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.
- 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.)