Like Vidya Balan, this melody from ‘Tumhari Sulu’ stands out too

Like Vidya Balan, this melody from ‘Tumhari Sulu’ stands out too

A composition rendered by independent artist Ronkini Gupta in new Bollywood film ‘Tumhari Sulu’ (Yours Sulu) is being rated as one of “finest pieces” heard this year. That may not be an overestimation, considering Bollywood’s contemporary repertoire is mostly cacophony masquerading as music.

“Rafu” (which means darning) has been composed by indie musician Santanu Ghatak, who also plays a role in the film. The song, which has received more than 100,000 hits on YouTube so far, echoes what it takes to build a home, especially for a woman who is usually expected to make far more adjustments than others in a family.

The Suresh Triveni film is about the tenacious Sulu, short for Sulochana, who takes the journey from being a housewife to an overnight radio star. Ghatak’s poetry, in a fairy tale-like way, underscores the good and bad experiences of that journey.

Here is an excerpt from the song’s lyrics:

Teri bani rahein
Meri thi deewarein 
Un deewaron pe hi 
Maine likh li baharein
Shaam hui
Tu jo aya
So gayin thi kaliyaan
kuch tune si hai
maine ki hai rafu
yeh doriyan

Accompanied by a gentle guitar, Gupta’s voice is lyrical, and its rendered in the typical refrain of a light Hindustani classical-based film song.

Ronkini, who is also part of a classical-based fusion band, was previously heard in the soundtrack of Rajat Kapoor’s “Ankhon Dekhi” (Through My Own Eyes). Her training in Indian classical music informs her style, which is evident from the intense notes delivered in “Kaise Sukh Soyein”. The composition creates the virtual setting of a music concert.

Mumbai-based Ronkini Gupta, whose formal training in music began at the age of six, has also learnt Hindustani classical singing from Indian stalwarts Abdul Rashid Khan and Parveen Sultana.

Singing is not the only talent that Ronkini is gifted with. In her free time, she likes to paint as well. Here are images of some of her creations, shared with permission from the artist:

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The illicitness of ‘Masaan’

Do you remember ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’? Bollywood’s adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. There’s love and there’s blood in it. And rebellion too. Lots of it.

So when you watch ‘Masaan’ (meaning crematorium), a song from ‘Qayamat Se’ plays in the background as Deepak and Shaalu indulge in romance. WithGhazab ka hai din socho zaraas the background score, the rebellion in ‘Masaan’ finds a subtle reinforcement.

Residents of the ancient city of Benaras, star-crossed lovers Deepak and Shaalu belong to different social castes. The boy, a student of civil engineering, is a member of a family that has been giving ‘mukti’ to the dead for generations. They cremate the dead, smash skulls of corpses, which are then washed in the river Ganga for the final rites. They have a community of their own but in the larger social circle they are outcasts, who spend their days and nights among burning pyres.

His girl friend is a Gupta, of higher caste. So, they can never go far in their relationship, the boy’s friends insist.

One night, working in the crematorium by the river, the boy has to cremate the body of his girl friend. Yes, his family profession – if not family members themselves in this case – spells doom for his life. She was travelling with her family to Uttarakhand on a pilgrimage when the bus met with an accident.

In the eyes of the world, it was an illicit relationship. And yet, debut director Neeraj Ghaywan uses his intelligence and departs from what could have been a done-to-death Bollywood storyline. The parents of the lovers would have come to know of their children’s relationship. Tragedy would have anyway befallen or they would have eloped only to be traced back home to more misery, and in an extreme situation murder.

Even as the film-maker bypasses the familiar story route, tragedy does exist in the film. But in Shaalu’s death and in not allowing their marriage to materialise, the rebellion is nipped in the bud.

Devi (played by Richa Chadda) is caught by the police having sex with a man in a hotel room. The man commits suicide in the room’s toilet. Devi and her widower father, a professor, deal with the scandal as a rapacious cop blackmails them for a ransom of three lakh rupees.

