Okay Karan, I’ll let you make me stay up late one more night. I am so tired, but this can’t wait until morning.
Karan just announced on twitter his next big film as director. First the plot teaser:
Then the cast:
Followed by another tweet highlighting the writers:
Karan says it all starts with the writers, so let’s begin by highlighting them. Sumit Roy comes from TV, and one earlier film Zubaan with Vicky Kaushal. Critically acclaimed, not much notice. So he is a bit of a question mark, which is fine for a screenwriter. Anyone can have one great story in him.
What is much more rare is having the great dialogues. Especially truly beautiful classical poetic dialogues of the kind that used to be the norm in Hindi films. There’s been a steady decline as “Hinglish” style has taken over, more and more scripts are clearly simply written in English and translated. So I am very excited about Hussain Haidry doing the dialogues, a working poet and lyricist who writes IN HINDI. Not yet another clever English speaking ad writer.
There’s a greater meaning to this. The early great writers, and early great actors of Hindi film came from an Urdu tradition. Dilip Kumar, for instance, was originally hired partly because he spoke a pure northern Urdu influenced Hindi and could correctly recite the gorgeous dialogues written for his films. And as the Muslim strain has been increasingly wiped from films (for instance, notice in this whole large cast, there are no Muslim heritage actors), so has that tradition of poetry and beauty that is part of it. Hiring Hussain Hadri says that this is going to be a throwback movie in many ways, including honoring the beautiful artistic tradition of Urdu poetry. And accepting that as part of the tradition of Indian history. And just in case that you think I am reading into it, this is the poem that rocketed Haidry to national and international attention:
Now, the actual plot. In this era of proud Hindu historicals, look at Karan, coming out with a Mughal-set drama. A battle for the “majestic” Mughal throne. Not for the evil, or violent, or wrong Mughal throne, but the “majestic” one. Beyond that, we know nothing. If it’s about family and love and stuff and set during the Mughal empire, there are sooooooooooo many possible historical fictions you could use. Starting with Salim-Anarkali of course, but there are loads of others.
And casting. Like I said, no Muslims. Which I am sure isn’t on purpose, it is just a sign of how much rarer they have become as actors in Hindi film in recent years. I don’t think that is necessarily religious prejudice (although it might be in part), so much as, again, the early years encouraged a certain purity of Hindi speaking which tended to come from the Urdu speaking Muslim community. And now, anyone can rattle off that strange combined Hindi-English stuff they are speaking.
(I have no idea what Dilip is saying here, and it doesn’t really matter. Just listen to how beautiful he makes the words sound)
Beyond that, Karan is always accused of “nepotism nepotism nepotism”, but in this case it is a fine mix. Vicky Kaushal and Bhumi Pednakar are related to nobody. Ranveer Singh is only a very distant Kapoor connection, he got his break the same way Bhumi did, picked by the Yash Raj casting directors. Kareena and Anil are, technically, from film families. But they got their start so long ago, before it was quite so competative and connections were quite so powerful, that I don’t think you can necessarily count them. And so we are let with Alia and Jhanvi, Karan’s old and new favorite.
I will be very curious how they in particular are used. With this large of a cast, some roles will have to be more important than others. It is possible Alia and Jhanvi are there as a mutual favor, playing extended cameos which will heighten their profiles, but also be such small parts they wouldn’t bother with them for any other director. Or not, it is also possible that everyone else will merely serve to make them look good.
One final thing that occurs to me, looking at the cast list, every single person on it except for Bhumi and Vicky are actually relatives in real life. Surely that isn’t a coincidence. At least, I hope not. Anil is uncle to both Jhanvi and Ranveer (a more distant uncle to Ranveer, but still related). And he and Kareena are also extremely distant connections.
Or maybe that is a coincidence? The family connections are so firmly embedded in the industry, this could very well be Karan’s ideal cast and they also just happened to be mostly related to each other.
In terms of each actor in particular, for Ranveer this will be a test to see if he still has the magic touch with historicals when there isn’t the Bhansali magic to help him along (or the Hindutva fantasy for that matter).
For Kareena, this could be her first truly major impressive role in a “matron” position. Looking at that cast list, I don’t really see a reasonable love interest for her. And there are more boys than girls anyway. So I imagine she will either be a strong and single mature woman, or paired with Anil in the older generation. Either way, I am excited to see her as a heroine who isn’t just about the love story. Especially since she got second billing.
Alia, this might be a challenge for her. She has to prove herself in this role a little more, since we are all so tired of her playing the part for Karan. And on a shallow note, I can’t quite see her in a historical. If nothing else, I don’t think her pronunciation is pure enough for what I will call, for lack of a better term, “High Hindi”.
Vicky Kaushal, very excited for him! He has the kind of real stage training and raw talent that makes me think he will be able to disappear into a historical character. Also, he is the only actor to have worked with this scriptwriter before.
Bhumi, I just really don’t want her to be stuck in yet another “simple peasant woman” type role. But I have this fear that she will be. The palace maid, the plain arranged marriage woman, at best the low class mistress. Or maybe not! Maybe she will be the haughty princess and Kareena will be the low class mistress. Wouldn’t that be a kick?
And Janhvi. Depending on the role, I am probably fine with her. She is very pretty and very young looking. If she is the innocent in danger, that is perfect. I just don’t want her to have a passionate romance or be a secret warrior woman or something like that, I don’t think she can pull it off. Maybe in 5 years, but not yet,
And then Anil! Presumably gets to play the wise adviser to all these young idiots. Either the Emperor, or the chief minister or something like that. Delightful! I want to see him with period grey hair in fancy costumes, I think he can pull it off and have a blast. And I am also very excited about seeing him playing a dignified mature part, somehow people tend to give him the younger sillier roles, and I want him to be respected for once.
(I want the Anil from this photo)
And the final piece, Karan himself! This is a real departure for him in a lot of ways. His first historical, that’s going to be a challenge. It’s also the first seriously expensive film Dharma has made in years. That is, I am assuming. You wouldn’t want a Mughal setting without massive throne rooms and battle scenes and so on. Karan is risking his talent and his study.
And my god is he sticking his neck out with this topic. He almost got his last film canceled just for having a Pakistani actor in a few scenes. But he said he regretted giving in on that, and I guess he was telling the truth, because coming back with a Mughal set film is quite the leap of faith. A Mughal set film written by the author of “Hindustani Musalmaan”.
And the final risk, this is the first film he is directing without having written it himself. Which I am sure is a very scary personal artistic challenge. I wonder if he wanted to do this kind of story but didn’t trust himself to write it properly? Or if the story came on his desk and he couldn’t resist directing it himself? Or if he was just ready to move on to a new artistic phase?