I was reading a story by Ruskin Bond - The Meeting Pool. And I remembered this fantastic movie that I watched at least three times many years ago on TV. (Those days when movie channels used to play good films).
Palace of Illusions, Angela's Ashes, Eat Pray Love, Bhima, the Lone Warrior...such are the books I have been reading for quite sometime now. So when I received Half Girlfriend as a birthday present, I was rather pleased. Ah! Something different, I thought.
So one not so fine day, feeling down and low, I thought I'd treat myself to something light and easy. I started reading it. I started smiling. I even giggled. Wow! its been ages since I actually giggled, that too while reading a book. So I proceeded bravely with this happy-happy feeling lingering in my head.
As it might be general knowledge by now, Half-girlfriend is the love story of a boy from Bihar. The backdrop in the first half of the book is the prestigious St Stephen's College, Delhi and the second half is Bihar. The narrative goes back and forth tracing the life of the protagonist, Manav Jha. A boy from a small town called Dumraon in Bihar gets into St Stephen's College in Delhi through the Sports quota. Does Manav's first love blossom? Does his life change? Answers to these questions go on to form the rest of the story.
So what are the characters like?
Manav Jha: Its nice to see a protagonist come with his own flaws and weaknesses. There have been many such memorable characters in literature but there is something in them that makes you overlook or justify their weaknesses. But it is not the case here. Also there is no noticeable growth in the character graph at all. I shudder to imagine that Chetan Bhagat is somehow trying to generalise the behaviour of small town guys through the almost uncouth, unthinking actions of Manav Jha and even his friends. Manav seems to have just one motive all through his life. The Bill Gates situation is just a coincidence that he reluctantly takes part in. At one point after his graduation, his decision rises our expectations of him, but then nothing we expect happens. He just seems to be an overgrown teenager at the end of it all. So when he goes and achieves his 'dream' towards the end of the story, I couldn't help but think, "Oh? Did he have to cross continents and run 6 kilometers in the snow for THIS?".
Riya Somani. A shallow character, who doesn't do anything to the psyche of the reader. If there was an intention to weave a web of enigma around this character, the attempt falls flat I must say. Those diary entries also don't help her in any way.
The Somanis, the mother aka, Maharani, Rohan...all a bunch of stereotypes, something Chetan Bhagat has never freed his novels of.
The first half of the book has this fuzzy feel-good factor to it. I couldn't help but smile at the small funny observations. The Titan Watch ad couple, the biscuits...and many more. But then one starts tiring of it all. I almost felt irritated with the characters, the erratic movement of the story and ultimately with Chetan Bhagat himself. I am sucker for romance and all mushy stuff on earth but sorry mate, not this time.
The storyline looks very promising through the middle of the story but it lets you down terribly. I feel Chetan Bhagat had a rock solid premise on which he could build on something new and inspiring. I, in fact expected a Swades type of inspiration and purpose at a point.The feeling that one comes across is either that of a lazy author or an over-confident one, rushing to complete a Bollywood film script. We already know this book is ready to be made into a film and I actually found myself thinking about the cast. And Mr Bhagat has conveniently cast himself into it too.
It's a known fact that no one reads Chetan Bhagat for the literary value but I couldn't help notice several editorial errors in the book. A serious flaw in the narration I felt was that the editor ought to have decided clearly who the narrator should be. When the book starts off, the Chetan Bhagat is the narrator. Then the story takes on a flashback mode and the protagonist becomes the narrator. Once the flashback mode is over, Chetan Bhagat and Manav Jha take turns to narrate incidents in the first person. This tool can be extremely strenuous for the reader. Chetan Bhagat ought to be a little more considerate towards his readers especially since he thinks people can improve their spoken English by reading his books (I am not saying it, CB says it himself through Riya Somani.). The editors have also been overlooked a gross repetition of many expressions, one of them being "What?" so commonly used by youngsters today in various intonations to convey so many things. But we don't expect it from an established writer. He can't be running out of words? I am sorry but I had to pause reading the book at a point to check if I was reading the original edition or a pirated one because the basic rules of margins and page numbering are broken in many places. Alright, I am nitpicking now.
