Anurag Kashyap on Aiyyaa: In Bollywood, people only watch regional films if they’re hits

Sachin%20and%20Anurag%202 Anurag Kashyap on Aiyyaa: In Bollywood, people only watch regional films if they’re hits

Here’s the full interview I did with Anurag Kashyap when working on this profile of Prithviraj last week:

When and how did you get involved with this project?

I pushed Sachin to write it and make a feature out of it three years back, he’s been working on it since then.  Sachin approached Prithviraj two years ago when he was shooting near Pune for the film he did with Santosh Sivan (Urumi).

What does being a producer for Aiyyaa mean – what have you been doing?

I saw myself as more of an enabler than a producer.  I don’t know about production or distribution, I just try to get films made, to put all the people together.

I know you’re very conversant in cinema from all over the world, but what about Indian film itself?  Do you watch many Tamil, or Telugu, or Malayalam films?

I’ve been watching a lot of Tamil and Marathi films, but not Malayalam or Telugu.  The problem in India is you can’t get regional films with English subtitles.  To find them, you have to get them from the US or UK – it’s a strange country.  I watch Tamil films regularly.  For me, Gangs of Wasseypur was inspired by a lot of Tamil filmmakers: Bala, Sasikumar.  All these films like Angadi Theru, Mynaa, Aadukalam, and Kumararaja’s film….. Aaranya Kaandam.  That’s one of the best films to come out of India in a long time.

It’s a sin that it was not given a proper release in India and overseas, and now you can’t even buy a DVD of it.

As usual, what we do with our films is we kill a good thing.

When you talk movies with people in Bombay, will many mention specific Tamil/Telugu/etc. films they’ve seen?

In Bollywood, people only watch regional films if they’re hit films.  If it’s broken lots of records, they’ll see it, buy it, and remake it.  They only watch successful films.

Tell me about the music for Aiyyaa?

That was Sachin and Amit and Amitav.  I was giving an idea like playing with sounds…

Do you get some sense that – for some people – “crossing over” from southern films to Hindi movies is something that many actors and directors aspire to?

People aspire to it because when you make a film in Hindi it’s got a much wider audience.  I think that southern India is much more liberated than us, and they think Hindi is more liberated than southern cinema.  I guess the grass always seems greener… it’s a constant argument we have.

We’re talking to two or three Tamil filmmakers to get them to make Hindi movies or whatever kind of films they want to make in whatever language.

What do you love about Aiyyaa?

It’s just so quirky and doesn’t follow any of the rules.  It’s just so …. A film made on a whim by an extremely creative person.  It’s so superb, it just laughs at everything.  It doesn’t take anything seriously.  It’s subversive and it’s so playful throughout the film, it just twists everything.  It’s completely new language, I absolutely love this film, this strange world that has come out of Sachin’s head.

Was Sachin obsessed with Tamil movies?

No, see Sachin has been making lots of art house movies in Marathi.  He’s made three Marathi films, he’s won two National Awards, but his films have never got released.  Whenever I met him, he’s such an incredible guy.  He’s very urban.  He’s a Maharashtrian urban filmmaker – Maharashtrian film is mostly rural, it’s not urban, so urban Maharashtrian film doesn’t have much audience, rural Maharashtrian film has.  He was struggling, he didn’t know where he belonged, he was also writing plays.

On the humor and quirkiness – do you have any concern about how Tamils and other south Indians will react to the film?

No, no, once they see the film, they won’t say that, the film makes a parody of ourselves.  It takes a look at all kind of clichés, and the very clichéd way we look at south Indians and their cinema – it makes fun of that.  She’s learning Tamil because she thinks he speaks that, but when she meets him, he speaks Hindi.  It’s a whole lot of fun.  And the man has been objectified, not the woman, unlike all the other Hindi films.

What stands out about Prithviraj to you?

First thing, he’s just very intelligent, unlike a lot of actors.  He’s extremely aware of himself an cinema – extremely well versed in that.  He straddles both worlds, he does a lot of mainstream films and uses his success to produce and constantly reinvent cinema.  That’s what’s so special about him.

Did you see Veettilekkulla Vazhi?

No, I’ve heard about it.  And that’s what I like about him – he keeps doing these small indie movies, he keeps using his success to create things.  He’s extremely non-fussy.  He’ll just come and do what’s expected of him.

What will audiences be surprised by when they see the film on Friday?

