The only thing you will hate about Bombay Talkies is Bollywood’s assumption that Hindi cinema made out of Mumbai is Indian cinema. So when the film ends with a bunch of Bollywood stars dancing to the title song as a tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema, you cringe.
Luckily though, the film — an anthology of four stories by four popular filmmakers — has absolutely nothing to do with Bollywood or its cliches.
To begin with, these stories are not star vehicles. Nor do they conform to the form that Hindi cinema has endorsed over the last hundred years.
Bombay Talkies showcases the winds of change in our cinema and society.
It’s cinema that’s not afraid to come out of the closet. Filmmaking that is brave enough to wipe off the make-up. Storytelling that’s brutally honest. Treatment that is refreshingly candid.
Karan Johar’s Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh, probably the best of the bunch, sets the tone on what to expect with its bold and snappy banter as the mood turns from light to dark in no time. Karan spins a complex story of modern relationships that rips your heart out! In many ways, it’s a meta film about being who you really are. Like Karan wants to tell our cinema that it’s high time we stopped lying to ourselves, time we consumed cinema not just as music or as a means to escape. Rani, Saquib and Randeep Hooda turn in finely nuanced powerhouse performances in this uniquely ajeeb dastaan.
Dibakar Banerjee’s adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s short story Patol Babu Film Star is a delightful feel-good film that moves us almost to tears — a complete Nawazuddin Siddiqui showcase. Ray would’ve been proud of Dibakar’s craft and use of space. The camera captures character from his natural environment, watching him from far away one minute and seamlessly blending the surreal in a slice of life story about a man who rediscovers his passion.
Zoya Akhtar’s Shiela Ki Jawaani episode is the most layered of the lot and it is not just about chasing your dreams but about the magic of life that cinema represents. Though it has echoes of Karan Johar’s story about being yourself, the film refuses to spell out what it is hinting at. Maybe a little too subtle to effectively reach out to the masses. But what lies beneath — the fine-print of a subtext that this film packs — is pure gold.
Anurag Kashyap’s Murabba is not just an Amitabh Bachchan tribute that it seems to be. Though it captures the euphoria and madness, the lengths and distances people go to get a glimpse of their star, the film is more about the lies we manufacture in our lives, the bit of cinema we create in our own little ways, a thought that finds its echoes in Dibakar’s film as well. Vineet Kumar Singh (seen in Gangs of Wasseypur) is just brilliant, completely natural and makes us root for him in his journey from Allahabad to Bachchan-land to get the superstar bite into the last bit of Murabba to fulfil his father’s wish.
Shortlist this for the Oscars already? Finally, this is Hindi cinema we can be truly proud of.
Directors: Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Rani Mukerjee, Saqib Saleem, Randeep Hooda, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Katrina Kaif, Ranvir Shorey, Amitabh Bachchan, Vineet Kumar Singh
Storyline: Four stories celebrating music, storytelling, magic and starpower of cinema
Bottomline: Karan and Dibakar come up with two superlative films while Zoya and Kashyap’s segments are pretty solid too.