After a long hiatus, Johar is back with season 3 of KWK, and despite being much awaited, it fails to satisfy. It is disappointing, just like his movies: dramatic without meat, one-sided and microcosmic. Where you look for incisive questions, probing analysis and incurable wit, you realize that the show now balances on Johar’s relationship with his guests – so he treads on eggshells, pleases them, praises them and it becomes a mutual back-scratching hour. The questions are boring, dull and jaded – do we really care how some actors rate other actors? Do we want to know about only 5 actors – the Khans and Akshay Kumar? With only the bitchiness or sharp wit, straight-faced untruths and simpering (respectively) of Kareena, Saif, Ranbir and Priyanka provide some entertainment or relief, the show falls completely flat for the same reasons his movies fail to excite: they remain relevant to an older time, they assume only 5 people of either sex exist in the industry or Karan’s world, the format hasn’t got updated with anything but blatant in-show marketing of advertisers and sponsors. Tsk, I’d rather watch KBC or Masterchef than my old favourite KWK. Koffee makes me yawn.
Top Hindi cinema actresses today: ranked according to their acting and power quotient
1. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: Star Performer
She has immense star power. From an intensely wooden actress-cum-model to one of the most powerful actresses in Indian cinema today, she has come a long way. I believe Sanjay Leela Bhansali is responsible for turning her into a versatile performer. Post Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, she metamorphed into an actress with considerable histrionic power, only one which she needed to tune and control – she was prone to overacting at the time. After her Bengali cinema and Raincoat phase, she became a much more controlled performer – think Jodhaa Akbar. Besides being absolutely stunning to look at, she remains hugely iconic as a searing beauty and talented actress. She is very promising in the slew of movies lined up 2010: Robot, Action Replayy, Guzaarish…. She is both, star and actor. Which is why she still tops the list, despite being much older than most of the newer lot below.
2. Priyanka Chopra: All Rounder
She ranks in my list above Kareena Kapoor, despite the latter’s longevity in the industry, simply because Priyanka makes less mistakes and isn’t prone to overacting. Priyanka is a far more controlled performer, and a very balanced actress in terms of looks, charisma, versatility and acting. She is more an actor than a star, which in my books means a lot more than the other way around. She doesn’t have the raw talent of a Rekha, Madhuri or Vidya Balan, but she has a winning combination – versatility (proved with her movies ranging from Kaminey, Aitraaz, Dostana, Fashion to Anjaana Anjaani), a breadth of expressions and emotions, which prevents her from getting monotonous on screen, great vivacity – which makes her a hugely watchable actress – she suffuses the screen with her presence and a very earthy appeal. When styled well, she looks great too. Obviously she is a hard worker and a quick learner, becuase she is extending her range as she goes along, proving her mettle in the talent game. I believe we have great things to see from her, yet.
3. Kareena Kapoor: Drama Queen
Histrionics, over-acting, over-dramatization. These are, what according to me, hold Kareena back from being a fabulous actress. She has immense talent, and with the right director (think Imtiaz Ali for Jab We Met, Santosh Sivan for Asoka, Sudhir Misra for Chameli and Vishal Bharadwaj for Omkara) she turns into a powerhouse performer with controlled histrionics, without the annoying traces of Kareenaism. Kareenaism is fun to watch as long as it is in the limited avatar of Poo (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) or as the character of Geet (Jab We Met), but really not all the time. She brings a certain vivacity to the role, but more often than not, she remains more Kareena than the character (which is what Shah Rukh is also prone to do), making it wonderful for her fans, but not appealing to those who want to watch the movie and character unfold.
4. Deepika Padukone: Growing Stunner
Her smile (which reaches her eyes) and her dimples simply distract you through the film enough that you don’t really care that she isn’t doing much. That was Deepika Padukone in her first film, Om Shanti Om. Ever since then (despite making some terrible choices like Housefull and Chandni Chowk to China), she has worked to prove herself. She improves with every film she makes. There was not much difference in her roles in Bachna Ae Haseeno (where she delivered stilted dialogue) and Love Aaj Kal (where her dialogue delivery improved, but her character remained dull – due to the requirement of the script). In Karthik Calling Karthik, she began to open up with some of her old vivacity, and has really come into her own with Lafange Parindey. She is a fabulous clothes horse, great to look at, and an obviously hard worker and learner, but I do hope she doesn’t slide downhill with what appears to be limited expressions and a dose of overacting visible in the promos of Break Ke Baad, while Khelen Hum Jee Jan Se appears to be a promising role that would show off more of her newly-honed talent.
