Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 Tight Slaps!

    Apologies, Blogdosts... have been travelling extensively. Attended the India Today Conclave 2015 in Delhi... and that was pretty exhilarating. What a superb line up of speakers and performers!
             Politically Incorrect             13th March2015
                               Oh please... spare us the dramabaazi, Leslee!
Here’s the bald truth, Leslee Udwin : Your controversial documentary is no “gift” to India. If anything, it’s a whopping big gift to yourself! Not too many people had heard of a filmmaker called  Leslee Udwin till ‘India’s Daughter’ blew up in our faces. Yes, we handled the whole thing badly. Yes, the ban was entirely unnecessary. Yes, Indian media went into overdrive. But hey – the last one to be complaining  should be you, my dear Leslee! Overnight,you, Leslee Udwin , were all over the news. In India. Across the world. And what you were claiming through television channels sounded so darn fake, you did yourself and the documentary you made, enormous disservice. So, will you stop going on and on about this ‘selfless’ act that saw you, mother of two, spend two years suffering in a  hostile environment, enduring all manner of desi discomforts , all because you wanted to give  India an invaluable  present ! That’s rubbish, Leslee. That’s utter rubbish. ‘India’s Daughter’ was made by you for yourself.Today,your gamble has paid off. You are famous. Enjoy your moments under the spotlight, by all means. But please  spare us those tiresome sermons.
Try this script – it’s pretty uncomplicated and straight forward. You are a commercial documentary film maker in search of original and interesting subjects. That does not make you unique in the least. You belong to a large international tribe. All of you travel the world searching for subjects to sell. No  issues. When the horrific Nirbhaya rape took place in Delhi, you sensed a great opportunity. Yes, of course you were deeply disturbed. Yes, of course you felt a strong sense of outrage. So did millions all over Planet Earth. Nobody thought of making a documentary on the subject at that point – you did! Brilliant! You came up with a great idea . You persevered.   You raised the finance. You packed your bags. And you came to India. That’s what documentary film makers do for a living. Nothing new in any of this .But here’s the thing. Others may have thought of making a similar film - but you got it done. Period.  More importantly, it was a business risk you took. Let’s be clear. That’s not a crime either – it’s your bread and butter! As a professional film maker, you make documentaries for a living. This is one of them. Baat khatam. And as an ambitious film maker, you naturally wanted  to get the biggest bang for your buck. Which is also, fine. That’s how the business works. You had a budget. You invested time, energy, money in pursuing a case that had made international headlines in 2012. What stopped someone else from India / Sri Lanka/ Sweden/ Australia / Outer Mongolia from tackling the same subject? You beat everybody else to it – good for you! That’s where it should have ended. But didn’t.
            What we are dealing with is a bunch of really nasty developments. Nothing seems to add up. The documentary, per se, is not particularly impressive. Most would call it pretty shoddy , even shabby. But this isn’t about your talent or competence as a film maker, it is about the access you were given. An access your detractors feel you misused. Several articles have appeared questioning your motives. Let me jump into this again and say your motives are pretty obvious – your motives were unashamedly, unambiguously commercial. Every ambitious filmmaker dreams about landing a scoop – a world exclusive. Every film maker works for awards and recognition. Why not be upfront about this, and stop whining? The silly ban has worked for you big time. In terms of marketing, you couldn’t have asked for more prestigious platforms than the ones you have got – and smartly exploited. I mean, come on... valuable endorsements from Meryl Streep? Freida Pinto? Your documentary has been elevated into a global cause celebre. You can probably feed off it for a few more  years. Till you stumble upon another tragedy and milk its potential. For the sake of your art, of course.
Frankly,all this doesn’t make you sound like a very nice person, Leslee. And that’s a pity. You are safely out of the country. But some of the puzzled and hurt people featured in your film, are feeling terribly let down, even betrayed.They trusted you, Leslee. And you have trampled on their trust. Blame it on hyper sensitivities, if you wish. Yes, we Indians are thin-skinned.  So? And thank you, very much, but we also possess our own mirrors. The most awful aspect of the mess is how twisted and strident the debates have become. There have been attempts to make it a racial issue. I don’t buy that for a minute. There are also those wondering why nobody makes similar documentaries about ‘ America’s Daughter or ‘Denmark’s Daughter?” Indignant critics ask, “Aren’t there rapes taking place in foreign countries? Let me give you statistics!” This is to imply there is a huge international conspiracy to tarnish India’s image. Again, I don’t agree. Why doesn’t an Indian documentary maker try and find an equally   powerful  to film in Finland, for example?  Every single country has its quota of shameful incidents. You, Leslee were  fascinated by one such that took place in India. That’s all.

