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Losing it at the movies – Exclusive column by filmmaker Sriram Raghavan

Sriram Raghavan – The director of films like Badlapur and Andhadhun, writes a piece on movies straight from his heart

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I got a kick when Ramesh Sippy called me saying he couldn’t get tickets for my movie. Others would text me saying that ‘xyz’ hall is full in spite of it being a Tuesday afternoon. When Andhadhun completed 50 days at the cinemas, we were super happy. The movie got overwhelming love from audiences and critics, and is clear proof that word-of-mouth beats all marketing. What was most assuring is that people encouraged their friends to watch it in the cinema. Over the last couple of years, we have multiple releases every week, but footfalls are decreasing. Are people going lesser and lesser to the movies?

The reasons are many. The price of the ticket, the traffic en route to the theatre, and the assurance that the film will be available on the digital media very soon. But once we brave all that and are inside the hall, are we in for a great cinema experience? Of course, it depends on the movie… but I have a few cribs about the movie-viewing experience.

The interval is an integral part of Indian movies. It’s a forced break in the middle of Act Two. Film writers take special care to interrupt the narrative at a crucial, interesting point. OMG, what’s going to happen now? And INTERVAL flashes on the screen. Leaving me, the viewer, in delicious anticipation. ‘The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder’, said Alfred Hitchcock. Ok, I’ve used the loo, got my eatables, checked my phone and settled down in the seat. The lights dim and I am getting back into the movie’s universe, wondering what happens next.

Critics often talk about the second-half curse. Many films according to them, collapse post interval. But a movie is one entity, the interval an artificial break. I have an idea for a feature film that would work best without an interval. My producer tells me that exhibitors will force an interval anyway, like they do with Hollywood films shown here. And don’t we all hate that! They do it to sell their snacks, but I’m sure viewers will happily stock up before the movie begins. Much before Aamir Khan did it with Delhi Belly, Gulzar had done it with Achanak, starring an in-form Vinod Khanna. The film was less than 100 minutes and played without interval.

For audiences that came in early, they had ads, trailers, a happy documentary on penguins, followed by INTERVAL. And 10 minutes later, the film begins. Uninterrupted. Achanak is a riveting slow-burn thriller that’s best experienced at a go.

The last shot of a film is often of vital importance in a thriller. It was especially so, for Andhadhun. The design was like this: the last shot (no spoilers) of Andhadhun will fade to black after which the main credits will play on a specially composed piece of music. I want the viewer to sit in the dark, reflect for a moment on what he or she just saw, as the thumping music adds to your thrill and confusion. It’s for moments like this that we make movies. BUT in three of the four theatres I saw the film in with a packed audience, the moment the last shot happens… THEY TURN ON THE LIGHTS…..it’s a cue for viewers to get up. I wanted to scream in agony, all the more because we had a lovely montage of piano songs during the end titles. And 99 percent of the audience missed it.

At the FTII, we have a tradition of being seated till the last title and logos flash on screen. Only then do we get up. That may be too much to expect, but at least, the lights can come on a bit later. Of course, I hate loud conversations, flashing cellphones, and elaborate food items being served whilst the movie is on. These matters of etiquette are beyond control. We can only hope our film is gripping enough to grab the viewer by the throat. And not let go.

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Director Sriram Raghavan on the sets of Andhadhun with producer Sanjay Routray

Pauline Kael collected her writings on cinema in a book I Lost It At The Movies. When asked what she ‘lost’ at the movies, she said there are many kinds of innocence that we can lose at the movies. Here’s a story that actually happened when I was in college.

SOLVA SAAL AT AN OLD THEATRE IN POONA

Poona. 1979. No satellite TV or even VHS. But there were the matinee shows at reduced rates. Often, an obscure classic would turn up in an equally obscure hall. This happened to a friend of mine though some- times, I wish it had happened to me.

He was a student from Mauritius and a huge fan of Dev Anand, which is why I guess we became friends. One Friday morning, he excitedly told me that Solva Saal was playing at an old cinema hall in Poona in the noon show.

I’d already seen the 1958 Raj Khosla directed romantic thriller, set in one night. I gave him directions to the theatre and warned him that it’s a run-down hall in the red light district of the city. Mostly frequented by the working girls from the area.

