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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…’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.


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.


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

Celeb Columns

Airports – The New Runways, Sheetal Mafatlal on airport fashion!

Sheetal Mafatlal writes on airport fashion and Bollywood celebrities who slay it.

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It’s amazing how travel style has evolved over the last one decade in India and also internationally. There was a time when spotting a Bollywood star in a pair of Juicy Couture track pants was pretty common. However, today, thanks to the incredible popularity of social media, airport style has gone to a new level of refinement, with stars and their styling teams working round the clock to ensure that each appearance drives the paparazzi into a manic frenzy and also gets them great traction on Instagram and Twitter.

Two B-Town icons, who come to mind instantly when one sits down to dissect travel style, are Karan Johar and Deepika Padukone. Both have cultivated a unique sense of travel style, which also reflects their multi-layered personalities. While Karan has favoured oversized, camouflage print trench coats, gold reflector sunnies and studded statement backpacks, the newly-married Deepika Padukone has had a rather pared down classic approach to travel chic – think a basic white tee, jacket, and a pair of well-fitted denims. In the last few months, we’ve witnessed a flurry of maximalist Indian weddings, and one could vouch without a shadow of doubt that Deepika has been the most exquisite Bollywood bride ever. What amazes me about her sense of style is the fact that even her travel looks during the wedding festivities were impossibly chic and on point. Before she took off to Italy for her fairytale wedding, she cut a fine figure in a white scarf sweater with a knit skirt, Louboutins and Hermès Kelly. When she was back in Mumbai after her pre-wedding puja ceremony, she again hit the right style notes at the airport in a striped Céline shirt with denims and Gianvito Rossi pumps.


Photo: Fotocorp

She’s proved that even as a bride in the spotlight, and juggling cities and multiple ceremonies – she’s not skipped a style beat. Her airport looks were a great reference point as her larger-than-life Sabyasachi and Zuhair Murad artisanal creations. It also goes to proves that today, an airport appearance is as crucial as a red carpet one.

Long gone are the days of GAP sweatshirts as now, airport dressing is no less thought-out and impactful than a swish front row appearance at Milan Fashion Week.

Kangana Ranaut is another actress who has successfully managed to carve her niche in the travel style territory. At times, teaming her tanned Birkins with beige handwoven Anavila saris, and other times, cutting a fine figure in Christian Dior’s shift dresses – she has been at the forefront of travel chic.

What’s commendable about these stars is the fact that their overall approach is comfort-driven, without compromising on style. Today, no one would be caught dead in a scruffy velour tracksuit or exaggerated ponchos!

When it comes to airport looks, my go-to brands have always been Chanel, Stella McCartney, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Versace, Philipp Plein, Christian Louboutin, Bulgari and Gucci – all of them historic high fashion and accessories houses, steeped in decades-old crafts and artisanal techniques.

I swear by Chanel’s statement bags season after season, and the super-chic trainers which come in two avatars – with, and without platforms. The Louis Vuitton arch-light trainers just make you own every room you walk into, and Balenciaga Triple S low-top trainers marry sporty chic with street cred. One’s clearly spoilt for choice as there is a wide array of travel-friendly options to choose from — be it Gucci’s leather and mesh trainers, Chloe’s Sonnie raised sole beauties, Prada’s cloudbust mesh, or MM6 Maison Margiela distressed leather trainers.

My Travel Essentials


For one’s travel appearance, one’s got to invest in a pair which never fails to make the right sartorial statement at the airport lounges. Being a long-time fan of Versace, I often end up incorporating some elements from the hallowed Italian house while putting together my airport looks.

Over the last few seasons, Demna Gvasalia of Vetements has caught my attention — the cutting-edge label has defined and refined street style, and made tracksuits uber-chic like never before. My personal favourite is the edgy and of-the-moment twin-set casuals by this label steeped in street culture. The ripped accents in the pieces and the unfinished touch, make these essentials ultra-covetable.

Also, the logo mania trend – an offshoot of the 90s – makes a spectacular comeback with labels like Fendi, Gucci and Balenciaga bringing out pieces and accessories kissed with their logos. From T-shirts emblazoned with brands’ letterings, to sneakers printed with logos all over – they make for a chic travel companion.

It’s all about striking the right balance – between style and comfort, structure and fluidity, form and function, neutrals and metallics, separates and accessories. Also, each piece should reflect your personal style.

It will be interesting to see how the airport style evolves in the coming seasons, what with brands bringing out pieces custom-made for travel purposes.

– Sheetal Mafatlal

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Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Kareena Kapoor Khan – Actresses who got married at the peak of their careers!

