Kabir Singh Movie Review: Testosterone-fueled, toxic love can still thrive in 2019, this film sings a paean to that

There’s enough meat be enjoyed in the film – provided, you leave your opinions regarding gender portrayals behind

Going gaga over this angry young man can seriously hamper your chances of being accepted in social situations
Image Source: Google

Director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Suresh Oberoi, Arjan Bajwa, Adil Hussain

Two specific scenes in the Shahid Kapoor starrer Kabir Singh come to my mind when I think of a key trait that shapes Kabir, the angry young man of 2019. In the first half – let’s call it scene A – the hero, in a mad dash to get some booty, turns up at a young woman’s house to romp it up. She is thrilled too, except, she changes her mind at the last minute when her fiancé turns up at the door, asking Kabir to leave. Our protagonist, angered, shoves a knife in her face asking her to undress and make good her word. No, I am not making any of this up.

In the other scene in the second half (let’s call this scene B), Kabir and a popular Bollywood actress (played by Nikita Dutta), snuggled in the latter’s car in the middle of nowhere, seem to be assessing each other’s breaths before making a carnal move. Guarded by a reluctant, mildly disgusted driver standing a little distance away from the car, the two, in hurriedly stripped-down states, ready themselves to get it on – when a soft “I love you Kabir” jerks our hero back into reality. In a split second, all plans of sexual gratification are flung out the window, as he walks away, leaving a shocked, heartbroken, half-undressed woman calling out his name, pleading with him to come back.

Kabir doesn’t. He hates the mere mention of love.

And perhaps, the woman’s exercise of her agency in matters of sex and relationships.

The trajectory from scene A to B is clearly steeped in copious amounts of expensive and dirt-cheap alcohol, drugs, cussing, irrational aggression, familial abandonment, social humiliation, public ridicule and condemnation, and more – never grazing the one characteristic in the hero that ought to have been addressed, one that could have redeemed the character to a great extent: Kabir’s sense of entitlement and a stubborn will to play by the rules. His rules only.

The pattern is prevalent from start to finish. In fact, it is no more apparent than in a showdown with the dean of the college (Adil Hussain) over his violent, uncontrolled behaviour on the football field resulting in a well-deserved suspension. Kabir, quick as lightning, respectfully retorts, reducing the dean to a mere employee “who was just doing his duty” while asserting himself as one of the torchbearers of the university and its pride by virtue of his position as a student par excellence, on and off the field. There are numerous other instances where we get to witness that flash of privilege in Kabir’s demeanour – the very first time he locks eyes with the docile, demure Preeti (Kiara Advani) and walks into a classroom to “inform” the juniors of his newfound interest so as to “mark his territory” via the announcement “Woh meri bandi hai”, or the way he kisses Preeti on the cheek – without her consent, no less – in full public view- cementing his mark – both are testimony to a full-scale manifestation of toxic masculinity. Backed by raucous laughter and soft chuckling on this side of the silver screen, of course.

If that is not enough to establish our lead’s bravado, then please note: Kabir is also the super brain, multitasking orthopaedic surgeon who holds a record of operating hundreds of patients (more than his fair share) – without causing a single life to pop out – all while being stoned drunk. Thankfully, this one flaw in his character is not celebrated despite the subtle and overt eulogies tendered to his other traits.

 As flawed and precarious the character arc is, we are not quite sure what makes Kabir Singh the raging, vicious wayward man he is. But we understand, that having wealthy influential parents, a doting brother (Arjan Bajwa) who ought to have slapped him at least 20 scenes earlier, multiple academic and professional badges of honour caking his persona, and a gang of friends who enable his crass, abusive behaviour by either cheering him on or laughing it off – is far too much temptation to will away. In these given circumstances as well as the heightened context lent to the character by placing him in Delhi (the land of false machismo and regressive gender attitudes), what is a man to do but turn outward and unleash his most destructive states on his immediate environment?

