Saturday, May 20, 2023

Birthday Number — 36

I turned 36 today. Actually yesterday. I was so tired yesterday that I slept at 10 PM and did not wake up till the next morning. It is the first time in years that I have missed writing a post on this day. I did nothing special yesterday. It was the usual day. I woke up at 6.30 AM. I had three meetings, so I could not take a leave. I reached work early, at 8 AM. I got a brownie for myself (no counting calories for one day). I went to the top floor of a different office building that has nice views of water. I clicked my picture and had my brownie. Then, I spent the day doing the usual work and then came home. I went for the last workout of the week. I wanted to have nice food, but I did not feel like going out. I thought to get something nice delivered but then delivery times were more than an hour. So, I decided to cook the usual stuff. Then, I wanted to write this post but fell asleep as I was so tired. It never happens to me that I sleep at 10 PM.

In terms of life updates, I already posted something here a few weeks ago. I was a little happy-sad yesterday. At 36, we expect to be at some point in life, but I have been left a bit behind because of my actions and inactions. 40 is just four years away, and it ain't a good feeling. But I try to be happy and busy; I have taken up a part-time job which leaves me less time to think about these things. One thing I am also investing heavily in is my health. I wish I started this when I was in my early twenties. It really boosts one's confidence. I would have been a different person now. But it is never too late to think better about yourself.

I have been thinking about my plans for the coming months. I have some things I want to reach, but still trying to work out the path to reach. Rest, I will let life take its own course.

Happy birthday to me.

Dialogue of the Day:
"If you focus on what you left behind, you will never be able to see what lies ahead."
— Auguste Gusteau, Ratatouille