5. Vidya Balan: Talent Unlimited
What’s stopping this hugely talented – one of the most talented actresses we have today – actor from swinging it into the big league and top of the list is the lack of star power. She is an excellent actress and performer, but it looks like she will go the route of Tabu – critical acclaim, more art house than mainstream. She is wasted in candy-floss movies, and unfortunately candy floss is what builds mainstream appeal.
5. Katrina Kaif: Screen Diva
Katrina is hugely watchable – a great looker on screen, and that’s about it. But simply because she is so watchable, despite not being able to really act much (I only liked her in New York), she tries pretty hard and she’s won the audiences over in terms of screen presence.
Vidya Balan and Katrina Kaif share the #5 spot for diametrically opposite reasons.
6. Sonam Kapoor: Maturing Slowly
Sonam is pretty and lively. She fits the bill of an Aisha perfectly, she was great as Bittu in the horrendous Delhi 6 (possibly the only good thing about that film besides its songs) and she was watchable in I Hate Luv Storys, because Imran and she look so good together. However, she has limited expressions, which became very obvious in Aisha, because she faced so much screen time, and she needs to work on her breadth of expressions and quality of acting, otherwise she would remain typecast in the pretty-girl-next-door genre. And of course, a huge plus that she has unbelievable style. She can carry off a coarse jute bag and make it look stylish.
Published: Verve Magazine, Verve Men, February 2010
Photograph: Colston Julian; Illustration: Bappa
Director and scriptwriter of popular romantic dramas Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal, Imtiaz Ali, does not know whether happily-ever-after exists, “since the world is designed for relationship disasters. When people decide to get together, it is not a cerebral decision or a love formula, it’s an instinctive one. The one that got away occupies a person more, and anyone who is accessible becomes ordinary. No relationship can satisfy all the needs of a person. There is a reason why love stories end when they do”. In all his movies, the director believes that if we had the opportunity of seeing what were to happen a few years down the line to his characters, post the kiss-and-make-up; we would not be guaranteed a happy ending. So in a piece of wicked cross-scripting with Sitanshi Talati-Parikh, he plots a volatile fictional love story concocted with the unrelated characters of his two films, to see what would happen if Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan’s characters, Geet (Jab We Met) and Jai (Love Aaj Kal), actually met!
Ten years after Jab We Met (about eight years after Love Aaj Kal). Geet is married to Aditya Kashyap and they have two children. Jai and Meera are also married. There is a crisis of the “end of excitement”.
GEET, the essential free spirit, chafes under the boring normalcy of her life. She finds that Aditya Kashyap has changed – or maybe this is who he is – an industrialist who has a lot on his plate. He can’t take off anytime he chooses; having children has also changed the equation. While they balance each other out, she is haunted by the fact that now she doesn’t have a place to reach; without a destination, there is no journey. She is deeply disillusioned by the fact that she has no train to catch, nowhere to run off to with wild abandon and therefore no major thrill that keeps her going. There is a vacuum inside her, working its way towards a silent depression. Something sparks off a renaissance….
ADITYA doesn’t like the fact that his wife, Geet, talks to everyone with unnatural friendliness. This is a part of who she is, and he can’t change that, but it bothers him. He tries to bring a semblance of order in her life, but she constantly resists it. While she needs this stability to balance her out, she tends to react violently to it. Work keeps him so preoccupied that he finds he has less time and patience to pander to her impulsive needs.
JAI always believed in the concept of a live-in relationship as opposed to marriage. His love for Meera keeps him going, but the inability to walk out at any time, to experiment, to go with the flow, or change direction if he so desires, makes him feel shackled. The pressures of life are building up and he’s just looking for an escape route.
MEERA can’t seem to understand what is bothering Jai. She keeps reminding herself that this marriage is what he wanted – he had come looking for her. The fact that he may not be happy worries her, but she doesn’t know what she can do to fix it. She decides to wait and watch for an opportunity when things can go back to normal.
Geet is driving, with a lot of pent-up rage, to pick up her kids from school. She is manoeuvring the Mumbai traffic, amid construction, while simultaneously on the phone trying to negotiate keeping her maid who suddenly wants to quit. She has woken up early to make aloo parathas for Aditya. Her frustration has been building up for a while but she just doesn’t have the nerve to tell Aditya, “I can’t do this anymore, this is not me!” Suddenly as she is distracted, her car slams into an island, and shudders to a stop. She fumbles, trying to start it while continuing to talk on the phone. The traffic piles up behind her; loud curses can be heard in the background, accompanied by a lot of disgusted gestures.
A car slides into position next to her, a window rolls down and a disgruntled man (Jai) looks at her, saying, “There is a reason why women shouldn’t drive. Why don’t you do something that suits you more…like look after your home, and leave driving to men?” That chauvinistic statement gets Geet completely riled up – the years of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with marriage are simmering under the surface waiting to explode. She gets out of the car to scream at him. Jai has already driven past, the window is up – with the noise of the traffic and his music in the car, he can’t hear her. She can be seen in his rear-view mirror getting smaller and smaller.
