Category Archives: Bollywood

‘Fan’ Review: Shah Rukh Khan thrives in edgy obsessive thriller

Scepticism and optimism were the two conflicting emotions that surrounded Shah Rukh Khan’s first release of 2016, Fan. However, the former, caused by a recent string of underwhelming SRK flicks, was quickly usurped by the latter. This high-octane, edgy, albeit occasionally absurd thriller gave King Khan addicts their fix and the rest of us assurance that he hasn’t yet slipped into the clutches of masala mediocrity.

Khan’s three previous shallow releases – Chennai Express, Happy New Year and Dilwale – made less of an impact than Shikhar Dhawan did at the World Twenty20, hence the trailer’s promise of a more complex movie and a return to the villainy that shot him to stardom in the early 1990s was welcome. The knowledge of Khan’s double role drew comparisons to Baazigar, while the obsessive streak in one of his characters had seen Fan likened to Darr.

However, those assumptions proved unfounded as the film carved out a unique space for itself – at least in Hindi cinema – allowing SRK to turn in his most accomplished and complete performance since My Name is Khan (2010). Fan is admittedly not a flawless film – it would have benefitted without the sudden changes of pace – but it had enough to keep you engaged throughout and asking questions even after its completion.

The movie, as indicated in the trailer, stories the relationship between Aryan Khanna (Shah Rukh Khan), a Bollywood megastar and Gaurav Chandna (also Khan), his biggest fan. Both hailing from Delhi, Aryan is Shah Rukh himself in all but name, while Gaurav, or ‘Junior Aryan Khanna’ as he prefers, is a committed supporter who’s happily destined to be forever in his hero’s shadow – a situation his parents indulge him in. That is until they eventually meet, when things take a sudden dark and creepy turn.

It was apparent once again that SRK thrives in crazed roles, even after more than 20 years removed from such a part. Khan creates a seemingly harmless character in Gaurav, who is able to shift from devoted to demented effortlessly. We are invited fully into the life of a fan that spends nearly every waking moment imitating his “God”, before travelling with him on the rocky rollercoaster of rejection.

The picture painted can easily be extrapolated from cinema to real life, where fandom is more feverish now than it ever has been. “Tu nahin samjhega,” (“You will not understand”) has become something of a slogan for Fan, and although we are unlikely to ever understand what drives such passionate and unburdened obsession, the movie at least scratches the surface of its effects – and there is no better actor in Bollywood to delve into the theme than SRK.

In Aryan, Khan plays the superstar he is in reality, yet, while the parallels between actor and character are clear – both are from Delhi and real shots from Khan’s home ‘Mannat’ are featured – SRK ensures Fan doesn’t become a dramatised biopic or a glorified fawning. Khanna is in the midst of seeing his stardom challenged before Gaurav arrives, and truly threatened once he does. To his fans Aryan is the stereotypical superstar but, as the film develops, we gradually become witness to his fiery Dilli roots as he reconnects with his ragged pre-fame personality.

Waluscha de Sousa and Sayani Gupta play Aryan’s wife and his PA respectively, but are unsurprisingly irrelevant considering Khan plays both lead roles.

With no songs or a heroine, Fan is as atypical a Bollywood production – especially a Yash Raj Films production – that you will see. Not that it hurts the movie – it certainly doesn’t. Any attempt to cram in either would quell the tension that steadily boils throughout. Aryan and Gaurav’s souring relationship is plenty intriguing enough, and their identities are so contrasting it’s scarcely believable they are played by the same person.

Hence, the flashy action scenes embedded into the whistle-stop tour around Europe in the second half were unexpected and unnecessary, despite being executed well. They were perhaps director Maneesh Sharma’s only major mistake in what was otherwise a terrific picture. The opening hour dedicates so much time in investigating what makes Aryan and Gaurav tick, that unravelling that further would have been preferred to the classic action pizzazz we were treated to instead.

Fan also drifts from realistic to far-fetched at times as it wears on, which is peculiar given the film’s evident desire to construct true images of madness and obsession. But this is far from a deal-breaker. The occasional imagination-stretcher barely dents the powerful plot, which re-engages well at the end to deliver a strong conclusion.

These fallbacks stop Fan from being one of Khan’s greatest works, but not from it being lavished with the acclaim it deserves. With a running time of two hours and 24 minutes, this thriller is lengthy – remember, there are no songs – but it doesn’t drag.