Sunday, May 7, 2023

The Beginnings of Zoya Akhtar's Films

Zoya Akhtar has received much appreciation for her work. Her films espouse liberal ideas and are told from the perspective of someone who grew up in South Bombay. A noteworthy thing is that all her films are shot splendidly, with a special emphasis on the opening sequence. So, in this post, I elaborate on how she designs the beginning of her films.
Akhtar's first film, Luck By Chance, told the story of two struggling actors trying to make it big in the film industry. The film opens with a woman named Sona (Konkana Sen Sharma) sitting in the office of Pinky Productions. A small-time producer, Satish Chadhury (Alyy Khan), tries to convince her there is no need for a screen test for her as a filmmaker's eye is the camera. It is destiny that has brought Sona into his office. Subtly, he asks her to keep meeting him so they get to know each other better. Sona understands his implication and silently agrees. Thus, the first scene in the film depicts the infamous casting couch where actresses are propositioned for sexual favors in return for casting them in film roles. After this moment, one of the most beautiful opening credits in Hindi cinema come to life. The opening montage, filmed on the heartwarming song Yeh Zindagi Bhi, shows the various professions associated with the making of a film, without whom it would never have been made. It is only befitting then that a film on film pays homage to these unsung artists, creators, and supporters, each of whom plays a crucial role in making a film.
Yeh Zindagi Bhi opens with a man wearing a 'Crew' shirt breaking a coconut as it happens in the mahurat of films. Then, there is a shot of the famous Maganlal Dresswala office, a noted costume provider for Hindi films based in Mumbai. A replica of Madhubala's dress from Mughal-E-Azam and Madhuri Dixit's iconic purple saree from Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! can also be seen in the frame. Maganlal Dresswala is known for its period costumes in many films, including Mughal-E-Azam, and the mythological series Ramayan and Mahabharat. In 2012, Dresswala, a documentary film directed by Shriya Pilgaonkar and Siddharth Joglekar, traced the rise of Maganlal Dresswala. The four-minute documentary had an interview with one of Masterjis, who also appears in Yeh Zindagi Bhi briefly towards the end.
Then after the costumes, a woman dressed as a fairy stands in front of a toilet, whom Akhtar calls her favorite moment from the credits. Thereafter, we see poster artists, police inspectors, security guards, make-up artists, costume designers, set designers, producers, cameramen, spot boys, cooks, choreographers, special-effect artists, supporting actors, cinema ticket sellers, film projectionists, sound recordists, caterers, and background singers. The people who played the same role in Luck By Chance are mentioned with them. There is also a shot of the bound script with a cup of tea lying on it as a riposte to the time when films only existed in the director's head. At another point, an usher is shown who is standing in a theater that is playing Farah Khan's Main Hoon Na. Khan, who is Akhtar's cousin, also paid homage to those who worked in Main Hoon Naa in its ending credits. Yeh Zindagi Bhi ends with a shot outside a theater called Kismet Talkies which was one of the possible titles of the film. Its lyrics also beautifully surmise the film's theme. Don't complain if you stumble anywhere, as your dreams might break while chasing them.
Jo palko ke tale,
Hai apne sapne leke chale,
Hai kehdo woh chale sambhal ke,
Na karna koi gile,
Kahin jo thokar aaisi lage,
Ke sapne tute aansu chhalke.
The opening montage is moving because it comes from a place of genuine love for the film. One of my favorite moments from it is the one when a lady helps an actor wear a saree. We don't see the actor; instead, we see the smile on the face of the lady. These are the people whose names are mentioned in the opening and the ending credits, but we skip reading about them. Netflix allows viewers to 'Skip Intro' at the beginning or immediately takes them to the next episode. Even the Academy Awards decided not to televise awards for technical categories live. In the age of binge-watching, watching credits is a form of rebellion.
Akhtar's second film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, told the story of three friends who traveled to Spain. The three friends—Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), Imran (Farhan Akhtar), and Kabir (Abhay Deol)—call themselves the three musketeers. The opening song of the film, titled Dil Dhadakne Do, shows them getting ready for the flight to Barcelona. This sequence is the perfect example of the 'Show, Don't Tell'—a technique writers use to let the audience experience the story through actions, words, and subtext rather than exposition. The song contrasts the characters of the three friends, especially Arjun and Imran, and we learn more about them by observing their actions. How they pack for their trip brings out the difference in their characters. Arjun is clinical and methodical. His clothes are neatly lined in the closet, and he takes them and puts them in a suitcase. Imran is chaotic and casual. He simply grabs him and shoves them in his bag. Arjun puts all his documents in the folder. Imran packs his diaries and headphones but forgets his passport. Arjun wears formal shoes. Imran wears sports shoes. Arjun rolls his ties perfectly. Imran simply rolls his shirt. Arjun's room has all the coffee tables and books. Imran's room has comics. In the airplane, Arjun travels business class. He takes out his laptop and reads a business magazine. Imran travels economy. He flirts with the air hostess. These differences provide more insight into their character rather than any exposition. Even the color palette of their rooms tells us more about Arjun (black) and Imran (colorful). In this montage, Kabir is also present, either thinking, playing video games, or sleeping, but it is primarily Arjun and Imran who are the focus of the song because, as we soon find out, they have some conflict going on. The song ends with them reaching Barcelona, and the audience gets to tour the city while they travel to their hotel.