She gets back into the car, manages to start it, slams the door and drives after Jai furiously. He enters a tall office building, and the elevator door is about to close behind him, when she wedges a foot into the door. She starts yelling at him, abusing him, trying to get the pent up fury out of her system. She follows him into his office, still yelling about the woes of her life – domesticity, the children, a husband who’s forgotten how to live life. The entire office is looking at them. Suddenly, realising where she is, she flushes a deep red, turns around and leaves. Jai’s visibly shaken; he doesn’t know what hit him. He needs to make a pitch before a very important client, and he can’t perform because he’s so nervous. Stammering and suddenly not his usual confident self, he doesn’t paint a convincing picture. He loses the account…and is completely shattered.
Driving to work the next day (at approximately the same time he’d met Geet the day before), Jai, feeling really miserable, suddenly notices her waiting in her car for her children. He immediately swerves to a stop, running over to her to give her a piece of his own mind. His problems are mounting: EMIs, a wife who’s threatening to leave him, the competition…. He ends his tirade with, “Maybe I have a wife who’s a bigger bitch than you are.”
[This is the excitement they are both missing in their lives. An escape from their own problems. Both Geet and Jai are people who would want to breathe more air, do more and say more than their partners.]
The next time they see each other, it’s like they’ve known each other for a long time…. Their vivaciousness and outgoing personalities leave no awkwardness between them. She needs to go back home to Aditya, but Jai suggests an excuse that works well on husbands, she thinks for a moment and gives into the thrill of a new experience, continuing their conversation over another cup of coffee.
Jai has an anniversary coming up and Geet needs to shop for Aditya’s birthday. They decide it’s an excuse good enough as any to shop together. Jai confesses that his wife has hated all the gifts he’s bought her in the past, that she’s a very sensitive kind of woman. “She would be happy if she thought that I thought about the gift!” Geet thinks it would be fun to help out, while Jai can help her choose something for her “fuddy-duddy boring industrialist-type of husband”.
They continue to meet; putting in the effort to look better, in response to the passion and electricity the air. They connect at various levels – they find their childish pursuits a great diversion, which their spouses would not. They gravitate towards each other. Neither wants to commit, but they believe that they have found their soulmate in each other. They are too volatile to actually be able to have a fulfilling, stable relationship together – and they know that. They are both people who are constantly in conflict, it is difficult for them to reach resolve – but they thrive in the conflict.
ADITYA, when he sees the change in Geet, senses that something is not right. He begins to look back at their life and see what’s missing, what is eating away into the Geet he fell in love with. He never confronts her or makes her uncomfortable, but makes an effort to be more attentive. Geet, for her part, can tell that he knows or is aware that something has changed. She finds its oddly disconcerting that he continues to be there for her – often suggesting doing things that she loves, which makes her feel guilty and confused about her feelings. She wants to come out and talk to him about it, but something holds her back – the fear of hurting him. She wishes he would react with anger or violence – not this silent niceness. It makes her feel like a bitch. In the middle of the night, having no one else to talk to, she frequently calls up Jai.
MEERA instinctively knows when Jai is unhappy or is not being faithful, especially with the increasing calls late into the night coming from Geet. Meera’s way of dealing with it is very matter-of-fact. She invites Jai out to his favourite restaurant, dresses up in his favourite outfit; and in the middle of the wine and meal, asks him directly, “Jai, I think you’re seeing somebody…just tell me about it.” Jai looks taken-aback and then decides to come clean. He talks about Geet – a girl whom he has been hanging out with, but insists that there isn’t anything serious between them. “I didn’t tell you because you’d be upset…but I can see I’ve upset you anyway. I’m sorry. But if you say the word, I won’t see her again.” Meera looks at him for a minute and says, “If I ask you not to see her, then I’m making her your lover, so do what you want.”
It appears to be a doomed love story of two people who can’t get rid of each other. Geet and Jai are the kind of people who consume each other – a relationship that scales the heights and plummets to the depths, making it a nervy ride. They make each other more insecure and it leads them to miss the stability provided by their spouses.
