Ziya Us Salam


(At Wave, Noida, and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

Mumbai may not need any brownie points from chroniclers or posterity but that does not dissuade our film-makers from dishing out a few anyway. Right from the time S.H. Bihari penned “Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan… ,” filmmakers have been mesmerised by ‘Bambai nagariya,’ talking of ‘sone chandi ki nagariya.’ Director Nishikant Kamat here now comes up with a more topical essay on the City that has been at the receiving end of many terrorist acts in recent times. He too sings about the undying spirit of Mumbaikars at the end. But it is in the journey that he scores almost all the points.

At one point, he takes the lid off the charge of terrorism with which all Muslims are often sullied for the acts of a handful. In a sad irony, the religion of peace – Islam – is wrongly equated with deeds of violence.

Kamat does not launch into a sermon. Rather, through little pot-shots taken by Kay Kay Menon’s character, he exposes the persecution, the ignominy many Muslims have to face in everyday life. Quietly, he also exposes the fallacy of a sweeping generalisation.

Through the character of Soha Ali Khan, who plays a professional but initially heartless journalist – she asks a woman who has just lost her husband, “How do you feel?” for a sound byte – he exposes the shallowness of our media. Intrusive, insensitive, avoidable.

Similarly, the ageing cop Paresh Rawal’s silently embittered self reveals the guilty conscience of the law protectors. In similar fashion, the filmmaker focuses quietly on the unequal distribution of the fruit of development through Irrfan’s roadside vendor character: he can enter a mall but can only afford some window shopping.

Then there is Madhavan’s utterly under-utilised patriotic Indian who believes every drop matters in an ocean. Never mind that a cloud might just follow the silver lining. He had barely escaped death – he was on the train when the blasts took place – but refuses to believe that all is lost for India or Indians. It is a feeling that will be shared by almost a billion people. That Kamat airs it with dignity and restraint enriches his film that is a montage of disparate elements. Unfortunately, the film works only in fits and starts.

The film has no dearth of good frames, nice ideas. Individually, almost every story has a feel. Together they lack soul, the ‘sutradhar’ is not quite strong enough; more like a five-part TV serial than a feature film.

Set against the backdrop of the devastating train blasts of 7/11, the film talks of five principal characters affected by the explosions that claimed more than 200 lives. It is a non-linear approach our film-makers have taken to ever since Alejandro Gonzalez so beautifully proved its merit in “Babel.” For a while it works as the characters come to grips with the blasts that took away one common element in their lives: happiness. But after a while, the juxtaposition of varied stories begins to have a sameness that induces ennui. Gonzalez could pull it off because the story traverses across continents; the viewer gets breathing space, the film goes outdoors. Here the story stays in one city, in similar environs. The lingo remains the same for a major part. The challenges are similar too.

Watch Kamat’s “Mumbai….” only to see another step in the growth of multiplex cinema. Looking for a poignant story or a film that is consistently gripping? Try elsewhere. This film only offers crumbs, the cake has to wait.


(At Spice, Noida, and other theatres)

Ram Gopal Varma these days resembles an emperor without clothes. Gone is the halo of “Satya”, “Company”, “Bhoot” and “Sarkar.” Now he is making films from memory, dishing out predictable stuff. The style remains the same; the same low angle, titled camera shots, similar background music, minimal dialogue. We have seen it all. Here Varma beseeches us to see it all again.

This time, it is called “Phoonk.” It could as well have been a B-grade “Bhoot.” Peddling in superstition, evoking the irrational, Varma’s “Phoonk” is all about the U-turn of a rational man – Kannada actor Sudeep in his first foray in Hindi cinema – when his daughter is visited by elements beyond the comprehension of science or medicine. Lots of stuff that evokes revulsion in any sane being, the film suffers on more than one count.

Even if you ignore the generous plugging of superstition, the film fails to arouse any feeling of fear. The dark shots, the sounds, everything, is predictable. And some of the performances clearly over the top.

In short, “Phoonk” is a film that is likely to live up to its name. It has come uninvited, it shall go away with a phoonk too. As for Varma, well, there is always nostalgia. No “Sholay”, “Contract” or “Phoonk” can blow that away.


(At Spice, Noida, and other theatres)

In an industry that revels in its sheep flock mentality, K. Asif’s timeless classic had avoided the ignominy of unworthy sequels or remixes. Finally, luck runs out and Sanjay Chhel rushes in where others had feared to tread! “Maay Gaye…” is a sad parody of a film that deserves a sacrosanct status in the annals of Indian cinema. Despites its share of some clean laughs, the film is close to a farce.

Chhel’s is also a film that brings the technique of stage to the silver screen. There are times we laugh aloud as the new age kaneez – played by the greatest paradox called Mallika Sherawat – is sought by more than her Salim! There are times when Akbar’s foibles evoke smiles too.

Unfortunately, they don’t last. And don’t add up. Once the novelty of a fumbling, bumbling Akbar wears off, once the joy of Anarkali two, no, three, no four-timing her majuns fades, the film has nothing to offer.

Then we come to realise the film for what it is: a take on a small town drama company that is staging Mughal-e-Azam and finds itself embroiled in the goings-on of terrorists, RAW, CBI and the like. A bit too far-fetched, a bit too implausible even given we are watching a drama within a film.

Mallika, almost always covered, gets to breathe only in dream sequences in her mini-skirts and little tops. Rahul Bose as her suitor is usual: likeable. Paresh Rawal? Eminently forgettable. Kay Kay Menon? A pleasant surprise as a singer who has another side to his personality. Again, a little take on Naseeruddin Shah’s well etched out character in “Sarfarosh.”

Watch “Maan Gaye….” for its little moments of delight. Want a film for the memory trove, a film that evokes feelings of profound love and longing? Go back to the Asif classic.