Begum Jaan shows how Vidya Balan has been pigeonholed into doing seemingly ‘serious’ roles

In a few years from now when someone sits down to write a book on Vidya Balan, it would automatically assume her place amongst the all-time greats of Indian cinema.

It is not Ms Balan’s acting prowess alone that would make her worthy of such benediction. If her talent were to be a criterion then she would fall short. No. It is the manner in which, in a relatively short span of time and only a handful of films she has become one of the very few stars that have the entire film pivot around the character they portray.

In fact, right from her debut in Parineeta (2005), she began to carve a space for herself where most films that came to her demanded a strong central character. Her performances notwithstanding, Balan’s mere presence in films Ishqiya (2010), No One Killed Jessica (2011), The Dirty Picture (2011) and Kahaani (2012) is enough to stamp any film that she features in, as ‘special’. But the trouble with good actors like Balan — whose presence is powerful enough to be considered a performance unto itself — is that on a bad day, they go from being the biggest boon to the greatest bane for a film, in the blink of an eye.

Vidya Balan in and as Begum Jaan

On paper, Begum Jaan had all the makings of a great film. Balan stars as the madam of a brothel through which the Radclife Line (dividing India from Pakistan in 1947) is expected to pass; she refuses to give up her property even after her benefactor (the local raja; played by Naseeruddin Shah) withdraws his protection. A remake of Srijit Mukherji’s own Bengali film, Rajkahini (2015), Begum Jaan is not only tailor-made for Balan but in many ways also god-sent, considering the lean patch her career has been going through. The film’s trailer crossed over 20 million views across various social media platforms in under a week — testimony that Vidya Balan and Begum Jaan were a match made in heaven. But when the film released the reaction was quite different. Most reviews were unanimous on two accounts – the film was a tad too loud and Vidya Balan’s performance appeared to be the weakest link.

Unique as it might have been in concept, Begum Jaan’s imagery and the style in which its narrative was executed makes it look rather familiar and to a great degree, predictable. Mukherji uses the character of Amma (Ila Arun) to tell stories of iconic women from India who stood up to injustice, and using Balan to portray Rani Lakshmi Bai and others sets up the platform for the film’s final act and how the climax would eventually play out. What this also does is spoon-feed the audience to be ready for Balan’s heroism as the film progresses, which considering the story as well as Balan’s talent, shouldn’t have been a difficult task. Although the film has nearly managed to recover its cost within the first few days of release, and in the longer run might even end up making a profit, it will be a while before Balan’s stature recovers. Irrespective of its shortcomings, could Begum Jaan have managed to strike the right chord had Balan not been lazy about her portrayal? There are only three reactions that she depicts through the course of the film — she is either doped out, lost in her own world where each syllable coming out of her mouth is supposed to be strung together to make some sher or she is angry at someone, about to sign their death farmaan or she is just wistful. These three moods are repeated ad nauseam and as a result, nearly every scene that features Balan seems repetitive.

For this writer, the film’s trailer was a portent of the misstep that Begum Jaan is being seen as. The film seemed to be the kind of straight story where everything would depend on the actors to make it tick and being the anchor, it would invariably end up being Balan’s responsibility to tie the whole thing together. There is a possibility that once the hoopla about the film being a letdown settles, Begum Jaan might enjoy a renewed interest within the viewers. This wouldn’t be too difficult as the supporting cast is good and there are more than a few moments that hold enough intrigue to make Begum Jaan worth a re-look in times to come.

At the same time, there is a great possibility that Begum Jaan could be the end of Vidya Balan as we have known her up until now. In a way, it is good because Balan has been pigeonholed into doing seemingly “serious” roles. Her efforts to shift gears with a Bobby Jasoos (2014) or a Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014) have not been commercially successful and even though the failure was far from solely Balan’s, it has nonetheless created a myth that she can only excel playing sombre or thoughtful characters. Initially in her career, Balan had featured in the popular comedy TV show Hum Paanch (2000) and even early films like Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006), Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007) and Heyy Babyy (2007) displayed a decent flair for comedy or lighter roles — yet even there, she was relegated to being the comparatively serious kinds.

Why Noor doesn’t live up to its source material, ‘Karachi You’re Killing Me!’, or its protagonist Ayesha

One of my favourite scenes in Saba Imtiaz’s novel Karachi, You’re Killing Me! is when 28-year-old journalist Ayesha is on a flight. She is heading back to Karachi from Dubai, and has just heard from an overjoyed UK-based editor who desperately wants to publish her interview with a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner.

It’s the biggest interview Ayesha has ever done (potentially award-winning, she writes), and she refuses free alcohol on the flight and begins to write. She uses the empty seat next to her to spread her notebooks, props one against the window, and types away frantically on her laptop. She tries to recall exactly how she felt in the interview — the trick, Ayesha says, is to be able to write from memory.

I like this part in the book, because it reminds me that the story Imtiaz is telling us is about Ayesha, a journalist who works crazy hours, from covering a fashion show to interviewing a gangster. So it becomes incredibly frustrating that Sunhil Sippy’s Noor, which we were looking forward to eagerly because it’s meant to be based on Imtiaz’s novel, never has such moments.