I don’t know.  I’m actually anxious to see how they react because this is not like anything they’ve seen before.  I really don’t know.  They definitely are going to be completely surprised.  Let’s see…

Anurag%20and%20Rani%202 Anurag Kashyap on Aiyyaa: In Bollywood, people only watch regional films if they’re hits

Aiyyaa: Let’s hear it for the girl

Aiyyaa%20poster%202%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

When I was a teenager in Catholic school, somewhere in either Junior or Senior year, I remember sitting in Mass one day and hearing the priest tell the congregation during the homily (the discussion of that day’s gospel reading) that sensuality is bad, and I remember thinking “Really?  But why?”  His sermon didn’t answer my question, but I reasoned that it must be because Catholics are told not to put so much emphasis on the fleeting things in this life, because it’s really the next life that we need to worry about and work toward.

But to my thinking – willful child that I was – I couldn’t imagine how any Supreme Being would be so perverse as to be responsible for placing His people amid so much beauty and so many pleasurable things in His world, and then tell us “Nuh-uh, mustn’t touch!”

If that priest were to see Aiyyaa, I think his head would explode.  Sachin Kundalkar’s treatment of the story of the attraction that Meenakshi (Rani Mukherjee) feels for Surya (Prithviraj) is awash in sensorial pleasure.

what%20sagai%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

Meenakshi, a spirited, daydreaming Marathi girl, works in a library at the local fine arts school where Surya’s a rather surly artist and student, who is also Tamil.  All it takes is one whiff of him, followed quickly by one glimpse of him, and Meenakshi’s lost.  She half-heartedly protests her parents’ earnest attempts to find a groom for her, but for naught.  She’s trussed up in a variety of lovely saris as all size and shape of potential grooms come to call with their families in tow.

brooding%20Surya%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

One thing that stood out from that parade of men is what Mama’s boys they all were, and how not just the mothers, but also the sisters, would cluster around the latest contestant and fan him, feed him, and look adoringly at him.  To that notion of elevating the male above the female, something which society certainly does, Kundalkar is clearly saying “Hah!  Just watch….”  (It’s not for nothing that later, Meenakshi will say to Madhav, the very considerate fiancé “Thank you for asking me what I like and what I want.”)

Like many of us good girls have done in the past, Meenakshi doesn’t so much directly disobey her parents’ wishes as work around them in pursuit of what she wants and desires, which is to know more about Surya.  She is soon doing what is essentially stalking.  She looks his details up online, interrogates his buddy (the young Tamil chaiwallah on campus), starts learning Tamil and watching Tamil movies (lucky girl), and even finagles a way into Surya’s home to meet his mother (during which she also grabs one of his paint-splattered t-shirts).  Sure, on paper this sounds just so wrong, but between the director and Rani Mukherjee, it comes off as quite innocent and harmless.

Rani%20daydreaming%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

In fact, one of the scenes I loved the most was of Meenakshi at home with that blue t-shirt, inhaling Surya’s scent before she goes to sleep, and then actually pulling it on over her own pajamas, and curling up in bed, enveloped in the closest thing she has to the object of her desire.

And on the subject of objectification – there’s plenty of it (of Prithviraj) and it’s about time that women got their due and had a Hindi movie show that yes, we do it too, and good for us!

Rani%20floor%20Aga%20Bai%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

While Rani looks staggeringly beautiful throughout the entire film (as she says to herself in the mirror in one scene, with filmy exaggeration “That face! Those eyes!”), the camera clearly loves Prithviraj.  Actually, “love” is too mild a verb.  The camera does to Prithvi what Mickey Rourke did to Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks, before it got too dark, and the audience is fortunate enough to be along on that ride.  (I did hear nervous giggles in the cinema Saturday night when there was a quick cut to Prithvi’s rather hirsute chest glimpsed through a shirt open several buttons down.)

more%20than%20one%20button%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

First up in the exaltation of male beauty, it’s Dreamum Wakeupum, the pretend-Tamil-for-non-Tamil-speakers song which takes a cue from Silk Smitha’s days, and puts all that on its head.  Here, Prithviraj has been waxed ’til not one hair on his torso was left standing.  His upper body is framed in black, then blue, variations on an odd little garment some women wear called a shrug, except here, Prithvi’s has epaulets.

Dreamum%20drumming%20and%20epaulets%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

In another shot, he’s wearing not so much a conventional shrug as a length of turquoise blue fabric that has been rolled into a rope and lovingly coiled around his bronzed, glowing musculature.

