Sunday, August 26, 2018

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero—Insaaf Man of Malad

In Spider-Man 2, May Parker tells Peter Parker, "I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams." Vikramaditya Motwane uses this concept of everyone being a hero and adds other elements from the world of superheroes to give a vigilante justice man who fights corruption in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. The story revolves around three friends—Bhavesh (Priyanshu Painyuli), Sikandar (Harshvardhan Kapoor), and Rajat (Ashish Verma). Bhavesh and Sikku (Sikandar) get inspired by the anti-corruption movement of 2011 and form a league called Insaaf in which they act as vigilantes and solve civic problems of people. After the fizzling of the anti-corruption movement, Sikku goes back to his job in a software company; however, Bhavesh continues to runs Insaaf on his own. He uncovers a huge scam related to water supply in Mumbai but is killed by the political masters running it. Disenchanted by Bhavesh's death, Sikku picks up from where Bhavesh left and tries to fight the political mafia as Bhavesh Joshi. The third friend Rajat is writing a graphic novel about a superhero named Insaaf Man and plays a crucial part in the film as well. 
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero clearly takes inspiration from the genre of superhero fiction. All through the film, we see characters talking about various superheroes. At an early point in the film, Sikku comments that he belongs to something like the Indian Justice League. A girl asks if he is like the Spiderman. Sikku responds that Spiderman belongs to Marvel, but Bhavesh and he are more like the characters of DC Comics. He says, "We are cooler, we are darker, we are edgier." In Rajat's novel Insaaf Man, the lead character is a vigilante who dispenses justice against the corrupt and is called Mumbai's first superhero. Bhavesh and Sikku compare him with the superheroes from Hindi films, such as Krrish (from Krrish) and G.One (from Ra.One). Later, Sikku goes on to become a real-life Insaaf Man who is like an Indian version of Batman. Insaaf Man wants to save the city of Mumbai just as Batman came to rescue the city of Gotham. Mumbai is shown like Gotham, where it is usually dark with no sunlight, and it is almost always raining. At another point, Rajat says, "Doobte suraj ke saamne uski kali sehkaya khadi sheher ki taraf dekh rahi thi. Yeh sheher kabhi uska apna tha." Before the setting sun, his dark silhouette stood over the city that was once his own. At a later stage, Sikku is actually seen standing on the top of a terrace looking over the city of Mumbai, reminiscent of the way Batman is seen looking over the city of Gotham in Batman series. Like Batman had his Batmobile, Sikku makes his own superbike to escape from the criminals. In addition, there are posters of Batman and Superman that can be seen at different points in the film. At another stage, Patil (Pratap Phad) compares Bhavesh to the character Phantom. Later, when Sikku sets fire to the pumping station, the way his shadow is shown reminds one a bit of the '80s vigilante drama Shahenshah. However, what makes the hero of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero different from the other conventional superheroes is that he is not good at this superheroic stuff. He is just as ordinary as any of us. He gets easily beaten up by the villains. He does not think through his tactics. The problems that Insaaf Man tries to solve are not huge like he is not saving the earth from nuclear bombs. The problems he is trying to solve are localized, as one character befittingly calls him the Insaaf Man of Malad. In a sense, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero combines the patriotic idealism of films, such as Rang De Basanti and Yuva, with the genre of superhero fiction.

Vikramaditya Motwane's previous film Trapped showed a darker side of Mumbai—harsh, uncaring, and aloof. People do not listen to you. People try to scam you. Since every inch of horizontal space has been occupied, it can only grow vertically. And, as it moves up vertically, it becomes even more and more distant. Shaurya gets trapped in an abandoned building ironically named Swarg Apartments. No one stayed in that building as it was part of some corruption scam. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is also a story of the darker side of Mumbai. The city is being exploited in every possible way by its people. Politicians are happy to terrorize a city to meet their selfish interests. The man who works for Patil has the patriotic song Saare Jahan Se Accha as his mobile ringtone but he has no hesitation in plundering his country. And, as seen in Trapped, here also, Bhavesh and Sikku find refuge in an abandoned hotel that was shut down by the court as it was constructed by politicians using black money.
In Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, water is a motif that is present all throughout the film. Of course, the film's story revolves around water, so, it only natural to expect it; however, the film incorporates many other water-related scenes in it. There is a lot of rain in the movie. The film opens with a fight in the rain. Later, we see that all the major events in the film occur during rain. In addition, Sikku is often seen near water. In one of the earliest scenes in the film, Sikku goes to the police station to inquire about his passport. He tells the policeman that he gave a glass of water to the man who had come to his house for police verification. When Sikku goes to his home, a water droplet falls on his application form, spoiling his name on it. At another stage in the film, after the brawl at the bar, Bhavesh comes home and apologizes to Sikku who is drinking water in the kitchen. After Bhavesh is killed, Sikku follows the city corporator Mhatre to his home. While he is driving, Sikku is again drinking water in his car. In the end, after he is captured by the goons of Rana (Nishikant Kamat), he is thrown into the water from a bridge and is seen floating till Rajat rescues him. The presence of water is again highlighted in the story of Icarus told to Sikku by Rana. In Greek mythology, Minos captures Icarus and his father on an island surrounded by deep water on all sides and there was no way to escape. Icarus' father built wings using wax so that he and Icarus could escape the island. He warned his son Icarus to never fly too close to the sun as it could melt the wings. Icarus was too confident of his ability to fly that he did not listen to his father and went too close to the sun and fell down into the sea where he drowned. Rana tells Sikku that he is like the sun. Thus, Sikku being thrown into the water mirrors the fate of Icarus as he, too, became confident of his powers that he could save Mumbai on his own. Since we are talking of Greeks, it is also worth mentioning that Sikku's name Sikandar is also based on the Greek king Alexander. This element of a mythological story was seen in Lootera as well. Pakhi's father used to tell her a story of Bheel Raja whose life was trapped in a tota (parrot). Later, Pakhi thinks that her life is trapped in the last leaf of a tree as if it is her parrot from the story her father used to tell her. The day the last the leaf falls, she will die as well. Thus, a story played a significant part in Lootera, too.
In some ways, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is also a story of friendship. It is about three friends who are on the spectrum of an idealist-pragmatist scale. Bhavesh never loses his idealism. Rajat was always the pragmatist. Sikku is somewhere in between. Earlier, he shared the sense of idealism with Bhavesh; however, with the fizzling of the non-corruption movement, he becomes more pragmatist. After Bhavesh's death, Sikku again carries forward the idealism of his friend and even names his superhero avatar after his friend Bhavesh. We never get to see the families of these friends because these friends are their only family. Sikku is the one who performs the last rites of Bhavesh. And, then, there is the wonderful Rajat who saves Sikku from death and manages to actually help nab the culprits. For me, he was the most intelligent and the bravest character in the film. He is a hero in his own right who has the (super)power of the pen. He works for a media company where he is shown writing a listicle on 21 Ways to be like Ranveer Singh. By the end of the movie, he undergoes a change and starts writing a listicle on 10 Ways to Change Your Life. Thereafter he carries forward the legacy of his other friends. 
Sikku is given an opportunity to move to the United States of America. He does not have a passport and has to run around to get one made. He eventually has to pay a bribe to the police for his passport. I felt the entire sequence of the passport in the film was in some ways also about his own search for an identity. Only when he is at the airport about to leave the country, he looks at the passport in his hand and decides to stay back as if he has finally identified with someone.
There is also a kind of circularity in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. The film opens with the fighting sequences that are repeated during the end. Essentially, they showed the climax of the film at the beginning itself. There is also the repetition of Rajat's words where he speaks about the Insaaf Man standing over the city of Mumbai. Bhavesh's death inspires Sikku to become Bhavesh Joshi. And, then, after Sikku almost died, Rajat becomes the next Bhavesh Joshi. It was as if they are passing the mantle, and this whole angle of circularity pointed to some kind of continuity in the proceedings.
The film is beautifully shot by Sidharth Dhawan. There is a lot of red and blue color in the film. The film is shot in a style that gives it the look of a graphic novel. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the one where Sikku's office is shown. There is a stunning play of lights on the skyscrapers of Mumbai in the scene which makes one think as to how they managed to shoot it. The film's background music by Amit Trivedi is excellently done giving it a feel of a thriller. It accentuates many scenes in the film. 
