Badlapur: Sriram Raghavan’s neo-noir

“Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest. And, like a forest it’s easy to lose your way… to get lost… to forget where you came in.”
– Hattori Hanzō (from Quentin Tarantino’s film Kill Bill Vol 1)

Among Bollywood’s contemporary filmmakers, no one does justice to revenge (as a theme) as Sriram Raghavan does with Badlapur. That’s probably because, apart from cutting out the usual Bollywood glitz and masala, Raghavan quickly gets down to the essence of what a theme like revenge deserves. And, that’s exactly what he serves up in his latest revenge noir Badlapur.

Revenge as a theme, as well as a human response to being hurt or being wronged, is dark. It feeds on the negative side of our emotions. And, only a few filmmakers in India can take chances with Indian audiences with revenge the way Raghavan has in Badlapur – i.e. without the glitz, glamour, song and dance, or the melodrama – to deliver a shock we aren’t accustomed to.

This means Badlapur is a serious film. There’s no Bollywood-style escape into fantasy. And yet, Badlapur has us captivated for over two hours.

Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org

The story is simple. A man’s – a young husband-and-father’s – life is unexpectedly shattered when his wife and son are killed in a foiled escape from a bank robbery. Of the two bank robbers, one escapes with the money and disappears, while the other is caught. Raghavan sets this premise right in the beginning of the film, prompting him to add an extension to the title of the film with Don’t Miss The Beginning.

We feel for the man’s loss. We identify with his grief. We even understand why he may wish to become reclusive. But what happens to the man thereafter is what creates discomfort in us as Indian audience. We see a dark transformation in the man as he waits 15 years to take revenge on his wife-and-child’s killers. That’s where Raghavan lays a trap for us.

For, though we understand the man’s need for revenge and wish that he does avenge his wife and child, we somehow don’t want him to go through with it in the cold and calculated manner that he does. We see a lovable grieving man become a predator and a cold-blooded killer; and we are uncomfortable in accepting this. We wonder, would we do this if we experienced something similar in our lives?

The good thing about Badlapur is that Raghavan doesn’t give us an answer in the end. Yes, he does make us wonder about good and evil… about what revenge can be or can mean… but there is no moral preaching. There is no truth served up as an answer. All we get is a glimpse of what revenge can do to us. But then, Badlapur is a dark and serious film that does what it sets out to do.

As the quote from Kill Bill Vol 1 says in the beginning of this post: in our desire for revenge, we can lose our way. With Badlapur, we do.

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015, Mumbai 2

Over the last few days of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015, I attended many more events and performances which are worth mentioning.

FILM

Dozakh in Search of Heaven, a film by Zaigham Imam and based on his novel, was screened at the Visitor’s Centre Auditorium in CSVMS The Museum. The film dwelt on the theme of communal harmony and told a wonderful tale of accepting our beliefs and our religions through the innocence of a boy from a Muslim family who had befriended both his family and the Hindu priest in his neighbourhood while searching for the truth for himself.

Supermen of Malegaon, a documentary film by Faiza Ahmad Khan, screened at the Visitor’s Centre Auditorium in CSVMS The Museum, presented a funny and lovable narrative of how an amateur filmmaker in a small town called Malegaon makes an indigenous spoofy ‘Superman’ film, customised to his hometown audience, in order to entertain and bring together all the communities of the town.

LITERARY DISCUSSIONS

Inventing Musical Traditions, a discussion on the changes in Indian Classical Music, both in the Karnatak tradition and the Hindustani tradition, was held at the David Sassoon Library garden. This informative discussion, between T M Krishna (Karnatak tradition) and Aneesh Pradhan (Hindustani tradition), was moderated by Asad Zaidi, and enlightened us on the modern history (i.e. 150 years or so) of Indian Classical Music.

T M Krishna, Asad Zaidi, Aneesh Pradhan

T M Krishna, Asad Zaidi, Aneesh Pradhan

Is there an Indian Noir?, held at the David Sassoon Library garden, was a lively discussion between Siddharth Bhatia (journalist and author) and Sriram Raghavan (Bollywood filmmaker), peppered with film clips and nuances, of the Noir as a genre in Bollywood and its absence from Bollywood in recent times. Of course, Sriram Raghavan’s latest film ‘Badlapur’ had not been released at the time of the discussion.

THEATRE

A play from Manipur, Nahaakgee Nungsirabi – Local Foreigner (in Manipuri, Hindi and English), presented by Molina & Sushant Singh Production, at NGMA, was a moving no-frills depiction of our Indian/Hindustani responses to – and non-inclusion of – others from the North-Eastern states of India. It was an eye-opener and I hope we learnt something from the performance.

