Directed by: Karan Johar, Dibakar Bannerjee, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap
Starring: Rani Mukerji, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Vinay Kumar Singh, Ranvir Shorey
All images courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com
Thank god for film festivals. If it wasn’t for the London Indian Film Festival 2013 (LIFF), I am not sure when I would have got the chance to see Bombay Talkies on the big screen (at the time of writing, there is no announcement of a general release in the UK) which would have been a real shame. Because this Hindi cinema tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema deserves to be seen in a packed cinema and shown to as wide an audience as possible.
Made up of four different segments (clearly marked with the director’s name at the start with a black screen in between each chapter) it would be easy to dismiss Bombay Talkies as being four unrelated stories; there is no common narrative thread nor do any of the characters from each strand interact with one another. Instead, Bombay Talkies is more conceptual, showing how the influence of Hindi cinema is interpreted in many different ways but ultimately belong to that umbrella organisation that is Indian cinema.
Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh – Think you know Karan Johar’s cinema? Think again as this story had a urgent and unrelenting drive to be told, moving at break neck speed and encouragingly, unrelenting in making Hindi cinema confront its attitude to sexuality. But the Johar trademarks were all still there – pop culture references, super styled wardrobes + interiors as well as many quotable lines. The performances are top notch with Mukerji, Hooda and Saleem all giving excellent accounts of themselves but as always, it is Johar who steals the show with his best work to date.
Star – Trust Bannerjee to give an eclectic offering that gives a masterclass in spatial composition – contrast the small flat which fills every inch of the screen with the massive space fest of the film studio. Whilst Amrapurkar’s appearance was a wonderful (and inspired) surprise, it is Siddiqui’s astonishing talent that really grabs here – bringing the character of the failed actor to life, whether it is his movement, dialogue delivery or just his expression, this was a tour de force performance. This segment received a long round of applause at the end.
Sheila Ki Jawani – I had read this was very similar to Pankh, a film about a trans gender boy. But whilst there were thematic similarities, Akhtar concentrates on the brother-sister bonding, with some wonderful comic moments (the surprise present intended for the sister was a high point) as well as the sweet ending. The child actors are fantastic as is Shorey who plays a stubborn father by the book but with sympathy. Both inspiring and uplifting.
Murabba – A fitting conclusion to the preceding parts, Kashyap keeps the viewer hanging on till the end for that vital release where on screen justice is delivered. Unafraid as always to challenge the norms, there are monologues. plenty of fan boy detail and above all, a refreshing lack of pretence (that’s not to say the other stories are insincere!). Singh is perfectly cast as Vijay, really getting into the physicality the role offers and getting the audience onside which is crucial to this story. I also loved Amitabh Bachchan’s cameo which he has fun with and again, this received a round of applause at the end.
Finishing off with the title song featuring most of the A-list of today’s cinema (where Shah Rukh Khan received the biggest cheer) Bombay Talkies embodies the optimism for the next 100 years of Hindi cinema and rightly so. The film shows us that not only can Indian cinema host a range of diverse subjects from LGBT themes to literary adaptations to stories of the common man but can execute these ideas to a logical and creative resolution that satisfies, entertains and even adds value. I sincerely hope this gets a wider release as this is certainly going to be one title which I will be recommending to those who have never seen a Hindi film. Without a doubt, a must watch for all fans of Indian cinema.