Sonakshi Sinha in and as Noor

In the beginning, Noor remains firmly in the comfortable rom-com territory. During the first hour of the film, all you want to do is to block Noor (Sonakshi Sinha) out. Imtiaz’s Ayesha is bitter and drinks illegally procured alcohol, incessantly smokes cigarettes, and makes biting statements about Pakistan’s elite, but Sinha as Noor appears all over the place while trying to be endearing at the same time.

The story is essentially this: Noor is stuck in a job she hates, doing stories she doesn’t like until she uncovers a scam, and the journalist she’s dating steals her story, telling her, “it happens in journalism”. The story then has a terrible impact on the people involved, and a guilty Noor tries to fix everything that has gone wrong.

If you’ve read Karachi, You’re Killing Me! Noor will make you desperately wonder why she cannot be like Ayesha, who obviously loves writing and her work intensely. This never comes across with Noor, because apart from cribbing that her weight is more than her Twitter followers, she takes herself too seriously. By the time the interval arrives, Noor seems unable to decide what tone it wants to use, or the story it wants to tell. Karachi, You’re Killing Me! had a lightness to it that the movie loses out on, particularly in its second half, when it becomes a story with a moral.

In the book, Ayesha’s interview with the former Guantanamo prisoner — where she fills up notebook after notebook with his story as she takes down notes — is her big break as a journalist. Noor replaces this part with Sinha finding her story in her maid Malti’s (Smita Tambe) brother. It’s when the movie makes us feel most uncomfortable. Sinha as Noor is sitting in Malti’s house and Malti is crying because her brother has lost his kidney in an organ scam. Noor never stops capturing (through video) the conversation even when Malti tells her she doesn’t want to do this because she is scared that both she and her brother will be killed. For Noor, this is about her big break, and not the people who are living the horrifying story she wants to tell — a discomfort we never feel with Ayesha throughout Imtiaz’s book.

Noor tries hard to make broad statements about journalism and ethics but keeps falling short, because it doesn’t allow Noor to be a journalist in the way that Ayesha obviously is. There is too little about her reporting itself, and even in her biggest story, Noor only comes across as lacking any kind of journalistic skills because there is no research that goes into her piece except for a single interview.

And only after a war photographer Ayananka (Purab Kohli) steals her story does Noor even pay attention to her editor Shekhar (Manish Chaudhury), who yells at her about how publishing a story is not more important than the people involved — this is when she is upset that he hesitated to run it. This is also when Shekhar delivers the deadly punchline of, “We aren’t just journalists; we are human too.” The Ayesha we remember from Karachi, You’re Killing Me, would have never let anyone dismiss stories so easily.

From the beginning, Noor also sets up an annoying binary between ‘serious’ journalism — “serious journalism ko apni Barkha milne wali hai,” Noor says — and fluff, like entertainment pieces. There’s an unbelievable scene where Noor is sent to interview Sunny Leone, and keeps yawning throughout it. When Shekhar demands to know what all that was about, Noor simply makes snide references to Leone’s ‘past’, calls her a “bloody pornstar”, and says she knows why the country loves her. It’s Shekhar who then says that Leone is “self-made”.

In the end, Noor’s fame comes through a viral video, Mumbai, You’re Killing Me, which she makes after her organ scam story has terrible repercussions. It’s obviously a not-so-hidden reference to Imtiaz’s book, but it doesn’t work at all. Her monologue (in the video) about people staring at her on the road because she is a woman, that as tax payer she gets nothing, or that Mumbai’s air is polluted, only seems terribly forced. Karachi, the city that obviously influences Ayesha’s stories, is almost a character in Imtiaz’s book even without her having to mention it. In Noor, however, Mumbai needs to be forced into the narrative because until that moment, the city never comes across as a place that influences Noor’s journalism.

Perhaps Noor would have worked if it figured out for itself what story it wanted to tell, and let Noor actually be a journalist like Ayesha and her friends (there are so many women journalists in the book who’ve all disappeared in the movie). In the process of rushing towards establishing a moral, it doesn’t let Noor be even half the woman Ayesha is.

Raveena Tandon on Maatr row with CBFC: ‘An ‘A’ certificate should mean no cuts

Actress Raveena Tandon whose upcoming film Maatr has landed in trouble with the censor board says it is bound by ancient guidelines.

“CBFC is bound by certain laws that were made several years ago … Time has come for a change as we talk about progressive India. So there is a need for amendment in laws,” she told reporters.

Maatr Logo (4)

“If we get ‘A’ certificate for the film then why there are so many cuts? It’s like the audience would not understand what we are trying to show. It’s time that we change the laws as per today’s time,” she said.

“The plus-point is CBFC believes in (the film’s) message as statistically crime against women is on the rise. Maatr has a strong message and CBFC believes a film like this should be shown to people, but their hands are tied,” she said. At the same time the National Award-winning actress said she failed to understand why Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) raised objections.

“I can count films whose sense of humour was vulgar but there was no objection made. Now with Maatr, when we are showing the reality, objections are being raised and it is surprising,” she said.

The film, which deals with the issue of rape, is reportedly refused certification owing to some gruesome scenes. “As far as I know there was no objection for this
(the scenes), the objection was to the language. There is a strong language in the film. We have tried to show reality in this film as we feel till the time you don’t show the reality to people they will remain indifferent and the message will get lost,” Raveena said.