Distance or a decrepit hall won’t stop a Dev Anand fan. He got a balcony seat and looked around. Yes, there were many garishly dressed ladies all around. Just as the newsreel got over and the theatre went dark, he saw a pretty woman enter the hall. She entered his row… and sat down right next to him. He got a whiff of her perfume. The movie began….

Hai apna dil to awara... Dev Anand singing in a local train (RD Burman played the mouth organ for the Hemant Kumar number). My friend was hooked on the film, but equally distracted by the girl sitting next to him. Their elbows touched on the arm rest. He politely removed his hand.

A dramatic scene… b/w Waheeda Rehman is attempting suicide…. And then he felt her hand on his thigh. He dared not look down. He very casually glanced at her, but her eyes were focused on the screen. And then she started moving her hand up his thigh. She was feeling him up. Hell, or was it heaven? He sat frozen. Should he reciprocate? Would she demand money later? His mind was a whirl and the movie a blur as she slowly settled her hand on his crotch.

Interval. The lights came on. He looks at her. She was beautiful. And then without even a glance at him, she got up and out. But her hand was still on his crotch. And then he looked down. There was a large rat sleeping on his maroon corduroy trousers.

– Sriram Raghavan

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Mahesh Bhatt: Blind obedience to authority has become the norm; we have become a population of sheep!

In an exclusive column for CineBlitz, veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt writes, “It’s only when you question authority, and refuse to blindly follow those in the seat of power, that you create enduring works of art which resonate in the hearts of people years after they have been created.”

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“Do you know more than the sages and the seers of this great country? Who are you to debunk the centuries old belief in Punar Janam (reincarnation)? Not only does it run counter to the beliefs of the millions of people of all faiths across the world, but it is also a guaranteed recipe for a Box-Office disaster,” said the patriarch of Rajshri Productions, Seth Tarachand Barjatya, waving his finger angrily at me. I had been summoned to the home of the Barjatyas on a Sunday morning by the late Raj Kumar Barjatya, to have a heart-to-heart conversation with his father, who was undoubtedly one of the tallest icons of the entertainment industry, and on whose shoulders Rajshri Productions had touched dizzying heights.

“Sethji is unhappy with the climax of Saaransh. He feels that he must meet you and prevail upon you to relent and change the climax of the film. I singularly lack the conviction to neutralise his demands. Moreover, please understand that each one of us is a prisoner of his or her own beliefs,” he had said to me meekly, moments before my conversation with the patriarch of the Rajshri empire began.

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Movie posters of Arth (1982) and Saaransh (1984)

Maybe the late Raj Babu had put these thoughts in my mind because of my reputation which preceded me. The stories of me not yielding to the pressures of the film industry and changing the climax of Arth had become a part of Bollywood folklore. Raj Babu did not want us (Sethji and me), two fiercely opinionated individuals, to cross swords and disrupt the filming of Saaransh, which was racing towards completion.

“Why can’t the child that is born to this paying-guest be the reincarnation of the old couple’s dead son?” he asked. “Are you a sadist?” His question came from concern because his knowledge about the INDIAN audience was indeed far, far more and deeper than a filmmaker like me who had just one hit so far.

“Because my character of B B Pradhan (played by Anupam Kher) is an agnostic. Sir, if you stop believing in the life hereafter and put everything into what you possess into this living moment, you will truly awaken to the grandeur of life. This is the Saaransh of my film, Sir.” I remember, calmly, but firmly replying to him.

It was this unshakable conviction of mine which had infuriated the patriarch. Sensing the emotional temperature plummeting Raj Babu stepped in and acted with a sagacity which was indeed rare to find. I still remember his words, “Sethji, we have always believed in backing the director’s vision.

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Tarachand Barjatya (L) and Rajkumar Barjatya (R)

Look at the conviction of this young man, let us be bold enough to go ahead with his conviction, or else we will land up with a film which is neither here nor there.” Had it not been for Raj Babu, Saaransh wouldn’t have seen the light of day and become what it went out to become.