In her next film, Dil Dhadakne Do, Akhtar told the story of a dysfunctional upper-class family living in Delhi. Unlike Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the opening of this film is the opposite of 'Show, Don't Tell.' It uses the family dog Pluto (voiced by Aamir Khan) as the narrator to give a background of the characters. There is also an opening montage that involves animals and humans. The scenes of animals are in black and white, while those of humans are both black and white and colored. The commentary is about how humans have defined their (arbitrary) concept of time. There are shots of people celebrating their birthdays and wedding ceremonies. Then, the commentary segues into the life of the Mehras, providing details about their current family situation. The exposition-heavy opening effectively sets the story's context, but the pop-philosophical dialogue seems a bit preachy. Perhaps, that is why the opening is not as memorable as her other films.
In Gully Boy, Akhtar brought to life the rags-to-riches story of a rap singer Murad (Ranveer Singh), originating from the slums of Mumbai. Here again, the opening is splendid. It does not have a montage (the montage, in fact, appears in another song Doori). The opening sequence has two different strands. Both these opening strands try to deceive the audience or challenge them somehow. The film's first shot is not of the hero Murad, as typically happens in many films; instead, the first shot is of Murad's friend Moeen (Vijay Verma). Moeen takes a long walk in the city at night. He signals Murad and another friend, who are standing at the roadside. The two follow him from behind, and Moeen leads them to eventually steal a car. In this sequence, Moeen emerges as the 'hero,' while Murad is only a supporting actor. However, he would soon become the 'Gully Boy.' Then, there is the second opening, where Murad's girlfriend, Safeena (Alia Bhatt), is introduced. The setting is that Murad is on a bus, sitting towards the end while listening to music. Then, Safeena and her mother (Sheeba Chaddha) enter the same bus. There is any seat available for Safeena, so she stands. She looks around and then sees Murad sitting. Their eyes meet. There is a palpable sexual tension in how they glance at each other. It appears they are meeting each other for the first time. But then her mother gets down, and Safeena goes and sits next to Murad. She takes one of his earphones and puts it in her ear. Then, it becomes clear to us that they have known each other before. This is not their first meeting at all. Film critic Rahul Desai beautifully explains more about them in For the “love” of Gully Boy where he writes, "We don’t see them fall for each other or “begin”– a mid-love template hinted at in their first scene, where one is led to believe they don’t know each other until they hold hands. They are childhood sweethearts, already nine years together when the film begins."
Gully Boy
Doori in Gully Boy
Shades of this 'middle template' were also seen in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The film has a ten-minute opening sequence just before the song Dil Dhadakne Do. It starts with Kabir proposing to his girlfriend Natasha (Kalki Koechlin). It appears this is the start of the wedding celebrations and forms the basis of the film's story, where the three friends decide to go on a trip. Then, towards the film's end, this same sequence is repeated again, making it clear that the proposal was part of some misunderstanding between the two. Kabir got the ring for his mother on her birthday, but Natasha assumed it was for her. The overarching point here is that the beginning of this film was part of the middle here, like in Gully Boy.
Akhtar's filmography includes three short films—Bombay Talkies, Lust Stories, and Ghost Stories—and one web series, Made In Heaven. All the aforementioned have a similar touch in their opening sequences. In Bombay Talkies, there is a lovely opening montage, this time with kids, where each describes what they would like to become in life. The kids talk about becoming lawyers, tennis players, businessmen, Spiderman, and football players. This sets the context for the film as it is about a boy forced to play football by his father while he enjoys dancing. Her short film in Lust Stories tells the story of a domestic helper Sudha (Bhumi Pednekar), who is in a sexual relationship with her employer Ajit (Neil Bhoopalam). The film opens with the two of them having sex. Then we see a montage of some beautiful still-life photography of the apartment. In Ghost Stories, a film about the horrors of old age and loneliness, the opening scene is eerie, with the crows cawing over the lead protagonist Sameera (Janhvi Kapoor). A dead crow pops up, portending the film's end. In the web series Made In Heaven, there is again a lovely opening sequence that comprises real-life wedding shots of ordinary people. It is again nicely done.
Bombay Talkies
Lust Stories
Ghost Stories
The beginning of any film is integral to introducing the audience to its world and allows the filmmaker to establish its tone and character. Writer and director Greta Gerwig said, "Getting the opening just right was so important. When I had it, I thought, 'There's a movie here.' I knew I could make that movie." Zoya Akhtar's filmography depicts that she would likely agree with her peer.
Made In Heaven
1. My tweet was featured in News18 and ScoopWhoop.