Kabir Singh is what most men dream to be – the holder of an “impeccable academic record”, topper of the board and the university, “one of the best ever” – and the wearer of jaw-dropping sexiness in that I-don’t-need-to-try-hard-to-get-chicks style is the allure that men and women secretly wish to possess. Albeit, in different capacities. Raw maleness dripping in every frame, the hero’s near-obsessive attempts at securing the woman’s affections, intense combats with opponents/anti-heroes and a subtle theme of ‘love conquers all’ has long been a staple of Hindi movies. While on one hand it reaffirms the social standing for the men, it projects to the women the kind of guy they must aspire to because, well, that is the stuff Mills & Boon is made of.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Kabir Singh, however, cuts out the rigmarole of delving into the female lead’s internal conflict and her thoughts about the potential lover in question. There is no internal dialogue, no conversation shared with friends as regards the suitability of the suitor and no objection raised to Kabir’s manhandling of Preeti as he walks into her classroom, asks her about the topic of the day and leads her out saying he would tutor her on the same. Heads bow down collectively, justifiably prying eyes turn away from the couple as Kabir takes Preeti around the college, out riding his bike, even as he packs her bags and gets her to live with him in the boys’ hostel.

To say it was mildly disturbing yet funny (primarily for the director’s witty portrayal of the lead pair’s dynamics) would be an understatement. If Kabir, on his part, is supremely confident that his affections and searing interest are being reciprocated, never mind the domination, Preeti, on her part, is equally compliant in the way the relationship begins, progresses, even till the point it breaks off – by following her lover’s lead, content in playing by his rules. In 2019, when feminism and sexuality are a hot topic, the portrayal of a romantic relationship with such skewed power dynamics and the concept of “ownership” is bound to raise eyebrows. And yet, before we castigate the makers of Kabir Singh for being primitive, sadistic and setting a dangerous example for the youth of the nation – it cannot be denied that they are clearly playing to the gallery. The fact that the director Vanga’s original Telugu movie Arjun Reddy (2017) was touted as a commercial and critical box office hit, thus, paving the way for a Hindi remake of the same, is evidence enough of which side of the moral high ground the average viewer occupies.

Shahid Kapoor as Kabir is phenomenal – from the word go. Whether he is ruthlessly smashing opponents on the football field, declaring to the dean that he has “no regrets about who he is”, fighting for the love of his life but also expressing in a moment of weakness his vulnerability or demanding his lover to stand up to her father with the kind of intensity she otherwise expresses when she is with him, like she “owns him” – Kapoor as Kabir hits high octane notes on almost all fronts. It would be safe to say that he manages to render a certain charm – and humaneness- to this gravely unlikable character, so much so that at one point you find yourself rooting for him, despite knowing fully well he has been digging himself trenches for far too long and must, one day or the other, pay the price for it. The sight and sound of a bottle popping up every now and then gets repetitive, however, Kapoor nails it with the nuance of a polished actor. Ultimately, even though he shocks you with his unconventional, insolent attitude, you care for him and want the self-inflicted torture to end.

Kiara Advani, on the other hand, massively underplays Preeti. If you can come to terms with the fact that she does not speak one whole sentence in the first 45 minutes (barring saying her name out loud twice), then there is much to be surprised by how the character transforms as the minutes go by (provided you have not watched the original).

A woman like Preeti might seem like a rare sight in 2019
Image Source: Google

The climax, in particular, pays tribute to her passable evolution over the course of the film – startling both the audience and, for a moment, Kabir himself. Her scenes with Kabir during their time in the college are refreshing, passionate and filled with the sweet angst most teenagers and young adults in love would find relatable. Special mention to Royal Enfield for heightening the pair’s romance on the roads, as well as later redefining Kabir’s relationship with his true self. The frills aside, the infantilization of the leading lady and her largely wallflower-like characterization is bound to rub many viewers the wrong way.

Adil Hussain is commanding, despite a brief appearance. Suresh Oberoi as Kabir’s father packs a punch as the authoritarian rich dad who refuses to take his son’s frequent brushes with authority (both in and outside the college) as well as the boy’s rebellious, angry ways lightly. Kamini Kaushal as Kabir’s grandmother is effective, despite a brief role. Her understanding of her grandson’s defiant and provocative ways, as well as her reluctance to intervene in his processing of his personal grief is subtly philosophical, never treading the preachy route.