It was his faith in me that created this enduring classic. It was because of this unorthodox end which I had insisted upon, that Saaransh won the special Jury Award in 1984 at the Moscow Film Festival. My movies like Arth, Saaransh, Janam, Zakhm were born because of my fierce belief in the truth which was embedded in their DNA.

I often tell this to my junior writers and film directors to resist much and obey little. It’s only when you question authority, and refuse to blindly follow those in the seat of power, that you create enduring works of art which resonate in the hearts of people years after they have been created.

But sadly today, blind obedience to authority has become the norm. We have become a population of sheep. It’s heartbreaking to see young people conform so easily. Irreverence is the lifeblood of a flourishing society. People who obey blindly push society into the graveyard. The film industry must welcome and embrace those who are anti-authority because it is on their shoulders that the multi-billion-dollar film industry stands where it is. Where would we be without the irreverent spirit of the film makers of the bygone days?

Recently, when I launched the trailer of Ashvin Kumar’s No Fathers in Kashmir in Sunny Sound Service, I realised as long as there are filmmakers who have the guts to choose truth over illusions, our industry is safe.

There are two kinds of filmmakers. Ones that comfort the jolted and ones that jolt the comforted. Alas, the wheels of the Box-Office are run by these who pander to maintain status quo, and do everything to keep the illusions and the old prejudices of our society going. And then there is this microscopic minority of the latter.

These are the filmmakers who choose to tell the truth and resist the demands of the marketplace to manufacture illusions and lull the people to sleep. In this post-truth age, the need of the hour is to create a space for this brave lot.

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Sheetal Mafatlal demystifies French Riviera chic

Luxury maven Sheetal Mafatlal demystifies French Riviera chic. She dissects beach chic, decodes evening glamour, season’s coveted swimsuits and art of accessorising in an exclusive column for CineBlitz

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Couture, caviar, and champagne — the three Cs have been synonymous with the South of France. The sunny SaintTropez and luxe-lit Monaco have been playgrounds for the  International jet-set monarchs, billionaires, aristocrats, Hollywood glamazons, couturiers and artists. In the swinging ’50s, the ultimate French femme fatale — Brigitte Bardot, put Saint-Tropez on the global firmament as she frolicked in the sunny fishing village in the celebrated film And God Created Woman (1956).

Whatever the decade, the French Riviera chic has continued to evolve since the 1950s. Think Breton stripes, cropped trousers, basket bags and straw boaters — the sartorial picks of the likes of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Jane Birkin. All they needed was a pair of high-waist shorts, slinky shift dresses worn nonchalantly with espadrilles, cat-eyed sunnies and a head scarf to create some magical moments in the silver screen history. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that these actresses really defined the Riviera style.

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Last year, the three luxury houses — Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Gucci, couldn’t resist the allure of the charming French Riviera, and showcased their 2019 Cruise lines here. Louis Vuitton’s Resort show, which was Nicolas Ghesquière’s fifth for the house, was held at the Fondation Maeght in St. Paul-de-Vence, and Gucci airlifted 400 guests to Arles at the Alyscamps burial ground.

Coming here every summer to soak in the balmy sun and the ever-inspiring street style is always the high-point of my travel calendar. I have always believed that anyone who enjoys glamour and harbours a curiosity about myriad art forms and sub cultures, should visit the South for a vacation.

Also, the fact that most French design houses have beautiful stores here, adds to its allure. From Dior’s country house to the Chanel cafe – the Riviera has some surreal spots to explore and expound on.

And if you enjoy sailing and magnificent super-yachts are your passion, then Monaco is your Mecca — the beacon of luxury known for one-of-a-kind sports cars, glittering galas, and an eclectic mix of celebrities. Fancy buying a 300-foot-long private yacht? There is no better place to be in than the Monaco Yacht Show.

DISSECTING BEACH CHIC

It’s interesting how the Riviera chic is a drastic and off-kilter departure from the Parisian chic. While the French capital glamour is usually high on the moody hues of noir and navy, as one moves South, one begins to see a wide array of soul-searing hues.

While the summer whites stunningly offset the tan, Gothic beach dresses aren’t an uncommon sight. Prints like florals, stripes and gingham stand out against the blue of the sky and the ocean.

