Yet Another Take On Varnished Reality And Mascara Bleeding Ambition
QUEEN’S ROAD: The Calendar Girls are coming and that can only mean one thing. Madhur Bhandarkar is back. With one more version of glammed up reality that will be about mascara bleeding eyes, neurotic break downs, effeminate designers, cheating boyfriends and ambition ground under the heels of reality. We have seen it all before but Madhur will insist we haven’t.
Remember Heroine? It was supposed to be a definitive take on Bollywood but still came across as pale and lifeless compared to that moment in Arth when Kulbhushan Kharbanda shouts, “Main keh raha hoon, main keh raha hoon, main keh raha hoon” into the phone to reassure his neurotic girlfriend that he will break up with his wife. And really, after the few indelible scenes in which Smita Patil’s Kavita, a schizophrenic heroine pops or rather chews sleeping pills, clings sickeningly to a married man, throws tantrums and lashes out at imagined threats and intangible fears, what more was left to say in cinematic language about the inner life of a woman who has it all but is hollowed out and afraid to be loved too much or too little?
Right from the opening scenes where a trail of clothes leads us to Kharbanda and Smita in a hotel room play-acting like two old people who have spent a life time together, there was a flesh and blood intimacy that made you recoil even though there was no in your face nudity.
Compare that to the love making scene in Heroine where the protagonist, always the actress.. was shown filming herself in the throes of passion. This was finally the biggest problem with Heroine and with most of Bhandarkar’s films. The characters never stop acting. The scenes look staged. The camera never stops rolling. Life never takes over.
While in Arth, Smita’s bi-polar Kavita went from being perfectly normal to suicidal in a heartbeat and made you cringe with her hysteric neediness, a breakdown in Heroine was just the popping of some nameless pills, glugging endless drinks and a runny mascara. Which incidentally we had also seen in Fashion, a film salvaged considerably by the visceral Kangana Ranaut and also Priyanka Chopra.
Even before Madhur appropriated the, "all this glamour is a sham’’ space, there was Shyam Benegal and his Bhumika where Smita Patil (yes, again) pulsed pain as her scarred soul was tossed from one exploitative relationship to another in a blind hunger to find a centre, an anchor. None of what Madhur has said about fame and its flip side even comes close to a Kaagaz Ke Phool that summed up what success really amounts to in filmdom. Heroine was not even Luck By Chance where the inner workings of a messy, heartless world were revealed to us with a sense-of-humour and warmth and humanity.
The issue in his cinema is not the actor. It is the lack of nuance. In Heroine for instance, the issue was not Kareena but the empty shell she was expected to fill up. The script gave her physical cues. No subtext. And unlike The Dirty Picture, she was not playing a fleshed out, all consuming character who goes from innocence to degeneration. The notes of her performance ranged from, “I am in control,” “I am losing it,” to “I have lost it,” to finally “Hit rock bottom..the only way now is up.”Heroine for most part felt like a dress rehearsal for something real, something bone deep but never got there. There was a passing nod to lesbianism, to scandals about much married heroes living it up in outdoor shoots, PR wars and manufactured controversies but this surface knowledge of worlds is what Madhur passes for research. And the same may be true for Calendar Girls where just the promos give away the whole plot.
Most of the time, Madhur’s take on the glamour industry is not insightful but in the vein of a nudge nudge wink wink gossip monger.
And even though, in Heroine, he showed us how roles are edited when influential stars get offended, what happens when a fading star appears at a poorly attended press conference, what kind of stars make “guest appearances” at weddings, the favours extended to film journalists for covers and the cold blooded PR strategies, he steered clear of the most contentious secret of the film industry. The casting couch.
There was nothing edgy about Heroine. It remains to be seen if Calendar Girls will be different or will be just another film pretending to be introspective while saying to its own reflection in the mirror, “Makeup darling..makeup.”