Bollywood 2014: What to Watch For in the Next Few Months
In 2014 so far, Bollywood has churned out all sorts of hits and misses, some eye-rollingly predictable, others pleasantly unexpected. Unconventional stories like Dedh Ishqiya, Highway, and City Lights succeeded beyond box office predictions, albeit their across-the-board praise surprised no one. Some big-budget feel-good films like Queen and 2 States made steep profits, winning over both audiences and critics. Cringe-worthy slapstick comedies Humshakals and Entertainment made their mark at the box office, and Salman Khan’s masala flick Kick is all set to break profit records. Incidentally, Khan was also leading Jai Ho, the demise of which shocked every film pundit and Salman-fan. Gunday, a tribute to ’80s gangster movies, and rom-com Bewakoofiyan were other surprising box office duds, simultaneously panned by critics.
The remainder of the year has some interesting projects in store, promising that the best of 2014 is yet to come.
Mardaani (August, 22)
The title means “manhood,” and the film is about a tough female cop, Shivani Roy, who is tracking down the young boss of a child trafficking mafia. The ambitious criminal kidnaps a girl Roy loves like a daughter, and the case becomes intensely personal, turning from a fight against a cruel system of exploitation into an obsessive hunt for a single man.
This movie has been drawing attention more for its lead actress, Rani Mukerji. Rani means “queen,” and she was indeed touted as the “Queen of Hearts” by various magazines and media outlets during the early ’00s. She ruled the box office, and critics and audiences alike loved her for the honesty of her portrayals. A few underwhelming projects and incoming fresh faces sidelined her for a while, though she occasionally shone in minor supporting roles: as a prostitute in Saawariya (2007) and a neglected housewife holding on to the grief of her son’s untimely death in Talaash (2012). This project is produced by Mukerji’s new husband, highly respected filmmaker Aditya Chopra. She is the only well-known member of the cast, and features in every bit of the trailer. The movie seems to be tailor-made for her — a wedding gift of sorts. Directed by Pradeep Sarkar (who has previously helmed the stunning Parineeta in 2005), Mardaani will hopefully be a vehicle worthy of the talented Mukerji.
Daawat-e-Ishq (September, 5)
Roughly translating to “feast of love,” Daawat-e-Ishq is a rom-com promising the distinctive flavor of the Hyderabadi and Lucknowi cultures of India. Both cities are known for their large muslim populations, but also for their notable differences in cuisine, dialect, and customs. The film features the fresh pairing of Parineeti Chopra and Aditya Roy Kapoor. While it doesn’t look like Parineeti managed to deliver an authentic Hyderabadi accent (based on the trailer), hopefully her genuine acting makes up for it. The film is about a Hyderabadi girl who takes issue with the dowry system of arranged marriages, and a Lucknow-based restaurateur who wins her heart. But then she gets cold feet.
The trailer showcases a lot of madness interspersed with sweet moments and funny situations, and the lead pair has been doing the rounds of various TV shows to promote their film. The marketing in general has been quite creative; for example, the two visited a soap opera in which the characters happened to be competing in a Hyderabadi vs. Lucknwowi cooking contest and needed the help of these two experts. Producer Aditya Chopra (in no way related to Parineeti) has lately been associated with creativity, and his production house (Yash Raj Films) has shifted a lot of its focus to the likes and preferences of the twenty-somethings among its audience. This should be a film that depicts relationships realistically (as opposed to the true love of fantasies) in the context of today’s urban youth.
Mary Kom (September, 5)
A biopic about the World Champion boxer, Mary Kom stars Priyanka Chopra (cousin of the aforementioned Parineeti) in the title role. MC Mary Kom is five-time World Amateur boxing champion, and the only female boxer to have won a medal in each of the six world championships. She has ranked 4th in the world in the flyweight category. The film traces her humble beginnings as the daughter of poor farmers in a remote village in the Northeastern state of Manipur. It depicts her struggle to overcome the stigma of a girl pursuing something as “unladylike” as boxing, and further follows the various ups and downs of her life.
Like Mardaani, Mary Kom also has a singular star attraction: Chopra. The power-packed trailer has her in every scene, and it’s evident she has bitten into this role with relish. It’s gradually becoming more and more common in Bollywood to have a woman as the star of the film, as women-centric films are doing well, and producers are getting over their fear of “no hero = no audience.” Such films have ranged from edge-of-your-seat thrillers like Kahaani (2012) to feel-good coming of age films like Queen (2014). Now with Mary Kom, Chopra will be the latest actress to carry an entire film on her own shoulders.
It’s produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who’s known for the grand artistic scale of his films; and directed by Omung Kumar. Chopra last wowed us with her performance in Barfi! (2012), in which she played an autistic woman of a sweet disposition to perfection. The grittiness of this offering is a departure from the comfort zones of both Bhansali and Chopra. Here’s hoping that with this film, Chopra will make up for some of her not-so-great offerings since Barfi!