Maatr is directed by Ashtar Sayed and features Raveena as a single mother. It is due for April 21 release, but the actress said she wasn’t aware about the next move of its makers now.

“Amol Palekar sir has approached the Supreme Court (over censorship) and even Shyam Benegal has submitted his report so we are hoping change will come,” she said.

Meanwhile, an official from the CBFC told PTI, “They are yet to give certification to the film and they will come out with their decision soon.

Begum Jaan’s message about rape and its survivors is deeply troubling: Here’s why

Last week, the singer and actor Janelle Monáe said something that, coming from her fabulous self, was a bit of a stinker. “Until every man is fighting for our rights, we should consider stopping having sex.” Fans and critics jumped to point out the with her sex strike idea — a similar theme was the crux of a inspired 2015 film, Spike Lee’s almost unwatchable — the most glaring one being expecting women to be more than game to sacrifice their sexuality for a larger cause.

The convenience with which you can offer up women’s bodies as points of resistance, without thinking twice about how such a resistance may work, is exactly the kind of shortsightedness that is so off-putting about Srijit Mukherji’s new film Begum Jaan. A remake of his Partition period film Rajkahini (2015), it was highly anticipated for its portrayal of women sex workers at a brothel in Punjab which is owned by the eponymous Begum Jaan — a ruthless madam with a heart of gold played by Vidya Balan. Everything is running smoothly at the kotha in 1947 until representatives from the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League inform Begum that she and her girls have a month to hot-foot it out of her home, since Radcliffe’s Line of Control to divide India from Pakistan will pass through it. The women instead decide to fight to the death.

Poster of Begum Jaan

But before you even get to how Mukherji ruins the plot’s potential by trying to do too much and ending up only skimming the surface of Partition upheavals, you have to rewind to the beginning of the movie.

It begins in the present day, with an interpretation of the December 16 gang-rape incident. Two men on a bus attack a woman. She runs for it, shielding herself from her assaulters by hiding behind an old woman who then strips slowly, to the incredulity and revulsion of the assaulters. Horrified, they flee the scene. Even if you try to ignore the massive tri-colour blowing in the background (it looks triumphant, I’m really not sure why), the scene doesn’t make sense because it relies on the grossly flawed premise that an old woman’s nudity is a terrifying deterrent for anyone intent on assault or rape.

Towards the end of the film, there’s a repetition of this incident, set in the past. A child called Laadli (Gracy Goswami), who grows up into the old woman of the present day scene (she’s wearing the same ribbons in her hair in case you miss all the other symbolism), tries to protect her mother from rape by undressing stoically. The policeman who seemed so keen on rape is horrified, humiliated and feels so repentant that he becomes a farmer. (Don’t go looking for logic, there isn’t any.) When the film ends circling back to the old-woman-as-saviour scene, you have to pause and wonder what Mukherji was thinking.

Half Girlfriend: Arjun Kapoor may play ‘Bihari boy’ Madhav Jha, but doesn’t sound like one

Somewhere along the line, Bihar has become Bollywood’s shorthand for colorful thuggery or rustic idiocy. If Hindi films are anything to go by, the only stories about Bihar worth telling highlight its lawlessness and penury.

In Apaharan, director Prakash Jha attempted to expose the thriving kidnapping industry in Bihar while his Gangajaal was spun around the infamous Bhagalpur blinding case. The badlands of Bihar were the backdrop of the blood-soaked rivalry between generations of gangsters in Anurag Kashyap’s two-part Gangs of Wasseypur. And then there was the extremely cringe-inducing Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav that ends with the politician addressing the lead characters.

Biharis have been living with this stereotype, for better and for worse, for a few decades now. So, it’s a relief to see a basketball-playing Stephenian from Patna in Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend. In case you haven’t read the Chetan Bhagat novel the film is based on, Half Girlfriend is about Madhav Jha, a bumbling Bihari boy (Arjun Kapoor) who falls in love with a rich Delhi girl Riya Somani (Shraddha Kapoor).

half girlfriend 825

Thankfully, Madhav will not join the long list of gun toting, gaali giving Bihari characters the Bollywood audience has come to know. While there might not be a crime in the film, if the promos are anything to go by, the collective Bhojpuri accent in the film could qualify as an assault (Arjun’s “Ee haph girlphriend hota kya hai?” in the teaser was enough to make my ears bleed).

Peppering dialogues with chiradiya and kahe; replacing ‘z’ with ‘jh’ so ‘zindagi’ becomes ‘jindagi’; or, saying ‘hum’ instead of ‘main’ and kijiyega and lijiyega instead of karo/lo is not enough to sound Bihari. The ‘kaa’ in ‘kaa ho’ isn’t just a ‘ka’ or a ‘kaa’ but a sonorous ‘kaa’ with unique glottal articulation. Even after all these decades of Bihari characters, Bollywood mostly seems unable to decipher the nuances of intonation that go with getting the accent right. It’s not easy to put a finger on it but it’s probably the correct pitch levels while handling vowels that let most of our actors down.