Dreamum%20pink%20blue%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

Instead of only the girl thrusting and pouting as the guy lays his hands all around her, in this song, Rani also gets to softly slap and air kiss Prithvi’s bod, and so she should!  It’s all joyful fun as the leading man, in blue aviator frames flashing toothy smiles while jumping up and down on an oversized four-poster bed, then waving playfully at Rani a few minutes later, is a stark contrast to the taciturn, brooding, red-eyed artist Meenakshi encounters at school.  That’s why it’s a fantasy – you get to rewrite the parts of Real Life you wish were different.

Dreamum%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

If Dreamum Wakeupum is playfully sexy, then Aga Bai, the next fantasy song turns up the heat and intensity several notches.  Here, Meenakshi is being dragged to buy clothes and jewelry for her upcoming engagement party, but her mind is on Surya, who this time appears to her shrugless.

Aga%20Bai%20black%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

In between what’s been shown of this song video online and on TV, those images are intercut with other shots the video doesn’t include, of Meenakshi imagining Surya throwing her down on the cushions amid all the saris she’s looking at with her parents, and passionately kissing her neck while they try to drape her in gold.

One split-second thing the director did here, that set this song apart from so many hundreds of others, is carry that shot a bit further ahead, and as Surya nuzzles one side of Meenakshi’s neck, rather than cutting away there, as every other director would do, Kundalkar stays for more, and has Prithvi remain, moving around her neck, kissing her even more passionately directly under her chin.  If you blink, you’d miss it, but to me, it was emblematic of what he was doing with this film – not playing coy, and not running away just when things are getting good.  It’s as if he’s saying “This is what a real woman’s desire really looks like” unlike all that fake finger-biting that went on in The Dirty Picture and in the live promos for the same, which I felt was completely done for the male gaze, and not at all an expression of genuine desire on the part of Vidya Balan’s character.

Aga%20Bai%20gold%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

But ojo, Aga Bai is probably not a song you would want to watch with your grandparents in the room or kid siblings, because in between the shopping and belly dancing fantasies, one more fantasy is there – that of Surya as the petrol station attendant in overalls, filling up Meenakshi’s scooter, and it is the most overtly suggestive.

Hats off to Vaibhavi Merchant, who’s done some unusual, playful, choreography (including the incorporation of many Tamil filmy dance elements into Dreamum Wakeupum).  Equally, Amit Trivedi has created some vibrant and unforgettable music I know I’ll still get a thrill from weeks, months, years from now.

It’s been interesting to take a look around online and see how many men have strongly disliked the film.  Somewhere one guy commented words to the effect of “Go away, Rani Aunty, you cougar” which I think says a lot about what men are willing to accept, or not, when it comes to women – especially women age 30 and beyond – being portrayed as normal, sexual beings who do (sorry to tell you, boys) have “those” thoughts and feelings.

Aiyyaa, for all the talk about Meenakshi’s sense of smell, is also visually and tactilely rich.  Rani has been filmed in such a light that she always looks glorious.  And as her character stalks Surya, she grazes her hands over and sniffs the paint on his canvases, which, in prior shots, we’ve seen him mixing and touching those paints, and later we see him (filmed from underneath) plunging his paint-splotched hands into a basin, as the blue spreads out, comingling with the water.  After having some back-and-forth on Twitter yesterday about the merits of seeing a film on the big screen in a cinema versus on an iPad or phone, for me, this is one movie that definitely has to be seen on a cinema screen to be appreciated.

With this as his Hindi debut, Prithviraj says very little until the second half of the film, with the first half mainly consisting of him looking good while brooding.  When he finally does open his mouth to speak at length, it’s welcome.

The rest of the cast have less to do.  Meenakshi’s family are an eccentric little group, with the mother being rather ebullient and shrill, and the father a well-meaning, hapless man who smokes a lot and tinkers with old, broken phones, the blind grandmother is a live wire who sports a gold grill that her lucky (?) granddaughter is set to inherit when Aai is no more, and then there is the brother, Nana, a dropout whose main calling is to care for stray dogs (bully for him, I say – the world needs more people like that, India included).

Subodh%20Bhave%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

Rounding out the cast are Madhav (Subodh Bhave), who plays the milquetoast fiancé and Mynaa (Anita Date), a severely buck-toothed girl  whose dress sense is a nod to Lady Gaga and who works next to Meenakshi at the library, when she’s not expounding on the virtues of John Abraham’s physique.

