The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (or IFFLA 2017) has come and gone, and all we can think about are two incredible features from the festival’s impressive schedule. IFFLA 2017 showcased two immense talents in filmmaking, Vikramaditya Motwane and Shubhashish Bhutiani, with their features “Trapped” and “Mukti Bhawan” (or “Hotel Salvation”).
From the outside, the two films could not be more different: “Trapped” is a survival thriller that follows a man named Shaurya as he becomes trapped inside of his new apartment in an abandoned complex in Mumbai.
“Mukti Bhawan,” on the other hand, is a deliberately paced, quieter film about a middle-aged man who is forced to accompany his father to the holy city of Varanasi, the place his father believes he should and will take his final breath.
It would seem the two films wouldn’t make sense to be paired together, but what connects them is their conversations about life and death. In “Trapped,” Shaurya is determined to survive by any means necessary, not only because he refuses to die in this abandoned apartment, but because he is trying to escape to meet up with the love of his life, who is scheduled to get an arranged marriage soon — and time is running out.
He resorts to eating ants, birds that fly too close to the window and cockroaches. He collects water and food in the most clever ways possible, and he even tries to makeshift a saw to saw through the bars on his window in his high-rise apartment’s living room.
In “Mukti Bhawan,” Rajiv learns what living really means from his father’s journey to die in a holy land, the way he always envisioned. When their temporary stay at Mukti Bhawan (the name of their small, religious, hostel-like accommodations) is extended, Rajiv’s relationship with his father changes. The film confronts the idea of mortality and the relationships you leave behind after death. As Rajiv’s father settles into the place where he wants to die, he somehow finds a way to hold on for longer than either he or Rajiv can believe.
Both films are testaments to not only their directors, but their leads as well. In “Trapped,” Rajkummar Rao commands the screen from start to finish — not only because he is the only one onscreen, but through his depth of talent. We see Shaurya’s vulnerability, strength, desperation, deep sadness over possibly losing the love of his life, and his need to stay alive. It’s a powerful performance that proves once again, that Rajkummar Rao is arguably the best Bollywood actor of his generation.
“Mukti Bhawan” features another masterclass in subtle, quiet, but nonetheless moving work from Adil Hussain. As Rajiv, he is heartbroken at his father’s desire to want to die, and disbelief that he has planned the place in which he will die as well.
Hussain is on par with Bollywood actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan and more, and he deserves the same showering of accolades as his colleagues. As Rajiv’s father, Lalit Behl also dazzles as a man ready to die, but doesn’t realize that he isn’t quite done living yet.
IFFLA 2017 has truly made its mark with these two amazing features — along with premiers of the equally impressive “Death in the Gunj” and “Lipstick Under My Burkha.” All of these features on the IFFLA 2017 roster provide hope that Bollywood isn’t only limited to the masala action blockbusters, the ones that are only style and no substance or heart. Maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to have faith in the future and progress of Indian cinema.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.