A recent offender was Alia Bhatt in Udta Punjab. As the nameless Bihari hockey-player-turned-migrant-labourer, the actress was in top form. Subjected to rape and drugs, she brought out the vulnerability and resilience that had me rooting for her. But only after I made a conscious effort to not hear her accent. Though Alia had actor Pankaj Tripathi (Gangs of Wasseypur, Nil Bateye Sannata and more recently, Anarkali of Aarah) as a dialect coach for the film, her accent rang false. Aside from Alia, everyone else in the film sounded 100 percent real. “She sounds like a Juhu girl trying to talk like her Bihari maid. It’s all wrong,” scoffed a fellow Bihari who I watched the film with.

There’s a thin line between sounding like a caricature and realistic. On the other end of the spectrum is director Avinash Das’s debut film Anarkali of Aarah. Swara Bhaskar’s Anarkali sounds so authentic; I could close my eyes and be instantly transported to Gopali Chowk in the heart of Aarah. A half Bihari in real life, Swara might have never lived in the state, but she knows how to lean-in just so on the last word of a sentence.

What actors and directors don’t understand is that there isn’t one Bihari accent but hundreds of them, dialect-by-dialect, town-by-town. I am told the only time my Bhojpuri accent surfaces is when I speak with my parents. During those conversations, to some non-Bihari friends I sounded like Amitabh Bachchan (from Namak Halal and Don). He spoke Hindi with an Awadhi accent in those films and not Bhojpuri but I am nitpicking. After the release of Gangs of Wasseypur, I got a lot of “but you don’t sound like a Faisal, sorry Phaijhal”.

With accents that are as tuneful as Bihari, if you get the pitch wrong people really notice. Dialects and accents have very rarely been the focus of a performance in Bollywood. In the last few years, actors like Kangana Ranaut and Aamir Khan have successfully sounded like their Haryanvi characters in Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Dangal with the help of diction coaches. It’s not very tough to sound Bihari if you really want to.

Adil Hussain: Films like Force 2 and Commando 2 subsidise my involvement in indie cinema

Adil Hussain, a renowned face in the world of theatre, art house cinema and Bollywood, has created quite a niche fan base for himself with his content-driven films like English Vinglish, Life of Pi and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.  He is now gearing up for the release of Mukti Bhawan, which received a standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival and won him a special mention at the 64th National Film Awards 2017. It was also invited to reputed film festivals like the Busan International Film Festival, Dubai Film Festival, Swedish Film Festival, Berlinale Festival and Vesoul Film Festival.  Mukti Bhawan is the story of a reluctant son, played by Adil, who must take his father to Varanasi where the latter wants to die and attain salvation.  Firstpost met up for an exclusive interview with the acclaimed actor.

Adil Hussain. Image from News 18

Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us something more about your role. Initially, you were not recognised in the look you sport in the film.

(Laughs) That is the idea. Shubhi (director Shubhashish Bhutiani) wanted me to look absolutely different, so we added the stomach with an extra pad. We experimented with several moustaches and finally chose a thin one. Then, with the body posture, language and style of walking, slowly it happened. I am playing a small town guy who sits in an office the whole day. He is middle-aged, has a bit of paunch and doesn’t care a damn about how he looks. The film is about a father and son in a dreadful situation, where the father emotionally blackmails the son to go with him to Varanasi, where people go to die. Both have differences and grudges against each other, but as they spend time together in Varanasi, they introspect about their relationship and a bond grows. My character is full of conflicts. He doesn’t want to accompany his dad, but is dutiful towards him and also has a soft corner for him.

What was your reaction when you were offered the film? It must have sounded quite bizarre.

Absolutely. I didn’t know there was an institution like Mukti Bhavan; I thought people would individually go check in to some hotel by themselves. I have heard the phrase,”Kashi mein jaake marenge.” But I didn’t know about the existence of an established institution where one spends 15 days… A friend, who has also directed me, forwarded the text from the film’s producer telling me that this is the story, this is the director’s profile, that the director’s first film was in the Best Short Film category at Venice, that he is 24 and that he is making a film about death. I said, “Wow!” This was an amazing combination. Without reading the script, I said yes. And when I read the script, it was way more than I had expected. One doesn’t get to do such unusual stories. After stories written by great writers like Shakespeare, Kafka and Tolstoy, which I’m used to permorning in theatre, quite often the scripts I get are not what I’d like to be a part of.

When I met Shubhi, I asked him, “How old are you?” He said 24, and mentioned that he wrote the script when he was 23. “How old are you actually?” I asked him this several times even during the course of the shoot, because when I was 23-24, I was only thinking about girls, not about death (laughs). It is humbling to see someone talking about the philosophy of death at 24.  Shubhi has probably come to an understanding about relationships. Actually, his film is more about life than death. Death is there, it is inevitable, but the film tells us that we better get a grip on our lives.

The film is also quite light-hearted, despite dealing with a sombre issue.

I saw the fun, the wit, the humour and lightness of the film, which did not reduce the depth and gravity of the situation. All of us are senior actors, and the way Shubhi dealt with us was a lesson for me in humility. That quality is also reflected in the film. I consider myself very lucky to be cast in these kind of films, which I think are the future of Indian cinema in a sense. These films are away from the unnecessary gloss and glitter. I have nothing against that kind of cinema, just that there should be space for films that deal with in-depth issues which are sensitive, important and relevant. It need not give out a message; it can be pure entertainment as well.