In the medley of performances and a bevy of characters thrown in, Shiva (Soham Majumdar), playing Kabir’s best friend, sidekick, and even on occasions his man Friday, puts up a stellar performance. Loyal, trustworthy, patient and miraculously accepting of his bestie’s constant emasculation of his less-than-macho ways and lack of confidence (or should I say an absence of sho-sha of masculinity), he is the kind of friend you want to have by your side when you’re plodding through hellfire. Or well, just to experience life in its sweetest, most sparkling glory. It is a pity Shiva’s constant pleas – asking Kabir to move the fuck on and do something concrete with his life – are met with ignorance and a few more bottles of alcohol.

Despite holding divided opinions on the content of the movie, people are quite in agreement when it comes to the music of Kabir Singh. The timeless ‘Bekhayali’ can compel you to dig up every past pain you may have buried in your chest and cry unshed tears. Yes, even the ones in currently happy relationships. ‘Kaise Hua’, my second favorite from the album, is sweetly melancholic and draws you in as you try to make sense of this odd couple falling in a deep, mad love. ‘Tujhe Kitna Chahne Lage Hum’ haunts you long after you listen to it, spelling the pain and anguish of broken love no song in recent times has succeeded in. The other tracks – ‘Yeh Aaina’ and ‘Pehla Pyaar’ are hummable too.

As for the cinematography, cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran’s captures of camera angles are crisp, taut and soft enough to bring out the different shades of the story. The sequences with Kabir riding the bike (alone as well as with Preeti), a stray scene where the old, dusty bike is getting ‘cleansed’ (quite literally) are impressive. These little details bring out a touch more magic than is indicated by the actual storyline of the movie.

As mentioned earlier, it may have been a more solid redemption had Kabir moved away from “Woh meri bandi hai” (she is my girl) to “pehle usse toh pooch lun” (I should maybe ask her once). Having said that, his character, however blemished, is fierce, fearless, and does not mind taking risks…it is adrenaline-pumping watching a human walk single-mindedly towards the object of his desire. However vehemently the audience may protest such mania.

Kabir Singh is controversy designed as a rollicking good tale, turning love stories on their head, and unabashedly telling you – that not all love is equal, but maybe, not all love needs to be so long as concerned parties come away feeling loved. To summarize it – if the world can go gaga over Fifty Shades of Grey, Kabir Singh would likely seem enjoyable, albeit, a mere warm-up for people intending to explore the darker side of love.

Rating: Purely, in terms of entertainment value and the fact that I have good sense to divorce cinema from its inherent social impact, I’m going with 4/5.

The Actresses Roundtable 2017, and why we need more of this every year

Rajeev Masand is out with his bag of small treasures, right before Christmas hits. Hear the leading ladies of Bollywood talk about acting, love, life and everything else in between.

What is the ONE time you get to see Bollywood actors/actresses baring their hearts open like it’s nobody’s business other than when they’re playing a character on the big screen?

When is the only other time you see a bunch of artists huddled together and bonding AND talking about cinema in a they-make-sense kinda way, a trait we as an audience seem to have dissociated from their seemingly gregarious, light-hearted onscreen and off-screen personas?

I’m not talking about glittery film fraternity parties, nor am I hinting at those carefully orchestrated charity/fundraising/book launch/other non-filmy events where more often than not much of what a celebrity says is PR-driven and meant to serve the script.

I am talking about the pepper-and-salt sprinkled, maddeningly interesting and evocative discussions one of the most charming and affable entertainment journalist in the country manages to engage the public in, year after year, and have a glimpse of the people behind the stars that we so adore and are intrigued by.

Stating the obvious but yeah, it’s Rajeev Masand, the man who can elicit a response from even the most somber, tight-lipped celebrity. The man you just can’t hate because despite the fact that he’s totally being nosy and in-your-face with his hundred and one personal and professional (bordering on personal) questions, he almost sounds and looks like the benign pastor at your Sunday church or that all-knowing, gentle, elderly uncle sitting in the park with lots of time to kill – who knows you have plenty of skeletons to fix in your closet, and he’s simply helping you take the burden off your chest by giving you a space to talk about it. Sometimes it is not as much a dirty secret as it is a constant annoyance, like flaky dandruff you would want to brush off your glossy black jacket before anyone else has a chance to judge you for it. Other times, like in Kangana Ranaut’s case, it’s a steely polite of conveying to people who matter and who’re definitely listening – hey, watch it before I take you down!