There is a scene in the film is when Bhavesh goes to help an old man whose family is dealing with the lack of water in their area. He is offered tea but since he is wearing a mask, he cannot drink it easily. He struggles to hold the cup without taking off his brown bag that he is wearing. I found this scene to be hilarious and remembered that outrageous scene from Delhi Belly where at one point Vir Das' character Arup tries to drink water without realizing he is wearing a burkha.
The film is a tad long. The other thing that was also bizarre was that Sikku is in hiding, but he is walking on the streets without any fear of getting recognized. His friend Rajat saw him near Sneha's place and figured out that Sikku was in the city only. Won't the police be able to find him easily as well? The film never delves deeper into exploring the guilt of Sikku after all he was responsible for uploading the video of Bhavesh that revealed his identity. The families of the friends are absent. Also, Sikku will not jump a red light signal but will happily break other laws as seen during the chase sequence. And, as we saw in Mukkabaaz, I again felt that some of the political elements in the film, such as the whole narrative of anti-nationals, did not seem organic and seemed a bit forced as an afterthought and did not fit with the film's thought. If there are politically-charged vigilantes, then, how are the various Bhavesh Joshis who are also vigilantes different from these people? Is there a distinction between good vigilantism and bad vigilantism? Despite some of these issues, I would still say that I liked Bhavesh Joshi Superhero more than I expected when I first saw the trailer which did not seem interesting to me.
In 1987, Anil Kapoor starred in and as Mr. India representing the common man where he fought the villains and the corrupt who wanted to destroy his country. He had no superpowers of his own as such and the only power that he used was that of a new-generation bracelet that made him invisible. The movie is considered as one of the greatest films of Hindi cinema. Thirty-one-years later, Anil Kapoor's son Harshvardhan Kapoor stars in and as Bhavesh Joshi Superhero where tries to protect his city from the corrupt, again with no special powers of his own. The impact of this film is nowhere close to his father's film. Nevertheless, the film's concept is an interesting one and Vikramaditya Motwane remains one of Hindi cinema's most fascinating filmmakers. 

1. Self-reference in the film where Vikramaditya Motwane's first film Udaan is seen in the Up Next section on Insaaf TV's YouTube channel. 
2. In an interview with Scroll, Vikramaditya Motwane says, "Every film I’ve made has been, in one way or the other, about hope, but Trapped is the bleakest of the lot. But if you take Udaan or Lootera, they’ve all been about hope. And that’s how it should be. Till the point that you don’t get old and cynical, you’re waiting for a resolution and a revolution. There’s always hope that there’s a better world."
3. Mario Puzo's The Godfather and Abraham Lincoln
4. Revolution is written on Bhavesh's shirt
5. Newton and Bhavesh Joshi Superhero
6. Michael Jackson's We Are The World
7. Gulzar on the board and the club plays songs from Omkara
8. At one point, Pinga from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani can be heard. Vikramaditya Motwane has worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali before.  
9. Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction in Sikku's room
10. When Sikku is at the hospital, Rajat tells the doctor that his name is Mohan. I was curious about this choice. Was it related to Gandhi's first name Mohan, or as Baradwaj Rangan writes in his review that the film reminded him of Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho!, perhaps, Mohan is related to that. 
11. Marvel and DC Comics
12. The photographs of the people in the background have flowers, which shows the passing of time.
Other Reading:
1. On LooteraLink
2. On Lootera (Second Post)—Link
3. On TrappedLink
4. On MukkabaazLink

Dialogue of the Day
"Superheroes paida vaida nahi hote, bante hain."
—Bhavesh Joshi, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Raazi—If The Heart Agrees

Meghna Gulzar's Raazi is the story of Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) who is a daughter, a wife, and a spy. The film is based on Harinder Sikka's novel Calling Sehmat which itself was inspired by real events. Sehmat is the twenty-year-old daughter of Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) who dedicated his life to the service of his nation. He asks Sehmat to get married to a Pakistani major's son Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal) so that she can spy on the secret plans of the other nation's army and relay them to the Indian intelligence. Sehmat is raazi (in agreement) to do the same and becomes a raazi (keeper of secrets) for her nation.
