It’s a hard task to make a coherent film from four shorts. Thankfully, the directors present them as individual features, without the painful, naam ke vaaste interlinking at the end that is so often the case with such attempts.
But, it might have been possible to bring in a common thread without overstating it. The film has been marketed as a tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema, but we only catch a glimpse of this in the opening song and the closing song, and both appear discordant in the context of the film itself.
We know the film comprises four stories, each directed by a Bollywood big name. Each sticks to a genre he or she is comfortable with.
First up is Karan Johar, focusing on the listless marriage of an urban, journalist couple - Dev (Randeep Hooda) and Gayatri (Rani mukerji). Gayatri, with the plumpness of a woman settled into marriage, also carries the marks of a neglected wife - heavy but skilful makeup, an enticingly worn sari and seductive blouses. As a colleague makes eyes at her, another grins, “gale mein mangalsutra, aankhon mein kamasutra?” He’s Avinash (Saqib Saleem), who makes a point of announcing, “I’m gay” to whoever will listen. His friendship with Gayatri has unexpected repercussions on her marriage. Though Karan Johar tries to layer the story, and gets a lot of help from three very good actors, it’s likely that this short will be best remembered for an awkward but passionate, and definitely path-breaking, kiss. The next short film, featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Purandar, a closet actor, is undoubtedly the best in this collection. Based on Satyajit Ray’s story, Patol Babu Film Star, it is a double tribute - to cinema, and to one of its greatest and most versatile icons. Purandar has a regular life in a regular chawl, helping his wife clean, claiming he is running a business even as he travels long distances to try out for a watchman’s job.
Adding a surreal touch to his life is an emu. The story itself is a familiar one to those who have read Ray, and too beautiful to spoil by summary for those who haven’t. But the highlight of this wonderfully-acted short is the climax, in which Siddiqui mimes a story, as an instrumental version of Rabindranath Tagore’s haunting Tobu Mone Rekho plays out.
The song, perhaps intentionally, brings to mind Agniswar, in which it featured, along with the acting legend Uttam Kumar. There is also an imagined interaction between Purandar and his acting guru, which is reminiscent of that between Uttam Kumar and his mentor ‘Shankarda’ in Nayak. Both Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap look at the power of celebrity. While Zoya Akhtar looks at the conventional aspect through a charming story, Kashyap brings in his trademark quirky touch and clever dialogue into his. The final song is the most jarring aspect of the film. It crowds in scenes from old films, even as our present-day box office draws gyrate. The filmmakers put in one final scene that features all of them, but it’s painfully obvious that they have been sketchily superimposed on a background, and had done their bits individually. Couldn’t they all find a single day to come together, for such a landmark celebration?
The Verdict: While Bombay Talkies, isn’t quite the tribute it aims to be, it’s definitely worth a watch.