Every year Masand takes on the powerhouse performers and their standout performances of the year, and grills them (albeit with all smiles and a lot of heart) on a range of introspective questions – from how they prepared for a certain role to how they felt playing a role that was a contradiction of everything they were and stood for in real life, from how they felt about the changing perception of film fanatics to how society continues to be connected with this medium in a deeper way, as the years go on.

And while each year has a unique annual offering distinct in terms of the evolution cinema and artists are touted to have accomplished as the year wraps up,  2017, with its diverse range of performances and its clawing relatability to more humaneness, and less fiction indisputably comes out on top for being THE year where women in cinema took the spotlight for regaining their individual as well as collective voice – something they had found, lost, and then found again.

Now that I have gushed aplenty about Rajeev Masand and the reactions he routinely draws in these closeted, yet absolutely unscripted discussions, it’s time to explore why 2017 will be remembered as the year that shook us from within, as much as it did on the outside by making our cushioned butts squirm uncomfortably.

Below:

The most unmissable picks of year 2017 (from left to right): Zaira Wasim, Ratna Pathak Shah, Vidya Balan, Bhumi Pednekar, Swara Bhaskar

Stealing Masand’s words right off his mouth (but only because this is what I noticed too right at the beginning): “The most interesting thing about the line-up here today is the sheer spectrum that we cover…the range and the talent at this table is staggering.”

Hear, hear! He couldn’t have said it better.

From the newcomer (Zaira), to the veteran (Ratna Pathak Shah), to the experienced but-not-long-enough-to-be-called-a-veteran (Vidya Balan) to the ones still exploring the medium but not really struggling (Bhumi Pednekar and Swara Bhaskar), this table represents the range of aspirations and spectacular talent of young and old India as well as those who are middling it.

Not giving it all away because you must watch this intellectual, raw play of words and layered emotions among the ones who’re living it on and off the screen, but just so you know this roundtable is sheer gold, here are my top 6 favorite statements from the discussion.

  1. Ratna Pathak Shah (Lipstick under my Burkha): It’s good I hadn’t begun writing film reviews around the time this movie released, or else I’d never been able to hit full-stop. Can I just say Shah’s character in the film (as Usha Buaji) just knocked our socks off? Or hit the guys right on their balls, you know where it hurts the most (smirk, smirk)? Because an ‘old’ woman being so vulnerable about her sexual desires, so much so that she dares to make the mistake of falling for an attractive man years younger than her, can be termed as nothing but audacity and a huge blow to the ever-inflating unfounded male ego. I mean, how dare women acknowledge their own bodies and desires? To top it off, how dare OLD WIDOWED WOMEN even think they can get some action?!! I know I am digressing but coming back to the discussion, one of Shah’s first statements from the round table hit the nail right on its head, turning even Hollywood upside down on its heels.

““We don’t need to be Gal Gadot, who is doing everything that the guy would do, except that she is a pair of breasts. We are telling our stories, the way we see our world”

There, there Wonder Woman, our desi ladies might not be dressed in metal and leather and conquering battles alongside warring men, but they sure are turning heads and shaking up the quintessential Indian man’s ego simply by stating they have needs, even when they’re 50 plus. That they need sex. And they LIKE it. And slut-shaming or age-shaming them isn’t going to douse that fire of awareness anytime soon.

Our women have made people sit up and notice – even if to judge – merely clad in sarees, kurtis, burkhas and a touch of lipstick.

         2. Ratna Pathak Shah again (I’m being biased here right?) – 

“Every woman who decides to act in a film like ‘Dabangg’ where she is made a complete object of lust, they also need to stand up and say no.”

It cannot get more direct and hard-hitting than that. Sonakshi Sinha, are you listening? Thankfully, you have graduated to better choices, but we dearly hope, going forward, you will not make us cringe with the characters you choose to play.

Not related, but Shah’s candor in openly stating she never really fit the “heroine” bracket because she was no longer young, to saying “I never really got any work to start with, obviously I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t the right choice, just never got any work” -as a response to why it took her so long to make a comeback to mainstream films, was a breath of fresh air. Plain, unvarnished truth, instead of beating around the bush and saying she wanted to take care of her kids and be a “family person” yada yada.

