A woman with the potential to make it big. It is not that she cannot: she simply will not.
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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Where have you been hiding, Karan Johar?

Disclaimer 1: This is not a review.
Disclaimer 2: This articles contains spoilers.
More prominent version of Disclaimer 2:


Bombay Talkies was a nice experience overall. It was the perfect homage to Bollywood (not Indian cinema) in the most unexpected possible manner. All four directors - and the item-song - pay tribute to Bollywood in a fashion different from the other.

There was Anurag Kashyap, arguably the greatest Indian director since 1992, holding up the rear (with his movie Murabba) - and coming out of his comfort zone of the darkness that defines his movies so vividly. It was about a dream, about a unique song, and about Amitabh Bachchan. Though this was the weakest of the four movies (if you know me, you would probably know how hard it is for me to criticise Anurag Kashyap), you cannot miss it if you're an Amitabh Bachchan fan. Or even a murabba fan.

There was Dibakar Banerjee, who chose the easiest path in his Star - to adapt a Satyajit Ray story, to cast Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and to recall the almost forgotten (but a theatre great) Sadashiv Amrapurkar. There was beautiful camerawork (like a remote-controlled car moving crossing the path of the real cars - epitomising the protagonist's character), the single shot during Nawazuddin's rehearsals, and many others. It also showcases the father-daughter relationship beautifully, and the protagonist's dreams of being a hero in his daughter's eyes. It was also the only movie that involves an active participation in the movie, and is definitely the best of the lot.

There was Zoya Akhtar, who, being fully aware of her limitations, came up with a beautiful movie (Sheila ki Jawani) involving two children - siblings - pulling off excellent performances in a movie with a supposedly controversial plotline. Ranvir Shorey impresses, but shows enough sense not to try and take control of the movie - and sensibly acts in an undertone - remaining in the backdrop all along. It also features Katrina Kaif in a delightful appearance, and is a nice embodiment of Bollywood's direct representation on Indian people, albeit in a non-trivial, if dark fashion.

There was also the much-awaited item song, featuring the who's who of Bollywood, first individually, and then together (a scene where Anil Kapoor - even at this age - was easily the one who stood out), which also had Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan in the same frame, something that had evaded us for years (read Q9, part II of this quiz by Diptakirti for more details on this).


That brings us to Karan Johar.

I was taken somewhat aback when I had first learnt that Karan Johar would be one of the four directors of this movie that was supposed to be a tribute to 100 Years of Indian Cinema. Agreed, it had to be a Bollywood director, given that it is a Bollywood production.

Among the other three, Anurag Kashyap is already a living legend, and Dibakar Banerjee is getting there. I was a bit skeptic about Zoya Akhtar (even after Luck by Chance, and especially after Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara).

After all, there was Shyam Benegal, who still directs, and has produced a masterpiece like Well Done Abba very recently. There was Shimit Amin, brilliant and innovative. There was Vishal Bharadwaj, soulful and at times, dark. There was Nagesh Kukunoor, producing brilliant movies on a consistent basis. There were Ram Gopal Varma and Priyadarshan, who keep on oscillating between the outstanding and terrible (which made them risky options, I guess). And of course, there was Rajkumar Hirani.

Why Karan Johar, then? Did they want to make the movie a commercial success? Was that the only reason? Even if that was true, what was wrong with Rajkumar Hirani? I simply could not digest it.

Let me go to the beginning. I had disliked Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (I had written about my experience of watching it) with a passion.

I had simply loathed Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (to the extent that I had blurted out YES! when Amitabh Bachchan slapped Hrithik Roshan in the movie.

I had sat through Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, though it was a complete hash-up version of what could have been made a nice movie.

I thought My Name is Khan had all the potential to become a great film. It was also Johar's first effort to do something different. It seemed incoherent, but was generally a nice watch. In the discussion panel mentioned here Karan Johar had a blast at censorship: he claimed that about a quarter of lines in My Name is Khan had to be left out, not because of the Censor Board, but because of the pressure created by the Government of certain states.

As for Student of the Year, I had felt no urge to watch it. I don't even know what the movie is about. Chances are that I'll never watch it, either.


