A still from the recent Bollywood release Gehraiyaan. (Photo: Twitter)
I love watching well-crafted trailers of movies and shows. The trailers are like foreplay… a good one teases and entices, gets one’s hopes up, as anticipation mounts. But God help the moviemaker if the film fails to rise, live up to the hype, and collapses limply. That’s called an anti-climax. Last week’s big OTT release titled Gehraiyaan was a total let-down, unfortunately, for those of us who had moaned and groaned during the tantalising trailer, expecting sexual fireworks between the leading lady (Deepika Padukone) and the man she fancies in the movie (Siddhant Chaturvedi). Alas, the all-important erotic charge was totally missing! Let’s blame it on a new animal in Bollywood -- the "intimacy director". A Ukrainian screenwriter, director and producer (Dar Gai) was hired by Gehraiyaan director (Shakun Batra) to help the actors get comfortable with one another, through intense workshops and rehearsals before the shooting started. In an interview, Gai narrated an incident when she was not on the sets during a kissing scene, and the protagonists exclaimed: "Dar! Dar! Where’s Dar? We can’t kiss without her!" Oh dear… major crisis. And we are thinking: "A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh… the fundamental things apply… as time goes by…" As promised in Casablanca by Sam.
I watched Geheraiyaan the day it dropped (February 11) with Anandita, my daughter, who’s in her thirties. Not sure about Anandita, but I was being totally voyeuristic and waiting for the sizzling scenes I’d seen jhalaks of in the trailer. Yes, they were there… but hardly as "hot" as the buildup, which had gone on and on about the chemistry between the protagonists caught in a guilt-laden affair! The promotions kept referring to "adultery", but hello… nobody engaged in this rather banal "illicit" chakkar was married. Where’s the adulterous bit in that case? Infidelity has been tackled to death in the movies -- nothing new there. Stealing a cousin’s boyfriend is hardly shocking in today’s day and age -- theft has been legitimised and sanitized eons ago. Instead of the hot scenes that left me cold, I switched to the flimsy storyline, looking for the promised "depth". Since the dialogues rarely went beyond the F-word, I tried to look beyond it. Symbolism, anyone?
Okay… if frequent cuts to crashing waves and churning seas were meant to represent unbridled passion, as the love birds thrashed around in assorted beds, breathing heavily. But then… who am I to say what rows anybody’s boat? Or yacht, in this case?
On my family chat, I kept up a running review, making fun of everything and mocking the shallow attempt at creating a contemporary scenario, accurately capturing the brittleness of relationships today. I felt for Naseeruddin Shah, one of our best actors, going through his underwritten, very superficial part, without grimacing at its ludicrousness. That’s professionalism at its most sophisticated! I was cringing whenever he was on the screen, mouthing inanities and struggling to look engaged in the proceedings.
Wait! Here comes the twist in my narrative! All the other children LOVED the movie, connected with the characters, made their spouses watch it with them a second time, and shared reactions with peers, taking the trouble to analyse a movie that had as much depth as a "pedicure bath" (my friend’s apt description)! Clearly, I had missed the point. The only thing we agreed on was Deepika’s wonderfully calibrated performance, which once again demonstrated her immense talent at immersing herself in any role -- even one that is as sketchily written and goes nowhere.
The same evening, we rushed to watch Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, starring the marvelous Gal Gadot, and Branagh himself playing Hercule Poirot, in the third remake of the Agatha Christie 1937 classic whodunit. The trailer was dreamlike and tantalising -- so was the movie. A rare instance of expectations matching experience. So what if it was shot, not in Egypt, not in Morocco, but at Longcross Studios in Surrey! And the paddle steamer was no steamer, but a dummy that could glide over rail tracks to suggest movement. Abu Simbel and that magnificent statue of Ramses? Shot on the back lot!
Hotel Old Cataract, Aswan, was meticulously recreated by the brilliant production designer Jim Clay and his team. The illusion worked! The pyramids looked "real", and even the magnificent Nile played its part convincingly from a Surrey studio, with a few sweeping shots of the genuine article in Egypt intercut by the director of photography who had beautifully captured the mysterious beauty of one of the world’s most important rivers. Despite all the shadow play and visual trickery, Death on the Nile topped the box office last weekend with $12.8 million in ticket sales. Yes, magic does exist in the movies, when done right. Alas, it doesn’t work for mediocre film-makers playing far above their weight.
It’s this precise lack of depth in politics and public life that we as a nation have grown to accept in a resigned, tired way. A complete absence of the required gravitas is evident in the Punjab Assembly elections, which may still throw up a few surprises, never mind what the pundits are saying at the moment. Our voters unfailingly display far more "gehraiyaan" than the cardboard netas scrambling for votes and posts. But the pattern so far has followed movie promotions, with extra emphasis on political foreplay rather than actual performance.
Trailers make wild and wonderful promises that are rarely kept, in order to lure fans into buying tickets. Something like the Dance of the Seven Veils, with Salome refusing to shed the last one.
"New India is possible only with a new Punjab", Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared. He is so right! An award-winning DOP can make the impossible appear possible. The Sutlej, Ravi and Beas are so photogenic. So is the Narmada in Gujarat. A farmer is a farmer is a farmer. Visual effects, dubbed dialogues and clever editing can create a convincing masterpiece. The audience has been sufficiently lulled.
People will believe anything! A studio pond in Surrey passes for the mighty Nile in Egypt, and audiences clap. "The new Punjab will be free of debt, full of opportunities, and where every dalit will get honour and participation at every level…" said our great leader in Jalandhar. The box office collections, sorry, results of the Punjab elections will be declared on March 10. Blockbuster or flop? Not too long a wait… meanwhile, let’s look for an "intimacy director" to make sure that we behave…
Bring on the special effects!