But as an actor I would always want to act in films that challenge me, take me out of my comfort zone and take my sleep away. Otherwise, you don’t grow as an actor. If you always do what you know then you remain stagnant. These films challenge me to make something believable. I have never faced this kind of situation in my life, so to make it look convincing was challenging.  The film is also quite entertaining. I laughed the whole time when I watched it; I laugh loud. I have watched it eight to nine times across the globe.

What was your experience while shooting the film?

There is a scene where I walk through the pyres. It was the first time I went so close and saw several bodies being washed and stuff.  It sort of made me realise something that I knew intellectually but had not experienced yet, that I may have to be here tomorrow, so I should not take myself so seriously. I am a very insignificant entity in the face of universe, so I should behave accordingly. I had that feeling before, but now it was reaffirmed, reconfirmed and fortified that I will merged into the dirt of planet earth… so I should just relax and behave myself (Laughs).

Of late, you have been active in commercial cinema, and have been part of films like Force 2, Commando 2. Why don’t you take up more projects in Bollywood? Isn’t it tempting?

Commercial mainstream films are not tempting at all. What would be tempting for me is getting more money, doing less films and doing more theatre. So I act in two Bollywood films a year which will fund two years of theatre and family life. For that reason the box office matters, but otherwise, I am so happy where I am. Bollywood never inspired me before and it will not inspire me anymore. I did Robot 2, Force 2, Commando 2… these films subsidise my involvement in independent films and I am grateful to them. Otherwise, I keep refusing many films. They keep casting me in a cop’s role, but now I don’t want to play a cop for the next five years.

You are extremely choosy, so how do you decide to take up a Bollywood project?

My role should be inevitable to the script; it should make sense.  If the director is good enough and the script is convincing enough and the money is good, I pick the film. If I don’t get the creative satisfaction and money, then why should I do films in Bollywood? I would rather cook for my family, for my son and wife, or I could teach at the National School of Drama (NSD). I also have teaching offers from various universities. I am hoping that my market price goes up so that I don’t have to do many films (laughs). Otherwise I am very happy with small things in life.

Are you wary of getting typecast in the Hindi film industry?

Yes, that’s the whole issue. After graduating from NSD, I didn’t feel like coming to Mumbai because I knew the industry here will slot me into a set image on the basis of my skin colour and things like that. That typecasting in Bollywood, it kills the actor. Actors here play a certain image that has been created. It sells, you are successful and then you don’t want to change it because you are scared. Fame, money and box office figures are tempting. So if an actor is happy doing it, it is fine, but I am not. I realised this is not the place I want to go to. But I started getting offers even as I didn’t come looking for them. I did Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya, I did few more and luckily there are independent films happening. I satisfy my thirst for acting in different roles by doing independent cinema.

Which are your upcoming projects?

A paranormal thriller film called Dobara which will be releasing soon. Lisa Ray and I play husband and wife in the film. It’s a remake of a Hollywood paranormal thriller called Oculus. I play an important role in Love Sonia, which is a very intense movie. There is also Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha and Freida Pinto in it. Danny Denzongpa is making Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala in Hindi, where I play Mini’s father. I recently finished shooting for a Bengali movie Maati in Kolkata. I am also doing a Norwegian film called What Will People Say for director Iram Haq whose first feature film was an official entry in the Academy Awards from Norway. I play an Iranian intelligence officer in a Malayalam film which has been made with young international actors from the US. It is set in Iran and shot in Oman and Kerala. Not to forget, Robot 2 is coming this Diwali!

What about your first love – theatre?

I have many releases coming up, but I have taken a break from films till the end of this year to concentrate on theatre. Since 2010, I have worked non-stop. I have done 50 films including short ones, and I am a bit tired in spite of acting in good films because the demand of film acting is almost 10 per cent of what is demanded on stage. So I am going back to stage till about the end of this year. I want to revitalise myself, because I am getting tired and bored, to some extent. Even for a film like Mukti Bhawan, the demand from an actor is very little in comparison to theatre. I have done very serious and rigorous avant-garde and experimental theatre for which I travelled across the globe. I am preparing a piece for a solo performance which is a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, called Karam Nishtha. I have dreamed of doing this since 1994.  It is my dream to play Krishna and to start with that, I will slide into the theatre world. I will start training with Kutiyattam guru Venugopalan Nair from 14 May on the connection between breath and emotion. That is a very ancient technique. But before that, I will represent Mukti Bhawan in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

IPL 2017: Delhi Daredevils must shed underachievers tag to deliver on their pending promise

Every summer, when Premier League football gets underway, there is one certainty. Arsenal FC begin every season with renewed vigour, which dissipates by the end of the year, and at the turn of February-March, they are struggling to stay afloat, hoping to finish fourth again. Arsenal fans, the world over may not agree with this, but regardless of whatever their argument, this yearly routine is a fact.

Now, starting from its very genesis, the Indian Premier League has forever been drawing parallels with the Premier League. Never mind the fixing saga and ensuing ban, Chennai Super Kings were seen as Manchester United, as they won everything they came across – multiple IPL trophies and the now-defunct Champions League T20. ‘Perennial winners’ is the phrase that comes to mind.