There is a big HOWEVER.

I have also felt that (don't laugh) Karan Johar has always had the potential to become a good director. It's not that he can't. It's just that he won't. Somewhat like Shah Rukh Khan in front of the camera.

I won't go into the vivid portrayal of Rizwan Khan in My Name is Khan, which is easily the best Karan Johar movie till date. Not only did the movie address various social and political issues, it also handles the relationship between two individuals amidst all the turmoil - and it handles that quite capably. Given that 25% of the scenes had to be left out, it would probably have been a very good movie.

I will emphasise on two smaller, much-viewed, but less talked-about scenes. The first one is from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (one of the most horrific movies of all time). However, as the movie drones on, and the main characters all assemble, intentionally or otherwise, in a mall, Karan Johar pulls off a poignant scene that takes your breath away for a couple of minutes or so.

Nothing more, nothing less than what was required. Excellent camera-work, capturing every person  on the screen displaying their perfect emotions (I agree that virtually everyone was a good actor, but that doesn't take anything away from the director).

Then, again, there is this beautifully picturised song in an otherwise bland, quirky movie that makes you wake up from boredom and suddenly makes you pay attention to.

My point is - there was never any doubt that he could. He had always shown occasional glimpses of his potential. He just wouldn't, and that made it more frustrating.

And then, in  his Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh in Bombay Talkies, he came to his elements. He was always good at portraying emotions - even in the most ordinary of movies. They used to be Utopian emotions, though. Here, he hits you - and hits you hard. Here, the emotions have been captured, and how!

The movie takes off with a scene that makes you sit up with a jolt. How many Indian movies have you seen that start with a youth pulling his father out of his bed and almost beating him up because the latter had misinterpreted the son's homosexuality: "Main chhakka nahin hoon! Main gay hoon!"

No, Bollywood movies do not start like that. They never had. Especially Karan Johar movies. Would you have ever believed that the first minute of a Karan Johar movie slaps you hard with a strong LGBT message? I wouldn't have, for sure.

You feel the Johar's intensity throughout the movie. The sexual undercurrent; the unsaid eroticism, only the tip of which had been touched; the solace one seeks in Bollywood music; the power of music that makes an adult submit to a child; the brilliant use of two all-time classics (lag ja gale and ajeeb daastan hai ye); the Joharish one-liners. ("Will you come in?" "Will you come out?")

No overflow of emotions. Everything measured out with the precision of a surgeon. No needless song. No uncalled-for mush. No 19th-century family bonding. No adjustment for stars. No uber-rich businessmen. No Kirron Kher.

And then, there was the troika: the surprise package of Saqib Saleem, the emotional mess of Randeep Hooda; and the restrained, intelligent performance of Rani Mukherji, back to her best. Johar's excellent use of the three actors, and getting the best out of them: especially Rani Mukherji, whose subtle array of emotions has been brilliant given the testing, claustrophobic conditions under which the drama unfolded.

Now I know why his section was the first of the four. It was a fitting beginning to an excellent tribute to a hundred years of Indian cinema.

Make more of these, Karan. I always knew you can. It's time you do as well.


PS: One of the four movies also features an emu. Called Anjali. I kid you not. I won't tell which one, though.


  1. Perhaps I should introduce you to this essay:

    1. Of course. For every opinion there will be a counter-opinion. Even Bradman had his critics.

    2. Merely a matter of opinion and counter-opinion then, eh Abhishek? I call heteronormative shenanigans. It's not just a matter of 'opinion' in a society where this subsection of humanity, the gay folks, has been summarily marginalized for the longest time.

    3. I suggest you watch the movie. Please.

      So far you have my review (among many others) for Karan Johar's movie, and only one against it. I would still suggest you watch the movie with an unbiased mind.

      Mind you, I did watch the movie with a biased mind - one against Karan Johar. And still I ended up liking the movie.

      I do not, I repeat, DO NOT have anything against people with any kind of sexual orientation or relationship as long as it's not forced.

  2. "Anurag Kashyap, arguably the greatest Indian director since 1992"...really? maane really?

