Saturday, February 14, 2009



Judging from the Tamil Kuselan and now Billu, it’s not quite clear what it was about the Malayalam original (Katha Parayumpol) that prompted two big remakes. It has to be the vanity of stars—Rajnikant and Shah Rukh Khan-- who get to play even more exaggerated versions of themselves, pay tribute to their own stardom, so to say.

The story (by Sreenivasan) is a modern-day retelling of the Krishna-Sudama tale, and it is perhaps not so surprising, in Kaliyuga, to see a film star stand in for a God. If there’s a comment there about our celeb crazy times, it’s not at all tongue-in-cheek. The persona of movie star Sahir Khan is larger than larger-than-life (You can see SRK enjoying the space alien bit). Next step must be divinity!

Set in a village that does not exist outside of Priyadarshan’s films— coconut palms in a North Indian setting, people speaking with Marathi accents and wearing South Indian handloom saris, Asrani, Rajpal Yadav, Om Puri, Manoj Joshi in the cast-- it is about Billu (Irrfan Khan) the healthy-looking but desperately poor owner of a hair cutting saloon. His wife (Lara Dutta in tight almost backless cholis) and kids are on the verge of hopelessness when news comes that Sahir Khan is coming to shoot in their village.

It is not very likely that a big ticket adventure movie with huge musical set-pieces and Matrix-like fights would be shot in an Uttar Pradesh village with no infrastructure and not even a vanity van on show, but you just have to believe it; because if Sahir Khan does not descend on the village in a helicopter (a nice shot of people scurrying below), the story would not happen.

Word goes round that Sahir was a childhood buddy of Billu’s and suddenly everyone who mistreated him is now begging for the favour of a meeting with the star. Billu is strangely reluctant, so even his wife and kids sulk.

And it is a one-idea film, the climax hinging on the question of whether Billu really know Sahir or was it a bit of wishful thinking. Without revealing the end (which is not so difficult to guess), it must be said that the film comes together in the last 20 minutes, when stoic Billu shows some emotion and Sahir delivers a teary speech at a school function… and you know why he is a demi-god to the people and why Shah Rukh Khan is a megastar. Takes too long to tell an obvious story and in such a flat manner; this meeting of Glamorous Bollywood (and its star item girls) with middle-of-the-road cinema does not quite ignite any sparks… maybe just a small match flare.

The Stoneman Murders

People from Mumbai, with a good memory would probably recall the gruesome serial killings in the early eighties, by a mysterious person who bashed in the heads of pavement dwellers with a large stone.

It was an unsolved case, and not big enough to be remembered or elicit any curiosity so many years later, but Manish Gupta was intrigued enough to go back to it and recreate a fictional account, and also a probable explanation for what must have happened.

A cop, Sanjay Shelar (Kay Kay Menon) is suspended for a custodial death, but his superior Satam (Vikram Gokhale) tells him to unofficially carry on the investigations of the Stoneman murders. His won’t tell his wife (a miscast Rukhsar) what’s going on, and stalks the streets at night for informer tips and clues.

For a sub-inspector in the eighties, Sanjay seems to have unlimited resources (two flats, a car, a secret work place), and he is smarter that the average cops on the beat—who even at a time of crisis, are completely lackadaisical, either sleeping on the job, cadging free meals or picking up hookers.

By a series of rather improbable (would a cop be stupid enough to pull out a knife from a stabbed man’s body and leave his prints on it?) coincidences, Sanjay leaves a trail that makes his colleagues, led by an already hostile Kedar (Arbaaz Khan) to believe that Sanjay might be the serial killer. (It was rumored that the killer was a cop).

It is an interesting recreation, but despite a ‘item number’ in a bar, and an unnecessary bare-back scene of the wife, the film rather slow and dry—crime serial episodes on TV drum up more pace and thrill. It is, however, nostalgia-inducing— the days of black, coin-operated rotary phones, Fiat cars and jingles of the period—well shot with some good performances (if it looks like a Ram Gopal Varma film, it’s because Gupta is a former protégé and uses many of RGV actors) and a very earnest Kay Kay Menon leading the pack.


Jugaad is a word often heard in Delhi, like “adjust” is in Mumbai. It implies a can-do-if-the-price-is-right approach, pretty much like the hybrid vehicle that bears the name too.

Unfortunately for Anand Kumar’s film, in recent times, there have been genuine ‘Dilli’ films hitting the cinemas regularly (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye, Dev D) so Jugaad seems fake and overdone.

Some time back, there was some media coverage of some high end boutiques in Delhi being demolished, because of some illegal extensions, which reportedly inspired this film. Sandeep Kapoor (Manoj Bajpai) finds his ad agency office sealed because he set up an office in a residential area.

His business is ruined (business is hardly dependent on the location of the office!), his staff quit because the new office is a ‘jugaad’ affair in a distant location, with no water or electricity.

His friend Murli (Vijay Raaz) tries to get the seal removed, by bribing the Commissioner (Govind Namdeo), but for some reason he is one of those who takes bribes, and does not get the job done. Quite improbably, he has a twin who is paid just to take the rap for him in case he is caught. Sandeep claims he is against corruption, but thinks it’s okay to have his file stolen by the twin. Neither the problem, nor the ways to the solution are clear or convincing. If Sandeep has bent the law, then why should he not be punished; if he hasn’t then why can’t his lawyer find a way to end his trauma?

There was a human interest story here, of a man beating his head against an apathetic system (like an earlier film called Chai Pani), but Jugaad is neither a funny, not satirical, nor does it manage to get the audience to sympathise with the character or get angry with the way the bureaucracy functions.

It’s just filled with strange characters, hammy actors and Manoj Bajpai looking like he just woke up with a bad hangover.


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