That touch of real “ness” in the make-believe world of cinema is so so rare to come by. Ratna ji, you have my heart ❤

3. Vidya Balan (Tumhari Sulu) – The industry is a place of flagrant irony. It thrives on objectifying and demeaning women and relegating even the top crop of female talent to the background by having them play shoddy characters that exist to support the inherent dominant patriarchal vein, but won’t let actresses love their bodies and themselves without being part of an external narrative.

And while every actress routinely gets under the scanner for a pimple here and a little flab there, Vidya Balan, going by the mass vitriolage and public scrutiny over the past few years until very recently, has sure had it worse than her contemporaries, all because people can’t get over how she continues to wow us with each power-packed performance despite not having washboard abs.

She asserts herself, and beautifully so, that she is content being who she is, and how she is and in case haters are wondering if it’s going to come in the way of a remarkable career she has built on her merit alone, no, she isn’t going extinct anytime soon.

“We don’t want to be shamed by our bodies anymore. We are proud of our bodies.”

More power to you Vidya. We know we’ve said it out loud before, but we need to keep hammering this in so patriarchy knows we don’t anybody’s permission to own our bodies, to shape our identities.

4. Bhumi Pednekar (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Shubh Mangal Savdhaan): Two of the perkiest movies this year with two much-needed but needlessly shushed subjects, Bhumi has scored a hat-trick with these two releases in 2017.

In one she plays the supposedly compliant village belle (Toilet) till the adventurous and abominably humiliating experience of shitting (literally) comes in the way of her basic rights, to being the confused and distraught yet progressive fiance who isn’t ready to back out on her man simply because he cant get it up (ahem), she has succeeded in tickling our funny bones, while slamming social messages right down into our bathrooms and bedrooms!

For someone who had to put on 30 kilos for her debut role in Dum Lagake Haisha to someone who has thankfully lost the drive to see herself in the mirror every now and then and fret about how she looks, she has traversed some philosophical journeys without having to painfully prolong the process of self-realization.

Here’s what she had to say:

“It’s liberating to not care about the way I look.”

5. Zaira Wasim (Secret Superstar): Since she graced the silver screen two years ago, the teen actress has been unstoppable. Quite literally. If there had to be a fledgling in this cinematic world to carry forward the baton of yesteryear’s’ legends, I dare say, Zaira could be on her way to greatness.

And while she continues to pop in and out of news headlines for reasons both good and bad, and I absolutely condemn the misplaced, unsubstantiated allegations of molestation she lately leveled against a poor, hapless chap flying in the same airline as her, I have to, and must laud her for her honesty, and willingness to delve into some areas of personal introspection even adults in this realm probably wouldn’t have dared to, at least not at her age.

So when asked about what she likes about acting and what she doesn’t, she revealed she might not yet be ready to face the big, bad world called Bollywood, reminding us of the chaotic dark mess the film industry can often be.

“I like that I can become somebody else, but I’m not ready for it, maybe because of the vanity that comes with it. I don’t think  I’m the kind of person who can handle it.”

Keeping aside her possible hunger for the arc lights (as I have ranted about at length in this piece here) though, the forthrightness and simplicity with which she responds to Rajeev’s questions is something I haven’t come across in a long, long time. Or maybe, she is just an actor par excellence, but let’s give her the benefit of doubt, shall we?

With that poise and sense of awareness of her very being and her surroundings, I would  not be surprised if she managed to take nepotism by its horns and twist them out of shape (Jahnvi Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan, and the rest of the nepotism clan, brace up!)

6. Swara Bhaskar (Anarkali of Arrah): Since the time I first watched her in Tanu Weds Manu, I have been an ardent fan of the actress. Despite having no connections, as well as not quite accommodating the typical Hindi film heroine image, she has managed to consistently climb the ladder with movies like Ranjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, and most recently Anarkali of Arrah, which also happened to be the first movie she played the lead in.

