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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

Celeb Columns

The TURBAN gets uber-chic: Sheetal Mafatlal decodes the timeless headgear

Style maven Sheetal Mafatlal dwells on the transformative appeal of the timeless headgear, which has emerged as the ‘it’ accessory du jour.

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Sheetal Mafatlal decodes turban fashion

Trust Gucci’s creative force, designer Alessandro Michele, to shake the fashion set out of its complacent slumber by showcasing an exquisite array of absolutely drool-worthy headgear. The game-changing creative head of the hallowed Italian luxury house turned the spotlight on the turban this season, by reinterpreting it in a no-holds-barred-glamazon format. The label’s Fall 2018 showcase in Milan saw a panoply of babushka hoods, pagoda hats and headscarves, that brought to mind exotic visions of the elegant hijabs and naqabs.

The fashion maverick Michele has dramatically changed the way we perceive accessories. A nifty headpiece can make or break an ensemble, and I’m totally digging the label’s multi-hued, bejewelled headpiece which is a reinvention of the ‘bandanna’ headband.

Over the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed wearing Michele’s accessories and ensembles, and his glittery and bold headdresses are my absolute favourite. Depending on my mood and the occasion, I have teamed my Gucci turbans with both, minimal and maximalist ensembles. Being a fan of the statement-making headpieces, I have often worn his bejewelled headbands as an alternative to a turban.

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Sheetal Mafatlal clicked by Vickram Singh Bawa

Donatella Versace at the Gianni Versace ‘Tribute Collection’ in Milano, sent out his signature butterfly print turbans and Baroque print head scarves, worn with wrap dresses, bodysuits and matching accessories – all epitomising the house’s intrinsic Va Va Vroom.

The headdress has evolved over the years, with the early 20th century witnessing a major revival of the fashion turban, this time, worn mostly by elite women as a symbol of their cultivated sophistication. These headdresses always evoked a sense of exotica with their draped styles, and were often dubbed as ‘Easterninfluenced headpieces.’ In Europe, the iconic designer Paul Poiret was majorly impacted by Orientalism, whose take on the accessory conjured images of a fabled harem.

The turban pioneer is said to be credited for having revived the headpiece in the early 1900s. While in the ’20s, it had an exuberant flapper connotation, in the ’30s and ’40s, the headdress became a synonym for unabashed Hollywood glamour. Who could forget Greta Garbo in The Painted Veil (1934) and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)?

After many years, model Marisa Berenson approached the turban with a relaxed and louche glam touch of the swinging ’70s. When Yves Saint Laurent worked in post-war France, he added headdresses to complement most of his looks suiting all occasions – be it haute couture or ready-to-wear. A pleated lamé turban ornamented with a sequined palm leaf created by Nina Wood, worn with an Indian inspired evening outfit from YSL’s Spring/Summer 1982 haute couture collection, remains one of the memorable looks.

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Sheetal Mafatlal clicked by Vickram Singh Bawa

In recent times, a slew of fashion films and chick-flick TV series have reignited the season-less appeal of the turban. In 2010, Carrie Bradshaw, essayed by Sarah Jessica Parker, elevated the headdress to another level of exotica as she played out her life with her girl pals against the stunning backdrop of Abu Dhabi in the film Sex and the City 2. Fashion industry heavyweights like Miuccia Prada, Jason Wu, Vena Cava and Giorgio Armani have re-purposed the turban, making it relevant for the young women of today, season after season.

Also worth mentioning is Jean Paul Gaultier’s sari collection for Hermes in 2011, which he accessorised with jewel-toned headpieces. In Bollywood, veteran actress Rekha has been the biggest proponent of this chic essential for years now. Teaming it with her ‘more is more’ ensemble, she has time and again, worn the turban with effortless elan and her characteristic nonchalance, bringing to mind her larger-than-life on-screen persona of her ‘80s Bollywood films.

This ‘of-the-moment’ interpretation of the classic turbans ushers in a new wave of exotic glamour in a scenario of austere runway presentations and a pall of gloom lurking on luxury retail. When the going gets tough, the fashionable get bold, and a turban addition to any ensemble adds that touch of chic femininity and a ‘look-at-me’ sass, unrivalled by any other accessory or jewellery.

Sheetal Mafatlal writes an exclusive monthly column on fashion for CineBlitz.

