The good thing about living in a country with a Friday/Saturday weekend is that movies release a day earlier than other places, and because of the extra day an early evening screening can still be relatively empty (most people are still at work). Not that I expected a huge turnout for Sudhir Mishra‘s latest, Khoya Khoya Chand, but in multiplexes Hindi films are shown in the smaller screens, and those hundred odd seats can fill up quickly.
Starring a bunch of well regarded actors who aren’t quite stars yet (and one wonders why), Khoya Khoya Chand is a gorgeous, quirky and ultimately satisfying movie about Indian movies. Om Shanti Om from a couple of weeks back also was an homage, but while it was a loud and tongue-in-cheek pastiche of 1970s potboilers, Mishra’s film is a subversive, adult drama set in the fifties and sixties, the transition era from black-and-white melodramas to technicolour kitsch. It does so with class.
The theatre was pretty empty; in this neck of the woods stars sell, and unfortunately, despite Shiney Ahuja and Soha Ali Khan being in more than a couple of hit films between them, they aren’t considered box office darlings (…yet). In this film, Ms. Khan’s the dancer turned ingenue turned rising star, while Mr. Ahuja’s a novelist turned screenwriter who’s drafted in to work on one of her films. She’s being groomed and bedded and marionetted by an older star (Rajat Kapoor), he’s exorcising his demons through cinema.
In anyone else’s hands, this film with its hackneyed premise would be a complete shambles. But Sudhir Mishra is not your average director, and when you buy a ticket for one of his films you should expect something a little out of the ordinary. Don’t get me wrong: on the surface the film is a melodrama. There’s enough stolid weeping and heaving sighs, but that’s just a device that puts you in the period that defined Indian cinematic melodrama. Everything else — the screenplay, the characters, the dialogue — are refreshingly new. It feels less like a movie and more like some kind of epic novel, and is structured like one. It’s a weird, sometimes surreal film and I’m sure that will put off a few people, but it really worked for me. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a poem.
Of course, if the actual film had been a complete dud I wouldn’t have really cared, because it just looks so good. The cinematography, the lighting, the set design are all top notch. They’re hyper-real, expressionistic like the screenplay, changing as the years go by to suit not just the period but the look of the films that came with it, and also the characters who are experiencing it. Shiney Ahuja’s scenes, for instance, are shot in warm brown hues with deep blacks, while the sequences in the sixties are riotously painted with the pinks and turquoises of early cheap colour films. It’s done with a kind of subtlety and grace that is breathtaking. It’s like watching Guru Dutt — in colour! It’s what that sepia-dunked monstrosity from earlier this year — Guru — should have looked like (and that was probably made at thrice the budget). This is a film worth watching just for watching.
That the characters are as good as the visuals only adds to the enjoyment. They shake off their stereotypes, stamp them into dust and are unapologetic about it. They’re politically incorrect, sexist, misogynist, exploitative and flawed — and you still like them. While the lead pair are the focus of the film and they do their jobs very well, it is really an ensemble cast, and what a cast indeed. Rajat Kapoor brings his A-game as usual, while Vinay Pathak, Saurabh Shukla and a host of others (even Sushmita Mukherjee, who never gets a good part!) play equally complex characters — actual characters — instead of just the filler roles or comedy jobs they are usually given.
But the real revelation of the film, for me, is Sonya Jehan. She’s terrific in a role that would otherwise have just been throwaway. She shows some real acting chops, and there’s parts of the film where you wonder why Shiney Ahuja is still pining for the that other woman. Hopefully, this role will lead to more good stuff from Ms. Jehan. I’d hate to see her slumming around in the latest Mahesh Bhatt bollysploitation thing a few years from now.
Now, of course, the big question: will this film do well? Um, probably not. It’s just too weird. Young people won’t get the strange 1950 affectations of the characters (the young couple a few rows behind me chattered and giggled all though it, and were laughing at the film). Old people will be outraged that their nostalgic vision of the pure classic era of Hindi films is shown to be full of immoral, oversexed, inelegant and rude people, however realistic that might be. It’s still a great film, and I dearly hope that it will find an audience, but I fear that audience will not be in the hundreds of millions.
But what do I know? I’ve been wrong about this stuff before, so don’t let that get you down. Khoya Khoya Chand is a fantastic film, and is well worth your money (just don’t expect a typical Bollywood movie).
And now, a rant about the english subtitles. Warning: lots of naughty, naughty words.
Those Fucking English Subtitles
Of late, somebody’s been sending out Hindi films with English subtitles, and whoever subtitles them seems to think that the word ‘fuck’ is interchangeable with the comma.
Note to subtitle dude: “STOP THE FUCKING USE OF ‘FUCK’ IN YOUR FUCKING SUBTITLES!”
It’s horrible! “What are you doing?” says a character. “What the fuck are you doing?” reads the subtitle. “You’re as selfish as he is,” says the girl. “You’re as much of a bastard,” reads the text. So much of this movie especially is in the nuanced dialogue; the particular accents and colourful patois of these varied characters.
When Shiney Ahuja’s mannered Luknowi tells someone off, he says, “Here’s what I suggest you do: Take your script, place it under your rear, and take a long, deep breath.” What does the subtitle say? “Shove it up your ass!”
Half the script is lost in this inane, immature subtitling job. If you don’t understand Hindi, then I’m sorry, but the film is pretty-much ruined. The only problem with Khoya Khoya Chand are those. fucking. english. sub-fucking-titles!