Other Reading:
1. On Gully BoyLink
2. On Luck By ChanceLink and Link
3. On Dil Dhadakne DoLink
4. On Bombay TalkiesLink
5. On Lust StoriesLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Main nahi badalta apna sapna apne sachai se mel khane ke vaaste, main apna sachai badlega joh mere sapne se mel khaye."
—Murad, Gully Boy

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Trivia Posts

I have not updated trivia posts here for quite a while; however, I have been updating trivia bits on my Instagram account @ReadingFilms daily. Going forward, I will not post them here as they are already available there or on my Twitter account. Also, given the decline in hits of this blog, it does not motivate me to put them here. I will try to write normal posts on films, though I am contemplating if it makes sense to do that as well. I have been writing here for almost a decade, and I have come to the realization that I will never be a 'great writer.' I used to get restless earlier thinking about it, but now I have kind of accepted it. It does not bother me much. There is a certain freedom in acceptance. It makes me think everything I write here is pointless. And I get only two types of comments here, and I like neither of them, honestly. One, they say, I am a good observer. It makes me feel less valued, although they mean it well. A big part of writing is observing, and I have worked on this skill to improve a lot. It takes work to see. To research. To evaluate. To make sense of it. To find patterns. And the second type of comment that I hate more is that you think too much. I have clearly articulated all patterns with evidence. I wish more people understood that criticism has something called subtext.

