Oh boy, get ready for a deep deep dive into a film that is a combination of universal human emotions and very specific references.
You ready for my first note? “EXCEL LOGO!!!!” This isn’t about the film at all, I was just excited to see a cheesy first draft of the now super sophisticated high tech looking Excel logo.
Doesn’t even have the Lakshya music behind it, which is odd, because Lakshya came out 5 years before this movie. Is it that he didn’t want to overwhelm Hrithik’s performance with references to a previous film? Is it that he didn’t want to overwhelm his sister with his own stuff before the film? Or curse her (considering the reception Lakshya got)? Already I have so much to think about!
(A bit fancier!)
Next note, “Konkona Kasting Kouch” (I amuse myself)
I love the way this scene is handled, the opening scene of the film. Everything is just right. In that it is just wrong. The office set, for one thing. This isn’t a “real” office, the desk is a bit too big, the poster frames a bit to ornate. This is someone who knows what a film office is supposed to look like, but not what it should feel like.
And our scuzzy producer Alyy is just right in being just wrong as well. The way he is talking, he is saying all the right things. “No need for a casting director, I know in my gut” “it’s important to get a feel for the character” etc. etc. But he isn’t saying it quite like he believes it himself.
What really makes it is Konkona. Her looks is just perfectly not right too. The dialogue tells us she is recently arrived from Konpur. And we can see that, her make-up is a bit too much, her clothes are a bit too much. Her intelligence is there in her eyes, but it’s not enough to overcome everything else, to make her look anything less than naive, no matter what she thinks. You can be smart and still be dumb, you know? And that’s what we see on her face. Her intelligence tells her what this producer is asking and it flickers on her face. And then her dumbness takes the fore, tells her “no no, he is an artist, this is my big chance!” and she smiles wider again.
Next note! “Behind scenes workers to singlescreen theaters”
I love this song so much (as you all knew I would), that I even watched a short little interview clip with Zoya about making it. Reema did half and she did the other half. They had such a tight budget and schedule that Reema was going around the studio with a second crew while Zoya was filming the actual movie with the first crew. Half of the images are just from that, random pictures of real people doing their real jobs. And a few others were put in to spice things up, the angel going to the toilet, the extras in astronaut gear.
But what I really love about it is that it focuses on the hidden people, the forgotten people. We will spend much of the movie with the elites, the Karan Johar’s and Shobha De’s. But we open with Konkona, the young innocent desperate woman looking for a chance, and with all these people, the junior artistes and the editors and the projectionists and ticket salesman at the single screen theaters. This is the “real” industry, all these people striving and working and dreaming. And now I am crying, WHY DID YOU MAKE ME WATCH THIS MOVIE????
Next Note! “Rajkumar Hirani/Aamir”
We have jumped forward to see Konkona, no longer the innocent, walking down the street of fake Calcutta, saying a line to Aamir in period dress. The shot ends, Aamir calls out “Hey Raju! How was that?” Raju gives all kind of feedback, he liked the touch with the hat, it was a good take. Aamir admits he almost called Konkona by the wrong name, having forgotten her character’s actual name. Meanwhile Konkona is trying to get anyone, even just the cameraman, to give her feedback on her performance, and no one cares.
First, I love that this film ends with Shahrukh and starts with Aamir. No Salman in the middle, which is kind of odd now that I think about it. Maybe it is because of their fathers’ relationship? Or just that Salman wouldn’t fit in this kind of film, this kind of small role? But he’s done that before, taken small roles as a favor (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam, others I can’t remember). Now that I think about it, Salman would have worked really really really well in the Hrithik part. I wonder if it was written with him in mind? No, that doesn’t feel right, the Hrithik character is supposed to be not quite at the top yet.
Right, my point! This whole film stays down in the midlevel of the industry. We see a failed actor turned director, a producer struggling to raise money for his next film, and plenty of stars (Dia Mirza, Dimple Kapadia, Kareena Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor, etc. etc.). But the upper echelon, the Aamirs and Karans and Rajkumar Hiranis, they float through the top of it all without ever coming down to earth. And so we have that split here, Aamir and Raju talking to each other, not ignoring everyone else exactly, but just not even noticing them, they have big things to do and think, they can’t waste energy on an extra with two lines.
Oh, and I love this fake movie. It’s perfectly “like” a whole bunch of things without one clear reference. Like Devdas, obviously. But also a historical with Aamir, like Mangal Panday or Lagaan. And directed by Rajkumar Hirani, like 3 Idiots. It’s not referencing anything quite specifically enough to be insulting, but just enough to be familiar.
Next note! “Vinod Khanna Horse Shot (Bachne Ae Haseeno)” (that isn’t actually a comment in reaction to the Vinod Khanna horse shot, although I suppose it could be, it’s because that’s the song Farhan does. A bit meta considering his character’s personality)
This part is fascinating. I mostly hear about these actor training courses from star kids actually. They get their first part handed to them (we will get to that bit in a little while), but they “worked hard” to get ready, they joined one of these courses and spent 8 weeks learning how to be on camera and say lines and all of that. And also do a dance routine and ride a horse on the beach, ala Vinod Khanna selling soap. I wonder if Farhan himself took one of these courses? Learned to ride a horse and fake a dance step?
Final Note on page one (I write large) “MacMohan & school graduation (right time, right place)”
If this was the end of the movie, 10 minutes in, it would have been justified for that opening song, and for getting MacMohan to do this cameo. Because the use of him here is so powerfully brilliant, so impactful, so deep, so much the more you know the better it is, I am kind of in awe. To come up with that idea to begin with, and then to get Mac to do it, and all of this done by the daughter of the man who made him with the son of that man sharing the screen with him, I am in awe.
Do you all know the MacMohan story? No? So, he was a small time actor who was given a chance in Sholay. For once he wasn’t just the bandit in the background, he had an actual character with a name, “Sambha” the loyal lieutenant, with lots of actual lines written by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar (father of Zoya, directing this movie, and Farhan, co-starring with him). He worked for months and months, stayed on set the whole time just to get in character and be near to Amjad Khan, playing Gabbar, the man he was supposed to idolize and follow. And after all of that, building up this whole character, he had to be told that they were sorry, they did the final edit of the film, and he was down to one line. ONE LINE. “Poore pachaas hazaar” (“Full Fifty thousand”, in response to Gabbar’s question “How much is my bounty?”).
Mac was devastated, completely devastated. All his work, all his dreams, gone. He was further back than before, having wasted a year of his life preparing for this role that turned into nothing. He couldn’t be comforted.
Until, after the film came out, he was walking down the street and heard the whispers behind him “Sambha! It’s Sambha!” And people came up to him begging him, “say the line! Say the line!” It made his career. At least, that’s how the story goes.
For the rest of his life (Mac died in 2010), that was his identity, that was his stardom. Public appearances, roles in other films, everything came out of that one line. And the moment he thought was the worst in his life, ended up being the making of him. Right through to the end, when he passed away, international headlines screamed “Sambha Dies!!!”, and crowds flocked to his funeral to mourn his passing.
And so here he is, in this moment in this film. And it’s a little humorous, seeing all these people rapt and waiting for him to say one line, that the “big celebrity guest” for their graduation is this aging character actor with henna in his hair. But also, it’s Mac Mohan. The man who thought his life was over and by a miracle discovered he had been reborn instead. When he says “right time, right place”, he really knows what that means.
And that’s the end of page one! There’s 7 more pages of notes left, I’ll start with the next one tomorrow. Or sometime. There’s a lot, is what I am saying.