Saturday, June 04, 2005

Bunty, Babli aur Bollywood

Significant day in my life, the first time in nearly 10 years that I saw a Hindi film - Bunty and Babli – in its entirety (and on the big screen). I think I overdosed on Hindi movies so much in my childhood that when I finally went off them I just never felt the need to go back. Over the years I’ve faced countless charges of snobbery from friends; depending on my mood, my response ranges from denying the charges vehemently to accepting them and suggesting to the accuser that maybe they should tune the knob on their own viewing choices to ‘Mature’.

Bunty and Babli wasn’t a great film by any standards (not even by Masala Bollywood’s), it was wildly uneven and deteriorated towards the end but on the whole I enjoyed the experience. The first half was a lot of fun, Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee are both charismatic and easy to watch, and most importantly I had great company. But this isn’t a review, I just want to make a few observations about this film and then a larger one about Bollywood.

Here goes:

- Rani Mukherjee, lovely girl and so on but directors/scriptwriters must heretofore work in unison to ensure that she never, ever again plays a character who has to scream, bawl or suffer labour pangs. In some circles, I’m told, her voice is considered huskily sexy. Well, sorry people, but that’s a fallacy. It’s a wicked lie. Her voice is only as sexy as, let’s say, husk. It’s just about tolerable when she whispers but when she weeps loud and long (as she does here in one agonizingly protracted scene at a railway station) it sounds like 700 cats being slaughtered all at once. Seven hundred, not one less. I leapt clean out of my seat when she suddenly screamed on seeing Abhishek being arrested by (copper) Amitabh. Later in the film she gives birth and this time it was like 700 cats being simultaneously slaughtered and reborn. And I didn’t have earmuffs, an aspirin or a cyanide tablet with me in the hall.

- Bachchan Senior made his first appearance midway through the film and while his first scene was electric, in the second half his very presence completely screwed up the movie’s narrative flow. I believe there’s been some hype about this film being the Bachchans’ first joint onscreen appearance. Problem is, their first scene together turned into an extended self-referential joke and the actual storyline was put on standby for at least 20 minutes (during which time Rani Mukherjee was altogether offscreen) while papa and beta joked around and talked about irrelevant things; I must admit though to being slightly shocked when Amitabh tells Abhishek about a brief relationship he had once, and there’s a Rekha song playing distinctly in the background. Anyway, this was followed by another of those incestuous Bollywood item numbers featuring a major star, in this case plastic doll Aishwarya Rai, who dances with the Bachchans. (There’s another one for the family video album, I was thinking.)

- Today’s stars are so articulate in English in real life that there’s a problem when, while playing bucolic characters, they have to speak a few words/a stray phrase in English; they sound far too sophisticated for their characters. This happened a few times with both Abhishek and Rani.

- Who did the sound effects editing for Bunty aur Babli? There was this horrible little noise that would appear on the soundtrack for around two seconds each time the two protagonists were planning a new scheme. I wish I could describe it adequately; the first few times it sounded like a rooster crowing in Hell but later it was more along the lines of a hungry, giggling hyena sneaking up on two fornicating goats in the throes of ecstasy – and all the sounds played together at once. (Okay, no more aural analogies from me.)

- In his first scene, Bachchan senior had this interesting thing going with his voice: it was guttural in a very distinct way, a voice I haven’t heard him use before, I think it might be a Lucknowi accent. But in his subsequent scenes he reverted to his usual style of speaking, and I couldn't help feeling this has to do with appearing in 10-12 movies a year. You’re moving constantly from one shoot to another, mixing up your roles and it becomes hard to maintain any sort of grip on one character. If that’s the case, it reflects badly on the standard Bollywood style of working and makes a case in favour of what Aamir Khan does: dealing only with one film at a time, even if that seems pretentious.

- Abhishek’s good, often very good, but nope, he’s not a patch on Amitabh in his prime. (Fine, I’m a Golden Age-ist.) This film’s bag of references included playing songs from older Amitabh movies in the background. For me this was counter-productive because I would stop paying attention to what was happening and start thinking about Amitabh and Kishore Kumar (when they played the original, vibrant, un-remixed version of “Main hoon Don”) and Amitabh-Rekha (“Salaam-e-Ishq”).

- Prem Chopra and Puneet Issar. When I last met Hindi cinema they were bad guys, now they’re both playing good Sikhs. They shake their heads around apologetically and say ‘Sat Sri Akal ji’. Prem Chopra! What happened?