The police had no business to gatecrash someone’s private life when they didn’t have a tip off about a suspected “prostitution case”. They don’t investigate the case either, given their intimidating presence in the hotel room.

From Kashi, Devi moves on, to Allahabad, to pursue higher studies – that’s what she tells her father. She visits the dead man’s family in Allahabad, whose father breaks down when she walks into the house.

Disappointed by life, Devi and Deepak are by themselves. He is sitting at a ghat in Allahabad. She’s crying close by. [They don’t know each other, yet.] His family is in Benaras as he has moved to this city on a temporary posting at the railways.

In the final scene, they are on a boat that’s going towards the Allahabad sangam, the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati.

“They say, you go to the sangam alone and then again with someone,” Deepak tells Devi as the sun sets on the river.

The climax is open-ended. We don’t know whether Deepak goes back to seeing other women and whether Devi finally meets a man to start a normal life.

But it’s an illicit life, isn’t it? You must obey. You must conform. You must not “think” too much. Otherwise, rendered a criminal – whether by law or family norms – you must seek refuge in your loneliness.

In isolation, and in anonymity, away from the obtrusive gaze of family or society, Devi and Deepak find peace, if not happiness, to be themselves.

Scandal and death aside, ‘Masaan’ is everyone’s story.

Of fathers and sons in Bollywood – and life

I have watched Zoya Akhtar’s “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” a fair number of times, even though it’s just a travel postcard from Spain – on celluloid.

One particular scene is my favourite – the awkward meeting of Salman Habib (Naseeruddin Shah) and his son Imran (Farhan Akhtar). They’re seeing each other for the first and the last time. Salman impregnated Rahila (Deepti Naval) many years ago, but refused to share the future with her and the baby. They never married either.

So, here he is, Imran, playing hide and seek with the possibility of seeing his father in Spain, the man he has never met or spoken to before. But little did he know that despite his evasiveness life would bring him face to face with his father in a prison.

It so happened that Imran, with his buddies Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) and Kabir (Abhay Deol), ended up in jail after a drunken brawl at a bar in Spain. Imran, desperate to meet his father, calls him up to come to the police station and rescue them.

After being freed, Salman brings them over to his house. Imran’s friends, aware of the past, leave Imran and his father alone.

There is a lot of artwork in the background – Salman is an artist. He talks about his unwillingness to start a family with Rahila as he wanted to become a painter. He is cold, and has no intention of being in a father-son relationship with Imran, who walks off the scene in tears. I thought it was quite an unpredictable moment in a Hindi film, known for its overwhelming separation-and-reunion sagas.

There’s another scene in “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani”, when Kabir’s (Ranbir Kapoor) father is struggling to let his only son pursue higher studies in the U.S. The scene is an extension of an earlier sequence when the old man is unable comprehend a young man’s passion for a trek in the mountains. Yes, it is just a trek. I wanted to get up in the middle of the show and shout, “Man, it is just a trip, not a war assignment.” But I forgot, he is an Indian parent. Still, it is a beautifully written scene, probably the best in the entire film.

You must be wondering why I am so enthusiastically rambling about films that have no retention value. When I write about these scenes, I think of a father-son relationship in real life. How is it different from the one that a mother and her son share? Does it always have some gaps or unspoken words that compromise warmth and intimacy? What is this wall that doesn’t chip away, if not break? Is it the burden of a social stereotype one lives for a lifetime?

Or perhaps men are like that only. Maybe it is in the upbringing. Real men don’t cry, they’re supposed to be brave. Don’t you remember? And they should refrain from talking or expressing too much – that’s the sole prerogative of girls. Outdoors is where they belong – playground or father’s business, maybe. And they should definitely play with other boys of the neighbourhood. They must look a certain way. They must walk and talk a certain way. They must behave a certain way. They must use their limbs a certain way. They must not take up humanities as a subject of advanced education, for example. And they must pass on this legacy of how to be a man to their sons, who will further give it to their sons and so on.