File picture of the Delhi Daredevils team . AFP

Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore are the rich clubs, like Manchester City and Chelsea, throwing out large cheques at player auctions. Kolkata Knight Riders have the most passionate supporters, like Liverpool. Obviously, when it comes to ‘perennial underachievement’ then, Delhi Daredevils find themselves in the same classification as Arsenal.

2012 was the last time this franchise had anything to cheer about. They finished top of the league table, but failed to get going in the play-offs, finishing third. They qualified for the Champions League too, and finished top of their group therein, but failed in the semis again. With the likes of Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene, Aaron Finch, David Warner, Ross Taylor, Glenn Maxwell, Andre Russell, Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav, this season didn’t seem like a total loss though.

Instead, it seemed the dawn of a new hurrah, with these names laying the foundation of a new era of success. It didn’t happen, thanks partly to downturn in the form of some of the oldies, and the rest down to poor decision making on part of the team management as they sold off (or failed to retain the other players) who could have made an impact in the years to come.

Again, it is similar to the Arsenal story. They won the 2003-04 Premier League title, and every time they win a side-trophy like the FA or League Cup, it seems there is dawn of a false new era. It has been eons since Arsenal provided a firm challenge, and no, finishing second to Leicester City doesn’t count (Arsene Wenger should have been fired for losing out last year when City, Chelsea and United were all in doldrums, but that is a different debate).

In that sense, 2012 is Delhi Daredevils’ 2004. Five years is a long, long time in T20 cricket and their current squad isn’t a patch on the one they had all those years ago. Finishing eighth (2013), seventh (2014) and eighth (2015) subsequently, they have become more than under-achievers now. It is a pity there is no relegation system herein, for the Daredevils needed to be put out of their misery. Perhaps, it was the rude jolt their team management needed in order to buck up and make intelligent decisions.

2016 had seemed a little different then. Their squad was heavily inspired by the banned Rajasthan Royals’ outfit, bringing in the Rahul Dravid and Paddy Upton combination to manage, and the much-celebrated Gary Kirsten was let go. The message was clear – the Daredevils had bought into the youth-first policy and heavy invested by putting their eggs in one basket. The result was okay – finishing sixth – but stayed in the hunt for a play-off spot for long, only running out of steam at the very end. Almost like Wenger had been fired from Arsenal, and the new manager had hit the reset button, overseeing a period of transition at the club.

This is where the analogy ends, for Wenger is still there and on the verge of signing a new contract. More pertinently, in the context of this upcoming 2017 IPL season, the Daredevils are in a familiar territory. It is a make or break season for them, for next year all players go back in the auction pool, and the teams will be reshuffled. Maybe there will be an option to retain or buyback by matching the highest bid, it is undecided. Even so, it puts firm onus on this season’s performance, to gauge if this ‘youth’ blueprint even works.

So how are the Daredevils shaping up this season? Two of their important imports are out of this season – Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy. Both players are mercurial in their own definitive way; de Kock can blow hot and cold, it is all a bit moody time for him. If he gets going, like in 2016 (445 runs in 13 matches), he can be a firecracker both in front and behind the stumps.

Duminy is a bigger miss. Zaheer Khan, now 38, will never play every single match of the IPL season. The South African was the obvious choice to step in as skipper in his stead, and his experience in the lower-middle order will be sorely missed.

All is not lost though. For once, the Daredevils’ management spent good money (read judiciously) in the player auctions and their purchase list this year is pretty impressive. Take a look – pacers Pat Cummins and Kagiso Rabada, all-rounders Angelo Mathews and Corey Anderson, plus keeper-batsman Aditya Tare and spinner Murugan Ashwin. They released Nathan Coulter-Nile, Imran Tahir and Pawan Negi, freeing up important spots in their first-choice line-up.

Mathews, who has played for Daredevils before, can step up as captain when Zaheer needs a rest. Additionally, the injuries could be a stroke of inadvertent luck. Players like Carlos Brathwaite, Sam Billings and Anderson can get a long run of games, and these are impact players, in the Chris Morris-mould. Cummins is coming off the back of a fantastic two Tests in Ranchi and Dharamsala, while Rabada is already a rising star in every format of the game.

They can be used alternatively with Zaheer, in bolstering the pace attack, whilst the return of Mohammed Shami is always a good thing. Tare covers up for de Kock adequately, while the evergreen Amit Mishra, Jayant Yadav and Shahbaz Nadeem have the spin department covered between them.

And so, the focus once again will squarely be on the young guns. Shreyas Iyer and Karun Nair have a lot to prove given the lofty standards they have set themselves. Sanju Samson is in search of a fresh start to his promising-but-faltering career graph.

There is Rishabh Pant who has a hard-hitting reputation to live up to. This batting foursome will sew up the top order, along with Tare, and together they boast of enough firepower with the T20 experience of Brathwaite, Anderson and Morris/Billings to boost up the run-rate as needed later.

On paper, much like Arsenal every season, this squad promises a lot once again. Delivering on the field of play, however, is a different prospect altogether.

DD squad: Zaheer Khan (c), Shashank Singh, Mohammed Shami, Shahbaz Nadeem, Jayant Yadav, Amit Mishra, Sreyas Iyer, Sam Billings, Sanju Samson, Chris Morris, Carlos Brathwaite, Angelo Mathews, Corey Anderson, Kagiso Rabada, Pat Cummins, Ankit Bawne, Aditya Tare, Murugan Ashwin, Navdeep Saini, Karun Nair, Rishabh Pant, CV Milind, Syed Ahmed, Pratyush Singh.

