Desi Talk

24 January 19, 2018 ENTERTAINMENT – that’s all you need to know By S HILPA J AMKHANDIKAR I n Anurag Kashyap's "Mukkabaaz" (Boxer), the sport is out of focus - a sort of diffused background that serves to highlight the social and political ills the director wants to emphasize in this 155-minute film. Shravan (Vineet Singh) is a boxer in Bareilly (a town in Uttar Pradesh), training under his despotic coach Bhagwan Mishra (Jimmy Sheirgill), who would rather have his wards run errands and cook meals for him than train seriously. When Shravan falls for the coach's pretty but mute niece Sunaina (Zoya Hussain), things go sour between teacher and protege. Shravan lands a few punch- es on Bhagwan, and breaks away from him. Bhagwan, a Brahmin strongman with a mean streak, uses his muscle power and clout to make Shravan’s life miserable. Director Kashyap seems determined to put his hero through the wringer. Shravan faces every hardship you could think of - a struggle to earn a living with a lowly job in the railways, corrupt officers who put hurdles in his path, and the looming spectre of Bhagwan out for revenge. “Mukkabaaz” has five writers, and it seems they each had an issue they wanted amplified. Kashyap packs in cow slaughter, caste politics, apathy towards sports and sports- men, and the romance between Sunaina and Shravan. In doing so, he diverts the audience’s attention. There’s too much going on, too many plot contrivances and conven- iences. “Mukkabaaz” begins with a scene of men being lynched for stealing cows, but other than to emphasize that the film is set in the caste cauldron that is Uttar Pradesh, it serves no purpose. Indeed, caste is an important theme in the film, but Kashyap chooses to tell rather than show. Bhagwan prefixes every other sentence with “I am a Brahmin” and other characters talk about caste sporadi- cally, but it is never clear if Shravan and Sunaina would have been happier if they had been the right caste. For all its flaws, "Mukkabaaz" has some great perform- ances, especially from its leading man. Vineet Singh is pitch-perfect as the boxer who refuses to kowtow. Ravi Kishan as the man who backs him is wonderfully restrained and a joy to watch on screen. Zoya Hussain as Sunaina uses her doe eyes to great effect in the absence of dialogue, but her body language and personality do not fit the small-town, conservative girl mould and she seems miscast. Sports in India is much more than just the game and Kashyap tries to throw the spotlight on that, but he tries to land too many punches, and in doing so, misses the mark. -R EUTERS 'Mukkabaaz' Speaks To Social Ills With Great Performances Reuters By S HILPA J AMKHANDIKAR n his latest film, director Anurag Kashyap focuses on sports and poli- tics in small-town India, with the story of a young boxer's struggle to make it big. Kashyap, 45, spoke to Reuters about "Mukkabaaz", why he doesn't like Bollywood biopics, and whether his Phantom Films production house has strayed from what it set out to achieve. Q: Would you call “Mukkabaaz” a sports film? A: It’s a film about sports, but it’s an honest sports film. Q: What do you mean by that? A: I mean that we turn everything into formula. Even our biopics are not honest. See the films that have come out … it has become a formula now. People with one singular achievement have a biopic being told about them. Or people whose life is not over yet … and all biopics are super nationalist and patriotic and end with the national anthem. And that pisses me off. They are born heroes, from the first frame to the last. I find them extremely manipu- lative and don’t like most of them. Q: Why is nationalism and patriotism in the movies working now? A: People have always bought patriot- ism. Most people across the world live very meaningless lives. When they feel patriotic, they think they have a purpose and that’s why patriotism is sold to them, because their other issues they cannot redress. Cinema in India is less of an art form and more of a business. So producers always say, put in a bit of this and that. You should hear when they say ‘we should put in the national anthem in the end’. It’s like putting in a bit of jeera (cumin) to a dish. That is what they reduce patriotism to. It pisses me off and that is what I have addressed in my film. Q: Your film has politics mixed with the sports theme … A: Which sport doesn’t have politics? Why do you think politicians head every sports organisation? It is soft power. Q: Why did you want to work with Aanand L Rai on this film? A: It just happened. I was looking for money, and we had a great script. Vineet Kumar Singh (the lead actor in "Mukkabaaz") had gone in and put in so many years, but he had been a character actor. People loved the script so much, but they said take Vineet out of the equation. Let’s take the film to a big star and you take whatever money you want. They didn’t have a problem with Zoya because 'hero- ine koi bhi ho' (the female lead could be anyone). I didn't want to take Vineet out of the equation, so we walked out of one place. Aanand Rai called me because he wanted me to do "Manmarziyan", but I said I wanted to do this one first. So he said let’s do both together. Q: How do you assess Phantom Films right now? A: Phantom is doing bigger things now, and I want to do smaller things, so we have figured out a way for us to work together, all of us. The last year, Phantom has been very busy … because of Netflix. Both Vikram (co-founder Vikramaditya Motwane) and I have been consumed by only that. And then we have two big films going on floor in 2018. One is "Super 30" and one is "1983", so they are both massive films. Q: Phantom was supposed to be the production house that gave voice to indie voices, to smaller film-makers, but your films are now with big stars like Hrithik Roshan and Ranveer Singh. How has that happened? A: Exactly. That is my question. Q: Shouldn’t you have an answer to this question? A: I don’t have an answer. That is my question to all of us. When we become a company and it has its own set of pres- sures and its own employees …My con- stant question is, how large do we become? Do we become so large that we start doing a certain kind of a thing and stop doing another kind of a thing. That’s something that we deal with on a daily basis. For me, our whole philosophy is that it’s a director- driven company. So if I want to do a cer- tain thing, the onus is on me, within the company. Four people have different takes on what kind of film they want to make, and we each are doing that. Q: So how is it a cohesive company? A: It is a cohesive company because I know how to budget the film, how to put it together, but I don’t understand finances. I depend on them for that. I ammaking this film with Aanand L Rai, but I don’t sit together on the contracts or the budgets. They sit in on that - I deal with neither Phantom nor Aanand - I go out and make my film, the way I want to make it. Q: Does Phantom’s change of focus indi- cate that there is no way beyond the movie star system? A: No, I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe in that at all. Q: You spoke about having employees on board and the pressures that come with it. Is the answer to go big and get stars on board? A: That’s an easy answer. Q: So you all are taking the easy way out? A: We are doing both things. Q: How?Where are the smaller films? A: Imagine four people in a room… if they are always in sync, 24 hours, isn’t it boring?We will always have our conflicts and we have different ways of looking at things. But we are always together. We will be fighting, but we will always be together. My point of view is exactly your question - is going big the easy way out? Yes, it is. Are we taking the easy way out? Yes, we are. So I believe contrary and I am doing the con- trary thing. They are supporting me in that. They are doing what they believe in and I am there for them. Q: Do you believe that Phantom has moved away from its original philosophy? A: No, it has not. Phantom is still involved with “Mukkabaaz”. -R EUTERS 'Mukkabaaz' An Honest Biopic: Anurag Kashyap I Reuters/ Dario Pignatelli Director Anurag Kashyap poses during a photo call at the Rome International Film Festival October 24, 2007.