My book also flopped (LOL). I sent my book to some friends, and they hardly even bothered to tell me how it was because they did not even read it. It hurts a little because if your friends behave like this, what to expect of others. Again, it does not bother me now. It is presumptuous of me to expect someone to take time out. People are busy in their lives. I should not have expected anything in the first place. The other bit I have realized is most people like to see you fail. I see this a lot on Twitter, and that is why I don't say anything personal on Twitter. I am very guarded. 

Anyway, I have to think of my life ahead. We are all getting old. I don't want to waste my life. I want to live it well. I want to bring a change. I want a lot of things, but for that, I have to also work on a lot of things. Let's see how the next few months pan out.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Memorable Scenes from Films — 2022

It is almost the end of the first quarter of 2023. It is late to talk about the films of 2022, but given how slowly I watch films, it is only recently that I managed to see some of the films of last year. As I do every year, I write about some scenes that come to my mind when I think about the films of 2022. Like it was in 2021, there were not many good films to watch, but compiling a few notes on some of my favorite moments.

1. Gehraiyaan: Shakun Batra's Gehraiyaan is my favorite film of the year. It has a profoundly poignant scene between Alisha (Deepika Padukone) and her father, Vinod (Naseeruddin Shah), who tells her that she has to accept her past and choose to move on. There is no need to run away because we all are bigger than our mistakes. A sobbing Alisha asks, "Do my choices even matter, Papa?" Her father tells her, "Yeh jaanane ka toh ek hi tareekha hai. You give yourself a chance." Like her mother, Alisha blamed everything on her ill-fated luck. She and her mother used to play a game of snakes and ladders. When her mother lost the game, she said, "Bad luck, I guess." Her father had advised her mother the same thing, that one can always start again, even after losing. It is a choice even though it is difficult. Our past does not have to stop us from changing our present. Gehraiyaan is a lovely gem of a film. And, yes, no one can cry as gracefully as Deepika Padukone.
2. Gangubai Kathiawadi: Sanjay Leela Bhansali's biopic on the eponymous madame of a brothel gave Alia Bhatt another feather in her cap. The film has some stunningly created Bhansali-esque moments. Early on, one of the girls in the brothel asks Gangu (Alia Bhatt) to write a letter to her father. She agrees to help her write it. Taking turns, all the other girls add a few words of their own to the letter. This is the perfect example of shared sisterhood. Another lovely scene is one when Kamli (Indira Kumari) dies, and all the other women dress her up while she is lying dead. On the other side sits Gangu holding Kamli's child in her hands. The scene is set up wonderfully, showing different contrasts. There is red and white. There is a mother and child. There is life and death. There is the end of life and the beginning of life. Gangu then asks to tie her legs as men cannot be trusted with women, even in graves. And there is also the very gorgeous Meri Jaan, a one-take song sequence shot at the back of the car.
3. Laal Singh Chaddha: Advait Chandan's adaptation of Forest Gump is a beautiful film about the power of stories. The film's most memorable scene also talks about the stories of our lives. After the death of his beloved Rupa (Kareena Kapoor), Laal (Aamir Khan) visits her grave, which lay below the tree that was their special place. A Sikh man sobs in front of the grave of his Christain wife. He talks to her about stories. He says that his mother told him everything in life is pre-destined and written from before, although he does not know who wrote it. He wonders if the things that happen to us are under our control or if we are just drifting along. It may be both, he concludes. Like the song Kahani that also said, "Kya pata hum mein hai kahani, ya hai kahani me hum?" Are we the story, or is the story in us? Stories are everywhere in Laal Singh Chaddha.
4. Badhaai Do: Harshavardhan Kulkarni's second feature film is the story of a lavender marriage. The male protagonist Shardul (Rajkummar Rao) is gay. He is a policeman but so scared of anyone discovering his sexuality that he feels like a thief. He sports a heavy mustache and has built up muscle, hiding in the guise of masculine symbols. He marries Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar), who is also gay, for the sake of his family. The film's best scene is when he finally comes out to his family. Films usually depict characters moving towards homosexuality when they are ignored in heterosexual relationships and advocate that sexuality is a choice. Badhaai Do, after Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, refutes this notion of choice. Shardul states that the 'feeling' comes from the inside. Nobody chooses to be gay or straight (or bisexual). He talks about his loneliness and inability to share his secret with anyone. Then, his mother (Sheeba Chaddha), who has been treated like an outcast all her life because of being a widow, hugs him. The scene also has a memorable character placement. All the family members sit opposite Shardul, while only his mother sits behind him. The film has another beautiful moment in the climax when Sumi's father (Nitesh Pandey) nudges Rimjhim (Chum Darang) to sit with the baby's parents. There are no grand statements or crying at this moment. A quiet nod between Sumi and her father was all that was needed for his acceptance. It is profoundly moving. The colors in this climax scene, especially in the costumes of the two couples, are so distinct as if nodding to the colors of pride.
5. Shamshera: Ranbir Kapoor had two film releases in 2022. Ayan Mukerji's Brahmastra did not work for me, but Karan Malhotra's Shamshera, though not particularly great, had more things that engaged me. The father-son revenge drama showed some aspects of nature. The crows come to the rescue. The bees move together in a swarm. The tree provides space to keep gold. The sand dances with the music. But the best thing about Shamshera is the charming Ji Huzoor that yet again depicts the dancing skills of Ranbir Kapoor. He has a fluidity of movement, making even tricky steps look so effortless. The song is choreographed by Chinni Prakash with innovative use of spaces—the alleys, the windows, the trolleys, and the kids. My favorite part is the one when he falls through a fold of chairs right on the beats, as if the chairs are dancing as well. It is superb.
