2014: A Year In B-Grade Hindi Cinema – Part One

Every year, a few dozen B and C-grade (and D, F, Z) Hindi movies make their way into theaters for a week – or less – and disappear. I’ve spent birthdays, Diwali and Holi mornings trudging grumpily to the ever-reliable 24-Karat Multiplex in Jogeshwari to watch these movies. Along the way, even though it was my job (sort of), I began to get perversely addicted to these experiences. The audience: A handful of sincere film critics (mostly paid per review), young amorous couples desperate for alone time, and perhaps optimistic family members of cast and crew. Sometimes, even they’d walk out at the break.

2014 was quite a prolific year for these movies. See if you recognise any of these titles:
 
BABLOO HAPPY HAI (February)
Believe it or not, this tragic filmmaking effort came from the director of ‘I Am Kalam.’ It has the heart of an Onir film but the craft, sensibility and tone of a crude Anees Bazmee ‘entertainer’. What starts out as the 531st Delhi tri-buddy flick in the last three years quickly assumes the serio-comedic resonance of a Moral Science Class taught by Silvio Berlusconi. 
 
HEARTLESS (February)
If this Shekhar Suman directorial debut (starring son Adhyayan, of course) wasn’t already an official remake of the Hollywood drama ‘Awake’, it would have been the butt of Suman’s own jokes in ‘Movers and Shakers’. It revolves around a medical phenomenon called ‘Anesthesia awareness’- where the patient, like the audience of this film, is paralyzed but can hear and sense everything around.
Suman himself, as Dr. Sameer, plays his own son’s ‘friend’ – a meta tribute to the agelessness of Hindi-movie medical jargon (‘pass the new heart please’). 
 
YA RAB (February)
This film is a woeful sermon that attempts to speak for Islam while trying to dispel false notions about the religion, but ends up as a discourse against every department of humanity and filmmaking. Three critics watched it in all of India. Stop rubbing it in, guys. 
 
O Teri! (March)
As an acting philanthropist, there are more credible things Salman Khan can do than unleash movies as a producer on an unsuspecting audience—complete with self-referential offshoots (dhaba with ‘Wanted’ Parathas, ‘Dabbang’ Dal) and ‘Being Human’ merchandise. The plot (?) is about two Delhi TV reporters P.P. and AIDS (don’t ask) looking for a scam to cover before the ‘Asian Olympic’ games to impress their boss, Monsoon (Sarah-Jane Dias). Pulkit Samrat, the mini-Bhai whose career is fading away faster than Salman can say ‘script’, is an integral part of this mess. His sermon-face is worse than his idol’s late night tweets. 
 
Total Siyapaa (March)
Indian writers will never stop associating repressiveness with one particular culture, and will never consider anyone but Kirron Kher as the trailblazing Baa of Bhatinda. Ali Zafar, the actor, must be aware that his lips barely move when he speaks, which make his dubbed lines sound like a playback song. This is good news for Zafar, the musician. Yami Gautam is wasted in a role that has her cursing her boyfriend’s country for hiding Osama Bin Laden. Shot in London, with craft that invokes seedy streets of Ahmedabad instead, this ‘chaotic’ Indo-Pak affair is the worst kind of chaos – the sort of unintentional madness Joker unleashes on Gotham for fun. 
 
Dishkiyaoon (March)
Dishkiyaoon is the kind of film that has ‘above all—Sunny Deol’ at the end of its credits. The film stars Harman Baweja as Vicki Kartoos, who narrates to Deol the story of his (attempted) rise in the underworld over a game of Snakes And Ladders. The climax has Vicki engaging in combat with rival Rocky (Anand Tiwari). The permanent scar on Rocky’s cheek becomes a deep gash, which perversely resembles a delicious smudge of red velvet cheesecake. I left the hall craving for the same, after concluding that the producer’s best decision was to do an item song herself — Shilpa Shetty Kundra has never looked better.
 
Kaanchi (April)
Better known as ‘Subhash Ghai Ki Aag’, this was the veteran director’s effort to create yet another newcomer-laden love story in the hills of Uttaranchal. Vultures howl when Kaanchi (Mishti) jumps into a stream, and thunder bellows when she is kissed forcibly. Villains roll down car windows to signify evil intent, but at least the windows are motorized. All hell breaks loose when fire-breathing dragons kidnap the—sorry, wrong synopsis. An obsessive son of a vile politician (Mithun da) falls for Kaanchi. I had to watch this on the morning of my birthday. I aged twenty years on the day.
 
Koyelaanchal (May)
Commercialism, greed, murder, chaos, brutality, self-indulgence…the filmmakers of this coal-mafia drama are guilty of all these traits. Furthermore, it’s a terribly loud, long and unforgiving cinematic experience starring Sunil Shetty, Vinod Khanna and Vipinno. There should be free therapy for critics who sit through these flicks. 
 
Chal Bhaag (June)
One of the most awfully executed crime capers of the year, Chal Bhaag was an exercise in how to misuse good actors. Three Delhi (again) crooks Munna Supari (Deepak Dobriyal), Bunty Chor and Daler Singh find themselves framed in an MLA murder case amid corrupt cops, errant bullets, outdated dons and Sanjay Mishra. Mishra has fellow veterans Yashpal Sharma and Mukesh Tiwari for company, cops whose only ambitions are to out-ham Dobriyal, who in turn must have been wondering when the next Tanu Weds Manu sequel would begin.
 
Machli Jal Ki Rani Hai (June)
The title, based on a popular Hindi children’s nursery rhyme, is forcibly made into Bollywood’s interpretation of a ‘horror’ film here. Why they always must end with an exorcist chanting mantras over a possessed woman’s body is a question that—I suspect—will forever remain unanswered. The most frightening aspect is the presence of the usually adept Swara Bhaskar, who makes this ham-fest her own, as the terrorized wife possessed by demonic spirits.
 
Naya Pata (June)
Naya Pata—a bleak crowd-funded film covering the lifespan of a Bihari migrant (Abhishek Sharma) struggling with an identity crisis—is a classic case of premature filmaculation. It is difficult to take the subject matter seriously when every department of the production seems like an experiment in progress. It is hampered by an extreme case of ‘method filmmaking’—where the director attempts to portray the psychological struggle of his characters by exposing his audience to dreary real-time routines. There is nothing engaging about the man’s introspection, especially when he utilizes 15 minutes of screen time to bathe or sleep in darkness.

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