Sachin Tendulkar releases song ‘Cricket Wali Beat’ on Indian Idol 9, makes singing debut with Sonu Nigam

Mumbai: Sachin Tendulkar has made many records on the cricket field in his 24-year international career, which ended in November 2013. But on Sunday night, the Master Blaster made another debut — this time with the mic.

Tendulkar collaborated with singer Sonu Nigam for the iconic cricketer’s debut track ‘Cricket Wali Beat‘. Sonu said that Tendulkar is a very good singer.

Sachin Tendulkar and Sonu Nigam. Image courtesy: YouTube

The song had its world TV premiere on the grand finale of singing TV reality show “Indian Idol 9″ on Sunday night on Sony Entertainment Television.

The lyrics of the ‘Nacho Nacho Nacho Sare Cricket Waali Beat Pe‘ are quirky and they go something like this: “Gend aayi, bala ghuma, mara chaka, Sachin, Sachin… nacho nacho sab cricket wali beat pe.”

Talking about the song, Sonu said here: “I am glad to be part of Sachin’s new innings. The song that he has sung with me is called ‘Cricket Wali Beat‘. I was very surprised to see the way he was pitching right. That’s why I believe that when God blesses someone with genius, it spills in other faculties too.”

Sonu can now vouch for Tendulkar’s singing skill.

“He is a very good singer. We did not use pitch corrector on his voice as he was singing in the right sur (tone) and (despite being) the shy person that he is, he got extremely comfortable the moment I kind of increased the masti (fun) quotient while we were shooting the video. It was wonderful and I am very happy that people are loving the song,” the singer said.

Sonu judges “Indian Idol 9″ with composer Annu Malik and choreographer-director Farah Khan. The finale saw three contestants — LV Revanth, Khuda Baksh and PVNS Rohit — competing with one another on stage.

About having Sachin on the show’s stage, Sonu said: “‘Indian Idol’ is my family, my house, my domain and Sachin coming in and releasing the song for its world TV premiere, is a matter of pride for all of us.”

“Sachin Tendulkar is a phenomenon not just for India, but for the world, especially for the world of cricket. When he is given the title of god, it’s not just by chance. His whole demeanour, whole career, entire reputation and the spotless career that he has had, is the reason why he is called the God of cricket,” Sonu added.

The Arjuna Award winner had earlier released his autobiography named “Playing It My Way”, and recently he launched his digital app 100MB.

Anarkali of Aarah movie review: Swara Bhaskar champions this fiesty film with a message

Writer-director Avinash Das’s film Anarkali of Aarah is not a comfortable watch. It starts with the bawdy song and dance numbers associated with the fame, (or infamy) and adoring fan following, for Anaarkali Aarahwali, and expands to the themes explored in this drama.

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Das takes us deep into small town Bihar and works hard to deliver a kind of authenticity that makes you almost feel the dust under your feet. Sure you are often distracted by the over-dependence on songs, which do not move the narrative along, but you make concessions there since this is a film about a live singer.

Swara Bhaskar breathes life and soul and defines chutzpah as the feisty singer who remains scarred by memories of her childhood but wears her trade proudly on her blingy blouse sleeves.

Her over-made up Anaarkali walks the streets of Aarah with a swagger that comes from knowing you are queen bee. This is a town of double standards where the men revel in Anaarkali’s songs replete with double innuendos. But for all Anaarkali’s strength and determination, the men around her let her down, showing neither spine nor any real purpose.

An enamoured young man Anwar, for example, follows her around like a lost puppy but shows no bite, while the head of the music troupe Rangeela (Pankaj Tripathi), pathetically flip-flops. Indeed most of the men who encounter Anaarkali become enamoured by her but Das gives none of them a complete graph.

The privilege is reserved for Anaarkali only, and fortunately Bhaskar’s energetic and whole-hearted performance fills in several of those blanks space with equally commendable support from Tripathi, Mishra and Vijay Kumar, who plays the local head cop.

Anaarkali’s peaceful existence is shaken when the powerful university Vice Chancellor (VC), played by Sanjay Mishra, outrages her modesty publicly. Her equally public reaction is humiliating for the VC and as the local forces begin to close in around Anaarkali, she’s forced to run away from Aarah.

She doesn’t go far and she doesn’t hide much. The climax ties everything up too tidily including delivering a social message on women’s rights (there’s even a placard-waving NGO group protesting these troupes). But it’s not preachy in the least. To Das’s credit, he works in the right balance in Anaarkali’s character of someone who exactly knows her position in society, is not ashamed of her profession but is confident and strong enough to know that there are boundaries and it’s as much her right to draw those, even if it is in the dusty streets of the chauvinistic hinterland.

Swara Bhaskar has you rooting for Anaarkali with all her strengths, weaknesses, loneliness, talent and flaws.

Lipstick Under My Burkha: No one can stop this film from reaching people, says Prakash Jha

Even as Lipstick Under My Burkha has been critically acclaimed in several international festivals, it is not getting a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), in India. ‘

The film has been deemed too ‘ and according to CBFC, it is laced with sexual scenes and abusive words. Revolving around four women — a burkha-clad college girl, a young beautician, a mother of three and a 55-year-old widow who rediscovers her sexuality, the film features actors like Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkana Sen Sharma.