The movie which largely revolved around a small-town erotic singer-performer being publicly molested by a powerful chap (Sanjay Mishra) and then fighting for her rights, borders on a heated debate which has consumed much of our spaces this year: sexual harassment in the workplace and/or sexual harassment because of the work women do (read actors, performers).

It was in this context that Swara give us a teeny-weeny glimpse into how life is like an actor, especially when you’re a woman, and how real even reel can feel at times.

“When the molestation scene was shot, the whole crowd was cheering and whistling. You get to see the sides of our society.”

This truly made my skin crawl, considering those men were undoubtedly partaking in some sort of vicarious pleasure, despite the fact that it was a movie and not real. I shudder to think what their reactions might have been had it been real life? Sad you had to confront that side of patriarchy Swara, but at least we know how much educating this country’s sinister male crowd needs.

Other reflections that made me nod my head going, “Yeah, I get you!” to grinning like a cuckoo

In a conversation spanning more than an hour involving the participation of five powerful, articulate women, and covering some very shocking to amusing stuff, it’s pretty darn difficult to pick favorites right?

And so I’ve listed some of the other things that blew my mind away. Truer words have never been spoken.

  1. Ratna ji on how Zaira shouldn’t think of acting as short-term and be bothered by some of the unwanted attention and other hazards she was currently faced with; expounding on this point, she truly embodies an artist’s spirit, stating in no uncertain terms that her desire for acting was not dependent on her success. I’m not sure if she has ever read the Bhagavad Gita, but she has beautifully rephrased the famous quote from the scripture, “Karm karo, phal ki chinta mat karo.”

2. Ratna ji again on getting comedy right, “If people on the sets are laughing, you’re making a mistake.”

Damn! We all knew pulling off comedy is tougher than bawling your eyes out on screen, we just didn’t know a good comic act had a yardstick it could be measured by.

3. Ratna ji, PHIRSE (okay, this blog post has started to sound like a seedy fan hyperventilating in the “Compose Mail” section of Gmail, except this “fan mail” won’t be mailed to the actress ever) –

“The nicest thing about growing old and letting your hair go grey is that I don’t give a shit about how I look now.”

Bhumi, you said pretty much the same thing, except Ratna ji said with it more aplomb and a dash of finesse, like a queen reining in her best years of her life after successfully navigating the fretting-and-feeling-depressed-over-how-I-look stage. There is something about life experience that you just can’t buy, or rehearse. And there’s something about a woman embracing her age and all the flaws that come with it.

4. Vidya Balan“Live life!” Well, want to be an actor, writer, performer? Go live life. Go watch plays, listen to music you love and even the kind you hate, meet people, fall in love, have your heart broken.

We have all been dished out this category of advice bordering on YOLO, but decades before YOLO even took birth, Vidya had the chance to imbibe her soul and spirit with this advice, imparted to her on a TV commercial set, and it seems to have served her well. It’s time those of us wanting to be honest to our craft do that. Live life. And draw from its infinite well of experiences. Accept the poison and the nectar, and retouch it with hand strokes of our own.

5. Zaira Wasim on conviction as a key weakness and strength she has discovered in herself in the last two years,

“If I’m not convinced about something, I’m not gonna do it. If I am, I am going to do my best.”

May not sit pretty on the expected narrative of an actor’s life and approach to roles, but hey, it is a good starting point for each one us dreaming of showing our art to the world one day. Let’s have faith in, and be convinced in the magic of our written and spoken words, music, art, sculpture before we try and make the world pull down its stubborn walls and let us in.

6. Swara Bhaskar on being real, and keeping it realistic

“Bollywood is just a small part of a really big universe, and if it doesn’t work out, then it’s not the end of the world.”

For an outsider who has made it here on her own and has a long mile to go, keeping one’s expectations free from the confetti-wrapped optimism an actor’s life is frequently prone to, is a no mean feat. Swara borders on cynical, but her feet firmly planted on the earth, acknowledging that even happy spells can cease to last and that there is a plethora of opportunities and experiences to be lived outside of Bollywood.

There. Just like that, some of the glamour has worn off hasn’t it, but does it make sense? Absolutely!

Is it a good way to keep one’s sanity intact? You bet.

It is no surprise then that we see her dabbling in a world devoid of Bollywood’s scripted mania, as is evident in her latest spoken-word performance titled Conceal, Remove, Repeat in association with TLC India.