(Another post on present-day Bollywood to follow soon.)


  1. Amitabh's accent is Allahbadi.

    Yeah all the villains of yesteryear nowadays play harmless stereotypes, even Paresh Rawal. I last saw him in aamir khan's Baazi where he rapes his sister and plays the evil f*ing politician. 2 years later I'm in the US and he's turned into Baburao Apte from the hilarious film Hera Pheri.

  2. I used to have a blog that was really caustic about Bollywood but I stopped after a while with the hate.
    Last bollywood film I watched was Black Friday, my first in almost 5 months.
    The one thing you will notice about Bollywood is that they have a great technical scene. Their posters, their advertising, the cinematography (but not the editing and sound) are top notch.
    Somehow this high tech stuff still can't make a good movie though.

  3. "Somehow this high tech stuff still can't make a good movie though"

    Interesting you say that. I'm writing out a companion post right now about how all the high tech stuff is so superficial and often even impedes the potential of many Bollywood films - because the flashiness, jump cuts, visual gimmickry and star posturing etc often become the whole point of the movie.

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  7. Tsk tsk, Ideas Marketplace (that's an odd name for a person, I have to say) - rude comments go straight into the trashcan.

  8. oh dear you are hard to please... hindi movies and three comments go to the trash bin!

    i wonder what company motivated you to go in the first place; and how (s)he or it would have enjoyed the movie, with you talking about cats when the poor hero is getting pushed in the jail!

  9. Sorry you considered my comments rude - i did not intend them to be so. The point was your interview with Chatwal - who is a crook of unspeakable proportions - the public records say so you don't have to take the word of an anonymous source - for a variety of reasons i cannot divulge my name but that is irrelevant. All I urged was that you research into his background before you gush over a person who has defrauded institutions and people of crores of rupees and millions of dollars. Add to that [ersonal morality that is simply abominable. As a journalist you owe it to your readers to present an accurate picture of those you interview

  10. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for the clarification. I'll take your word that you didn't intend to be rude or personal (though to be frank it's difficult, given the tone of your original comment).

    A couple of points:

    One, it would have been nicer if you had sent me a mail instead of putting up a comment completely unrelated to my post. My mail ID is there for all to see on the 'Profile' page.

    Two, "gush", did you say? Gush? Really? Did you read the article? Did you read, for instance, the tongue-in-cheek bits about Vikram Chatwal's jet-setting lifestyle, the boredom, the starting new projects just because they can, the appearance in the terrible film, and the eye-glaze? Incidentally I had to work hard to keep some of those bits from being edited out; it's difficult to introduce a single note of irreverence when you're working for a conservative mainstream paper, but I think I managed reasonably well on the whole.

    And everything that was "positive" in the article was deliberately placed in speech-marks, so that it's understood we're only reporting what they said, not endorsing it. It's interesting you found the article so favourable towards the Chatwals, since I got a teary call from their PR asking why I'd poked fun at them. Anyway...

    If you're inclined to reply to this, I'd prefer you do it via mail - at (You can create an anonymous mail ID for the purpose.) Unless of course the whole idea is to pillory me in public, in which case you can expect more comments to be deleted.


    P.S. The "for a variety of reasons i cannot divulge my name" bit is hilarious, dude. It's what EVERY anonymous commenter who wants to be insulting says, and it really doesn't impress anyone any more.

  11. I've sent an email to your yahoo account. Thanks

  12. "Hit the nail on the head" kar diya hai bhai sahab! Very interesting read. I too find Rani's voice little irritating at times, now I know I'm not alone.

    You've missed some good movies though. because of this only-non-hindi-film pratigya :)

  13. JAS,
    when did this chatwal article appear. please send me the date. want to read it. thanks. Will comment on your bunty babli blog and all the larger comments on bollywood that you have made, once I see the film.

  14. loved that review, now i must see the film...

  15. speaking of unnecessary technical frills, please see how they are overused and abused in the ludicrously unwatchable 'Dus'. which someone tells me is a hit. eeeek!

  16. Hey Abhishek you out standing in each movie.You keep improving to every movie you do and thats the best part, and i also know this is not ending.Anyway boy keep up the good job, Take care and God Bless you.

  17. Buddy, the accent used when big B appeared was Haryanvi! Lucknawi accent is exact opposite of that.

    I agree it was a crap movie!

  18. Easily I agree but I think the brief should secure more info then it has.

  19. Again a gentle post. Thanks your friend