Finding Fanny (September, 12)
Finding Fanny follows the journey of five small-town characters on a road trip to find one old man’s lost love. Ferdie, a retired mailman, discovers that a letter he wrote 46 years ago to the love of his life, Fanny, never reached her. Similarities to The Notebook end here. He sets off to find out what happened to her, accompanied by a young woman bitter after being widowed on her wedding day, an obnoxious self-important old woman, a belligerent old artist who can’t keep his eyes off her derriere, and a brash mechanic who drives them. They get lost on the way, and find themselves increasingly unsure that Fanny isn’t merely a figment of Ferdie’s imagination. It’s evident from the trailer that each of these characters is highly quirky in his or her own right, and together they form an equally dysfunctional and lovable family unit.
Directed by Homi Adajania (Being Cyrus ), Finding Fanny stars Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, and Pankaj Kapur. These three are stalwarts of acting. Shah (pictured at the center), who plays Ferdie, graduated from the National School of Drama — the country’s top acting program since the ’50s — in his early twenties, and has since been regarded as one of the best actors in the country. His major body of work has been outside the scope of commercial films, in “parallel cinema” — lower budget artsy films that care more about storytelling and characters than about glitz and glamour.
Pankaj Kapur (pictured far left), plays the old artist. He is another actor of this caliber — often unrecognizable as he transforms himself into various characters. A couple of his most memorable roles were a stigmatized autistic young man wrongly accused of murder (Khamosh ) and the bigoted but loving father of a rebellious teenager (Chameli ki Shaadi ) — assayed with equal ease (although he was rather young for the latter role at the time). Even the slightest of gestures and quirks he brings to his performances light up the frame. Both Shah and Kapur failed to pass the strict primary criterion for pursuing a career as a lead actor in Bollywood: conventional “good” looks; yet they reigned in parallel cinema, and still rule the hearts and minds of the rare academic film lovers.
Unlike her co-actors in this film, Ms. Kapadia (pictured next to Kapur) forayed into Bollywood with commercial blockbuster young-love story Bobby (1973), but subsequently stepped out of the limelight when she quit movies after her marriage to Rajesh Khanna, the biggest superstar of his day. Their failed marriage is still seen by some as having prevented Kapadia from reaching her true potential as a star, but she made the best of it by returning to films, and mesmerizing her true fans with her expressive eyes and voice rather than the glitter and tinsel that was expected of her peers.
If seeing these three delights together in the same film isn’t reason enough to watch it, it also has Deepika Padukone as the young widow, and Arjun Kapoor, as the mechanic (two popular actors of the newest generation).
Khoobsurat (September, 19)
A remake of the 1980 classic of the same name, Khoobsurat (“beautiful”) is about a headstrong, lively girl who rattles the strict discipline of a joint family household while she stays with them for a few weeks, also finding love along the way. Since it’s being remade by Disney, the family has been promoted to royal status, and the heroine to the king’s physiotherapist. Naturally, her love interest is the prince. They’ve also added a tagline: “The royal misfit.” The romance has been given more screen time than in the original, which had focused mainly on the main protagonist’s direct and indirect interactions with the family’s matriarch.
A female-centric film, the original was highly lauded, and won multiple prestigious National Film Awards as well as Filmfare Awards for acting, direction, and in other areas. Rekha, the mononymous lead of the original, is a living legend, with over 180 projects to her name in a career spanning over 45 years. Rekha was, and is, an enigma. Known and loved equally for her beauty, sex appeal, acting mettle, versatility, off-screen persona, controversies and ultimately her grace. The director, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, needs no introduction and is recognized internationally as a legend, whose films continue to appeal to all ages and cultures even 16 years after his final film.
These are incredibly big shoes to fill for Sonam Kapoor and Shashanka Ghosh, the lead actress and director of the remake, respectively. Ms. Kapoor has the oodles of charm the role requires, and her smile is bright enough to light up any frame she is in. The prince, played by Fawad Afzal Khan, has been garnering lots of attention for his princely good looks. Given that this is his first Indian film, the pressure of expectations is quite high! Fun fact: the role of the strict disciplinarian (queen) mother, originally assayed by the late Dina Pathak, will be played by her daughter Ratna Pathak Shah, who happens to be married to Naseeruddin Shah.
Haider (October, 2)
Haider is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, set in the surreal mountains and valleys of Kashsmir, in a political family. The director, Vishal Bharadwaj, has previously adapted Macbeth (Maqbool ) and Othello (Omkara ) in rustic rural Indian settings, to much critical acclaim. Shahid Kapoor (real-life son of the previously mentioned Pankaj Kapur) stars in the title role. Tabu (of The Namesake fame) plays his mother, and Kay Kay Menon plays the power-hungry uncle. One can’t go wrong with a team like this, and if the trailer is any proof, they haven’t. The mood and lighting used are extremely grim. The picturesque locations of Kashmir, usually depicted in Bollywood as a romantic honeymoon destination, have been creatively used here to reflect the eeriness of what unfolds in the silence of the snow. Gertrude’s character has been changed to be Hamlet’s step-mother, and the famous (or infamous) Oedipus complex the original Hamlet is thought to have suffered from will be shown in a new and more explicit light. The legendary dialogue, “To be, or not to be,” has been quite poetically translated, although its been used in a bedroom scene rather than the iconic Gravedigger one. It’s tone and delivery have also been changed from introspective to dramatic — a part of Hamlet’s act of madness. Haider is Kapoor’s second collaboration with director Bharadwaj, after the nuanced masterpiece Kaminey (2009). Kaminey was a trademark Bharadwaj; no matter how many times it is watched, one comes away with something new — a bit of foreshadowing or dramatic irony — that went unnoticed before. If Haider is up to the same mark, it ought to be incredible.