In defence of ‘Katti Batti’

I am surprised film critics have trashed the film, except my friend and ex-colleague. “Watch ‘Katti Batti’ if you are a sucker for everything romantic,” Anuja Jaiman wrote in Scoopwhoop website.

Jammy, as she is famously called by friends and enemies alike, thanks for the review, woman. I realised how much I enjoy sappy romances. Had it not been for your unpretentious writing – ‘Katti Batti’ is almost a cute love story, for example – I wouldn’t have bothered about the film.

I wonder how old those Bollywood writers are, who either found the film a “comprehensive and complete waste of time”, or “trying too hard to be cool” and or the fact that it’s nowhere close to “a romantic comedy.”

Sorry people, but it seems you miss the point that we are living in an age of perpetual confusion. We – I mean those in their 20s or maybe early 30s – are confused about everything, from jobs to love to what we want from life. And these days all we want to do is figure out “stuff”. We can’t get over the past and we keep thinking of the future and eventually fuck up our present.

Remember ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’? A film that had a random love triangle, random dialogue and random everything. That’s the present generation. We say multiple things and do multiple things and end up in a vicious circle.

So when Madhav (Imran Khan) in ‘Katti Batti’, who is stuck in a time warp, can’t get over every moment of his five-year live-in relationship with Payal (Kangana Ranaut), it is understandable. That he clings to the turtle Milkha (a memory of his ex-girl friend), and a twenty-rupee note that has her mobile number scribbled on it is also understandable. That every moment of his fucked up life reminds him of his past with her is, well, also understandable. Shit happens ya!

And, I didn’t mind the umpteen digressions either.

I thought Khan, the limited actor that he is, was sincere. Ranaut, with the baggage of stupendous critical acclaim of ‘Queen’ and ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’, was vague, for the lack of a better word. My biggest problem with her, despite her brilliant acting skills in those two films, is the sameness with which she does all her roles.

“Katti Batti’s” sappiness reaches its peak in the last hour, when we get to know that the heroine – hold your breath – has cancer and is going to die soon. And that’s why she drives Madhav up the wall so he can dump her, which he eventually does and finds himself in a colossal emotional mess. He whines throughout the story because he wants her truly madly deeply and that is the film’s mainstay.

Nikhil Advani, dude, what’s with your obsession with death? You did the same in ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ and ‘Salaam-e-Ishq’. I bet you have the same make-up artists and I bet they haven’t changed their kit either in all these years!

And yet, the last part of the film is moving, very moving, and it’s especially stark when Advani shows Payal’s deteriorating health and her end during a party. The actors are not intense, but it’s a job well done.

I couldn’t pay attention to the flaws, if there were any. After all, I am no film reviewer.

“The ending does leave you contemplating about life and love, for a few moments,” Anuja wrote in her review. Indeed, the climax makes you think how much you’re willing to give in love and how much you can receive.

My last word: don’t let critics decide whether you should watch a film or not. Use your mind or heart, whatever works for your better.

Emotions untitled

Jaata kahan hai deewane, sab kuch yahan hai sanam
Baaki ke saare fasaane, jhoothe hai teri kasam

May I keep these bags aside and come closer? She asked as we sat in a cab that was to drop us home.

You’re not even holding my hand, she complained. The driver continued to do his job, probably feigning ignorance or secretly enjoying what was to be a night of free entertainment for him.

May I kiss you?

I had a lot of onions yaar, I replied lamely, hoping to put her off but that didn’t matter to her.

I looked out of the window. The Geeta Dutt song, “Jaata kahan hai deewane”, was still playing on the radio. The road was deserted, standing vacant under the brilliant yellow of the street lights. [Sorry, driver sahab you signed up for an anti-climax.]

I thought of her husband, whom I had met less than a month ago at their marriage. I introduced myself to him on the stage as people crowded around the newly married couple for a photograph. He knew me, he said, and smiled. I congratulated him, handed his wife an envelope containing some cash and left.