6. Qala: Anvitaa Dutt's film on the life of a singer dealing with mental health issues had some gorgeously framed scenes. However, the most memorable bit of the film is the conversation between Qala (Tripti Dimri) and her friend Majrooh (Varun Grover), likely named after the famous Majrooh Sultanpuri. Like Dr. Sudip (Parambrata Chatterjee) from Bulbbul, Majrooh is the feminist ally. He wears red nail paint on all his fingers. He is also some kind of prophecy teller. Majrooh sees Qala's continued sexual abuse at the hands of Sumant Kumar (Amit Sial). He tells her if she allows it, it will keep on happening. Today, the producer has the power; tomorrow, she will have the power. Times will change. Daur badlega, daur ki yeh puraani aadat hai. In the next moment, his prophecy comes true. The camera people who used to follow Sumant Kumar started following Qala. The film depicts this power change through height, where Qala is on a higher pedestal while Sumant Kumar watches her from below. She is mobbed by the media while he stands alone. In another symbolic moment in the film, a disgraced Sumant comes to Qala's house, hoping to sign her for his next movie. He looks at himself in the mirror, wearing a pristine white shirt. The mirror, however, is stained and rusted, making his shirt appear dirty, symbolizing the stains in his past. Qala had many more stunning shots, especially some in the snow. 
7. Love Hostel: Shanker Raman's film brings Bobby Deol as a psychopathic maniac hunting lovers who don't follow the norms of caste hierarchy. The film's most memorable scene is when Jyoti (Sanya Malhotra) and Ashu (Vikrant Massey) are on the run and take shelter in an old factory. While waiting there, a red car enters. The duo gets suspicious that there are people in the car who are probably sent to kill them. Jyoti takes a gun to the car to find out more. But it is not what they expected. The car has two lovers, both men, who were making out. She seems slightly disgusted, but then it hits her; the two men are lovers, like herself and Ashu. They are also running away from society. Lovers belonging to the same gender are not accepted by society, like lovers belonging to different religions face opposition. At this precise moment when she realizes this, she sees and hears a peacock chirping nearby. It is a tender moment reminding us of the beauty while dealing with the barbarity of a cruel world.
8. Jalsa: Suresh Triveni's film tells the story of two mothers, Maya (Vidya Balan) and Ruksana (Shefali Shah). When Ruksana finds out the truth about Maya being the car driver that hit her daughter, it appears that she decides to take revenge. She takes Maya's son Ayush (Surya Kasibhatla) to the land's end, a place where there is nowhere else left to go. Ruksana, however, does not take the final step. Because an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. She could have left Ayush to drown, but she did not. She comes out as a bigger person in the end. Earlier in the film, Ayush and Ruksana laugh at the haanthi-cheenti jokes. The power dynamics are so imbalanced in favor of the elephant that any ant's action seems comical. But, sometimes, an ant too can exert a different kind of power by its choices. After all, as we saw in the case of Ruksana, power manifests not just physically but also morally. Jalsa should also be credited for having one of the best sound design in films.
9. Goodbye: Vikas Bahl's film on the death of a family member is largely inert. I really wanted to like it but could not. It is dull and boring. However, there is a thoughtful scene that I still remember when I think of the film. There is a scene when Tara (Rashmika Mandana) and Pandit Ji (Sunil Grover), who had been arguing about the irrationality of faith, have some sort of reconciliation. Pandit Ji asks Tara where she learned to play the ukulele. She said that she learned it on her own. He then tells her that when you first play the tune and then learn how it was created, it is faith—vishwaas. And, when you first learn how the tune was created and then play it, it is science. But eventually, it is the same tune. In the context of the film, it supports irrationality, but I also believe it is an attempt to not be utterly dismissive of things one does not understand. Remember the scene in Friends where Phoebe and Ross argue about whether evolution exists. She does not believe in evolution, while Ross tries every trick to convince her that it does; after all, his entire professional life is based on studying it. She says, "Wasn't there a time when the brightest minds in the world believed that the world was flat? And, up until like what, 50 years ago, you all thought the atom was the smallest thing, until you split it open, and this like, whole mess of crap came out. Now, are you telling me that you are so unbelievably arrogant that you can't admit that there's a teeny tiny possibility that you could be wrong about this?"
10. Monica, O My Darling: Vasan Bala's neo-noir comedy is a lot of fun. While it has its share of moments (such as the scene at the Hotel Prince Amar), this film is memorable because of its music, especially the three songs—Yeh Ek Zindagi, Bye Bye Adios, and Love You So Much. Anupama Chakraborty Shrivastava and Sarita Vaz are simply fantastic. The other thing about the film is Radhika Apte's hilarious dialogue, "Somvaar ko main sab pe vishwaas karti hun."
11. Sharmaji Namkeen: Rishi Kapoor's swansong, directed by Hitesh Bhatia, tells the story of a widowed man trying to make sense of his newly retired life. Sharmaji (Rishi Kapoor/Paresh Rawal) takes up cooking for kitty parties and becomes friends with a group of lovely women. His son Rinku (Suhail Nayyar) is opposed to his new profession. There is a scene where Veena (Juhi Chawla) and Sharmaji talk about their life. She tells him about the death of her husband. And then says she has to keep busy in life. It is a lovely little moment in a lovely little film. And, yes, Laal Tamatar is so much fun.
Honorable mentions:
The cinematography in Thar, the top shots in Drishyam 2, the historical retelling in Dasvi, the Savitri-Satyavan story in Looop Lapeta, the conversation at the riverbank in Uunchai, the lead pair not ending up together in Doctor G, the Khala-Zulfi kiss in Darlings, and the crossing of the bridge in Modern Love: Mumbai. I have not seen the following films, but I do plan to watch them at some point—BhediyaJaadugar, Jersey, Ram Setu, RK/Rkay, and Vikram Vedha.