That is some badass poetry, and the sass game perfectly on point! Not to mention, we hear the message loud and clear.

7. Zaira Wasim again, because I was saving the best for the last. Her parting advice for youngsters (and am sure even the older crowd out there):

“We are the sun and the moon and we have our own times to shine.”

Okay, honestly, this was so beautiful it made my hair tingle and my eyes tear up a little, because that sort of profound language shooting off a 17 year-old’s mouth is as common as the BJP acknowledging Muslims as human beings.

I envy her so much right now it’s not funny, but I am glad the Hindi film industry, amidst all the paid media and scripted answers and the pressure to entertain but not be contemplative or meditative, has this one gem. Predictably, all the other actresses at the table were in awe of her, just as we were. If only, she hadn’t jumped the gun and have poor Vikas Sachdeva publicly condemned for something he didn’t do.

Hits and Misses

From cackling wildly at Ratna’s sarcastic comebacks in Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai (as Maya Sarabhai) to actually listening to her talk in that fluid, un-self-conscious, organic way was an enriching experience in itself, one that had me consumed in the intensity and layers it unveiled. But what I was most bowled over was her voice. Her timber, tone, pitch are perfect; with an alluring voice like that paired with a feisty mind, who wouldn’t want to hear her talk for hours on end?

Speaking of voice, isn’t that what grabbed our attention through the run-time in Tumhari Sulu? Vidya Balan continues to enthrall us by drawing us in the coherence and fluidity of her thoughts, making her stand on numerous issues clear while unabashedly exhibiting the way to love oneself. It can be quiet, unassuming, never over-the-top, but always there. She’s sexy, powerfully feminine, and not afraid to speak her mind, and while as she chattily tells us what life and movies are like from her perspective, we can’t help but soak in the shimmy of her gorgeous metal earrings.

Zaira Wasim is one of the most self-assured actors to have occupied Bollywood’s ever-expanding, and admittedly over-crowded space in these times. Her present and growing awareness about survival in the tinsel world is glaringly honest, and commendably structured. Not only did she hold her own in the session, but chimed in at the right moments, without breaking into the conversation unnecessarily, preferring instead to absorb what the others had to say. That is quite unbecoming of a millennial (more so, in the film industry) in an Insta-bombed age, which is why I just cannot wrap my head around why she acted so hastily in the airplane molestation incident.

Bhumi Pednekar has had us thrilled with her acting chops considering the commercial success of all her chosen projects till date, and yet, I cannot say the same about the round table discussion – I was less than thrilled to hear her speak, visibly annoyed by how she kept throwing the ‘privilege’ word around. Yes, I get it, you had never stepped out of Mumbai and been a part of the cultural milieu of a tier two/tier-three cities in the country (it’s not A,B,C city for god’s sake!) until you chose to step into acting, but I am sure so have the others. Vidya Balan has lived her whole life in Mumbai, Swara has braved her growing-up years in Delhi, what’s the fuss then?

Might I say I was also unimpressed by the fact that Bhumi wouldn’t talk normally, but let the words tumble out in a drawl, like she was speaking to impress. An actor putting on an act when she clearly doesn’t need to, is obviously off-putting and dilutes the overall tempo of the discussion.

However, lest the tempo meander into the territory of scripted interviews and actors acting even when the cameras aren’t rolling, Swara ensures she was heard, AND seen, quite a bit, courtesy the excessive gesticulation. At one point, I started getting a mild headache from all the different directions her arms would keep flying and with the way her head/shoulders would twitch. Her animated movements more than made up for the sober, cautious, controlled approach taken by the others. Having said that, maybe we need to step beyond how actresses should present themselves on and off the cameras?

Note: why do I think Bhumi and Swara were constantly trying to one-up each other (goofy grin, the ‘competition’ is unmistakable, huh)? 

Now that I have penned no less than an epic on this topic, it’s time to wrap up, but not without thanking Rajeev Masand for his insightful questions, his diplomacy and intuition in ferreting out just what we want to hear from our stars.

Also, thank you for not asking some of these ladies the parroted and much-dreaded sexist question: So, how was it working with the Khan (s)?