At Gallery Beyond, I found Does God not catch a cold? (in English) refreshingly stimulating. Presented by Black and White, the play, a comedy, written and directed by Prthvir Solanki and with a cast that included Kundan Shreshtha, Derrek Xavier, Meghana Telang and Kedar Nagarajan, sort of reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting For Godot’.

Meghana Telang, Kedar Nagarajan, Derrek Xavier, Kundan Shreshtha

Meghana Telang, Kedar Nagarajan, Derrek Xavier, Kundan Shreshtha

Bereavement (in English), also at Gallery Beyond, was presented by Metamorphosis and contained two solo acts – both written and directed by Omkar Bhatkar and were based on the theme of loneliness. The first, based on Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ was performed by Manav Arora. Somehow, it didn’t quite engage me to the extent I had expected it. The other, based on Kamala Das’ writings and performed by Bageshri Joshirao was viscerally moving.

Orochi And Kaalia (in English, Hindi and a little Japanese), a solo act by Anita Salim, was presented by The Phoenix Players at NGMA. It dealt with the universality of myths and the common ground they cover across time, borders and cultures. The play was probably meant for children and, therefore, was a total misfit with the adult audience who attended the play.

Kiske Roke Ruka Hai Savera (in Hindi, Urdu and English) by Ekjute Theatre Group contained three solo acts by Rhiya Yadav, Juhi Babbar Soni and Nadira Zaheer Babbar. Each act portrayed a journey through life by a Muslim woman – and her trials and tribulations in trying to break through societal norms and beliefs to create her own identity. Happily, all three performances, which were written and directed by Nadira Zaheer Babbar, and partly by Juhi Babbar Soni, succeeded with aplomb in presenting their messages and keeping us entertained for the evening. Well done!

URBAN DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE

Soazic Guezennec

Soazic Guezennec

I also attended four short presentations on City-Inspired: Design Marathon at Durbar Hall at the Town Hall building. The first presentation was a joint discussion on books: Kamu Iyer on his book ‘Boombay’ and Nisha Nair Gupta on her book ‘People Called Mumbai’. I found this a little boring. The second was an engaging photographic presentation by Soazic Guezennec on ‘Subjective Architecture Reality’ – a foreigner’s view of a new/fantasy Mumbai, featuring imaginary architectural projects from an imaginary realty company.

In the third presentation, architect and interior designer Alfaz Miller showcased sections from his project on the interiors of ‘T2’ – the brand new Terminal 2 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), Mumbai. In the excitement, we were almost sitting on the edge of our seats. The final presentation by Zameer Basrai was on his firm’s (The Busride’s) exploration of, and attempts at, re-building neighbourhoods – where he showcased a small modern village called Ranwar in Bandra (West), Mumbai.

[For colourful photos of HT KGAF 2015, please visit my other blog playingwithmemories.com.]

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015, Mumbai 1

The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) celebrates everything in arts (literary, visual and performance) and crafts as an annual event over a week or so in South Mumbai at a place/location called Kala Ghoda (‘Black Horse’). This year the event is sponsored by the Hindustan Times media group and is re-named HT KGAF 2015 (7-15 Feb 2015).

Apart from walking in and around the large number of art installations and colourful arts & crafts stalls selling their merchandise, I managed to attend several events/performances in the first three days of the festival which I enjoyed very much.

The first was a Great Text reading of (selections from) Duncan Macmillan’s play Lungs and presented to us by Q Theatre Productions at the Artists’ Centre. Wonderful performances by Dilnawaz Irani and Suhaas Ahuja.

Karishma Attari, Mahesh Rao, V Sanjay Kumar, Saskya Jain

Karishma Attari, Mahesh Rao, V Sanjay Kumar, Saskya Jain

The second was a play in Hindi titled Phir Maine Woh Sapna Dekha by Angana which was an adaptation of Dario Fo’s play La Storia Di Una Tigre. It was a solo act by Amit Pathak who kept us happily engaged at the NGMA auditorium.

The third was an informative discussion titled Poetry Between Page And Screen between Amit Khanna (Hindi-film lyricist dialogue-writer producer) and Akshay Manwani, held at the David Sassoon Library garden. It was my introduction to Amit Khanna’s lyrics and dialogues from Bollywood films (though I had seen these films before) and to his poetry from his recently-published book Anant Raag; Infinite Verse.