Other Reading:
1. On GehraiyaanLink
2. On Gangubai KathiawadiLink
3. On Laal Singh ChaddhaLink
4. On QalaLink
5. On Love HostelLink
6. On JalsaLink
7. On Monica, O My DarlingLink
8. On DarlingsLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Jo bhi honda who hum karde hain, ya hawa wich aiweyi udte phirde rehte hain, idhar udhar."
—Laal, Laal Singh Chaddha

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Love Hostel — No Country for Lovers

Shanker Raman's Love Hostel opens with a just-married young couple recording a video pleading for acceptance from their family members. It is reminiscent of Dibakar Banerjee's Love Sex Aur Dhokha, a seminal film that turned Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge into a dystopian nightmare. A violent assassin Dagar (Bobby Deol), dealing with his issues, is soon sent to finish off the couple. Love Hostel tells the story of these lovers in a country where everything is political. Another couple, Jyoti Dilawar (Sanya Malhotra) and Ashu Shokeen (Vikrant Massey), belonging to different religions, elope to start a life together. The girl belongs to a powerful political family, which, as can be guessed, is against this match as she chose Eid over Diwali. The lovers then ask the state for protection. But Dagar is again sent to eliminate them, and the cycle repeats. Raman, who earlier made Gurgaon, again tells a story of conservative families resorting to violence to uphold their regressive outlook of the world.
The film takes its title Love Hostel from the safehouses the government has built to shelter lovers from their families. Jyoti and Ashu are sent to one such hostel. Little did they know that the hostel was made by Jyoti's grandmother Kamala Dilawar (Swaroopa Ghosh), not as a goodwill gesture but as a tool for reaping political benefits. On reaching the hostel, Jyoti calls it Taj Mahal. Ashu, though, rightly feels it is a bhoot bangla. It is officially called a hostel, but it is essentially a pinjra—a cage—where lovers remain trapped for years in the rigmarole of court hearings. Residents' cell phones are confiscated at check-in, removing all contact with the modern world. The graffiti on the hostel's walls, as seen on old historical monuments, is a cry for help from lovers who only ask to let them love on their terms.
In a land where the rules of khaps have been enforced for over six hundred years, modern jurisprudence rules have little bearing. It is the writ of Kamala Dilawar, the influential politician and family matriarch, that rules over the Dilawar family. She controls everything leaving her sons to feel emasculated. Her role reminded me of Amma Ji (Meghna Malik) from the show Na Aana Is Des Laado. It takes a bit of time to get used to seeing Swaroopa Ghosh play Kamala as it kept reminding me of her performance as the genteel Pishi in Vicky Donor. Ashu is also dealing with his familial problems. His father has been sent to jail on charges of being a terrorist. His mother has Alzheimer's disease. His family has a meat shop. When Ashu talks about 'doing a delivery,' I initially thought it was related to drugs. But he was tasked with delivering meat, most likely beef, in a state that has banned the sale of beef. Unlike many other films, where politics seems to be forced and inorganic, the politics of Love Hostel is sharp and merges with its story without any artifice. The political element blends in and is depicted with authenticity. Love jehad, communalism, and identity politics are all present in the film.

The medium for the powerful families to eliminate rebellious lovers is a man called Dagar. He is a menacing figure who has burn-inflicted scars over him. He is a beast who hunts and kills not just the bhagode couples who indulged in inter-religious marriages but also all other people who assisted these couples. When Dagar is injured, he does not go into a hospital for humans; instead, he goes to a veterinary hospital. He also has this thing like Bob Biswas, where he takes selfies of people before killing them. He gradually develops a liking for a friendly canine and takes it with him on his travails, like Hathoda Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee) from Paatal Lok developed a fondness for dogs. Toward the end, the dog runs out of the car. Dagar crosses the road to pet him. A truck zooms by, killing Dagar instantly. Early in the film, a girl, whom he killed, curses him that someday he will fall in love and then he will realize how it feels. "Tera bhi dil aave kisi pe," she tells him. Her prophecy came true. It is love that kills Dagar.
In terms of story, Love Hostel does have not anything novel. However, I liked the tiny details in the film. For instance, the truck that kills Dagar has Has Mat Pagli Pyaar Ho Jayega written on it. The song that plays on the radio during the said scene is Ya Allah Ya Allah Dil Le Gayi from Ujala. "Koi rangeela sapnon me aake, ek najar se apna bana ke. Pyar ka jadu hampe chala ke. Ya allah, ya allah, dil le gaya." Both these artifacts remind us of the girl's curse of Dagar falling in love. Early in the film, Jyoti and Ashu elope and meet in a secluded place. In the first scene, the camera pans to Jyoti's feet, which are shown in the air when she is held up in the arms by Ashu. Toward the end, the same shot is repeated but in a different and chilling context. The camera pans to her feet, where she is again being held up in the air when she is tied to the rope while Dagar watches her. Raman has also been a cinematographer in his career. It is discernible that the director has a penchant for cinematography. The film is exquisitely shot by cinematographer Vivek Shah. Dead bodies looks absolutely symmetrical without any dirt or disorder. The gunshot wound is perfectly circular. Blood adds to the perverse beauty of the dead bodies. In another scene, a shot of half-dried flowers over a car adds a layer of sadness to the story.