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You cannot dress for the Riviera without something from Pucci — a label though Italian, has been synonymous with Riviera chic since the 50’s. Pucci, known for its geometric prints in a kaleidoscope of colours is the ultimate label for Cote d’azure glamour. Also worth mentioning are Roberto Cavalli’s printed tunics, Etro’s printed come-hither playsuits, and Dolce Gabbana’s printed beach dresses.

Jacquemus’ gigantic beach hats eclipsed the style landscape last season, and the label’s fun interpretation of beach chic is vibrant this season too. We all know that stripes are a Riviera signature, but it isn’t just about Breton tees. Striped, long sundresses are also a key component of any French girl’s vacay closet.

A chic pair of espadrilles is a staple, and this season, my eyes are set on Gucci’s striped grosgrain and canvas wedge espadrilles, besides Sophia Webster’s vinyl and patent leather wedge sandals. I’d also recommend investing in a pair of Christian Louboutin Barbaria Zeppa wedge espadrilles.

DECODING EVENING GLAMOUR

The Riviera soirees are truly legendary and everyone goes all out and looks impossibly glamorous and ultra-chic. Head-to-toe shine-on dresses, impeccably beaded gowns, and high-voltage shimmery numbers with thigh-high slits do all the talking.

The contrast of floaty and fluid fabrics and painstakingly done surface texturing creates a dramatic tension, injecting oomph and va-vavoom into the after dark hours. Whenever I’m here, which is every summer, I enjoy dressing up in embellished, feathered, fringed, high-octane dresses and ultra-high heels.

Given the all-pervading vibe of glamour, I like to accessorise with crystal headbands and tasselled clutches. Smokey eyes, big hair and statement red lips echo unapologetic glam resort chic like nothing else.

SEASON’S COVETED SWIMSUITS

Look no further than Missoni’s sequinned swimsuits, Dolce & Gabbana’s exuberant take on the floral print bikini-top, and Versace’s Baroque print monokini swimsuit with matching accessories.

ART OF ACCESSORISING

Complete your look with Gucci’s square, oversized acetate sunnies which flatter your face, or look of-the-moment edgy in Balenciaga neo, mirrored over-frame acetate sunglasses. Add a hat to up the glamour quotient, and dump all your beach essentials in an artisanal Loewe crystal embellished woven straw tote.

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Sriram Raghavan recalls his happy moments from Andhadhun, Badlapur and Johnny Gaddaar sets

Filmmaker Sriram Raghavan whose Andhadhun is still making waves across international film festivals reveals how many memorable scenes turned out from accidents

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HAPPY ACCIDENTS

A sword-wielding black-robed warrior confronts Indiana Jones in a Cairo market. The swordsman shows his prowess with the weapon, impressing the crowds as you wonder how the hell can Indy defeat him. Indy, with a weary sigh, pulls out his .38 and shoots the guy down. I remember, the entire hall applauded. It’s a scene that still has me chuckling. This scene would not have existed, had Harrison Ford not fallen sick with dysentery, whilst shooting in Tunisia. In the script, it was meant to be a highlight action sequence. A ferocious duel between a sword and a whip. They had rehearsed it for days. But Ford was too weak for any rigorous action. You can actually see it on his face.

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Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Some of the most iconic scenes and moments in films happen thanks to a mishap…what we call the Happy Accident. I remember vividly one such incident on the sets of Johnny Gaddaar. SPOILER ALERT: Vikram (Neil) and Seshadri (Dharmendra) are discussing the heist that went wrong, wondering who could be the culprit. In a slip of the tongue, Neil inadvertently gives himself away, and Seshadri realises it immediately. Seshadri gently starts probing and Neil knows his game is up. Neil goes to the bar to make a drink. Seshadri follows him, gun in hand.

Script extract:

VIKRAM GOES TO THE ICE BUCKET AND FILLS HIS GLASS WITH ICE…He’s wondering how to extricate himself out of this mess. IN A SPLIT SECOND…HE GRABS THE ICE-PICK AND PLUNGES IT INTO SESHADRI’S HEART. A shocked Seshadri staggers as the gun drops from his fingers….

