To be (talli) or not to be

Kerala’s prohibition jokes on twitter set me off on a different thought process. Thanks to the fact that I was listening to Johnny Johnny from Entertainment when I read the news. You know, I can count on my fingers the number of songs that involved drinking that were big, big hits when in the 90s. The most famous one that I can remember is Zara sa jhoom loon main from DDLJ. That’s all. 


Back in the olden days of Bollywood, drinking was something associated with failed love. Most of it was Devdas-ish. You had jilted lovers sing drunkenly about their lost love even as they decried love itself. Ye jo mohabbat hai, remember? Or you had the alcoholic who’d spout philosophy, like in the case of Choo lene do nazuk honthon ko. The song has a lot of gems about the travesty of life. The first depiction of a heroine drinking that I can remember is Meena Kumari in Na jao saiyan chuda ke baiyan, a forlorn, lonely wife, asking her man not to abandon her. So close to her own life. Then there was the inimitable Asha Bhonsale singing Aao huzoor tumko, a seductive song. Mostly only the vamps drank on screen though.  


Drunken songs were not a normal occurrence in the movies. They were a turning point in the plot, occurring out of immense sadness, jealous rages and other intense emotions. Very few older songs were about being high for the sake of being high. That somehow seems to have changed in the recent past. Songs these days are all about drinking and the joys (?) of it. They are the opening acts of the movies, they establish the friendships amongst lead stars, they are a sign of the cool life the protagonists lead.


One of the first such songs that caught on is the 4 baj gaye song from Faltu. It had become all the rage and kept playing on the radio all the time. Then came the Honey Singh era. His songs were all about drinking, doping and women, right upto 4 bottle vodka. (What’s with this 4 anyway?). A friend was embarrassed to confess that her barely able to say his alphabets 2 and a half year old sang D for Daaru peete jao with relish. Race 2 did the honor of rhyming Booze and Shoes. There was the sweet Talli hai ye zameen from Ek main hoon aur ek tu. Then there is the most recent drinking anthem I mentioned earlier – Johnny Johnny. 


Drinking wasn’t ever shown as de rigeur in the older Bollywood. But perhaps its liberalisation, the proliferation of a night life culture, (or just composers and lyricists composing while inebriated :P), but the number of songs centered on alcohol being the fun factor have grown exponentially. Makes me wonder, if Dr. Harshvardhan’s 10 year plan succeeds, what will our Bollywood use as inspiration for dance numbers? As someone told me on twitter, songs surely won’t be written about flavoured milk. But Bollywood, time for you to start researching. 

Lootera – the Ankahee

O’ Henry’s The Last Leaf was a part of our school syllabus, so having heard that Lootera was loosely based on that, meant I knew a little of what to expect. When I saw the trailers, I wasn’t really impressed, the Bhansali-esque blue frames are really not my thing. One of the things that changed my mind somewhat was the music, especially the song Ankahee and I thought that maybe, just maybe I would watch it. But in the week running up to its release, there was a lot of positive buzz about the film and with so much being said about how it will be a great watch, I decided to give it a go. Certain 5/5 reviews also helped the case.
But the 5/5 reviews are probably more responsible than the actual film for my disappointment. Lootera is the kind of movie, by which film professors can demonstrate cinematic grammar to their students. The frames are well thought out, the colour tones change with the mood of the characters, the background score aids the narrative. The actors are well cast and they make an honest effort.
So if everything is right, why did I feel disappointed? In a way, Lootera was like that perfectly chiselled model, whose looks guarantee eyeballs and hence you decide to cast them in a film, only to realise acting is not just about looks. At no point in the movie, despite a brilliant performance by both the protagonists, did I end up empathising with any of them. I waited for that one moment when my heart would well up, when I would cheer the protagonist on, when I would be so invested in their story as to be eager to know what happens next to them. Instead, I was merely observing the proceedings. And this comes from a girl who can even shed a tear looking at how Deepika Padukone was bullied by her friends in Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani for being ‘chashmish scholar’. So why didn’t I feel anything? Isn’t Lootera supposed to be a romantic drama and isn’t romance only worth it, if you feel for the characters? But the only character I actually felt something for was the Zamindar’s, a political representation of those times, rather than romantic. The pathos that reading an O’ Henry story evokes was missing.
I kept coming back to this question and it continues to baffle me. Why, when a movie is technically all that it should be, didn’t I feel anything for the protagonists. I imagine it was because I read reviews about how poetic and great it is, I read of how the camera lingers and caresses (which it does in pure cinematic grammar terms), of how it engrosses. And perhaps that was the biggest disappointment, that some of the descriptions in the reviews, were more lyrical and impactful than the movie itself.
Which brings to mind the fact that there is now this clamour amongst a certain group of critics to laud anything that is supposedly ‘different’ as fabulous. From an era of impromptu scripts, the transition to bound scripts that are strictly adhered to, must have been exhilarting for this group that has closely seen the decline of cinematic excellence in the ’80s and ’90s. But that doesn’t mean anything that follows cinematic grammar is a good movie. But, cinematic grammar has become the trademark of film makers, who want to portray themselves as different from the Dharma-Yashraj camp in Bollywood. To that extent, I guess Anurag Kashyap, Lootera’s producer, has succeeded in creating a niche for himself. However, the only trouble is that now if one wants to watch the same old cliched fluff, one watches a Dharma-Yashraj production and if one wants to watch the same old cliched ‘different’ then one chooses a Phantom production. And so despite all the brilliance, Lootera just didn’t move me. Its a good film but not one I’ll remember fondly for making me fall in or out of love.