Yet, I would say that Half Girlfriend is one hell of a wasted opportunity. I will be last person to say a film or a book needs to carry a message. They work great as just pieces of art too. But Half Girlfriend has neither style nor substance.
Read it if only you are die-hard Chetan Bhagat fan.
This song came to my mind like a bolt from the blue. It must have been at least 14-15 years since I last heard this song. It was never even featured in any film though it was included in the Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin album. A very romantic Ghazal with lovely Urdu(?) lyrics.
I'm surprised that after all these years, I somehow remembered every note of this song. Strange! (I wish I remembered my 9-times Table this well ;))
I am sure it happens even now, but in 90s there were often extra songs in a Movie Album. These songs were perhaps composed for the film but never got used. For some reason, I used to look forward to these extra songs. One such song was Dil Ka Aalam in the Aashiqui album. Many years later, this song somehow got made into a music video, perhaps for MTV.
The cassette companies would tout these extra songs as BONUS (think startbursts on the cassette covers).
Interestingly, two such songs, one in Tezaab and the other in Dil became so popular that they were added to the films after their release.
Coming back to Aashiqui, I've always felt strange about the song Tu Meri Zindagi Haiin Aashiqui. This beautiful song probably couldn't find a place in the film, yet Mahesh Bhatt must have been so in love with this song that he put it anyway. That explains the silly and illogical picturisation of the song.
Closer home in the south, there was this song called Kinnerasani Vacchindhamma, which was originally part of the Saagara Sangamam album. It was just a few lines but a very catchy number. But it never got used in the film. However, a few year later, Vamsi, who was K Vishwanath's assistant used a full version of this song for another film of his, Sitara.
I understand that most film music composers have independent compositions in their kitty that they take out in case of emergencies. I would love to delve deeper into such trivia sometime. Any inputs on this topic are welcome.
I had written this in March 2010 for mouthshut.com . Stumbled across it today.
I got to watch a love story after ages and man! what a love story it was!
Not the sugary DDLJ type and not the tragic Titanic style. This is truly something else! I found myself crying in most portions of the movie - not sure if it was for the music, the lyrics, the dialogue or the story itself. I think it is the beautiful amalgamation of all these elements that moved me. This is a simple plot about a boy madly in love with this pretty lass who is just not able to make up her mind. When I say "simple" perhaps I am using the wrong word because it is really not that simple. We've only heard stories about love stories having a happy ending or a sad one. But no one really paused to talk about what goes on in the minds of either of the lovers - except perhaps those who have actually experienced it. Quite complicated and very interesting actually - two lovers of such contrasting natures. Gautam Vasudev Menon (GVM) seems to have understood the psyche of a woman really, really well - I'm tempted to think if this story is autobiographical. What else can explain so much intensity? Gautam Menon comes across not only as a sensitive writer but a very intelligent film-maker in the way he has played around not only with the script but our minds.I am actually angry with him for making the movie so close to reality but that's the most endearing thing about the movie. Every situation, every character, most dialogues are so true to life. Particularly a few situations like when Karthik (Simbu) is working hard in Goa and is unable to take Jesse's calls. Then those SMSes that they send each other (right from the train scene until the end)...I'm sure everyone has sent or received such messages at some point! Even the swear words that Karthik uses - so natural for a guy as frustrated as him. Most of all, atleast 1 in 10 women can identify with Jesse and her angst. The place when they are in a restaurant and she begs him for them to be just friends because its so much more easier....that is the anxiety of any woman who doesn't want to lose a dear person in her life but at the same time be rid of the guilt of hurting others. I loved the parts when Karthik's friend, Ganesh is worried about the immediate practical problems but all Karthik can think of is his girl, with a sparkle in his eye (making us smile, shake our heads and say, this guy is a goner!!) All through the movie, the director grips you by the heart-strings and leads you along. Don't even mention the sudden twist at the end...it was too much for a die hard romantic like me to take! GVM has taken a bold step in casting Silambarasan (Simbu) and he has done a