TALKING FILMS

What movies about the movies tell us about the gap between dreams and reality

From ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ to ‘Rangoon’, Indian cinema has been turning the lens on itself with varying degrees of honesty and self-deprecation.

The trailer of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon offers snapshots of Indian cinema in the 1940s. Cracking a whip and singing profanities while wearing a hunting costume and a mischievous smile, Kangana Ranaut plays an actress who closely resembles Fearless Nadia.

Indian actresses are a mutable and paradoxical species. Even as their onscreen avatars are consistently loved, their status as sex symbols means that their morality and principles are always viewed as dubious. Rangoon, harking back to the time when filmmakers and actors were universally loved but rarely respected, is one among many Indian films that sketch compelling portraits of diverse aspects of the cinematic world.

Indian cinema has been consistently turning the lens on itself with varying degrees of insight, honesty and self-deprecation. In Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz ke Phool (1959), film director Suresh (Guru Dutt) is disdainful of actresses habituated to primping and posturing. He is looking for a “seedhi saadhi Hindustani ladik” for his next film. A chance encounter leads him to orphan Shanti (Wahhda Rehman). Unhappily married and estranged from his wife, Suresh is inexorably drawn to Shanti and they struggle against a growing mutual attraction.

Play
Waqt Ne Kiya from Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959).

Kaagaz Ke Phool is an accurate study of artistic obsession and the contrary motivations of people who pursue careers in cinema. Suresh looks at the world through a cinematic lens (he recognises Shanti’s potential only after she is accidentally captured on camera). Suresh’s self-worth is inextricably tied to his work as a director. Shanti, on the other hand, is a reluctant actress, drawn to the profession because of monetary compulsions and her fascination for Suresh.

With a haunting combination of chiaroscuro frames and lilting melodies, Kaagaz Ke Phool chronicles a director’s angst-ridden journey from fame to ignominy. Even as it depicts the massive machinery required to construct a movie and exposes the caprices of public adoration, Kaagaz Ke Phool is more about human fallibility and creative frustration than the cinematic world itself.

Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal in Bombay Talkie (1970). Courtesy Merchant Ivory Productions.
Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal in Bombay Talkie (1970). Courtesy Merchant Ivory Productions.

The Merchant-Ivory production Bombay Talkie (1970) is a more acerbic and sexually unapologetic examination of the film world. Married actor Vikram (Shashi Kapoor) is attempting to cement his status as a film star when his writer friend Hari (Zia Mohyeddin) introduces him to novelist Lucia (Jennifer Kendal). Although Hari falls in love with Lucia, Vikram pursues her with a restless determination to posses.

Bombay Talkie is replete with pithy observations about the film world. Vikram’s conversations with Hari offer a tongue-in-cheek reminder of cinema’s status as the less erudite cousin of the novel. When Vikram prances on the keys of a giant typewriter while shooting a typically asinine film song, he is dancing to the tune of his producer who wishes to make the film commercially viable. The strangeness of the set is explained away with a vacuous allegory, demonstrating Indian cinema’s endless tussle between credibility and commerce and its inability to logically and intelligently reconcile the two.

Play
Typewriter Tip Tip from Bombay Talkie (1970).

Even as it succumbs to western stereotypes about Indian society, Bombay Talkie insightfully depicts the social significance of cinema in India. Its opening sequence, for instance, features hand painted movie-style posters of cast and crew displayed against the streets and skylines of Mumbai, illustrating the deep and complex relationship of the city with cinema.

In Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika (1977), Usha (Smita Patil) is cajoled into becoming an actress by an older family friend, Keshav (Amol Palekar). Since her mother disapproves of her profession and the lower-caste Keshav, Usha marries him in an impetuous act of defiance. When she is compelled to work after her marriage and Keshav continues to manage her business, Usha rebels against his constant jealousy and authority.

Although sexual relationships between famous women and their male managers or jealous husbands have been explored in several films, Bhumika asks pertinent questions about sexual freedom and the balance of power. In attempting to escape her controlling husband, Usha enters into sexual relationships with other men, but remains dissatisfied with the skewed balance of power.

Smita Patil and Amrish Puri in Bhumika. Courtesy Blaze Film Entreprises.
Smita Patil and Amrish Puri in Bhumika. Courtesy Blaze Film Entreprises.

Bhumika uses the film-within-a-film device to perfection, and Usha’s personal life uncannily mirrors the story arc of her film Agnipariksha. As Usha dances and hams her way through Agnipariksha, Benegal exposes the dispassionate choreography and manipulation involved in the construction of the highly stylised imagery that dominates commercial cinema.

Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar (1997) is inspired by the political landscape of 1950s Tamil Nadu, and is loosely based on actor and politician M G Ramanchandran, his political rival M Karunanidhi, and protégé and frequent co-star Jayalalithaa. Anandan (Mohanlal) ascends to superstardom with the assistance of his writer friend Tamizhselvan (Prakash Raj). Anandan absorbs his friend’s politics along with his poetry and leverages his tremendous social capital to further his party’s political future. As Anandan’s popularity threatens to surpass Tamizhselvan’s, an acrimonious rivalry develops between the former friends.

Much like Usha in Bhumika, Anandan’s personal life imitates the characters that he plays in his movies. The meta-film sequences in Iruvar are mostly song-and-dance routines. Although they are too neatly shot to replicate 1950s cinematography, they capture the costume and dialogue integral to Tamil films of that era.

Play
Narumugaiye from Iruvar (1997).

Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance (2009) is a satirical but non-judgmental look at the Hindi film industry. Sona (Konkona Sensharma), a talented actor appearing second-grade films, meets Vikram (Farhan Akhtar), an aspiring actor looking to get his first break. When Sona is duped by a producer and hits a slump, Vikram bags a role in a commercial film aided by a combination of serendipity, guile and burning ambition. Vikram continues to pursue superstardom with selfish unscrupulousness, but a disillusioned Sona breaks up with him to eventually become a popular television actress.

Luck By Chance deftly peels back several layers of the cinematic world, often hilariously exposing its nepotism, occasional cruelty and precarious relationship with Hollywood. The devilry of the film world is the small details: an anecdote about an unfairly treated stuntman, a wealthy superstar clowning around with impoverished children from behind a closed car window, and a bitterly furious heroine recalling how she was forced to relinquish control over her body to become an actress.

The film is also scattered with actors like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan playing themselves. This adds a layer of authenticity to the film that is deliciously ironic, considering that their parts are as carefully constructed as that of any other character.

The opening sequence of Luck By Chance is a montage of activities involved in making a film, featuring the weathered faces over-worked film technicians and extras. Even as the sequence highlights the banality of the tasks that add up to create the dreamy and gripping illusion of cinema, it gently humanises the process, exposing its warts and embracing its allure.

Play
The opening credits of Luck By Chance (2009).
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch. For those of you just looking for a high quality fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge has Rs. 4500 off on 22nd September.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.