Sunday, November 15, 2015


I finally got around to watching Talvar after hearing gushing things about it (not least because I subscribe to TOI, and the movie is produced by its sister concern.
The Aarushi Talwar double murder case has been obsessed over in media and in conversations, and will be for a long time to come. This is not without a reason; it appears to be a perfect crime, a crime of passion, one of alleged honor killing, also because the ineptitude of the Noida police has been well documented.
I went in the movie with great expectations, as names like Vishal Bhardwaj, Gulzar, Irrfan and Konkana Sen Sharma have been associated. Plus, the pre-release hype for the movie promised a Rashomon-like experiment, where no one theory was right, and it was a case of perceptions. Sadly, the final product underwhelmed me.
In tackling the Talwar murder, director Meghna Gulzar takes on a challenge that she does not manage to convincingly win. There are a few expert punches, but overall, the director takes on an emotional and commonly held views: that parents can't kill their children, that the police are inept, that office politics trumps the quest for justice.
Talvar doesn't take it's name from the Talwars, but from the talwar that the statue of blind justice carries, that people often overlook. In fact, the family heres are the Tandons, whose daughter Shruti is murdered. I found this name change confusing, since the director and the producer have said in interviews that the story is based on Aarushi Talvar murder case. Why then did they need to change Talvar to Tandon is perplexing. Last minute jitters about litigation?
Instead of the promised Rashomon-like differing perspectives, we get a linear narrative of what happened. The Aarushi case becomes an excuse to highlight a an inept police, an over inquisitive media, nosy neighbors. Understand that Talvar is less about the double murder and more to do with talvar that the statue of Justice holds in her hands. The actual murder and it's aftermath are rushed through, with more emphasis being on the CBI investigation that followed. This is where the movie starts to come apart. Talvar posits a theory that the CBI actually cracked the mystery of who killed Aarushi, but professional rivalry among the officials was the reason it was unable to present a plausible case before the courts. The theory proposed by the movie rests easily on 'the butler did it' argument, only in this case, it is the butler's friends that did it. This is a very simplistic solution to the murder mystery. Aarushi was killed under mysterious circumstances, and the idea proposed by Talvar, though radical and requiring a leap of faith, may not be entirely wrong. But like I said, it requires a certain leap of faith in the director for the viewer to completely disregard what the newspapers have been saying to their readers as well as how the courts inferred the facts of the case. That would require a solid case against the established facts to be presented, which the film fails in doing.
The reason the movie fails is the character development. The Talvars, or in this case the Tandons, are cardboard characters instead of the fleshed out persons that they needed to be. The viewer must empathize with the characters before they agree with their arguments or justifications, but the movie portrays them one dimensionally. The result is a protagonist that fails to connect.
The film makers may argue that the movie is about the investigation but even the characters that do the investigation come across as one dimensional. It starts with the paan chewing inefficient cop who poses for for photos and is forever on the phone. Looking at him the viewer knows that he will bungle up, which he does. The second person to talk about the investigation, the senior police officer is ready to believe in heresay to make the claim about wife swapping; again by-the-numbers.
The movie is supposed to be anchored by the CBI officer who conducted the investigation, the one who nabbed the actual culprit. He is expected to be a well rounded person that can engage the viewer and make them agree with the film's position. What the viewer gets instead is a protagonist in the classic mould of a weary and beaten cop who has seen the ugly side of life and now lives for the small things in life, like sharing liquor with the Chinese food stall owner. Even his marriage is falling apart, making him a complete nomad in the society. He has no ambition in taking up the case, except to get to the truth. His colleagues, however, have their motives in twisting it to meet their ends, and looking at them it becomes obvious. While the protagonist is a loner, his colleagues hunt in packs. Over simplification anyone? An aside: Irrfan as CBI officer Arun Kumar in glasses is the definitive Gulzar touch. There is no doubt about whom to believe.
In taking up the Aarushi Talvar murder mystery, director Meghna Gulzar has shown that she has the guts to tackle a complex subject. She instead deals with it in a manner that panders to our distrust of those who have less than us, but who we can't do without. We tend to blame those working for us for faults that may not be theirs without a second thought and by taking this line, the movie panders to the majority view. It takes certain faith to think that maybe, just maybe, the parents might have been at fault - after all, honor killings are a reality in our society. The inference drawn by the movie seems to be a way of playing to the gallery, be crowd pleasing. The parents are exonerated of any crime, the blame is on the servants. The viewer who paid good money to watch it in the theater feels vindicated in belief that it is the others, less fortunate ones that commit crime.

Which is a cop out.  

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Editor Unplugged...

Vinod Mehta has said all he wanted to say in his autobiography, Lucknow Boy. So what is the reason for a sequel? Do autobiographies have sequels? Is Editor Unplugged a sequel? The answer to the third question can be: perhaps.

Editor Unplugged, to be clear, is not an account of Vinod Mehta's life and in that sense, is not an autobiography. But the book brims with his thoughts and beliefs, and how he came about to have them. These shed a better light on the person, and would qualify as an autobiography.

Vinod Mehta is famous for coming on Times Now debates, and more recently, taking a swig from a glass of single malt on TV. Before that, he was the editor who blew open the Radia Tapes story. But such stories, though throwing light on the person, do not do complete justice to him.