I don’t know why Mynaa was portrayed with such extreme dental issues, if not, perhaps to suggest that all women, even those not as blindingly beautiful as Rani, have a right to their feelings and to pursue what and whom they wish.  The moment when Nana, trying to find his missing sister, appears at Mynaa’s John-Abraham-themed apartment with its blue glow, the words “Pedro Almodovar” flashed through my head.

While many viewers were discovering Prithviraj for the first time, for me, it was Subodh Bhave.  He has an interesting face and based on his work in Aiyyaa, I’m curious now to see his earlier films.

On the subject of Prithviraj, he’s someone who has made varied film choices over the length of his decade-long career and I give him credit for jumping into this unique movie, which called on him to play it down (except for the fantasy songs).  I think that’s harder than doing the yelling and overacting that a lot of mainstream roles call for.  Some of his films I’ve liked the best have been those where he is low key yet intense (Anwar, Veetillekkulla Vazhi, Raavanan, Mozhi).

One segment that could have been lopped off altogether was a sidebar of Nana and Meenakshi stealing off in the middle of the night (in their pajamas?) to buy drugs, because someone erroneously planted the idea in Meenakshi’s head that Surya’s intoxicating smell and constant red eyes are the result of his much rumored drug consumption.

Recommendation

See it in a cinema and quick.  This film seems to be ahead of its time and may not be allowed to gather momentum before it gets yanked, which would be a shame.

Sachin Kundalkar has stepped out beyond Hindi cinema’s comfort zone and done something quite different, while giving his audience a chance to revel in two hours plus of pleasure and visual beauty (it sure beats 15-minute fight scenes, if you ask me).  Moreover, he’s created an on-screen world where a good Maharashtrian girl can learn the Tamil for “Please don’t close your top button” to say to the man she wants.

Sachin%20Kundalkar%202 Aiyyaa: Lets hear it for the girl

This is what sets Aiyyaa apart from The Dirty Picture.  In the latter, we were told early on that Silk was boldly setting herself beyond the conventions of society and ended up paying a big price for that, as she was degraded and dragged towards blue movies, and ultimately a sad end.

In Aiyyaa, you get the message that there’s nothing shameful or dirty about what Meenakshi and Mynaa feel, and if there’s any price to pay, it would be the longing, and wondering, and dissatisfaction that you would live with if you didn’t follow your heart.

Imtiaz, Zoya and more – T2B, Day 1

So, Day 1 of Ticket 2 Bollywood now over.  Madhur Bhandarkar was unable to be there, but sent a video apology.

Some 100 or so people – actors, writers, and those hoping to be – turned out for the event at the Chatwal family’s Dream Downtown hotel.

Anuraadha%20sm Imtiaz, Zoya and more   T2B, Day 1

Screenwriter Anuraadha Tewari (Fashion, Heroine) gave an overview of the history of film in India, likening the cinema hall’s place in Indian lives to what the tribal fire once was.  She mentioned during this session that Dadasaheb Phalke was credited with introducing the idea of time-lapse photography (news to me!).

Nandana Sen participated in an afternoon session, entering hurriedly after commuting down from a writing course up at Columbia University.

Nandana%20sm Imtiaz, Zoya and more   T2B, Day 1

In Imtiaz Ali’s morning session, about getting into Hindi cinema even though he had no godfathers in the industry and came from Jamshedpur (which he referred to as a small town), I was struck by how so much of his early struggle seemed to tie in with an obsession to get married, something which always surprises me in India, as most menfolk over on my side of the globe can only be induced into it (marriage, not the Hindi film biz), when prompted with the pointy end of a pitchfork.  But he was very jocular and self-effacing, bringing to mind a younger and hipper Columbo.

Imtiaz%20sm Imtiaz, Zoya and more   T2B, Day 1

And in the afternoon, Zoya Akhtar talked about being in the Hindi film industry, as someone who’s grown up in that milieu, thanks to her famous parents and brother.  She enthused about working with ensemble casts (“They’re delish!”) and her collaborative process writing with Reema Kagti (“We talk for weeks about the film and the characters then start putting it down.”)

More tomorrow after Day 2…

 

The Oranges

The Cast of THE ORANGES%202 The Oranges

I attended a screening of The Oranges as the last hot, steamy days of summer trailed off, and beside wanting to see a film with so many favorite actors (Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener), I relished the thought of spending 90 minutes watching a holiday comedy set in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  (Every August, the only thing that keeps me slogging through day after day of 90-degree+ temps and stifling dew points is the thought that crisp, sunny days, cool nights and the big wind-up to the holiday season are right around the corner.)

