It did not matter. We would have delightful discussions (led of course by Dev Saab) on his earlier films and his current films. He believed that times had changed and he was keeping up with the times by making topical films inspired by the changing social fabric of our country. He also felt that his earlier films had very poetic dialogue while to make films in the current scenario one had to write dialogues that were conversational and not excessively poetic. I had never met a man more articulate, more charming and more positive than Dev Anand. My insignificant role in his last film ‘Chargesheet’ will remain my most cherished life experience.

A few months later I was summoned to dub for my part. I had a throat infection and my voice was squeakier than it is. I’m sure Dev Saab was very upset that I did not dub for my character. A throat infection is the oldest excuse in the Bollywood book of excuses for not attending a dubbing session. I regret letting Dev Saab down. My voice was dubbed by a heavy voice with a heavy North Indian accent. I wanted to apologize to him. I wanted to meet him. Unfortunately that will never happen.

I will always smile with recollections of my ‘Chargesheet’ experience. I am blessed that an icon named Dev Anand came into my life and made it slightly less insignificant than it was. I am thankful that my idol touched my life with impressions that will remain etched in my consciousness for the rest of my time on this material universe. Dev Anand RIP.

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Rockstar and The Art of Healing

I stood by the lift with my girlfriend. We were laughing. We were talking rubbish. The neighbor looked at us amusedly. His look said it all. He got into the lift as we continued behaving as if possessed by a ghost called ‘Junglee Jawani’. He was embarrassed. We were not.

 ‘They must be drunk, idiots’.

I did not care. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to scream. I felt free. I felt light. My heart felt like a bird. Fluttering in the sky. Wandering freely. In a vast expanse of nothingness. A flight without an end. A journey without a destination. A life beyond death. A love beyond love. A heart beyond surgery. A soul beyond cleansing.

Today I experienced something sublime. Beyond logic. Beyond flaws. Beyond reason. Beyond beyond.

Today I watched Rockstar.

4.30 pm at Cinemax, Versova. With ten people in the audience. I watched as a journey of nothingness unfolded and led to a place called nowhere. Unknown to me an empty poem had engulfed me. I was unaware as Imtiaz’s love letter written on a white paper in stark white ink got etched in my dead consciousness. I was a silent spectator to a world of caricatures that surrounded the real world of a zen master named Jordan. The silent noise of distorted guitars, of deafening silence, of muted screams, of a weeping heart and a wounded soul stirred me as I sat through the 4.30 pm show at Cinemax, Versova.

Until yesterday I was sad. Brooding. Sulking. Upset with the world. I felt wronged. I felt like a victim. I felt bruised. I felt battered. I felt dead.

Somebody called Ranbir Kapoor made me feel alive today. Somebody called Jordan taught me about life by preaching nothing. Somebody called Rahman made my heart sing. Somebody called Imtiaz made my heart dance a sublime dance. I was connected to myself. To my beloved. To my truth. Without care. Without fear. Without the fear of life. Without the fear of death.

Thank you Rockstar for today. Thank you Rockstar for now. Thank you Rockstar for nothing.

Anurag banne ki koshish mat kar!

When I was in school I was often reprimanded by my parents for spending time with kids who were seen as errant, disobedient and generally rebellious. The fear that their child would not conform to what the world perceived as ‘correct’ and ‘good’ made me believe that spending time with them or secretly trying to be like them was the stuff fantasies were made of. Then I went to college. There were some boys who were always at the centre of every crisis, the reason for indiscipline and generally a bad influence on the rest of the class. Our professors, hostel wardens, good students and parents wanted us to be as far as possible from these unholy influences – lest their ward’s career would get jeopardized in such august company.

Then I started working. I got married. I had a wife. I had professional colleagues. I was prohibited from spending time with friends who went out to the theatre and then spent hours in a small room drinking, smoking and discussing stuff that was irrelevant to daily survival or totally out of sync with a professional growth plan. They were called destructive, careless and wastrels.

Then one day I got an opportunity to travel out of the country on an assignment. I was alone. No parents. No wife. No colleagues. I did everything I was prohibited from doing. I spent time with all the people I was conditioned to stay away from. I started appreciating music. I started viewing art. I started reading poetry. I discovered a love for the movies. And then movies hit me.

I returned home a different man. I returned home to a shocked family. My clothes were no longer neat. I had thrown away my ties. I was wearing old jeans. I was drinking rum. I spent all my free time either watching movies or listening to music. And I had a lot of free time. And I had no job. And I wanted to make movies.

I realize that my story is getting rather lengthy and that I need to make my point now.

In the process of trying to make movies and finding my feet as a different human being without a care for the future I met four people who changed my life. Each of them in their own ways had a very deep influence on my life. Being influenced is neither positive nor negative. It is simply an experience that shapes your likes, dislikes, beliefs, convictions, preferences and choices. Vishal Bhardwaj, Ashish Vidyarthi, Manoj Bajpai and finally the subject of this lengthy treatise – Anurag Kashyap.

Because of Vishal I met Ashish. Because of Ashish I met Manoj. Because of Manoj I met Anurag. And my first film was born. But that is not the point.

Anurag was a brat. He had an opinion. He had a voice. He listened. He paid no heed. Money could only buy him published screenplays and movies. And occasionally pay his rent.