The fourth was a panel discussion on Fiction and Place at the David Sassoon Library garden. It dealt with how a place influences fiction – story, characters, language, the mood of the place and various nuances of storytelling. The discussion was wonderfully moderated by Karishma Attari and included authors Mahesh Rao (Bangalore), V Sanjay Kumar (Chennai) and Saskya Jain (New Delhi).

The fifth was a play in English (with touches of Hindi) at the NGMA titled 3 Sakina Manzil presented by Desires Unlimited Drama Society. It was a love story flashback set in 1940’s India with the backdrop of India’s Independence, World War II and the coming-of-age of the Hindi film industry. Brilliant performances by Puneet Sikka and Tarun Singhal.

[For colourful photos of HT KGAF 2015, please visit my other blog playingwithmemories.]

Can India live through the uncertainty?

With job cuts in certain sectors, a drop in demand and in production, India’s economy continues to struggle. In spite of falling oil prices and the United States feeling more confident about 2015, the global recession continues to influence India. Interest rates have fallen, the stock market is idling, and the Modi government is reconsidering its estimate for the country’s growth in GDP. With the current slowdown, most likely it’s going to be less than 5% (NCAER reports). Still, in all probability, India will be one of the few countries to end the year with a positive growth in her GDP.

Thanks to local demand from a large population (1.25 billion people with varied needs), a conservative banking system (no toxic debts to worry about), adequate resources of her own to channelise towards growth (only 20% of India’s GDP is dependent on external trade), management prowess of her industry leaders (competing with the world’s best), and an educated and skilled workforce, India is likely to live through the global recession without a great scare. Still, says NCAER, “The fundamentals of the economy remain weak with uncertainties prevailing.”

[Citation: National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)]

Will USA light the day for the rest of the world?

Latest news reports from the United States suggest that the US economy may be getting back on its feet. Oil prices have unexpectedly tumbled, business investment is picking up, the US dollar is now stronger, and the unemployment rate has fallen below 6%. According to an article, titled The U.S. Economy Will Soon See Its Best Years in a Decade, Forecasters Say, by Josh Zumbrun in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

“The White HouseCongressional Budget Office and Federal Reserve unanimously see the nation on the cusp of the best years for the economy in a decade or more. 

In its latest round of economic forecasts, released Monday with the president’s budget, the White House sees the unemployment rate falling below 5% by the end of 2016, the lowest since before the recession. The White House sees growth of 3% this year and in 2016–the best back-to-back years since 2004 and 2005.”

However, consumer spending, which accounts for a substantial portion of US economic activity, seems to be a problem. In another article yesterday, titled The $4 trillion question for the US economy, Jeff Cox of CNBC.com reports the following:

“Savita Subramanian, equity and quant strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, pointed out that in addition to energy, the consumer sectors also have been feeling the squeeze. It’s an observation not lost elsewhere on Wall Street. 

“Consumers appear to be somewhat fatigued in their spending patterns, pulling back noticeably at the end of the year despite lower gas prices,” Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee, said in a note. “In the end, low gas prices will provide only a temporary boost while the key equation in terms of long-term success remains organic job and sustainable income growth.””

For the rest of the world, which is waiting with bated breath for the US economy to improve, so their respective economies can follow suit, this does not augur well. I’m reminded of President Barack Obama’s declaration six years ago at the G20 Summit in London in April 2009, that the United States (or rather, the American consumer) can no longer be viewed nor accepted as the role model for driving global growth.

To me, it was a sad but fascinating submission. Fascinating from two perspectives: one, that, perhaps, the age-old American belief of hardworking risk-takers being rewarded meritoriously now stood under scrutiny; and two, if this were true, then, after years of following the American economic model, many countries across the globe were suddenly left to fend for themselves.

For many developing countries, like India, this was bad news indeed. For, these countries had been emulating the American capitalist model for several years and had become heavily dependent on exports to the US and other developed nations, reaping the benefits of trade, investment and currency exchange. Now, that very foundation was shaken.

For six years since President Obama’s declaration at the G20 Summit in London – and for another two years before that, since the global economic meltdown began in 2007 – that reality has humbled and haunted many a country. Left to fend for itself, each country has had to look inwards, protect jobs and businesses, increase demand and consumer spending, and reduce overall debt.

But expectations had grown. No doubt they had thought that, with God’s blessings, things would look up in a couple of years. It has been a long wait but, perhaps, that happy moment has come now. Perhaps, USA will light the day for the rest of the world in 2015 and hold it steady thereafter.

[Citation: The U.S. Economy Will Soon See Its Best Years in a Decade, Forecasters Say, Josh Zumbrun, The Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2015; The $4 trillion question for the US economy, Jeff Cox, CNBC.com, February 2, 2015.]