Monsoon Shootout (November, 7)
A noir thriller, Monsoon Shootout has already won much acclaim at international film festivals including Cannes, but hasn’t been released in India yet. It stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, a powerhouse performer, and explores the process of human decision-making. It uses the context of a Mumbai cops and gangsters drama to examine three possible reactions a young policeman can have when confronted with a ruthless killer, and the respective outcomes of those choices. The film uses a moment of uncertainty of whether or not to pull the trigger as the branching point of the plot(s?), returning to the same scene three separate times. Siddiqui portrays the killer. Also an alum of the National School of Drama, Siddiqui is another actor paying the price of not having conventional good looks. Acting talent usually comes second to superficial beauty in commercial Bollywood, and despite proving himself time and again in films like Kahaani (2012), Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Talaash (2012), Miss Lovely (2012), The Lunchbox (2013), and many others, Siddiqui is at a point where critics and even a few filmgoers love him for his incredible screen presence and ability to mould himself to fit the skin of any character; but he is also ridiculed for being in films with a dark (read: ugly) complexion and scrawny body. When it comes to the ridiculous standards of physical appearance for women found worldwide, India boasts of equal rights: even men are bullied for having the “wrong” body type to be an actor. Despite being the star of the film, he’s not even featured on the poster. The way the camera loves him though, Siddiqui actually is incredibly sexy.
Bombay Velvet (November, 28)
Also a noir film, Bombay Velvet is worth looking forward to because of its director, Anurag Kashyap, and its actors, Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, and Kay Kay Menon. It’s set in the ’60s, before Mumbai became a metropolis, and is meant to be a portrait of the city in that era. Kapoor plays a street fighter; Sharma plays a jazz singer and Kapoor’s love interest. Further plot details have not been revealed, but Kashyap, who has written and/or directed almost 30 films, usually boasts of both quality and entertainment in his work. A versatile filmmaker, Kashyap is adept in various genres, from comedy and romance, to drama and thrill. Prominent director Karan Johar, known for his candyfloss romances (most famously Kuch Kuch Hota Hai  and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham ) will also be seen acting for the first time since his role as a sidekick in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). He will play the main antagonist in Bombay Velvet, a flamboyant media mogul trying to resurrect his crumbling empire. This is exciting in itself, because Johar’s image as a lovable talk show host (Koffee with Karan) and romantic director makes it difficult to imagine him as evil. This experiment will either succeed beyond anyone’s expectations, or will go down in flames of epic fail. Either way, it will become the talk of the decade. No posters or trailers have been released yet, adding to the mystery and intrigue surrounding this film.
PK (December, 19)
Not much is known about PK, other than that it stars Aamir Khan and is directed by Rajkumar Hirani. These are two people whose names alone ensure quality. And if their previous collaboration (3 Idiots ) is any indicator, this should be in every way brilliant and hilarious. Hirani is perhaps best described as a serious maker of comedies. His work is always funny, always emotional, always relatable, always stimulating, and sometimes life-changing. His films depict the humor in everyday situations in the lives of common people, and carry some sort of social message. His previous films have tackled the repressive education system in India (3 Idiots), the merits of peaceful civil disobedience (Lage Raho Munna Bhai ), and the healing power of love and friendship (Munna Bhai MBBS ). Hirani’s track record speaks for itself, and the mystery of what his latest project is about is doing wonders for its publicity. Aamir Khan is especially notable for his apparent success in cracking the secret to commercial success without compromise of cinematic quality. Nicknamed “The Perfectionist,” Khan is known for his method techniques, improvisations on the script, master marketing, and of course stardom. Nearly every film he stars in breaks a box office record, and usually does so without abandoning the laws of physics or logic. Even in the masala entertainer Dhoom 3, Khan and his acting were the best things about the film. The first look poster of PK was released on August 2, and its boldness became a sensation, with #AamirPK becoming a worldwide trending topic within a few hours.
This lineup is quite refreshing, but of course these are just a select few of the films to watch out for. Many big-budget juggernauts will be releasing as well, the most prominent being Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Happy New Year, the trailer of which released last week. It was trending on Twitter and Facebook within a few hours of its YouTube release, and the film is expected to be one of the year’s biggest blockbusters. However, the trailer blatantly promises a heavy overdose of flashy masala fare, and more of the same is not really much to look forward to. There are also sure to be many unexpected hits and misses. The next few months are quite eventful for Bollywood, and hopefully the releases listed above will not disappoint.
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