In Editor Unplugged, Vinod Mehta talks about the things that matter to him, his views on TV journalism, the people who inspired him, people he was hoodwinked by (an entire chapter on him!). In tone the book feels like it takes off from where the last book ended. To read it is to feel that once Vinod Mehta has finished talking about himself, he sits back and waxes on topics that come to his mind. To that end, the book is a perfect follow up to the earlier book. A valuable read,


Added on 9/03/15

Vinod Mehta's passing is a bolt from the blue. Suddenly, this book seems like the perfect swan song to an interesting lifeled.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Badlapur: When Revenge is Vintage

Revenge is a dish best served cold.
                                            -  Klingon saying

The modern discourse is populated by calls for revenge and retribution. Revenge has gained acceptance in popular culture as justified if one feels slighted. But what about the revenge seeker? When does the yearning for revenge die? What if it stays alive?

Badlapur doesn't tackle these questions head on, but it does visit them. Let's not forget, first and foremost, this is a masala film, and it stays true to the genre.

Sriram Raghavan, a master of thrillers, tells a story of revenge, but true to the genre, presents it with a lot of twists. People expecting a straightforward revenge and redemption story may be disappointed but those that love a good thriller will find it satisfying.

The story, told in a linear fashion goes thus: Raghu's (Varun Dhawan) wife Misha and son Robin, while returning home one day end up becoming hostages to an escape from a bank heist. Both are killed and the culprit, Laik (Nawazuddin), is jailed for the crime though he claims that his partner did it without revealing his name. Liak is a free man after fifteen years and as he goes to collect his share of his booty, discovers that Raghu had killed his partner Harman and his wife, and his love is a rich man's keep.

The theme of Badla or revenge runs prominently throughout the movie, but a subliminal theme also is of a badlav (change). Time changes everyone.  As Raghu waits for his revenge, he undergoes a badlav from a man mourning over the death of his family to a loner who is looking for a chance to avenge the murder of his wife and son. Liak, too,  metamorphoses from an eternal optimist in the prison to a jaded person once he manages to come out.  People change, as does the times. Holding on to memories - tragic ones for Raghu and happy ones for Liak - is no protection against the present. There is no redemption to be had in memories.
Liak's coming out of prison sets into motion a chain of events that forces to audience to view the protagonist and the antagonist in a new light. To paraphrase a Gulzar song, भला बुरा है, बुरा भला है।  As tables turn, one wonders if there is any absolution for the players. Raghu lost his family in one brutal incident, while Liak lost his love over the years but only realised it when he came out of prison. Both face their demons in their own fashion.
Varun Dhawan is a revelation, in that he can pull in a performance. Though not fully convincing, he shows that he is ready to push his limits, which is a good thing. Nawazuddin puts in a great performance that has come to be expected from him, and then takes it a notch higher. His Liak is at once reprehensible as well as pitiable. Huma Qureshi, Vinay Pathak, Radhika Apte also put in convincing performance. Pathak, especially, is a treat to watch, as he belies expectations from his character convincingly. He deserves a movie of his own and not of the Bheja Fry kind.
The director loves the jump cut as a plot device to move the story forward. It takes a little getting used to, but in the end, makes for an interesting narrative.
Badlapur is not your typical Bollywood revenge saga, but is told deftly to interest even a hardcore masala lover.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Still here

Been ignoring this space for no reason other than laziness. BTW, this is my post from my mobile phone. Yay!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Monday, August 27, 2012

The revolution so far...

So the Rebels have lost, the Party has won.

I was skeptical about the Jan Lokpal movement from the outset, when Anna had fasted at Jantar Mantar last year. It was too idealistic. But it had a person of theandnbsp;statureandnbsp;of Kiran Bedi, which was a good indicator. I finally visited the Jan Lokpal movement during its second innings at the Ramlila grounds, and came back a changed man. Looking at the electric atmosphere there, where the people braved the elements are listened to people like Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Om Puri and many others speak. I started believing in the Jan Lokpal movement, but not in the methods. Anna's movement did bring the idea of the Lokpal to the people, but to believe that his fast could bring about that change would beandnbsp;naive.

At Ramlila grounds, looking at the sea of humanity and the throng of celebrities, it was obvious that it would be a tough act to follow, a fact that was proved right a few months later in Mumbai. The fatigue had set in. People would not be willing to take time out to hear Anna speak again.

So, when Anna announced a fast again, people had a right to be skeptical. Since Ramlila, a lot had happened. The people India Against Corruption were not the saints they were a year ago. Stories, real a well as planted, about the mismanagement of the movement had tired the people.

That would have been a good opportunity to separate the movement from the people - Jan Lokpal should have been placed above Anna and Kejriwal. But the movement started worshipping Anna and Kejriwal, thereby undermining it themselves. Kejriwal even proclaimed that the Jan Lokpal was above the Constitution of India! So much so for humility!

To be sure, this movement didn't implode by itself. The government too planted stories about Anna and Kejriwal, leading to a lot of misinformation.

As things stand, the Jan Lokpal movement didn't achieve what it set out to achieve. Even the presence of Anna in the anshan could not drum up the hysteria of a year ago. The government chose to ignore the latest protest, and even the public stayed away, largely (I know, I was there).

The final nail in the coffin was announcement by Anna of forming a political party. The rebels had lost and the powers had won. While their demand of a Lokpal Bill was unfulfilled, the government's demand that Anna join active politics was fulfilled. Score one for the Institution!

By giving in to the demands, Team Anna have dashed the hopes of many Indians. What brought a diverse group of people together was a common dream for a better society. By going political, they have again divided them along regional, religious and political lines.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Independence Day

Wishing all visitors to my blog and Googlebot a Happy Indian Independence Day! Long live the Republic!