Columnist, Critic and Author Bharathi S Pradhan writes about Bollywood actresses who got married at the peak of their careers.

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After firming up her place in the top bracket with resounding heroine-oriented successes like Kahaani and The Dirty Picture, when Vidya Balan found the ideal partner in the dapper Siddharth Roy Kapur, and made it known that they were going to walk down the aisle, a newspaper story went, ‘Tsk, tsk’. The news report mourned the early winding up of a brilliant career. That was the time one realised just how irrelevant media minds had become, and how much more progressive the film industry itself was.

One is fairly certain that it occurred to neither Vidya nor Siddharth, or to her producers, to even consider that she’d bid adieu to her work after marriage. Those outdated times when Neetu Singh longed to go to the market, like Jaya Bhaduri (Bachchan) did after marriage to her co-star, or Mumtaz had to send a notice to her producers asking them to wind up her work because she was getting married, are truly behind us.

Siddharth Roy Kapur and Vidya Balan

At one time, it was actually a sign of a healthy marriage if an actress married a guy who didn’t want her salary. Sunil Dutt often boasted that when he and Nargis were getting married, somebody remarked, ab do-do kamaayi hogi ghar mein (there’ll be two salaries coming home from now on). It stirred the man in him to such an extent that he stood tall and ruled, ‘She won’t be working henceforth.’ It’s a story he himself told me more than once. Ditto for a Shatrughan Sinha, who thought it was a sign of his worth and her compliance, when Punam retired as an actress as soon as she turned Mrs Sinha from Miss Chandiramani.

Today, when Anushka Sharma gets married to Virat Kohli when she’s on a strong wicket, and she does it in the full glare of flashbulbs, it doesn’t signal that she’s ready to go back to the pavilion and be a spectator. It’s not even up for discussion. It’s as absurd as expecting the Captain to hang up his pads because he’s now a married man.

Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli

In recent times, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor Khan did blaze a trail by making it clear that marriage and motherhood did not mean retirement for an actress. Funnily, for all her feistiness, Saif’s first wife Amrita Singh, nipped her career to be a star-wife and mother, returning with a TV serial only when the curtains came down on her marriage. It was bowing to the most regressive thought that once ruled the film world – that marriage spelt finis to an actress’ career, and a return to films meant that her marriage was finished!

Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan

Strange, because Saif’s mother Sharmila Tagore was the rare exception in her time, who married a man as famous as her (or even more), raised three children, hid neither Begumhood nor motherhood, and stayed right at the top of the glamour world.

There used to be an unwritten but religiously followed rule that even if an actress got into a serious romantic involvement, especially with an actor, she would suddenly go all coy, crunch up her neckline like a nun, and refuse to do intimate scenes. It is hats off to Sharmila that she was the sole exception who did what her work demanded, sometimes even more, like posing in a bikini for a magazine cover. And nothing she did on screen or off, put her marriage to Pataudi on the rocks.

However, for a very long time, the ‘M’ word continued to haunt actresses who’d found the right man to spend their lives with. Juhi Chawla, as is famously known, teared up over a lavish reception that her husband Jay Mehta’s family had organised to announce their marriage. When her mother-in-law saw how miserable she was, she took the most supportive step of cancelling the reception, and letting Juhi keep her marriage under wraps for as long as she wanted to. It was only after Juhi saw actresses like Kajol get married openly, that she came around to accepting that her marital status had little to do with her work as an actress.

But actresses were not the only ones who sweated over the work-or-marriage conundrum. Govinda hid his marriage to Sunita until his daughter’s first birthday, when he came out and aired his family at a huge bash he threw at The Leela. Until he was confident that it wouldn’t affect his career as a hero, Govinda preferred to keep it hush-hush.

Even a dyed-in-the-wool actor like Rishi Kapoor took a long while to say ‘I do’ as he chewed his nails over the ‘Will it affect my charisma as a romantic hero?’ question. After marriage, when he had a string of flops, he went into a deep depression, worried sick that his marriage had finished him. It was only on hindsight that Rishi realised films like Deedar-e-Yaar would have flopped anyway.

Fortunately, better sense prevails today. Like Vidya Balan, Priyanka Chopra’s magical marriage isn’t going to change the kind of roles that go to a senior actress like her. So bring on the celebrations.

The audience doesn’t really care. It is actors (of both genders) and their spouses who have to emit the right message of confidence, like Sharmila did in her heyday. Anushka did that a year ago, and she’s going strong as an actress.

Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone

While a girl like Anushka got it right by getting married officially at the peak of her career, and didn’t let it make a whit’s difference to her work, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh went a step further than all the others. They had a big, warm and lavish bash for all their media friends too, where they chatted and joked around and posed for pictures with everybody.

When I congratulated Deepika on stage and commented that it was wonderful they were getting married in such a grand and unabashed manner, she said with a huge, happy smile, “We don’t know any other way.”

You’re right, Deepika. There is no other way.

– Bharathi S Pradhan (Columnist, Critic & Author)

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Without make-up – Read Mahesh Bhatt’s take on the fall of celebrities

Veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt writes about the fall of celebrities

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Nothing succeeds like failure. When I look back at my own life, it screams and tells me repeatedly that it is your failures that shape you and make you a complete human being. In the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjun, “Bring me your failures”. “Like a forest fire brings out the perfume from a sandalwood tree and fills the environment with its fragrance, it is failure that ignites in man the perfume of compassion and love for his fellow human beings.”

Little did I know that these words which I was enacting as an actor for my protege Imraan Zaahid’s debut film Mark Sheet, would shadow me the next day when I paid a visit to the Tihar Jail in Delhi to visit Rajpal Yadav, the very talented comic actor who is currently an inmate there. The Rajpal Yadav in my memory was a meek, shy, boy who after being literally kicked on his butt by the giant of Hindi theatre Satyadev Dubey first, gave his audition to me. The one I was going to meet now, had earned the reputation of a fraudulent actor/producer who had cheated people to carve out a grand dream of his in Bollywood.

Way back in time, I remember telling him, “You have a talent to be a great comedian, Rajpal. Don’t run after many roles, that will land you nowhere. Just position yourself as a comedian and you will make a tremendous impact.” A wise man from Missouri once told me, “Run after one rabbit only. And if you can’t catch it, change your tactics, but don’t change your rabbit.” But Rajpal Yadav ran after too many rabbits. Having made a mark as a comedian and having enthralled the audiences with his desi brand of comedy, he made the fatal mistake of wanting to produce a film in which he had cast himself as a hero.

“Success had gone to his head Sir, stories of him recklessly spending money on films in which he was playing the pivotal role used to stagger us. There used to be 17 vanity vans parked during the course of his shoot. Every actor including a bit-role player was given a vanity van for himself. Even banners like Dharma do not indulge in this kind of extravagance. It is this that landed him into serious trouble,” said Kamal Chandra. Kamal is the director of Mark Sheet, which is a low-budget, dramatic love tale, set against the landscape of education fraud.

As I waited for Rajpal to be brought from his barracks, I couldn’t help reflecting on Bollywood and its innumerable stories of rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags. Mithun Chakraborty came from a very humble background, slept on the streets of Mumbai, became a super-star, and later diverted his energies (having consolidated his position as a lead actor for years) into the business of hospitality. When his stardom began to fade, unlike his predecessors like Rajesh Khanna who spiralled from being a super-star to a tragic caricature of himself, Mithun retained his dignity by gracefully giving his hours of the day to expanding his hotel business. The wise say, ‘When it’s over, leave. Don’t continue watering dead flowers’. But alas, Bollywood is full of stories of people who continued to water dead flowers and lost what little they had to live a life of dignity. How can I forget M Sadiq, the director of Guru Dutt’s Chaudvin Ka Chaand silently weeping in his bungalow in Pali Hill, Bandra (the Beverly Hills of India), when his bungalow was being auctioned for running into huge debts, after the debacle of one of his ambitious films!

“Arre Sir, aap?”, said a frail looking Rajpal when he came face-to-face with me. When I embraced him, I told him to cut off the comic act he was trying to put up, to downplay his feeling of wretchedness which had invaded his body on seeing me there. “Use these three months to make amends for the wrongs you have done, and you will have a rebirth. Look at Sanjay Dutt, he tried to run away from his criminal deeds for more than 20 years. But only after serving two years in prison and having finally accepted that he himself was the architect of his doom, he has made a new beginning. The darkness through which he lived has brought out the inner gold from Sanjay Dutt. The same can happen to you.” I said, like a concerned elder would.

When I left him and walked out of the gates of Tihar, I couldn’t help thinking that one man’s tragedy is another man’s entertainment. The fall of celebrities becomes a source of perverse delight for the world at large. But then everything has a price tag. One can’t really complain. The higher we climb, the harder we fall. It takes courage to be an actor. No wonder the world is full of spectators and very few performers. Rajpal, like Humpty Dumpty, has fallen off the wall. Nobody but he himself will put himself together again. I know he will. Picture abhi baaqi hai!

– Mahesh Bhatt

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