Should we be saying , “Thank you, Leslee?” Why not ? Sometimes, an outsider’s viewpoint can be the required trigger leading to reform and change. Of course, you edited the ghastly ‘truth’ to suit your objectives. That’s your prerogative. What we do about you and those truths – is ours. 
Attn : Meenal,jaideep, sudipta      Mumbai Mirror   12th March2015-03-12
                          Size 18...? Not a problem!
The best thing about the sleeper hit, ‘Dum Laga Ke Haishaa’, is not  the heroine’s  size, but her terrific, larger than life attitude. Bhumi Pednekar, playing the unambiguously overweight girl, who gets married off to a regular chap (Ayushmann Khurana delivering yet another, polished, nuanced performance), is entirely comfortable in her skin throughout the film. At no point does she question her body type or apologise for being grossly fat (sorry, there is simply no need to find a polite, euphemism for that word in this utterly charming movie’s context). Bhumi plays an educated girl, stuck with an unpadh whose family forces him to pick her at a mass wedding programme because they want a daughter-in-law who earns well in a government job. The problem is with the bride’s formidable girth... and an equally formidable mind. Not one to give up without a jolly good fight, she tries every trick in the book to get her newly minted husband to perform his conjugal duty. She even buys an ice cream pink nightie from the village ‘Novelty ‘ store, gets hold of a ‘hot’  video, sets the mood with appropriately suggestive music, and when nothing works, finally jumps on top of the crushed fellow to plant a juicy kiss. Nada. Illey. No can do. Undaunted, our girl carries on with her life, determined to make her marriage work. Losing weight for starters, does not occur to her. In fact, weight loss is the last thing on her mind!
Millions of  sympathisers must have cheered at this point. For once, here was a modern woman not obsessing over her extra kilos. Even if she has heard of Size Zero she really doesn’t care! The fact that she does not equate self-worth exclusively with her hefty weight, is the biggest  message of the film. We live in such warped times that all one hears at social events is this extremely  annoying conversation which goes: ‘ OMG! You’ve lost so much weight! Wow! Pilatus? Hot yoga?” Or the even more personal, “Babes! What’s wrong? Hormones acting up? I can send you my amazing trainer. Try kick boxing! You’ll lose all these inches in a month!” Most women (and a few super narcissistic men)  walk around looking pinched, gaunt and seriously miserable. The demand to appear fashionably starved and impossibly thin  is so overwhelming, I often feel like marching off victims to the nearest bhojanalaya and  shouting,“Eat!”
It is not as if debutant director Sharat Katariya’s  film glorifies/ celebrates being fat. All it says is don’t condemn a human being for just that one issue – weight. Look beyond the size. And surprise yourself. The pressure to conform to a false and over-idealised body frame has become an international disease. In India, we have several ways of camouflaging our prejudice, especially when it comes to arranged marriages. The minute a potential candidate is described as “healthy’’, you know the reference is not to the state of the person’s heart/ lungs. It is to girth. “Dum Laga Ke...” says sweetly and subtly, “Get over it already!” It’s a sub-text we shouldn’t ignore. When the frustrated and still virginal bridegroom harshly describes his bride as a ‘Saand’  to guy friends, after knocking back a few stiff whiskies, audiences recoil at the harshness of the description. But they also sympathise with the young man’s predicament.  He cannot consummate his marriage  for obvious reasons – the woman all but pushes him off the marital bed. It is a serious turn off. Poor guy!
This is Bhumi Pednekar’s film! What a truthful and brave performance. Since, no extra padding has been used ( or so, I’m guessing ), it certainly made me wonder how many times in her own life she has been at the receiving end of cruel jibes? It’s easy to play a ‘fatty’ when you aren’t one. That’s an actor’s job. But here, is a classic example of inspired casting. Talking to one of our most accomplished actresses earlier this week, we both agreed that casting is king these days. The real star behind several off beat movie projects recently is not the producer/director, but the casting agent! When modest but ambitious movies recover their investments in a crowded market, it’s good news for the film industry. And for the hungry-for-quality audiences , of course. It can also be taken as a serious wake-up call for studios reeling under inflated budgets and staggering star fees. Six wonderful movies ( like this tiny gem) can be made for the price of one monster mega film , which may or may not strike gold at the box office.
There really is no substitute for a strong, original concept that applauds  human vulnerability – in this case, a bride’s plus size causing the groom’s sexual indifference to her. How this gets resolved in the end, is in itself quite a story! But I wish the director had done away with the mandatory gaudy dance routine while the credits rolled. It wasn’t needed. Worse, it took away from the authenticity of the earlier narrative.