Early in the film, there is a scene where Sehmat saves a squirrel from being run over by a car. She gets injured in the process and a shard of glass enters her feet. She asks her friend to take it out as she cannot see blood. Her friend takes her to get a tetanus injection and Sehmat says that she is afraid of injections. Later, these same traits are shown as contrast when Sehmat goes to Pakistan as a spy. The squirrel-saving Sehmat kills Abdul in the exact same way by running a car over him. The injection-fearing Sehmat injects poison in her brother-in-law. The blood-fearing Sehmat becomes the cold-blooded killer. A twenty-year-old clumsy girl who was called darpok displayed immense courage and successfully managed to scoop out extremely confidential information in a dangerous mission. 
There have been many films in the past where the female protagonist was a spy. Some of these films include Agent Vinod, The Hero: Love Story of a Spy, Aankhen, Don 2, Ek Tha Tiger, Naam Shabana, and Baby. However, the one movie that kept coming to my mind while watching Raazi was Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar. Although the subject of the two films is different, there are similar themes in them. In both the films, there are fathers who fix the wedding of their daughters (without their consent) to men from a hostile state to furthering the national interest. For the two fathers, the interests of their nation are more important than the life of their respective daughters. In Raazi, Hidayat Khan wants Sehmat to get married to a Pakistani major's son so that she can spy on the secret plans of the other nation's army. In Jodhaa Akbar, the Rajput king, Raja Bharmal of Amer, proposes the marriage of his daughter Jodhaa to Akbar, the Mughal king, as a political alliance to stop the impending war between the Rajputs and the Mughals. In Raazi, Hidayat Khan tells Sehmat that for him, there is nothing that comes before the country. In Jodhaa Akbar, Raja Bharmal tells Jodhaa that to save the people of his kingdom, she will have to drink this poison (referring to her marriage). Sehmat and Jodhaa are hesitant initially but they agree to the marriage for the sake of their nation.
After their wedding, Sehmat and Jodhaa go to their new homes. Sehmat crosses the border to move to Pakistan; Jodhaa goes to stay in Agra, the seat of the Mughal kingdom. Both Sehmat and Jodhaa face suspicion of their respective husband's caretakers in their new homes. Abdul, the domestic servant, who brought up Iqbal, is suspicious of Sehmat and her motives as she is an Indian. He is possessive of Iqbal and is not able to trust Sehmat. Likewise, there is Maham Anga, Akbar's foster mother, who is suspicious of Jodhaa from the day she enters the Mughal court. She is also possessive of Akbar and thinks Jodhaa is a Rajput assassin. There is a similar scene involving food, too, in the two films. In Raazi, as a new daughter-in-law, Sehmat makes parathes for everyone in the house. However, Abdul questions her reasons for doing the same. He admonishes her that she does not know the eating preferences of the household members and she should have stayed out of the kitchen. In a similar scene in Jodhaa Akbar, Jodhaa enters the royal kitchen and wants to prepare delicacies from her Rajput heritage for Akbar. However, Maham Anga gets irritated by this as she thinks that Jodhaa is taking over the Mughal kingdom. She reminds Jodhaa that her marriage to Akbar is only a political alliance and it should be clear to her that she can never be the true empress of the Mughals. Jodhaa still makes food for Akbar and Maham Anga again plays a spoilsport by asking her to taste the food she prepared before everyone. Later, in Raazi, it is Abdul who finds the truth about Sehmat's motives, and his suspicions were proved right. In Jodhaa Akbar, it is Maham Anga who finds some suspicious letters in Jodhaa's room that make her think that she is not to be trusted but she was proved wrong. In addition, there is the appearance of poison as well in the two films. In Raazi, during her training, Khalid Mir gives a bottle of ricin to Sehmat in case she needs to eliminate someone. She uses that poison to kill her brother-in-law when he became suspicious of Abdul's death. In Jodhaa Akbar, Rani Padmavati, Jodhaa's mother, gives her a vial of poison in case she is made to do something that she does not want. Later, the vial of poison is found by Maham Anga who instigates Akbar that Jodhaa was planning to eliminate him.
