Cast: Rani Mukherjee, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Naman Jain, Khushi Dubey, Vineet Kumar Singh and Sudhir Pandey
Directors: Karan Johar, Dibakar Bannerjee, Zoya Akhtar, and Anurag Kashyap
A girl on a railway station who croons Lata Mangeshkar songs with aching luminosity, a stoic gluttonous ostrich, a flirty cocky gay entertainment journalist, a closet actor, a little boy who likes to dance like Katrina Kaif and a man from Allahabad who just wants to meet Amitabh Bachchan for a few seconds … Such are the engrossing characters that populate the unforgettable world of Bombay Talkies. Bombay Talkies is that rarity, which makes us thankful for the gift of the movies.
This story more than any other, pushes Indian cinema to the edge to explore a theme and emotions that have so far been swept under the carpet. Karan, whose most brilliant film My Name Is Khan, was also about a marginalised community, strips the urban relationship of all its shock value. He looks at the three characters’ frightening spiritual emptiness with a dispassion that was denied to the characters in his earlier exploration of crumbling marital values in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. Thanks to the unsparing editing by Deepa Bhatia, a gently arousing background score by Hitesh Sonik, deft but credible dialogues penned by Niranjan Iyenger and camerawork by Anil Mehta that sweeps gently across three wounded lives, Karan is able to nail the poignancy and the irony of his urban fable in just four-five key scenes. This is his best work to date. Rani delivers another power-packed performance. It’s Saqib Saleem who steals this segment with his unmitigated spontaneity and reined-in ebullience. The second story by Dibakar Bannerjee features that wonderful chameleon actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a man who would have been an actor if only life’s drudgeries had not overtaken his life. Dibakar is a master-creator of vignettes from everyday life. Here his detailing of chawl life is unerring. Nikos Andritsakis’s cinematography doesn’t miss a single nuance in Nawaz’s sad yet hopeful, bleak yet bright existence. The sequence where Siddiqui washes clothes with the chawl’s women is savagely funny and poignant, as is his life-changing moment when Nawaz gets to perform one shot with Ranbir Kapoor. No we don’t see Ranbir, we just feel his presence, and we also hear filmmaker Reema Kagti giving orders from the directorial chair, but we don’t see her either. Nawaz in Dibakar’s deft hands, takes his character through a journey of profoundly saddening self-discovery without any hint of self-pity. This segment is quirky funny and tragic. No one is allowed to feel sorry for Nawaz’s character. Not even Nawaz. Ebullient and enchanting are the descriptions that come to mind while watching Zoya Akhtar’s film about a little boy (Naman Jain, brilliant) who would rather dance to Katrina Kaif’s song than become a cricketer or a pilot, as per the wishes of his tyrant papa (Ranveer Shorey). The household brims over with song, dance and giggles between the Katrina-enamoured boy and his sibling and confidante (a very confident Khushi Dubey). Charming warm humorous and vivacious Zoya’s film serves up a very gentle moral lesson. Let a child grow the way it wants to. Zoya’s film makes our hearts acquire wings. And yes, it immortalises Katrina Kaif.
Bombay Talkies is segmented and layered, yet cohesive and compelling from the first frame to the last. While unravelling the magic of cinema and its impact on the minds of audiences, Bombay Talkies also displays how much cinema has evolved over the generations. This is a beguiling, beautiful and befitting homage to 100 years of Indian cinema. It’s also proof that different stories in an episodic film could comfortably have directors with different sensitivities staring in the same line of vision.
If you watch only one film a year make sure it’s this one.