Two men shift nervously, seldom making eye contact, as they listen to a beggar girl at a railway station footbridge singing an old Lata Mangeshkar gem whose words seem to have particular significance in their unlikely situation. A father, determined to enthrall his bored daughter, narrates a story in mime, his energy palpable, his excitement contagious. A little boy, attired in his sister’s dress and his mother’s make-up and heels, shakes his hips to the beats of a popular dance number, blissfully naïve to the likely reaction of his family. And a young out-of-towner is reduced to tears as he pleads earnestly to the security guards manning the gates of a superstar’s home for one meeting with the legend. It’s these images that linger in your mind long after you’ve watched Bombay Talkies, a charming omnibus of four short films that celebrate the centenary year of Indian cinema.
The stories, each roughly thirty minutes in duration, have no common link, except for a shared love and celebration of the movies. In Karan Johar’s film, Rani Mukherjee and Randeep Hooda are an urban couple in a passionless marriage. A friendship with the new intern at her workplace (Saqib Saleem) leads to a disturbing revelation about Rani’s relationship with her distant husband. Uncharacteristically mature for a film by Johar, and bristling with uncomfortable honesty, this story benefits from solid acting, sharp dialogue, and the fitting use of two evergreen Madan Mohan numbers. Despite its predictable resolution, the film is deeply affecting.
Dibakar Banerjee’s film, based on a short story by Satyajit Ray, stars the terrific Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a one-time theatre actor and failed entrepreneur seeking a job – any job – in an unforgiving city. When he strays into a film shoot one day and lands a bit part, he has a life-changing epiphany. Banerjee’s film subtly weaves in the magic of cinema and the dedication of an artiste, while setting the story in the ordinariness of everyday life. The director’s strength is in capturing real moments and it’s accentuated in this achingly beautiful narrative.
In Zoya Akhtar’s story, a little boy (Naman Jain) finds his true calling in a darkened cinema hall, when he watches Katrina Kaif gyrate to Sheila ki jawaani. It’s his indefinable connection to the actress that helps the boy understand that it’s okay to chase his dream, however strange it may seem to everyone around him. Through this sweet story, Akhar also extracts touching performances from the kid and his older sister.
Anurag Kashyap’s ode to a cinematic legend ties up this omnibus neatly. His film is centered on a youth from Allahabad, Vijay (Vineet Kumar), seeking an audience with Amitabh Bachchan, determined to make the star taste his mother’s murabba in a that he cradles carefully over days. Vijay camps outside Bachchan’s house, just so he can fulfill his father’s outlandish dream. Kashyap blends extraordinary comic touches with pathos, showing the love, the devotion reserved for a cinematic idol. And yet, here again, life plays an even bigger role than cinema, as seen in the film’s interesting end.
You may have a favorite amongst the four stories, because yes, this is cinema, and it touches different chords in different individuals. But there’s no denying that Bombay Talkies is a breath of fresh air – a wonderful gift to audiences on the 100th birthday of Indian cinema. I’m going with three and half out of five for Bombay Talkies. Through four consummate storytellers, we’re reminded just how much the movies mean to us.