So here was this passionate, opinionated, radical, often random, sometimes cynical brat who had scant respect for convention or rules. He reveled in argument, enjoyed criticism, angered critics, rubbished stalwarts, revered rebels, rejected idiots and suffered fools.

Years passed. We drifted apart.  I made many films – some decent, some memorable, some downright atrocious. Anurag wrote some great films, some terrible films, and made some brilliant films. He continued to anger many. His films were banned. He was mauled, heralded, hated and celebrated. Not much had changed about him. The only difference was that people now listened to him. His voice was heard. But few agreed with him. He was still a rebel with an unknown cause and unlimited anger. He listened to everybody but paid heed to nobody.

Anurag became the equivalent of the bad company my parents and my family had prohibited me from emulating or getting associated with. Conventional wisdom perceived him as destructive, indulgent and subversive. Any unusual story that I would narrate met with the refrain ‘Anurag banne ki koshish mat kar!’ (Don’t try to be another Anurag!). For the well heeled, for the formula suckers, for the greedy Anurag was a bad word. For the dead before it was alive Indian indie scene Anurag was a messiah. He made what he wanted without really caring about the audience or the eventual consequences on his career or finances. He was somebody you always aspired to be but would never have the courage to be.

I saw his new film ‘That Girl In Yellow Boots’ sometime early this year. And then I saw it last night. I have maintained that I am not qualified to review a film. I can only react to a film.

‘That Girl In Yellow Boots ‘ is is a fearless film made by the same brash boy I met nearly 14 years ago. Irreverent yet intensely cinematic, indulgent yet arresting, cold yet unabashedly emotional, soft yet utterly brutal this is Anurag’s most honest film to date. The narrative is unhurried, the rhythm is soft, the handling is deft and the vision is clearly that of somebody who is totally in control of his medium. This is a film that will occupy the highest place in his oeuvre. This is Anurag’s dance in the rain. This is Anurag’s subversive poetry. This is a cinematic representation of Anurag’s disturbed mind. This is a film that will disturb you. Whether you like it or hate it you cannot afford to ignore it.

This is a film that needs to be supported if there is to be any hope for independent cinema in this suffocating, star driven world of folly called Bollywood.

And it is my answer to all those who tell me ‘Anurag banne ki koshish mat kar!’

Dear Bombay, (My ‘Dhobi Ghat’ Impressions)

Dear Bombay,

Sorry my love for writing this random letter to you. I just want to tell you that I love you. I want to tell you that I am sorry my love.

I am sorry my love. I left you. I was angry. I was dejected. I was frustrated. I was hurt. I was cynical. I was disillusioned. I was selfish. I was stupid.

I am sorry my love. My love for you was not unconditional. My love for you was not selfless. My love for you did not stand the test of time. My love for you was not meant to be.

You did not question me when I abused you. You did not question me when I betrayed you. You did not question me when I hated you. You did not question me when I loved you. You did not question me when I returned.

I am sorry my love.

By the way, I met Arun yesterday. He lives in our beloved Mohammed Ali Road. He must be a good painter. He seems to love you. He listens to some really wonderful music. He is slightly ambiguous about his relationships. He smokes like a chimney. Just like you my love. He allows people into his life. He does not allow people to run his life. He lives in crowded streets. He is surrounded by humanity. Yet he is alone. Yes he is fragile. Just like you my love.

Then I met Yasmin. She described you so beautifully. She was so wistful yet she had so much hope strangled within her. I think I am in love with her. I want to hold her. I just want to tell her that all her longing can be fulfilled by you, my love. I want to hear her voice again. She kept talking to me last night as I slept cuddled in your arms. Can you find her for me?

I meet people like Shai every day. Smart. Mobile. Educated. Rich. Searching. Yearning. Running. Seeking. Refreshing. Uninhibited. Exhibitive. Giving. I must admit this. Initially I wasn’t too sure if I liked her but now I quite like Shai.

As I write this letter to you my doorbell rings. Munna has come with my clothes. Washed, ironed, folded and delivered. Some starched. Some ruined. Some old. Some new. The dhobi has been my unbroken connect with you my love. So many dhobis. So many clothes. But this Munna dhobi is quite a character. At first I was unsure if I liked him. But now I do like him a lot. He reminds me of you. He is much more than a dhobi. He lives for a better tomorrow. He is capable of love. He is honorable. He is noble. He is human. He is a survivor. Like you my love.

I met this bespectacled girl called Kiran Rao yesterday. Behind those big, round glasses were eyes that displayed so much love for you. Her love for you made me so envious. How could she? Tell me my love, do you love her? She calls you Mumbai. I call you Bombay. I met you much before she did. Yet she seems to love you much more. Despite the terrible name she calls you by. I think she meets you more often than I do. She expresses much more to you than I can with this juvenile letter. Can you please recite this small couplet to her?

naazuki us ke lab ki kya kahiye
pankhdi ek gulaab ki si hai

Can you thank this Kiran Rao for making me love you all over again? Can you tell her that her tribute to you called ‘Dhobi Ghat’ or ‘Mumbai Diaries’ has begun to heal my selfish, scarred heart? Can you please let her know that I will look forward to the rains because of her? Can you thank her for introducing those lovely people last night – people that will remind me of you for the rest of my life? Can you tell her that I have discovered my eternal love for you because of her?
Actually please don’t ask her all this. Just tell me this much…

Can you forgive me my beloved Bombay?

With love,
Hansal.