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Launched at a gala red carpet screening at Cannes, the four stories of Bombay Talkies are meant to celebrate the one hundred years of Indian cinema but do very little to further its reputation. None of the four shorts that make up the omnibus has a title and they are identified onscreen only by their directors’ names: Anurag Kashyap of Gangs of Wasseypur fame, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar. They are of varying interest, but the overall impression they leave is watching a Bollywood sampler without the song and dance, a committee project with an impressive budget but little heart.
The opening short by young Bollywood director Johar features one of India’s most popular actresses, Rani Mukerji, playing the glamorous editor of a gossip magazine whose husband is distant and uninterested in bedtime fun. A new gay intern in the office helps her understand why. Highlight: a little beggar girl singing old movie songs in a heavenly voice.
Banerjee’s second episode, based on a short story by Satyajit Ray, has by far the most depth and an beguiling ambiguity. A poor dreamer and out-of-work theater actor played by the versatile Nawazuddin Siddiqui (unrecognizable as the fierce killer in another of this year’s Cannes entries, Monsoon Shootout) leaves his wife and sick daughter in his one-room home to look for work. Though he’s too late to get the job he wanted, he stumbles across a film shoot on his way home. The tender ending shows off the talents of both director and actor, making it the best short in the film.
Quite amusing, if slight, is Akhtar’s story about a cute little boy who doesn’t want to play cricket, he wants to dance. The young Billy Elliot in question also likes to cross-dress in his sister’s and mother’s finery and has a thing for movie star Katrina Kaif. The story is charming in spite of its capital-letter message. Akhtar broke into the boy’s club of commercial Hindi cinema with her second film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and she knows something about gender issues.
The last tale is Kashyap’s curious modern folk tale about a young man from the Himalayan foothills charged by his dying father to go to Mumbai and convince mega-star Amitabh Bachchan to eat a piece of murraba, a candied local fruit. The old man believes the star has godlike powers to cure him. It’s a weird fan tale that illustrates how Indians revere Bollywood stars, but a tad repetitive and not very touching.
Maybe the most impressive thing about this uneven film is its interminable end credits, which give audiences a clue about the manpower that goes into making Hindi films today.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings)
Production companies: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, Ashi Dua in association with Flying Unicorn Entertainment
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem; Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sadashiv Amrapurkar; Katrina Kaif, Ranvir Shorey, Naman Jain, Khushi Dubey, Swati Das; Vineet Kumar Singh, Sudhir Pande, Paromita Chatterjee, Amitabh Bachchan
Directors: Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap
Screenwriters: Karan Johar; Dibakar Banerjee; Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti; Anurag Kashyap
Producers: Ritesh Sidhwani, Farhan Akhtar, Guneet Monga
Executive producers: Marijke D’Souza, Smriti Jain, Vikas Chandra, Vikesh Bhutani, Shaan Vyas
Directors of photography: Anil Mehta, Nikos Andritsakis, Carlos Catalan, Rajeev Ravi
Production designers: Amrita Mahal Nakai, Rashmi Sethi, Mayur Sharma
Editors: Deepa Ghatia, Samreen Farooqui, Shabani Hassawalia, Anand Subaya, Anupama Chabukswar
Music: Vishal Shekhar, Dibakar Banerje, Amit Trivedi
Sales Agent: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures
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