Director Dibakar Banerjee is keener in establishing the little world his characters, both major and minor, inhabit. You are far more enthusiastic and involved with these people because Banerjee knits together the entire fabric of his creation rather than simply weaving the design; he allows his camera to capture the sight, the sound and the essence of his world and you are respond and reciprocate it to it more than you would to works by other directors. He is one of the best new Indian directors I have seen whose films have gotten far less credit than they deserve. Everyone talks about Karan Johar’s or Anurag Kashyap’s involvement and only a few (which includes me) may’ve gone for Bombay Talkies to watch out for Dibakar Banerjee. His segment is called Star and it comes right after Johar’s opening segment; Banerjee’s work simply blows the other segments out of water, and only Kashyap’s Murabba is able to escape uninjured. But poor Zoya Akhtar’s segment Sheila Ki Jawaani isn’t very lucky, barely holding up to the standards of Banerjee’s work. And Johar’s hokey gay-themed segment seems flaccid in comparison.
I don’t mean by saying all this that you should skip the other segments and only catch Banerjee’s; Bombay Talkies is a far better offering than most other Indian movies you might catch in theaters. It’s got a limited release and has managed to rake in mediocre box-office collections, but it surely deserves to be recognized for being novel not just for the sake of being novel. Four different directors with quite different styles and palettes put up their works for an anthology film (a term for many short films being compiled to form a feature film) and you as an audience member have a lot more to discuss here than just the quality of the film itself: you compare these filmmakers’ works and form your own preferences. I loved Banerjee’s work but I hear many other praising Karan Johar more, but you see what’s happening here is that everyone’s talking a lot more about the film than they usually would. For this alone people should catch Bombay Talkies before it exits theaters with its final salute to Bollywood.
Bombay Talkies, named after a prestigious movie studio of the same name which opened in the 30s and has closed down now, is a cinematic ode to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Bollywood. This ode is sung by four directors: 1) Karan Johar, known for his epic-length melodramas with names usually beginning with letter ‘K’, 2) Dibakar Banerjee, a superbly talented director whose works evoke the multiplicities seen in Neorealist films 3) Zoya Akhtar, who has won a couple of awards in India and comes from a family of talented actors, musicians and lyricists and 4) Anurag Kashyap, whose works have been screened at Cannes. While Johar and Akhtar share this style of directing that many of the filmmakers who’ve been brought up in this industry from the start possess, Kashyap and Banerjee inject the flavor of world cinema into commercial Bollywood..
Johar begins first, his film being about Avinash, a lonely gay man estranged from his family who meets a lonely married straight woman whose sex life (with her husband, of course. Infidelity not usually tackled in Indian films) is sterile. There’s the husband who is dull and lonely (and completely not aroused by his wife) and loves old Hindi songs, and things get complicated when Avinash meets the husband and his gay sensor tingles. You perfectly know what’s going to happen next. Once Johar’s done, its Banerjee’s turn: his film is about a lower-middle class Maharashtrian (Nawazuddin Siddique, awards coming your way) whose many little ambitions, which includes breeding Emus, have never taken flight until the moment he gets the golden opportunity to share the screen space with megastar Ranbir Kapoor one day. If Banerjee makes us hate the theater owners for keeping an interval for the film, Zoya Akhtar’s segment post-intermission about a little kid who hates football and likes dressing up like a girl and who idolizes actress Katrina Kaif makes us hate the film’s editor for not including more of Dibakar’s story. The final segment is a little queer and quirky, and it’s by Kashyap; his film is about Vijay, an Allahabad native who, under his ailing father’s insistence, travels to Bombay to offer the King of Bollywood half of a Murabba, a jam pickle, so that the other half, once blessed with Bachchan’s uhm… teeth could be consumed by Vijay’s father to get well.
Johar’s segment is simple are quite predictable; you are well aware what’s going to happen and because it’s a Johar film, you know there’ll be a lot of tears shed by the characters. Apart from its hokey and hackneyed theme, I really wasn’t sure whether it portrayed gays in a flattering light. Akhtar on the other hand makes a film full of annoyingly precocious children and one-dimensional characters, especially the kid’s father who keeps repeating ‘Football is a guy’s game. Football will make you strong’. Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Murabba’ is delicious and delightful, but not anywhere close to the richness of Banerjee’s offering. There’s so much to enjoy, so many little things that we watch happening in Banerjee’s film, and he’s a pro when it comes to handling his camera and sound. There’s a common theme of father-son relationship running in all four shorts.
There’s a music video after the shorts which celebrates the hundred years of Bollywood, and they’ve added a montage that shows Bollywood through the period. Towards the end, stars like Aamir Khan turn up but I was sadly disappointed by the presence of some actors like Sonam Kapoor here, which shows just how retarded Bollywood has become. Why couldn’t they let Nawazuddin sing? Or Kalki Koechlin? When your entire film is about celebrating the true stars, why ruin the moment by bringing in the hundred crore club whose films are strapped on stars and short on sense?