How many times has it happened that the lines between two friends get blurred? You enter a grey zone, which neither belongs to friendship or romance. Maybe your testosterone or estrogen takes over, or some moment of emotional vulnerability or simply attraction or the thing we call LOVE.

There’s a scene in Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai – sorry for this filmy digression, but I AM filmy, what to do – in which Karisma Kapoor tells Shahrukh khan, “It’s such a beautiful evening and you’re so unromantic.”

Now that’s an unusual thing to say to a friend, unless he’s more than that to you. The man, since he’s a man, doesn’t get it unless his drunk friend confesses her love to him later. The guy probably still doesn’t get it, especially since he’s heavily distracted by the angelic femininity of Madhuri Dixit. She will be Maya, the heroine of his play, as she replaces the “lesser-woman” played by Kapoor, who is recuperating from an ankle fracture in the film.

Probably it is also a guy thing – to long for that sari-clad, salwar kameez-wearing woman, with long hair, a perennial blush, quivering, sighing, dreamy eyes, shy etc etc (I bet you’re nodding in sly disagreement). So what if you have a great friendship with a girl, who also behaves, talks and walks like you. Recall Kajol aka Anjali in “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai“?

Shahrukh Khan or Rahul, the college stud-turned widower, has his tongue wagging when he sees his ex-best friend in a chiffon sari. She’s breezy, chuckles all the time and has another man (Salman Khan, her fiance in the film) madly in love with her.

Eventually, Rahul – deprived as he is since the death of his wife Tina – makes love to Anjali on a rainy night, as she trembles with perfect orgasmic intensity until her engagement ring is made to shine bright in the middle of the shot. Cut it!

He couldn’t romance her in a track suit, but can’t hold his pants either when she’s in Indian clothes. (Hell ya, she does look lovely, save for those big arms.)

Moral of the story? We have ideals for everything – the kind of home we want to live in, the way our career should progress, the kind of man or woman we want to be with. We chase it, this utopia, all our lives, when it exists [mostly?] in our imagination, not realising the best could be right there, before our eyes to see, but we don’t.

And that’s exactly what Geeta Dutt is singing in this song from “CID” –

Jaata kahan hai deewane, sab kuchh yahan hai sanam
Baaki ke saare fasaane, jhoothe hai teri kasam

It’s all right here, the rest is a mirage. But the cab moment was neither. It was my way of not losing a friend. Touche!

Geeta Dutt cameo in “Tanu Weds Manu Returns”

It’s just another night in Haryana’s Jhajjar district, except a jat household is having sleepless nights over the marriage of their daughter. Kusum (Kangana Ranaut), a Delhi university student and a successful athlete, is going to marry a 40-year-old doctor, who has just returned from an asylum in London. Dr. Manu Sharma (R. Madhavan) is having issues with his wife, Tanuja Trivedi and their marriage is nearly over. To add more confusion to the plot of “Tanu Weds Manu Returns”, Kusum is Tanuja’s double. Go figure! [Review here]

In another corner of the Haryana village, a despondent Tanuja is walking by herself at night, drinking.

“Did you ever miss me?” she asks her estranged husband in the next scene.

“No,” the man says promptly but uncertainly.

And then film director Anand L. Rai introduces the forgotten voice of Geeta Dutt, Hindi cinema’s legendary singer.

As Tanuja totters off on a desolate street in Jhajjar, a beautiful song from another century serves as a background score to talk about all the horrible things that love, by default, brings. Here it is:

The song, “Ja ja ja Bewafa”, is from “Aar Paar”, directed by Guru Dutt. O. P. Nayyar was the music composer. The 1954 film is about a taxi driver, his ambitions and a love triangle too.

The sequel to Tanu Weds Manu is a fun watch and has brilliant punch lines in every scene that would put star comedian Kapil Sharma (or his scriptwriters) to shame. A Geeta Dutt song is not only out of place in the film. It is more than that. Despite its immortal melody, it jars against a nondescript romantic story that has nothing but detours, plots and sub-plots and their shorter extensions.