    1. You've missed the word 'arguably', which, along with 'probably', is one of the biggest tools anyone possesses if he wants to write anything subjective. :)

    2. maane "zindagi na milegi dobara" is arguably the best hindi film since 1992...eirakom?

    3. Na. Ekta minimum contention e ashte hoy. X(

    4. যাগ্গে, অনেক বাওয়ালি দিলাম। আমার দিবাকরের ছবিটা ভালো লেগেছে খুব, কর্ণ জোহরের ছবিটাও ঠিকঠাক। ঐ ওপরের লেখাটার কিছু পয়েন্টের সাথে আমি একমত, তবে লেখকটি বড্ড বেশি জোর করে খুঁত বের করার চেষ্টা করেছেন। ওটার চে বরং জোয়ার ছবিটা অনেক বেশি সমস্যাদীর্ণ। অন্য যৌনতার বিকাশের পিছনে পপুলিস্ট মিডিয়ার দায়বদ্ধতাটা ভদ্রমহিলা ওভারেস্টিমেট করে ফেলেছেন, শুধু তাই নয়, সন্দেহ হয় যে এইরূপ অনেকাংশে ভ্রান্ত/ অতিসরলীকৃত একটি ধারণাকে প্রশ্রয় দিয়ে ভালোর চে খারাপটাই বেশি করেছেন। সেদিক থেকে বরং কর্ণ অন্য যৌনতার কারণ না দর্শিয়ে কতগুলি চেনা চরিত্রকে সামনে এনে আমাদের রক্ষণশীল সমাজব্যবস্থায় সমকামী মানুষদের নিত্যদিনের দুএকটি সমস্যাকে তুলে ধরেছেন মাত্র। যেটা অবশ্যই প্রশংসাযোগ্য। আর অনেকদিন বাদে আমি অনুরাগের ছবি সম্বন্ধে অভিযোগ করার কিছু পেলাম না। একটা দুর্দান্ত ছবি বানিয়েছে জাস্ট। আমাদের সিনেমাজগৎ হতে উদ্ভূত স্টারওয়ারশিপের একটা দলিল, ভারতীয় সিনেমার একশোতম বছরে যা খুবই প্রাসঙ্গিক।

    5. আমি তোর সঙ্গে অনেকটাই একমত।

      কর্ণ জোহরের সিনেমাটা ভাল, কিন্তু আনার আসল ধাক্কাটা লাগে এটা কর্ণ জোহর বানানোয়। তার মানে ও পারত, কিন্তু স্রেফ চায়নি এতদিন। এটা অন্য কেউ বানালে আমি এত চমকাতাম না।

      দিবাকরের ছবিটা আমার রীতিমত ভাল লেগেছে। নিখুঁত বলা চলে।

      জোয়া সবথেকে অনভিজ্ঞ, তবে সাধ্যমত চেষ্টা করেছে। পপুলিস্ট মিডিয়ার দায়বদ্ধতাকে হয়ত ওভারএস্টিমেট করেছেন, কিন্তু আমার মনে হয় যে এই সিনেমার একটা শর্ত ছিল মানুষের ওপর জনপ্রিয় সিনেমার প্রভাব।

      অনুরাগের গল্পটা সাধারণ (এবং কিছু জায়গায় একটু টেনেছে), কিন্তু তাও বেশ উপভোগ্য।

      পুনশ্চ -
      আমি অনুরাগের ব্যাপারে একটু পক্ষপাতিত্বপূর্ণ, সেটা হয়ত বুঝেছিস্‌। :)

  3. Replies
    1. You indeed do. I wish you had watched it before you had read the article, though.

  4. The ' mall' scene in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham..though if u think nothing spectacular or intricate...but with brilliant performances the scene is vibrant alive and just strikes the right chord...and wil admit able to draw out a tear everytime i watch...

  5. I agree Karan Johar did an awesome job. Very un-Karan-Johar-ish. It was a hard hitting film.

    Yet, I liked Morabba and Star better.

    1. This article is not about comparing the movies. It's simply about the drastic modification of Karan Johar. Period.