It was a nippy cold morning in Gurugram, near to the IFFCO Chowk Metro Station is an artificial and odd structure modelled after a grand Indian Palace functional as an Amusement Park. It is Traditional Indian Culture (a broad category) meets Disneyland or Universal Studios on a far more moderate scale called as Kingdom of Dreams. The Shah Rukh Khan promoted venture, is better known for its as unreal it can get ‘Culture Gully’ or Culture Lane which is a mega food court with counters of traditional food from all corners of the country, pretty much like a Singaporean Hawker Center, only far more fancier (reminded me of the Chinatown food street after it was sanitised for the tourist crowd).
This commoditization of culture, packaged for the MNC working Global Indian, short of time to connect with one’s traditions, in a systematic manner with fresh natural jaggery infused tea (Gur wali chai) and piping hot Jalebis available at astronomical prices as the musical ticket prices. Blingy over the top, very Bollywoodish take on Indian traditions.
In this context, the musical ‘Beyond Bollywood’ is set; a very over the top performance. Excellent dance sequences especially the Kathak by Aditi Mukherjee (Jasvir Shergill), is a stand out. The engagement with the audience, is rather refreshing with performances from the trampoline and the dholak from the middle of the auditorium.
The storyline is quite scripted and squared; the tension between a NRI Dance artiste (Shergill Junior) looking to rediscover the traditional in India, and a folk dancer turned urdu spewing choreographer (Raghu) who takes the NRI Dancer on a cultural tour of India. She wants to learn the traditional to restore and pay homage to her mother’s legacy at the Indian Dance Theatre of Munich (an obvious lift from the Great Indian Circus of Chicago from Dhoom3).
Demonetisation jibes at a musical: Beyond Bollywood at the Kingdom of Dreams, Gurugram. Politics is culture and culture is politics. Modi ji has captured the cultural imagination.
There is the not so funny gay joke angle of the theatre owner and the the titillating dance sequences from ‘Baby Doll’ and ‘Tip Tip Barsa Paani’. But the stand out is the exposure to the Chaw Santal Dance of Bengal and Lavni of Maharashtra. An entertaining two hours of non stop energy and amazing dance talent. It is reducing these dance forms to an accessible manner for the mainstreet audience. The mode of cultural production is commercial but it is indeed encouraging to find dance artistes finding the correct platforms. Now, have to attend a Navdhara Dance Theater performance soon.
Dibakar Banerjee with Byomkesh Bakshy has extracted the gold which lies hidden in our vernacular regional literature, and painting that specific narrative on celluloid for a South Asian and International audience will certainly make it the best phillum of 2015. My father read Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshy’s detective stories as a child in Bolpur-Shantiniketan while growing up, and these were writings which had captured the popular imagination of reading masses of Bengal. Bengali popular literature has detective stories as a legit genre, may be cultural loan from its British Colonial Masters. A rich legacy, which the Calcutta film industry has tapped at least for Feluda by Satyajit Ray and his son and now Bakshy by Delhi bread Dibakar who recognises himself more with West Delhi’s Rajender Nagar than Uttarpara in Kolkata as is evident from ‘Oye Lucky’ , a previous production of his. I was greatly moved by his film Shanghai, the first movie i watched in Mumbai after I left Singapore to move back to Mumbai in 2012, where I wrote in a changethinker.com blog post titled ” Is a DTH Box, Development” :
“The cinematic narrative of the Dibakar Banerjee film ‘Shanghai’ played out in real life. Pragati or Development seems to have been relegated to the real estate hardware component rather than human development indicators such as education, healthcare access or employment generation. Special Economic Zones are fantastic instruments to jump start economic activity in an area because of the Tax Holidays, but what about the farmers who sells out his land, has a lot of cash to deploy but does not have the knowledge to invest to properly to diversify his livelihood since he knows nothing else apart from the generational vocation of farming.”
1943 Calcutta’s Wartime Chinatown with the Narcotics Trade and the World War 2 Japanese Campaign in SE Asia connects the local to global beautifully. There is a subplot in the film that captures the naivety of the young in the years leading up to Independence by the capitalist class who were hand in glove with the imperialists, whether the British or the Japanese or even the ruling elite. Dibakar Banerjee’s film making has a socio-political angle, relevant to the times, which makes his films a joy to watch with the thinking cap on. Shanghai, realised in April 2012 had the SEZ Land Acquisition context with the Activist Bengali Liberal Arts Academic played by Prasenjit, the popular Bengali Movie Actor bumped off by the political elite for economic profits while wrapping it in a rhetoric of growth and the entire cover-up of the affair. Excellent film, not so popular as a Salman Khan film, but throughly engaging. Do get the DVD if you liked Byomkesh.
Sushant Singh Rajput as Byomkesh shines without the over acting and Swastika as the actor femme fatale Anguri Devi and Indian Idol Contestant & Dentist turned Singer-Actor Meiyang Chang as Kanai/Ching Ling have meaty performances. The ensemble cast of popular bengali actors defying the stereotype yet authentic, Chinese and Japanese Actors wielding the sword and knifes add to the artwork. The cinematography deducting the crime scene chronology is inspired by Sherlock Homes movie part one, where the deconstruction visually is borrowed from in the technical perspective. There is a scene in the film where Patna lad Sushant uses his Bihari Hindi aka Bhojpuri well, which is very genuine. The takeaway dialogue from the movie is : “The lie closest to the truth is very hard to distinguish”. A punchline indeed. Dibakar certainly knows his actors strengths well.
The stage design and the background score is its true hero capturing the nuance of the times and the energy of the film. Detective Bakshy’s Bête Noire Dr Guha is the powerful anti hero in true terms. LSD and Shanghai was just the trailer for Dibakar, with Bakshy he has an Asian Sherlock franchise on its hands. Outstanding film making, at its sincere best.
Bang Bang has a certain thud to it, if not the proverbial explosive boom as anticipated. Hrithik and Kat have awesome chemistry and, are the soul of the rather thin story driven venture. Stylized to the T, should have had more substantial character actors weaving the narrative of an espionage drama. Inspired from a Hollywood Thriller (How inspiring is that Mr. Anand); Bang Bang’s strength is the exotic locales of Prague, Abu Dhabi Yas Marina F1 Track and South East Asia in which the incessant action scenes are shot. Hrithik’s dancing and six pack abs plus the oozing oomph of Katrina sizzles up the screen amongst rather mediocre performances of the supporting artistes. Enough eye candy for the raging hormones. Danny as the principal negative character with Javed Jaffery as his sidekick was an interesting villain choice. Danny has a presence on screen to face-off with Hrithik.
More importantly, it was my first movie watching experience in Muscat with my Dad in a Decade. Priceless.