Movie Review: Bombay Talkies (Hindi) 172

May 03, 1913 marked the day when motion picture was born in India, the day that Dadasaheb Phalke’s silent film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ was released. A bit of trivia there is that the female roles in the film were also played by male actors, and the acting talent was drawn from theatre.

Till date, the influence of theatre, and especially the roots from Sanksrit drama still play up in Bollywood’s films. Surely, we love all the extra drama, sometimes characters yelling out lines as if they were on a stage before mikes were invented and the truly inimitable song and dance.

And a film that is supposed to pay a tribute to a century of celluloid adventures of Bollywood that have enthralled not only Indians but even those abroad, ought to have been better. What was supposed to have been an extravagant celebration of cinema merely ends up like a moist firecracker.

Bombay Talkies’ is about four independent stories, directed by four reputed Bollywood directors, Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar & Anurag Kashyap. Any analysis of the movie would have to be broken up across each of these four short stories, rather short films of 30 minutes each.

#1 Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh by Karan Johar has an urban couple Gayatri (Rani Mukherjee) and Dev (Randeep Hooda) whose lives go for a toss when a young gay intern Avinash (Saqib Saleem) enters their lives. The very predictable ending and the men kissing each other has a shock value and the story has actually no connection to the overarching theme of cinema or the centennial anniversary.

#2 Star by Dibakar Banerjee is probably the better one of the lot. It has Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Purandar who has failed at business and employment. Just then, out of the blue, comes an opportunity to act as an extra where he shares screen-space with a big star. This brings out the inner theatre actor in him that had starred in a couple of plays after his father, also an actor had passed away. The animated enactment that he performs for his daughter at the end is indeed very touching.

#3 Sheila Ki Jawaani by Zoya Akhtar is about a little boy called Vicky (Naman Jain) who is attracted to the idea of dressing up as a girl and yearns to be a dancer a la ‘Sheila’ from ‘Tees Maar Khan’. His father (Ranvir Shorey) is obviously annoyed at the idea. Nevertheless, the boy is supported by his sister. This segment has a cameo by Katrina Kaif who extols the idea of following one’s dreams. Still can’t really figure out whether there was even the remotest possibility of it being linked to the centennial.

#4 Murabba by Anurag Kashyap is quite decent. A young man from Allahabad, Vijay who, as per his ailing father’s wishes visits Mumbai to feed a Murabba to Amitabh Bachchan. He hangs around his Bungalow like many others who stand there for hours for a fleeting ‘darshan’ of the super-star. His money is drying up and he needs to hurry! On a stand-alone basis it would have made a good short film that on one hand, exalts the stars and then in the end, exposes the pointlessness of all fandom.

 Did you know? There was a real studio called ‘Bombay Talkies’ in Mumbai from 1934 to 1954 and produced 102 movies. It was a public limited company that was listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange. Founded by actor Himanshu Rai and financed by Rajnarayan Dube, some of the names associated with this marquee include Devika Rani, Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Mehmood Ali, Madhubala & Dilip Kumar.

The movie itself, however is absolutely underwhelming and leaves you a feeling of why did you even choose to watch this film. Some of the situations in some stories are so contrived, convenient and at times inappropriate too. One striking example of the absurdity comes from the first story, where an intern has the gall to make a first conversation loaded with innuendos to the assistant editor in his office. That is just one of the many things that won’t fit into any reasonable logic, outright.

Verdict: ‘Bombay Talkes’ is your typical pseudo-intellectual film. So, if you have a thing for parallel cinema, this is just the film for you. But, in the context of the occasion, it just not a film that pays tribute to a hundred years of Indian cinema. Only for that reason, I rate it as film that struggles to even make it to ‘average’. The montage of all the stars in the end, which is actually a bunch of green-screen stuff put together, doesn’t help either. So, don’t waste your money on this one!

Rating 4/10: Bollywood’s Centennial deserved a better tribute