For SRK’s devoted followers, Fan was always going to be a roaring success; it was the more impartial viewer – whose trust has been somewhat lost – that needed convincing. And, by and large, their faith will be mostly restored in the Badshah. Shunning silliness for seriousness was a much-required move that gave cinemagoers a long-awaited glimpse of King Khan at his best, and builds enthusiasm for his upcoming Eid release Raees.

The biggest Hindi movie of the year so far, Fan was a tough project for Shah Rukh Khan, but ultimately one that was right in his hitting zone. Finally back in his strongest genre, SRK always had the cards to play a strong hand, but he still had to come up trumps. And he did.

Rating: 8/10

The hypocrisy of India banning porn given the sexualisation of Bollywood

The Indian government has banned pornography. As many as 857 websites are for the chop, with internet companies ordered to turn off access to a variety of sexually explicit sites. The reason? To prevent children from viewing them and, according to a government official, to stop porn becoming a “social nuisance”.

Adults will still be able to access the sites using virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers, not that it serves to justify the ban. Instead of an adult now being able to freely view porn, they now have a reduced ability to do so and leave themselves open to embarrassment for having a VPN – not that it’s their sole use. But you get the point, it’s not as simple as just deleting your internet history.

Porn is not healthy. Whether it is objectification or the clutches of addiction, there is little benefit to be derived from sitting in front of a computer screen, beating off for a few minutes of unfulfilling pleasure. That, however, doesn’t mean the government should be policing it – it is an obscene violation of freedom.

After all, the porn business is perfectly legitimate and serves as a huge employment industry – especially, one would presume, for the unskilled sector. If somebody wants to consume it, good luck to them. They are doing nothing wrong, nor are those providing the product.

The decision though does come with a tinge of irony. Bollywood – India and the world’s biggest film industry – thrives on its heavily sexualised nature. Gone are the days where even kissing on screen was considered taboo, Hindi movies are now a haven for leggy ladies, muscle men and sexual innuendo. In fact, Bollywood even harbours a former pornstar, whose transition from adult entertainment to the mainstream has been quite remarkable.

Sunny Leone packed in porn after participating in Bigg Boss (the Indian version of Big Brother), where she concealed her identity, posing as a model who worked in the USA. She was soon approached by a film-maker and in 2012 Leone starred in her first Bollywood film, Jism 2, and has risen in prominence ever since.

From what I’ve seen, there is not much substance. Naturally, given her background, she has sex appeal but her acting skills are not about to win her an Oscar, or a Filmfare. Not that the latter matters – Leone’s looks are her selling point and those who hire her are in no rush to disguise that. Here she is in Vishal Pandya’s Hate Story 2, where she made a guest appearance to sing about her “pink lips”. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

While Leone may not have conquered Bollywood, Katrina Kaif certainly has. The actress, born in British Hong Kong, has acted alongside the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan – the kings of Indian cinema – to make some of the highest-grossing films in the industry’s history. Kaif’s dancing skills have seen her regularly indulge in raunchy item numbers – her Sheila Ki Jawani performance in 2010 is one of the most popular Hindi songs in recent times.

Image is everything in the larger-than-life Bollywood where the majority of films set out to send the viewer on an unashamed, three-hour escapist adventure. The idea is to create perfection and heroes without flaws, offering entertainment that caters for the entire population.

Therefore, the heroines often use and promote skin-whitening products which are deemed to make them more attractive. Kaif is one of those and it was her lighter skin that attracted the attention of film-makers in the first place. She is not alone, however. Bollywood’s best invariably have a fairer complex – indeed, it is nigh on impossible to succeed without one.

Katrina Kaif (pictured right) with fellow Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma
Katrina Kaif (pictured right) with fellow Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma

You can argue that the increasing sleaziness in Indian movies and the penchant for fair skin are problems – and perhaps they are – but in light of the porn ban, it highlights a glaring hypocrisy. The message seems to be that while crudeness and objectification in porn – which largely keeps out of the public eye – needs censoring, in the industry which arguably defines the country, it doesn’t. The only discernible difference between the two is the explicitness.

Thus, the themes that the government is trying to suppress are still readily available, and even more so than porn could ever make them, in Bollywood. The state interference which looks to prevent a “social nuisance” is futile. Banning porn will not solve any problems; it just creates more by directly infringing on freedoms and liberties.

If the government is insistent on engineering social change, then surely they should be policing Bollywood too? Of course they shouldn’t. Such interventionist policies evidently do not work, as the requirement for more and more of them demonstrates. It’s just a downward spiral towards oppression.