great job in turning a rather brash, uncouth often vulgar street kid into this cute, lovable boy-next-door with honest dreams and aspirations. Any girl would fall for such a boy! Can you believe it? I have actually started thinking he is really cute and simple. Finally, he looks and behaves his age. I really wish he packs off his vague scripts and obeys the directions of people like GVM, Maniratnam and the like. But he still needs to work on his diction - though his English is okay, his Tamil is slightly jarring to the ear.Trisha....lucky girl. She has more to do that just look pretty. One solid role only after Nuvvosthey Ne Oddhantana (telugu - Santhosh Subramaniam in Tamil) and Abhiyum Naanum. The southern film industry can take pride in the number of (honestly) woman-centric themes compared to the Hindi film industry. So Trisha, you've made money. Now is the time to make a Name!! :) The music of the movie? I have to write a separate article about it!! If we thought Harris Jayaraj and GVM had a great understanding of each other's thoughts, AR Rahman and GVM have too much of it. GVM must be a great communicator and ARR is blessed with a deep insight into the director's mind. The songs and the background score are too good. Thinking back, I think it is the background score that moved me to tears in many parts. And Omana Penney...how much I cried...and it was out of excitement...the situation, the way it leads to the song, the hope created and most of all the song itself. What a song - there's no limit to how creative our darling ARR can get. And then Aaromale - wow! so apt to trace Karthik's development into a mature filmmaker from a love-lorn boy. Gautam Vasudev Menon, a great movie and a big hug to you for making it! Just a little thing, please, we don't want to see the group dancers the next time. You have your fans and we will watch your movies even without those dance(r)s - you don't need them anymore. You still retain the freshness and charm of Minnale but we expect you to dispense with the group dancing ritual. And God knows about your New York fixation! Please globe trot a bit and take us along with you just like you take us with you on your sentimental journeys!
Anjaan in Tamil means fearless. This totally applies to me.
Well, when I first saw the poster of this film, I told myself "Don't even bother." Something that looks like a Kohli-village setting, with Kohli fisherfolk, a boat, Samantha inappropriately dressed (so unlike her) and Surya (my darling once upon a time) also looking like a fish out of water (pardon the pun). Yet, I went and watched the film. The doing of my desperation and greed. It had been so long since I watched a film on big screen. And this was also a chance to check out the new multiplex, Luxe at the Phoenix Mall.
Right. Greed it was. And I went. Actually Anjaan also means the 'unknown' in Hindi. I made a mental picture of Run and Sandai Kozhi and assured myself it might not that bad after all. Alas! I didn't know!
**Spoliers ahead.** (Ha, ha! The word 'spoliers' makes me laugh. How can you spoil something that's already spoiled?) Anyway, the story is this. A dreaded gangster, avenges his friend's and his own death. That's it. That's all it to it.
There's a very poignant and symbolic scene where a taxi driver shows his car full of smiley stickers and says the stickers are there just to hide all the bullet marks on the car. If the movie were the car the bullet marks would be the cliches it has been fired with. Sadly, there are no smiley stickers to cover-up the cliches in this case.
Here are just a few:
1. The location of the story. Mumbai. Where else? Come on, its a gangster movie. There are no gangsters anywhere else in the world. Those that have a housing problem, sometimes shift to Pudupet in Chennai. The wealthier ones (that is, those that afford Ray-Bans) go to Malaysia.
2. The name of the main Gagster..er...sorry Gangster. Suresh, Ramesh, chey no. All of them have only two names. Either Raju Bhai or Salim Bhai. Our hero's name is Raju Bhai. Oh, but the directors of Anjaan couldn't decide until the end if they should call him Raju Bhai or Raju Bai. The LOL moment is when Raju's girlfriend tattooes his name on her arm as 'Raju Bai'. Why would any girl tattoo her boyfriend's name with the suffix Bhai on her arm? Either she wants to change her status from girlfriend to Rakhi sister or it must have been a typo on part of the tattoo artist, who was instructed to write 'Raju Bye-Bye'. Oh whatever!
3. Just like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, there are good gangsters and bad gangsters. The bad ones walk about in suits or better still Tuxedos, maroon bow tie and all that. And yes, they have always been in the business of importing gold biscuits and/or sparkling diamonds neatly tied up in maroon velvet pouches. (I would love to watch a movie where they deal with Gluco Biscuits and Cadbury's Gems for a change.)