We also see similar behavior in the two husbands—Iqbal and Akbar. In Raazi, after the wedding, Iqbal and Sehmat do not consummate their marriage and sleep separately for some time. Iqbal feels that their marriage was fixed by their fathers, and they do not know each other; therefore, they should wait before getting physically close. Likewise in Jodhaa Akbar, Akbar and Jodhaa also do not have sex after their wedding because Jodhaa is uncomfortable as she has still not been able to accept Akbar as her husband. Akbar respects her decision and they agree to not be physically intimate until Jodhaa is ready. Additionally, Iqbal and Akbar woo their respective wives by giving them the family heirloom. Thus, I felt that there are enough similar scenes and templates in the two films that warranted a comparison between the two films. 
Raazi has some great music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Agar Dil Raazi Hai and Dilbaro are fantastic songs. There are some other lovely touches in the film. When Hidayat Khan informs Brigadier Syed about his lung tumor, he says he has never smoked a cigarette in life, but perhaps, he took a long drag on life. Shayad zindagi ke kash kuch lambe le liye. Later, when he dies, Sehmat is the only woman who goes to her father's funeral (worth mentioning because, in Islamic culture, women usually do not go to the funeral). The story of Hidayat and Teji would also be an interesting one as it can be inferred that they belonged to different religions. We never get to know more about Sehmat's mother Teji, but she was a Hindu as she wore the sindoor. In the film, we hear about loquats and see some finely embroidered costumes. The film rightly credits its embroiders as it should because those are beautiful.
In Dibakar Banerjee's short film in Lust Stories, Salman (Sanjay Kapoor) comments that films should have a message either related to patriotism or love. He says, "Picture toh entertaining honi chahiye ya message hona chahiye. Deshbhakti ho ya love ho." In Raazi, Sehmat's philosophy is that nothing is above the nation, not even self. She says, "Watan ke aage kuch nahi, khud bhi nahi." This sacrifice of everything for the nation is in line with these politically charged times as the world seems to be drifting towards patriotism and jingoism. At the same time, the underlying message of the film is quite contrary to this patriotic fervor. It does not try to disrepute patriotism but questions if giving everything up is really worth it. As Sehmat rhetorically asks Mir if relationships and life matter to him at all. He did hesitate to kill her even after all she did for them. In the nature of war, there is always collateral damage but then is there any other way. It is a difficult question with no clear answer but the film veers towards the side of conscience and humanism in the debate. The people on the other side are shown to be like the people on this side. There are no villains in the film. This is also reflected in the film's most interesting sequence which occurs on the annual day function in school. Sehmat teaches the song Ae Watan to a group of students. Sehmat and the students sing this patriotic song, both hoping for the best for their nation. Perhaps, the existence of the two nations need not be a zero-sum game.
Overall, Raazi is predictable and bland. Some of the sequences of Sehmat spying in the house without anyone finding out are downright silly. Alia's performance is fine; it is just that her voice feels too rehearsed at many places. It is not a badly made film at all but still, I did not enjoy this film as much as I wanted. Meghna Gulzar's previous film Talvar was a superior and much more nuanced film than Raazi. Here nothing is really surprising, which is unfortunate for a film that claims to call itself a thriller. However, the subliminal message of the film is something truly relevant and worth reflecting upon in these times.

Billie Holiday and Bebop
 Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
In an interview, Gulzar, the lyricist, says that he paid tribute to the poet Iqbal in the song Ae Watan by adding "Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tamanna meri, zindagi shamma ki surat ho khudaya meri" from one of his prayers.
The intelligence-related to submarines that Sehmat uncovers was also shown in Sankalp Reddy's The Ghazi Attack.
Completely random nonsensical trivia—In one scene, a collection of books titled 'The Second World' is seen in the film. The same set of books were also seen in Abhay Chopra's Ittefaq. Based on available information, this book was not written in the 1970s.
Balendra Singh who played Budhan in Shoojit Sircar's Piku is in Raazi, too.
The film created Pakistan in Malerkotla, Punjab. It is worth mentioning some Pakistani films from that era that are shown here. Shaheed can be seen many times (which is also the story of an outsider who comes to a nation with an ulterior motive).
Yaarana and Shaheed
Barsaat and Anarkali
Dialogue of the Day:
"Khali pet iraade nahi bharte."
—Teji, Raazi