There is nothing great about internet porn. It is neither real sex nor a plus for the socially liberal movement, and its effects will perhaps only be known once the youth who have been with on-demand porn throughout their lives grow up. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and its availability is essential for a free society. Nobody is forcing anybody else to watch it – at least, I am pretty sure there isn’t a fetish for that.

If India really wants social change and improve treatment towards women, tackling porn isn’t the answer; it’s Bollywood that wields the real influence. There is no reason for sex to be taboo but showcasing it because you can achieves little, but it cannot be denied that sex sells.

Answers? I have few, although seeing Bollywood abandon cheap filth in favour of producing quality films again would not be a bad thing. But restricting porn is not the solution, censorship never is. One hopes the decision is swiftly reversed.

“They were just jokes!” – The comedy show that has divided India

Imagine some of the most well-known in  the British entertainment industry getting together to mercilessly poke fun at a couple of willing victims, utilising race jokes, gay jokes, a multitude of sexual references, the odd terrorism jibe, and even a cancer gag.

You can’t really, for it would never happen. But that is precisely what has occurred in India. The AIB Knockout – a comedy roast show staged by All India Bakchod in December – was released on YouTube in late January, and its contents have created a swarm of furore on social media over the past fortnight. Hashtags including #AIBRoast and #AIBNationalShame emerged in the aftermath, with stark viewpoints being formed almost immediately.

Roasting, a type of insult comedy which serves solely to humiliate, originated at the New York Friars Club  in 1949. The edgy form of humour has enjoyed success, notably on the USA’s Comedy Central. Britain also briefly trialled the concept on Channel 4 in 2010, with Comedy Roast, but the show was only afforded one series.

For those without any Bollywood qualifications, here is a brief introduction of those involved in the Knockout, to help provide some context. The roasted, Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, are two of the industry’s biggest young stars. Their girlfriends – Sonakshi Sinha and Deepika Padukone, also Bollywood stars – were present in the audience as well.  The host – or the ‘Roastmaster’ as he was coined – Karan Johar, has directed some of India’s most successful films of all-time, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham to name two, and he also presents a popular chat show, Koffee with Karan. In addition, Johar’s sexuality is often scrutinised by the media, a theme mocked regularly by both he and others throughout the show. Amongst the roasters were an array of popular stand-up comedians and other popular figures. Quite simply, this was a who’s who of contemporary Bollywood: and that’s what makes it so relevant, and divisive.

Deepika Padukone (left) was the butt of many jokes. Karan Johar's butt was subject to many more
Deepika Padukone (left) was the butt of many jokes. Karan Johar’s butt was subject to many more

They have been quite vociferous in defending their antics via Twitter, claiming they “were just jokes“, and remininding those offended they were forewarned of what the show would entail.

In an India whose new generations are looking to break the shackles of their more socially conservative elders, an event such as this was always going to arouse controversy. It is not a new battle. Take Bangalore, a vibrant cosmopolitan city, with a superb nightlife. That is until 11.30pm, when the curfew arrives and the police sends everybody home. It is quite surreal.

While the country’s modern entertainment industry has shown somewhat of a desire to align itself with its western counterparts, a wanting to maintain a respectful culture remains strong.

Highly respected actor, Aamir Khan, is one of the latest big names to voice his thoughts. Damning the roast as “verbally violent“, Khan argued those involved have a moral responsibility to consider when producing content – he also produced a special episode of his investigative talk show, Satyamev Jayate, to tackle the issue. However, the 49-year-old’s remarks have been criticised for being hypocritical, due to the nature of the humour in some of his previous productions.

Aamir Khan is one of the latest to weigh in on the AIB Knockout
Aamir Khan is one of the latest big names to weigh in on the AIB Knockout

I agree to an extent. Filthy comedy is not something I would wish forced upon me on a regular basis. But occasionally where all concerned have consented, why not? We enter dangerous territory when those who claim a moral high ground preach to us what we can and cannot consume.

After watching the show – which can still be found on the internet despite being pulled from YouTube by AIB – I came to the following conclusions. It was vulgar, extremely vulgar. No holds barred and crass, it was Sickipedia brought to life. The sort of comedy your more sensible self says you oughtn’t enjoy, but the sort the mischievous oik in you cannot help but snigger at. I saw it as entertainment that most certainly still has a niche, and long may our commitment to free expression continue. Since the show was not on primetime television and only available online, anyone offended would have had to go out of their way to find it. Not to mention a warning on what to expect was given before proceedings began. This alone makes me believe any so-called offence to be slightly phoney. All parties involved appeared to have a great evening, and no one has the right to deny them that.