In Love Hostel, the children are used as a motif where they are often present in violent situations but unafraid of the bloodbath in front of them. When Dagar goes to kill the lawyer who helped Jyoti get married, an irritated kid playing video games and wearing headphones opens the door. The kid's entire family is killed, and he is simply busy playing. Later, during the shootout at the hotel where Ashu delivers meat, a young girl, also wearing headphones, sits on the aisles. After the gun fights, she tells Ashu that he has blood on him. Later, in a similar scene, a young kid tells Dagar that he has blood on him when Dagar saunters into a wedding and starts indiscriminately shooting at people. And, the terrifying character in the film is another young kid—Rakesh (Yudhvir Ahlawat), Jyoti's brother. Think of Sandhya's brother from Dum Laga Ke Haisha, who was shown for comic effect. But add violence and rage and multiply by hundred times to get Rakesh. He is the one who violently hits Jyoti with a stick when he finds out about her affair with Ashu. He is the one who reveals Ashu's Muslim identity to her family. He is the one who kills Ashu in the end. He had this rage that he was willing to kill his father for standing up to his grandmother. It is a reminder of how children are not always beacons of innocence, and it is they who ultimately grow up to become perpetrators of violence. In a telling moment, when police inspector Sushil Tripathi (Raj Arun) comes looking for Dagar at Kamala Dilawar's place, she tells him any of the kids playing around her could be Dagar, so which Dagar is he looking for?

Love Hostel is produced by Red Chillies Entertainment, a company owned by Shah Rukh Khan. That may be why the film added two references from the films of Shah Rukh Khan. On their first night at the love hostel, Jyoti puts up a partition using a saree to get some privacy with Ashu. At this point, Aankhon Mein Teri from Om Shanti Om starts playing in the background. Later, Ashu smuggles meat to a hotel, but he also plays the role of a police informer. At the hotel, his truth is busted leading to a a shootout. All this while, the television in the room plays Laila Main Laila from Raees. There was a shootout going on during the song in Raees as well.

Love Hostel is also a film that depicts the manifestation of male depression in different forms. The men in the film are grieving and are advised to take help. Two characters—Sushil Tripathi and Dagar—go through similar trauma. Both these men lost their brothers. Sushil's younger brother performed self-immolation after he married another girl from a different religion. Maybe it is why he is kind to Ashu, as he sees his brother in him. Dagar's elder brother also took his own life after his daughter eloped with a man from another religion. Both Sushil and Dagar suffer from depression but refuse to accept help. Sushil has nightmares even today, prompting his wife to urge him to seek therapy and let it out. "Dil ki baat dabakar rakhna jhooth hi hai," she tells himHe is taking (sleeping) pills, but he dismisses the suggestion. On the other hand, Dagar takes to violence to deal with his trauma. He is called a bimar and is told by people that he needs to get treated. He is falsely living under the belief that he is a social reformer.

Performances in the film uplift it. Bobby Deol, as Dagar, is in a completely different avatar. Sanya Malhotra is feisty and spunky as Jyoti. Vikrant Massey brings a vulnerability to his character. Ashu is often timid in situations as he has seen more difficulties in life than Jyoti. He is also shown crying at one point. I was also thinking about another scene where he feels jealous of Jyoti dancing with another boy, even though he is gay. It makes Ashu realize that he cannot see Jyoti with another man. Raj Arun as Sushil Tripathi is excellent. Aditi Vasudev is also great as Nidhi Dahiya, who helps the two lovers. I still remember Aditi playing Mallika in Talaash. One thing I struggled with in the film was the dialogue of some characters. I could not understand some words. Some were said too quietly, which made me miss a few things. The film also does not explain everything, so I had to read up a bit to understand more.
Within the violence and blood, the film adds some beautiful dialogue. Early in the film, after getting married, Jyoti tells Ashu, "Ab paa liya tujhe, baaki sab bemaani." Jyoti has got everything she wished for, so she does not wish anything else. Toward the end, a crying Ashu tells her, "Teri mehek me rehna hai." He wants to live in her fragrance. And, the most memorable scene is when Jyoti and Ashu are hiding in an old factory, and a red car enters. They get suspicious that there are people in the car who are sent to kill them. Jyoti carries her gun to the car to find out more. But she sees that there are no enemies. The car has two lovers, both men, who are making out. She seems slightly disgusted, but then it hits her; the two men are lovers, like herself and Ashu. They are also running away from society. Lovers belonging to the same gender are not accepted by society, like lovers belonging to different religions face opposition. At this precise moment when she realizes this, she sees and hears a peacock chirping nearby. It is a tender moment reminding us of the beauty while dealing with the barbarity of a cruel world.
1. Solah Khatam Satra Shuroo from Aakhri Adalat is shown playing in one scene in the film.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Dil ki baat dabakar rakhna jhooth hi hai."
—Sujata, Love Hostel