An ice-pick is a handy weapon in a Hadley Chase novel or maybe a Matunga sugarcane stall, but our location was a middle-class Juhu apartment. Surely out of place. So, we substituted it with an ornate paper-cutter, shaped like a Jodhpur sword and as sharp and pointed. It looked lethal. We made a rubber dummy and forgot about it till the day of shoot.

Dharmendra came early that day and watched curiously as I was stabbing myself in the heart and neck with the rubber dummy. I told him this is the murder weapon. How do you like it Sir? He took it and tried stabbing himself in his heart and frowned. ‘Yes, he can certainly injure me with this, but it will take at least half an hour for me to die….and in that time, I’d have grabbed the rascal and killed him!’ I politely asked him why he thought so. His reply: “…because I am Dharmendra!”

I consulted my DoP who said Dharamji is bang on. It’ll look quite silly actually. Suddenly we were all ready to shoot, but the scene was not working.

Dharamji said this is just my feeling. You are the captain. He went into his vanity van and we went into a huddle. We cracked it amongst ourselves and even did a couple of rehearsals before he came to the set. We changed the weapon to the gun, which was already a prop in the scene. The solution was so simple, and more important, SO EFFECTIVE. I remember the audience at Chandan going GASP when it happens. Thank God, Dharamji came early that day and voiced his opinion loud and clear. Or else the scene would have become a laughing stock.

The very first sequence in Badlapur had a child falling out of a speeding car. Of course, we used a dummy, but we had not blocked the roads….We wanted spontaneous crowd reactions. We rigged the camera to the car and threw the baby out at the right moment. And guess what? A stray dog entered frame out of the blue and started chasing the car. The camera kept rolling, and we got a wonderful shot. No retakes required.

Later, whilst sipping chai at a tapri, I wish I had thought of this in the script. But that would have taken all day to shoot and we still may not have got what we got by sheer accident. There are times in a film shoot, where I totally feel that there’s some source guiding you.

It happens to the best of actors. You get stuck on a line or word. In ANDHADHUN, Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan) could not say ‘Happy Anniversary’. It was an elaborate shot. The camera follows Anil Dhawan as he enters his house armed with a bouquet and a wine bottle. He searches for Tabu and finally hears some sounds in the kitchen. On the way, he notices a gun lying on the dining table and he picks it up curiously…. during which the door opens…and Anil Dhawan has to say Happy Anniversary.

We did several takes, but somehow, were not getting it right. Happy Wedding. Happy Birthday. Happy Bhool gaya…but no Happy Anniversary. We wondered what to do and then I said, Sir, instead of Happy Anniversary, just say SURPRISE. It worked and I’m so glad we didn’t get it right earlier.

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Anil Dhawan in Andhadhun (2018)

The production keeps a hawk’s eye on you whilst filming your first film. In EHT (Ek Hasina Thi – 2004), we had asked for a Jimmy Jib for a sequence, but then realised that it worked better without the jib. The problem is the Jib is expensive, and the production would surely report that these guys ask for costly equipment that they don’t use. So my DoP and I decided we gotta use the Jib and shoot something, even if we don’t use it later. The lead actors had been packed up so what do we do.

We were shooting in a remand home which simulated a portion of a women’s prison. And then I saw some remand home cooks carrying hundreds of chappatis to feed the inmates. So we requested them to carry it once again, and sprinkled some of our junior artistes amongst them. It was a good shot though we had no plan of using it. And then, during the edit, we found a superbly appropriate place for it.

There is a scene in RAMAN RAGHAV, where Raghuvir Yadav, having lost his first murder weapon, goes back to a local iron-smith to get another welded. We shot the film in 1992, and it was very tough to find lohars, who manually worked the bellows and hammer. We finally found one forge in Jogeshwari.

I was chatting with the owner, explaining our story and he froze. It was the same forge where the real Raman Raghav had made his weapon, back in the 60s. The iron smith then was this guy’s father.

Often, the behind-the-scenes drama of a film is more exciting than the film itself. Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT is an ode to movies and movie-making. A film is being shot, but the real drama is what happens on and off the sets between the cast and crew. Look out for a hilarious scene when the cast and crew are waiting for a cat to do the action right.

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