As the team awaits the decision of Film Appellate Tribunal (which is due today, on 27 March), producer Prakash Jha and director Alankrita Shrivastava put across their point of view in a chat with Firstpost. Excerpts:

Poster of Lipstick Under My Burkha

Isn’t it ironical that despite hitting roadblock ahead of its release in India, the film has earned accolades in the International film festival circuit?

Alankrita Shrivastava: It is very ironic. It’s huge disrespect to the Indian audience by not certifying the film because then you are saying that world over somehow people are more educated and are more evolved except in India. It is a very colonial mindset to say that there is something wrong with the Indian audience. Why should we deny the rights of Indians to watch a film that has been made in their own country?

The kind of response we have been getting at festivals across the world is really phenomenal. I wasn’t expecting that. It is getting lot of applause and standing ovation in every country we have shown. We have got several jury and audience awards. The question and answer session post screening has been long and non-stop because people want to talk and discuss. There is lot of emotional connect which people are feeling across the world among different audiences.

It is unfair that our own audience is not getting to watch it. Hope the decision is reversed and people finally get to watch the film.

The film talks about women’s sexuality and their desires.  From what we have seen recently, the industry is not ready to accept women who speak up their mind? Why do you think it is happening? How do you react?

Alankrita: The CBFC is clearly functioning from a very patriarchal mindset, they have no idea about the context of how they should watch a film. They have no idea about the gender dynamics, the politics of representation, the politics of female gaze versus male gaze. I feel they are just functioning from a space where the only kind of cinema they seem to be propagating is a very male gaze controlled popular mainstream cinema. There is no level playing field for alternative voices.

CBFC is not uncomfortable with sex per se but they are uncomfortable with the fact that a woman is striving for agency over her own body and she is trying to claim her own desires. There is no nudity, there is not even a cleavage shot in the film. The film talks about the lives of women from their own point of view but we are so used to watching item songs where the camera mindlessly travels up and down a woman’s body with zero connection with the narrative, or where women are portrayed as sati savitri, virtuous women, or vamps.

There is very little space for ordinary women who have had their ups and downs. They want to keep us engaged only with popular representation of women and nothing more. No one has the right to shut down 50 per cent of the population voice. The decision of CBFC is absolutely not in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution of India which promises freedom of expression and gender equality.

Prakash Jha: CBFC clearly has no sense of the audience, they are completely blank. They seem to be telling women: ‘How dare you change the balance of the society? You have been raised, indoctrinated, we have told you how to speak, how to stand, how to behave, how to express, how to serve men all your life.’  The audience all over the world is extremely intelligent, they are expressive because they are what they are.

Can anyone stop me from exercising my rights? No one can stop this film eventually from coming to people. I am not afraid. I don’t get discouraged by such things.

Why didn’t you move the High Court like the Udta Punjab producers?

Jha: They probably didn’t have much time on their hand as the release date was very close and court saw the logic in Udta Punjab team approaching them. In our case we didn’t have the release date announced, so the court would have asked us whether we have exhausted all our options. We are going to the Tribunal and waiting for the verdict which takes time.

Recently the Padmavati set was vandalised and the film’s director was assaulted, you think intolerance on freedom of speech is on a rise?

Jha: It has always been like that. Indian society, mythologically, historically, socially has always been very strong. They have never tolerated, never accepted and allowed anything which doesn’t fit into their mind-frame. Lot of objections have been raised on my films and I have ended up going to the tribunal, court; this is not new for me. I always tell filmmakers that film-making is not just a creative process, it is an art of putting your view to the society in the forefront.

Perhaps, I have given the same mantra to my assistant Alankrita, too, and she is going to face controversies. But we don’t want controversies. We have shown the film in several festivals, it has reached different kinds of audience. Alankrita is just back with seven global awards. Audience from Cairo, Sweden, England, Miami, France, Tokyo and even our own, MAMI, have applauded and appreciated the film.

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When people have the freedom to select their government and their own future, then don’t they have the freedom to watch a film?

While slamming the supporters of Lipstick Under My Burkha,  CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani defended himself by saying that they have been liberal in the censor certification of films like Befikre, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Rangoon and yet the industry folks were complaining. Comment.

Prakash JhaLipstick Under My Burkha questions the very soul of the society which perhaps is not understood by CBFC.

Alankrita: Women in our popular, mainstream cinema are always acted upon. Stalking is portrayed as love. But a situation where a woman is striving for agency over her own life, her own body, her own desires and dreams, that is something making them uncomfortable.

For a very long time now, we have been striving to move to a place where films are certified and not censored, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

Prakash Jha: I appreciate that the government had appointed a body under Shyam Benegal and they have submitted the report. I encourage the government to adopt that report and make it into a law and thus remove the process of censoring. A film like Lipstick Under My Burkha will only enhance the thinking of the society, the richness of the society. It is not going to damage the society.

Alankrita: I am not discouraged, I have faith in the Tribunal. I hope they are able to see the film in the context it has to be seen. I am sure that they will be able to reverse the CBFC decision. It is important to continue my journey, I will continue to make such films. One has to be prepared to fight it out.