The trouble that ensues when the husband (Laurie) of one of two very close couples starts an affair with the twenty-four-year-old daughter (Leighton Meester) of the other pair sounded like an interesting prospect, to see how the writers would handle it and how this talented quartet would make it happen.

But the execution of the affair and the days leading up to it (Meester’s character returns home to suburban West Orange, New Jersey for Thanksgiving after having suffered a bad break-up out in California) gave no indication of any attraction or connection between Nina and David.  Both long-married couples’ relationships are just treading water and surviving through some general malaise.  Janney and Keener’s characters regard their husbands as generally bumbling goofballs whom they should both just work around to save themselves any trouble.

On Thanksgiving night, after the rest of the families have headed to bed, Nina joins David, who spends most nights in the guest house, and out of nowhere, they suddenly kiss while watching TV and start an affair, which is soon discovered, wrecking the Christmas season for everyone.

Oliver Platt is adorable as a shambling, muddled, gadget-crazy father, but we don’t really get to know much more about him than that, not even why he seems more concerned by his wife’s outrage at their daughter’s behavior, than over the affair itself.

Hugh Laurie is a milder version of the American guy we know as House, affable and unruffled, but again, we don’t get to know why things disintegrated between his character and Keener’s to the point where they began living apart on the same property.

Both wives are written as brittle, dismissive women and we never crack the surface of either.  As far as the wronged spouse goes, when watching the character of Paige (Keener) after the affair came to light, I couldn’t help but think of the distraught reaction of Emma Thompson in Love Actually (also set over the Christmas holidays, funny enough) when she learns that her husband (Alan Rickman) is involved with his young, nubile secretary, and I realized that it was that sort of heart that was absent from The Oranges.

oranges%20Alia%20Shawkat%202 The Oranges

For me, the brightest part of the film was discovering the Kurdish-Irish-Norwegian-American Alia Shawkat in the role of Vanessa, the daughter of Cathy and Terry (Janney and Platt).  It was a discovery because I never got into Arrested Development, her big calling card.  She’s fresh and different and interesting.  By comparison, when Hugh Laurie’s David goes cow-eyed over Nina, we never have a chance to appreciate what is so special about her (other than her looks), and so the affair seems all the more puzzling, since there’s no display of any steamy clinches between the May-December couple, and we’re given to assume that he’s just turned his life upside down for something more than awesome sex, dude, but we have no clue.

Final thoughts

Even if you find the cast incredibly appealing, unless you’re a die-hard fan of one of them and can’t help yourself but rush out to the theater, I’d wait for the DVD, if even that.
For a movie that could have been darker, or funnier, or sexier, or more poignant, instead it suffers from the two things that people either love or hate about the suburbs: blandness and boredom.

Zoya Akhtar: Male stars drive audiences in

 Zoya Akhtar: Male stars drive audiences in

Zoya Akhtar, one of the trio of Hindi film directors participating in Ticket2Bollywood on October 6th & 7th in NYC

On the occasion of her return to New York this weekend for the two-day Ticket 2 Bollywood event of panels and sessions (together with Imtiaz Ali and Madhur Bhandarkar), here’s an interview I did with Zoya when she was in New York to attend the Engendered Film Festival in August 2009.

This was right on the heels of SRK’s detention at Newark airport, and you’ll hear her thoughts about that, as well as her reference to the “road movie” she was planning to make in Spain, which became Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

For more details on this weekend’s (yes, tomorrow and Sunday) event about the state of today’s Hindi film industry, go here.

And to see why Zoya’s such a great interview, read on…

Q: How is it being back in the city?

ZA: I love New York.  I studied at NYU and I just love the city.  I’ve come here after years and so much has changed.  I had a heart attack when I saw Union Square.  What have they done!  But anyway, it’s always good to be back.

Q: With this recent detention of Shahrukh Khan at the airport, did you find yourself thinking “What if it happens to me too?”

ZA:  Yeah, because it’s happened to a lot of people and it’s a bit ridiculous at this point.  If Bill Clinton comes to India, he’s an ex-head-of-state – we’re not gonna make him take his shoes off; we’re just not rude like that.  It’s just ridiculous.  Shahrukh Khan, he’s an actor, ok, whatever, but Abdul Kalam, who’s the President of our country!  People are pissed! [Read more...]