4. As always, there is a very loyal man. Yes, he is Muslim and what does her wear but a kurta with a checkered scarf around his shoulders? Not to forget the grey beard. And his introduction scene. How else can a Muslim character be introduced in our movies? Long shot of a Mosque. Zoom to the interiors of the Mosque. Seen from behind, a man sincerely praying. Slowly move to his left and close-up on this devout expression and freeze. (I'm sure there was this greyish mark on his forehead. I just didn't notice.)
5. The revenge plot itself is so cliched. You actually know what's going to happen next.
This is a real conversation between two young viewers, one aged 7 and the other aged 6.
(Some 30 minutes after the film begins, around the same time that the interest in popcorn and Pepsi begins to wane) Girl 1: When will the songs come?
Girl 2: Only when girls come. See there are only boys so far.
(With this statement, the Girl 2 had summed up the entire Indian film industry in a nut shell.)
During the second half of the film, there is a Burkha-clad girl hovering around the hero.
Girl 2: Hey that is Samantha! I know, I saw her red nail polish!
(This is supposed to be a suspense point in the story. Yawn!)
The story-telling is THAT predictable. I have never really 'liked' Rajini's Baasha but compared to this, it atleast had some conviction.
It is so obvious that the producers have every idea of selling this movie all over the country. It has more than a dozen actors from Hindi films. Manoj Bajpai. The first scene he is shown, I wondered why he looks so sickly and pale. By the end of the film, the regret of being a part of this hotch-potch is quite evident on his face. The scene he dies must have been his favorite scene. Apart from him there are a dozen talented Hindi actors in this film. Why they agreed to do such dim witted roles, is a mystery? And, there is even Bramhanandam, perhaps in the worst role of his career. And none of them have even bothered to lip-sync in Tamil. Each of them is merrily speaking a language he is most comfortable in. But the dubbing is in Tamil. Not only the plethora of actors from other languages, there are Teugu songs and Hindi songs playing at every point, each of which is pointless and superfluous. It is so obvious that the director is trying to a nation-wide 'reach'.
Music. What music? The only song that kind of stays with you is that oddly titled Bang-Bang song, which is again a rehash of Billa but still.... The rest of the score, terrible. I believe Surya has sung one song himself. I don't know, because by then I was checking my FB account. The only question I want to ask Yuvan S R is, "WHY? WHAT'S HAPPENING TO YOU?"
The female-lead / heroine. The lesser said the better. That is what seems to be the catch phrase. 'Less is more' (at least where their costumes are concerned).
You might ask if there is any at all that is good at all about the movie. Yes, Surya. Great looks and talent wasted. Apart from looking super suave, he leaves a gentle reminder of the actor he was and the respect I had for him. And then Vidyut Jamwal. He looks fantastic. You feel sad for him. He plays a side-kick to the T. Poor guy is even made shake a leg for Lungi dance. Man, he is so uncomfortable in that scene and for some reason he is constantly looking at the camera. Even Television actors know that they shouldn't do that!
When I watched the film I decided not to write about it. Not worth my time and effort. But even two weeks since I've watched it, if the film is troubling me, the reason is ANGER. It angers me that directors so grossly dumb down the audience. I am no film expert, but I can definitely make out the difference when I see a director/writer/producer taking an effort and failing and when there is absolutely no effort, thinking that nobody will mind. I can never stand a writer who belittles the audience. I'm sorry but I take it very personally. It angers me that an actor like Surya can do something like this. Yes, who doesn't need money? Haven't Kamal Hassan and Amitabh Bachchan had their share of Masala films too (can anyone ever forget Maharaasan and Shahenshah?) but their good work over rides all of that. Thing is, these actors, including Surya are sincere in anything they do, if only they choose the better of the bad films they are offered.
At least I hope better discretion prevails and I avoid watching such films in the future.
PS: And the theater Luxe? I would say in Tamil, "Lux(e) aa? Lifebuoy alavukku kooda illa." (Loosely translated: What about Lux(e)? Its not even as good as Lifebuoy!)
Oh, BTW, the Girl 2 happens to be my Junior!