For the WhatsApp generation, the tenuous world of Geeta Dutt is far removed; it’s even farther removed from the huge popular culture that Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle have been a part of.

Geeta, the estranged wife of Guru Dutt, died at 41. She took to drinking as her husband romanced actress Waheeda Rehman. Her husband, a celebrated filmmaker, died earlier, due to an overdose of sleeping pills.

“Geeta Dutt’s voice conveys the sweetness of honey and the pain of the bee sting,” critic Subhash K Jha has said.

The song of her life was “Waqt ne kiya” for “Kaagaz Ke Phool”, a film about a director, his troubled marriage and a relationship with an actress that proves fatal.

In a relatively short career, she sang in various genres of music – peppy club numbers, melancholic melodies, romantic songs and bhajans as well. Hers was a soft, lilting voice that didn’t seem weighed down by the rules of music grammar.

A guest appearance in a forgetful Bollywood film doesn’t add anything to the legacy that the singer left behind. It only reinforces the profound difference between Bombay’s cinema-making culture that existed then and now.

PS: But do watch the film, if you want to laugh continuously for more than two hours.

One reason why you should watch ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’

One reason why you should watch ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

There are no “ten reasons why you should watch Dum Laga Ke Haisha.” There’s only one. Okay, there are two. First, the film’s music revives memories of a bygone era and second, the film has opened to good reviews.

The kitschy 90s music – mostly heard at dhabas, chai shops, bazaars, small towns, bus terminals, and in playlists of music connoisseurs like me – is back in this Yash Raj production that has Ayushmann Khurrana and first-timer Bhumi Pednekar playing the central characters. The film is set in the Haridwar of 1995.

The composition has all the ingredients of a perfect 90s Bollywood song: after years, Kumar Sanu and Sadhna Sargam team up with Anu Malik as the composer, who says Dard karara – a love song – sounds like a crisp roti.

We, of course, cannot forgive Malik for being true to himself. Recall his penchant for saying brainless nothings on ‘Indian Idol’ season after season. But you can’t forget his latest composition.

Dard Karara is shot in Rishikesh, under the famous Lakshman Jhula. The song rolls just before the end credits and is a celebration of the lead pair’s love after they patch up. Their marriage sours because the boy found his wife to be too fat and unattractive. He didn’t want to marry her, but buckled under family pressure.

A huge fan of Sanu’s voice, he runs a cassette shop in Haridwar with his father. The film is littered with snippets of songs from the 90s.

In the end, the husband and wife take part in a contest – called Dum Laga Ke Haisha – in which the man is supposed to piggyback his spouse until the finishing line. The winners get a reward of 10,000 rupees. Sanu makes an appearance as the guest who throws open the race. The once-sparring couple eventually win the race, and decide to live together.

In the song video, it’s not just the famous 90s musical trio making a comeback. For the viewer, a familiar terrain is revisited when you see the hero wearing a saffron suit and a satin shirt; the lovers make a grand entry as a motley group of dancers open the sequence; a tracking camera follows the gyrating performers by the banks of Ganga; dupattas, holi colours are made to fly in the air; multiple mug shots of the dancing couple are seen all over the screen. It’s the stuff that is meant for the big screen.

But it seems Malik, who made his debut as a music composer in the 1970s, is playing familiar tunes in his so-called comeback. Dard karara vaguely reminded me of ‘Saajan’, the 1991 super-hit film that had Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit in a love triangle. That’s not a bad thing, given Malik’s history of taking inspiration from multiple sources.

And it’s ditto for Tu, another familiar, but new Kumar Sanu song in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. It’s peppered with his unforgettable hay hay hay singing style.

Watch the film because it has a solid storyline, something “movies ought to have before they get made, the very thing that Bollywood forgets, unbelievably, so often.”