Yet the saga looks unlikely to conclude on that note. A First Information Report (FIR) has now been filed by Lucknow police, something which threatens a three-year jail term for Singh, Johar and Kapoor.

Vulgarness is not always attractive, but policing the ability to be vulgar is far worse. As the gap between what India’s young and old deem to be socially acceptable, further incidents similar to the Knockout can be expected in the future. I only hope those in the UK who face their free speech being eradicated, fight their oppressors with the same ferocity India’s youth have.

Film Review: Happy New Year (Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone)

Extravagance, flamboyance, and entertainment. Three guarantees for a collaboration between Farah and Shahrukh Khan, and for that, Happy New Year certainly delivered. This year’s blockbuster Diwali release was the epitome of Bollywood masala, and the three-hour duration would have sailed by for the most fervent of fans.

For those who hark back to the days where the industry was first and foremost about quality over box office takings, Happy New Year is the latest in a long line of disappointments, and yet another supreme waste of talent.

The weak plot sees Charlie (Shah Rukh Khan) – at least he wasn’t called Rahul again – leading a team of “six losers” ranging from a drunkard to a bar dancer in an attempt to steal diamonds and exact revenge over Charan Grover, played by an unfortunate Jackie Shroff, who stole them from Charlie’s father, Manohar (Anupam Kher).

Of course, there was a twist. Not only was it last chance saloon, but in order to carry off the heist,  the group had to enter the ‘World Dance Championship’. Their main competitors? North Korea. No, you really couldn’t make it up.

Needless to say none of them could dance, so the skills of bar dancer and “breast-taking” Mohini (Deepika Padukone) were required who Khan repeatedly offended throughout the film, only to woo her round through the joys of the English language. Three cheers for women empowerment.

In somewhat of a surprise Abhishek Bachchan turned in a rare performance of note, playing a double-role. Bachchan offered a few amusing moments as Nandu – a drunkard who could vomit on cue -and as Grover’s son, Vikki, who spent much of the film ogling Padukone. He wasn’t the only one.

Boman Irani plays Tammy, a 50-year-old safecracker who still lives with his mother yet is adored by the Parsi community. The muscle was provided by Jag (Sonu Sood) who entered an uncontrollable rage whenever his mother was mentioned, and Vivaan Shah took on the role of Rohan, a pre-pubescent teenager with a seeming ability to hack anything and everything through just his iPad.

The music was nothing to write home about, but it wasn’t awful either. Padukone’s item number “Lovely“, was a steamy and scantily-clad affair, as well as providing her entry to the film. It was another solid performance from the actress who has cemented herself as the Queen of the industry at the moment.

The plot didn’t have the weight to hold for the whole three hours although it did pick up from a rather drab opening half, and the remarkable box-office success is testament far more to the cast, than it is to the film. With SRK ensconced in Bollywood legend, any production with him in the cast is almost certain to be a blockbuster. HNY was guaranteed this status as soon as he signed up.

Farah Khan’s remarkable skills as a director with such a lack of originality stretched to new heights, and was reliant on Shah Rukh’s illustrious resumé to provide the butt of far too many jokes.

In a repeat of the corny film references from his last outing, Chennai Express, Khan was once again forced to flashback to more self-respecting times, with quotes churned out from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Om Shanti Om, Devdas, and Main Hoon Na amongst others.  They left Padukone to do a Chak De India! style team-talk. Don’t even ask.

Perhaps I am being a bit unfair. The masala genre doesn’t dress itself as one that lends to cinematic masterpieces. An extravaganza of entertainement, colour and escapism was promised and for that HNY didn’t disappoint. I may have left feeling slightly dirty, but I had been entertained.

Nor was it a film that will be high on the list when cherry-picking SRK’s greatest hits though, and for his fans who desire a return to the 90’s or early 2000’s they would once again have felt short-changed. He says he makes films for the masses, the more cynical would claim it’s solely for the money. It’s likely a bit of both, but it is a shame that an actor of his talent seems to be shifting further away from making serious films.

If you have time to burn, and money to waste, give it a whirl. It’s not a disaster just not spectacular. Farah Khan said she doesn’t make tacky films, I’m afraid if she hadn’t already she most certainly has now.

Rating: 6/10