Jai meets Geet to tell her that they should stop seeing each other. Geet reacts explosively – talking about how much they are actually made for each other, and how they are not being unfaithful at all. They deliberate breaking up often. Eventually, in the midst of an emotional scene, Geet perks up with a suggestion – if they must end it, then why not with a bang – something that matches their personality? And she reminds him about the trip they had spoken about taking together…
Published: Verve Magazine, Features, September 2009
Photograph: Ankur Chaturvedi
He’s smart, casual, with unruly locks that women want to tame and is completely unmoved by his own success. Kareena Kapoor believes he redefined her career with the role of Geet in Jab We Met. Award-winning writer-director Imtiaz Ali speaks to Sitanshi Talati-Parikh about his disinterest in love stories and not being a good writer, hot on the heels of his latest film Love Aaj Kal
I think women are much smarter than men.” Pat comes his reply when I suggest that while women loved his latest romantic story Love Aaj Kal (LAK) starring Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone, most men were not visibly impressed. Despite how it sounds, Imtiaz Ali is extremely self-effacing, to a point where he appears not to believe in his own success. It seems to be a mere accident that he can be considered a film-maker of distinction, in a space of the simple love story.
Ali, contrary to expectations, doesn’t like watching love stories. “I prefer relationships like those in Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express (1994). There will always be a man-woman relationship in my films – I am old enough to admit that I like women.” That would explain one of the strongest elements of his cinema – his deep characterisation that surpasses the situation, story or script. The 38-year-old believes that fire is not born on screen alone – that chemistry exists first in the script; and particularly if the actors are suited to the characters. And he has a bias towards actors who haven’t done much work together: “If there is a kissing scene between a couple that is kissing all the time, there is no big deal – it is almost brotherly.” While Ali’s films display the maturing of a love story, happy endings are not a prerequisite. LAK was actually supposed to end unhappily, before he realised (with some insight from director-friend Anurag Kashyap) that it would not be very profound to start and end with a break-up.
The Jamshedpur-born film-maker’s stories are not set in the midst of tamasha and great social disturbance. Rather, they examine the turbulence of the relationship itself, often caused by distinctive character traits. About his choice of genre he simply states, “I’m not very cinema-literate and not really a movie buff. I don’t know what genre I belong to or am creating, and I am not going to fight that. I am selfish enough to do stories that I enjoy most at that point of time.” At the same time, he admits to having to think practically about the film he wants to make. “There are multi-crores riding on the film, it is a very expensive medium and I am from a very middle-class family – I don’t want to take the tension of squandering away anyone’s money.”
Reports suggest that LAK grossed Rs 62 crores worldwide in the opening weekend. “I didn’t have numbers in mind. It is overwhelming, the response, but my expectation from myself is not very much.” Whether he is out to impress or not, people are more than willing to place their bets on him. “People’s faith is a double-edged sword. You get the chance of doing what you want to do, but you also lose some of the filter for your work – finding people who will be direct with you!”
While it is the crisp attention to contemporary dialogue and situations that is the hallmark of an Imtiaz Ali film, there were some murmurs about conversation over-kill in LAK. He looks piercingly back, appearing unfazed. “I am not a very good writer. I’m a director who manages to put his thoughts on paper. A writer would have more precision, more imagination in terms of dialogue. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it doesn’t work. But, sometimes I feel that what I am writing is merely a code for the director [myself] to understand at the time of the shoot.” Writing the scripts for his previous films was a matter of circumstance, not choice. And yet, starting from school skits, the work that he enjoyed doing the most was that which was organic, home-grown and self-written. Regardless of his personal opinion, after winning accolades for Jab We Met (2007) – which he is dismissively appreciative of – Ali can’t escape his own writing.
Doing theatre in Delhi, an advertising course in Mumbai and becoming a “tape-delivery boy for Zee TV” finally brought Ali to television (think Purushetra and Imtihaan), where he spent many years struggling to find a balance between his two-hour stories and their long-term serials. “It was my mistake – TV is not looking at completion, it is looking at longevity.” Then Socha Na Tha (2005) happened, over a period of three years, “where all hell broke loose”. After Socha’s unsuccessful stint at the box office, Ali found himself floundering. “I’ve been a little irresponsible with the practical aspects of life. I don’t know how I have survived up until now. It’s a miracle. I have been broke, I am still broke, but I have got money whenever I needed it. And yet, that didn’t pressurise me to do a film that I didn’t want to, even if it looked like the most attractive proposition on earth. And then Jab We Met happened.”
Today he sits back casually, with no particular story that he plans to start work on soon. “There are stray bits floating in my mind – I don’t know which will materialise into a story. Some of them are so scary I want to forget them! The slate is clean – it gives you insecurity; but right now I have nothing. Usually I wait for myself to lose interest in my old stories. If I lose interest, I feel relieved that I don’t have to waste another year convincing people to invest in it! The best thing to do with a story is not make it. But, if it is compulsive, you have no other option – it is like a ghost you have to exorcise.” He stops to catch his breath. Does he actually enjoy making films? He chuckles, with a flash of the Imtiaz Ali charm. “A lot actually. More than anything else. It is a little compulsive-obsessive rather than a work of creative art that you enjoy with a cup of tea (he’s just finished two cups) and good music.”