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Mahesh Bhatt: You should learn what trusting a director means from Sridevi

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt recalls working with the late actor Sridevi, her commitment to work and her native charm that made her stand apart from the other leading ladies of those times

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Mahesh Bhatt recalls working with the late actor Sridevi on their film Gumraah

“She was the diva of the 80s who did the Tohfaas and the Himmatwaalas and you came into your own with path-breaking films like Arth and Saaransh. How did your paths cross?” asked a young writer who is chronicling the life of Sridevi, an actor par excellence, whose rise to the top was slow and steady, but the end, sudden and tragic.

I first met Sridevi in the dark auditorium of a cinema hall. She was up there on the silver screen. The film was Balu Mahendra’s Sadma in which she was paired opposite Kamal Haasan. What hit me about her persona was her earthiness. That undefinable native charm which was the unique attribute of this enigma, made her stand apart from the other leading ladies of those times.

The leading ladies who rose to the top in Mumbai had, because of westernisation, lost their feminine mystique. Most of them were modelling themselves on the western icons who appeared on international magazines or in Hollywood films. Since our leading ladies were monkeying the West, the core Indian audience was feeling deeply unfulfilled. Sridevi brought India back into Indian movies. This ‘India’ness became her springboard to super-stardom. For me, her best performance was in her husband Boney Kapoor’s Mr India, which was directed by Shekhar Kapur.

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Sridevi in a still from the film Mr. India (1987)

“Let’s take Sridevi for this role, she is not only a star, but an actor of your kind,” said the late Yash Johar, the founder of Dharma Productions. After Naam, Aashiqui, Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi and Sadak, I too had become a bit of a star director. The reputation that I am an actor’s director became a bridge for Sridevi and me to meet and work in the early 90s in Gumrah. Working with Sridevi was a memorable experience.

The character of Roshni from Gumrah was a lot like Sridevi herself. All great performances are drawn out from the body of an actor. A good director is like a good gardener. He brings out the beauty of a plant from the DNA of the seed, by merely watering it and protecting it. I did not force-feed my ideas into this acting machine. I merely created an environment for her to bloom, which she did. Gumrah was a mediocre success, but if at all people remember that film, it’s because of her heartfelt performance.

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Movie poster of Gumrah directed by Mahesh Bhatt and starring Sridevi and Sanjay Dutt. Courtesy: IMDb.com

“You should learn what trusting a director means from Sridevi, never did she question me for presenting her in the most deglamourised way in the jail portions of Gumrah,” I said to an actress in the 90s, when she was giving a hard time to my assistants by refusing to wear a “non glamorous” costume which the film demanded.

When I look back on her glorious innings in the movie world, I cannot help but conclude that long, successful career arcs do not happen by chance. They are fuelled by courage and discipline, and the ability to take risks. “Not taking risks is a bigger risk Madam,” I remember telling her when she was voicing her concern about some producers, for shedding her glamorous persona in Gumrah. My conviction was the lodestar which saw her all through the making of Gumrah.

How can I forget what she did during the shooting of the climax of Gumrah? “She has got very high fever Mahesh. I think we will have to cancel the shooting and break down the set,” said Yash Johar, as soon as I entered the massive prison set where a fight sequence was to be shot inside a water-tank. Yashji’s apprehensions were right.

There was no way I could ask this star to step into a water tank and participate in a fight sequence with Sanjay Dutt and Bob Christo. But the idea of re-erecting that massive set which cost a fortune was also weighing us down. But there was no way out.

“There is a way out. I am calling for my doctor, I will take an injection, get my fever down and shoot. Period. Just make sure that we keep the fans far away from me,” said Sridevi with a dead-pan face.

Tales of such magnanimity of film stars seldom reach the world. Demonising superstars is a profitable business. For me, the memory of Sridevi presenting Alia with her first award would have been an ideal image of a happy ending to our association. The body posture of Alia, awe-struck to see this diva bestow her with this prestigious award, is so life-affirming. But life makes you live on its own terms.

I had first met her in Centaur Hotel in a room full of roses, when Yashji and I had gone to sign her for Gumrah. It was her birthday. Little did I know then, I would one day see an image of Sridevi on a cold TV screen, lying dead, in a sea of flowers. Movies have a happy ending, this is real life.

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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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