Beyond Common Sense…

February 2, 2018 at 9:15 PMFeb (Cinema, Friends, Letter, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

While watching a short film shot in some exotic locations, those places through which the camera moves appeared very familiar. Those allies, the flowing water, those ancient structures, that park, those broken ceramic ornaments covered benches… No, I have never been to that place. But still I knew those places and had memories of those places. It dint take any effort to realize how I knew those places, where had I seen them and why I am able to recognize them and also feel a sense of connection.

Somebody I used to know was there some years ago.

In such strange ways memories of a lost love resurfaces!

Suddenly now it feels like love is a place I never visited yet a place that visited me. It feels like love is like a memory of a journey I never took but still lived.

In a very strange way in few frames of a film I was seeing for the first time, I met her who I am probably never going to meet again. Yet in a place outside of the present, outside of the past, outside of the real, outside of the reel, in a place beyond common sense, I met her again!

That is enough.

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A Tour in Nostalgia: Begamon Ka Bhopal

December 25, 2017 at 9:15 AMDec (Cinema, Friends, Letter, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

Begamon Ka Bhopal an experimental and experiential documentary directed by Rachita Gorowala was premiered on 09 Dec 2017 in the city of Bhopal, inside the structure of Taj Mahal.

I was fortunate to be a part of this memorable event and experience. That evening the beautiful Taj became a tour in nostalgia. This was designed by turning the structure of Taj into a canvas for light and shadow and through the several installations curated by Rachita Gorowala, Puloma and Farzeen Khan. All of these created an atmosphere for the film and also enhanced the experience of the film.

To be in tune with the experiential nature of the film, instead of writing a review I would like to reproduce a letter/ mail (with minor editing) I wrote to Rachita, trying to join the dots of my first impressions, soon after I watched the film Begamon Ka Bhopal in the month of September.

***

Hi Rachita

First of all accept my congratulations. Now accept my apologies for being late in viewing the film. After a month of you sending me the link, finally I watched the film today. But I am not delaying in writing to you my impressions about the film.

In the context of Begums and Bhopal this film is predominantly about Huzun, it appeared to me. This is made quite clear at the very beginning of the film and the interiority of the the feeling of nostalgia is felt throughout the film.

Nostalgia is not just remembrance but also longing with the knowledge that the longing for the remembered will be un-achieved which gives the happy recollection of past a shade of melancholy. When the word nostalgia first made an entry into human language it was considered a disease and it is said that during the civil war in America few soldiers actually died because of nostalgia. But eventually the world of psychology stopped viewing nostalgia as a disease and also started viewing it as a factor which can generate some kind of ease to fight the decay of life in the present. Like the meaning of nostalgia has conflicting and complementing meanings the history of how nostalgia was viewed by medical science is also conflicting and complementing.

Nostalgia in some sense is a rebel against death, it is a fight for life, even if in the form of a memory, and in a subliminal way a reminder of continuity of life, the presence of absence and the shadow of past on present.

Like a river time flows. Its the same river but not the same water. And as the famous Buddhist saying goes one cannot take dip in the same river twice because the river is ever flowing. But there is something interesting about the rivers especially in India, the physical river and mythical rivers are not the same. While the mythical river is the same forever the physical river is ever changing. But in the mindscape of this civilization the mythical and physical merge and become inseparable, like the past is ever present in the present in nostalgia.

Nostalgia is also a way of keeping the past alive. It is, in a strange way a non-tangible form of architecture, graves, writing, film, ornaments which freeze time in themselves and then slowly melt into meanings and stories when time slowly passes and sun shines on them.

In nostalgia the past shows the design to beautify and the present gives the threads and colors to beautify. Nostalgia is an effort towards beautifying life.

While nostalgia is a way of coping with the present for some, like those who lived the past, for some others, like the writer and you the filmmaker, it is a way of coping with the past.

The past gains significance in the present not because of nostalgia but the nostalgia exists because the past is of significance even in the present. Hence someone finds it important to write about it and someone finds it necessary to film it.

At a closer look there is no clear cut between past and present. The past flows seamlessly into the present, like the azaan echoing in the distance, grass growing on a tomb.

A collection of 8mm films shot in and around Bhopal during the years 1929-75 by Salahuddin Ahmed’s father and grandfather

When memory/ past is being turned into a memorial through institutes or by the state the memory is turned into a ritual without meaning like a hymn learnt through rote. Memories or past can be kept alive only through living, through body, through touch, through stories, through songs and not by making museum. But that doesnt deny the significance of institutions making memorials of memories. They are necessary and it requires great labor too but still is inadequate.

Because the longing for the past remains unfulfilled, nostalgia has a Sufiyana touch to it for the available but inaccessible quality of the subject/ object of longing/ desire/ love.

These are some of the quick thoughts that pass trough my mind. I am sorry for I have written this in a general way but all these general words are pointed to specific things in the film, which I am sure you are able to see.

Through this journey what we learn of the Begums of Bhopal is not much. But telling the story of Begums, I guess, is not the purpose or the intent of the film. The Begums like history live not through their details and documents but through the impact/ impression they leave on the times to come and generations to come and when the future lives them not by celebrating anniversaries but through living in daily lives.

You have captured the junction where past meets present, the youthful beauty of the wrinkles on the skin, the shine in the rings that are fading away.

A warm hug to you, Rachita.

~ Samvartha ‘Sahil’
19 Sep 2017

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Clips of the Same Chain

September 18, 2017 at 9:15 AMSep (Activism, Cinema, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The board outside the Main Theater (MT) at my Alma mater Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) serves the purpose of announcing the daily screening at MT and National Film Archives of India, which is associated to the Institute. On happy occasions like some alumni winning a prestigious award or on sad occasion of some alumni’s demise the board speaks of it.

Few days ago the board carried the name of Gauri Lankesh. The announcement said a condolence meeting was being held at the Wisdom Tree that evening.

Under that very tree around 4 years ago we had gathered to pay tribute to Narendra Dabholkar, who was murdered just a couple of kilometers away from the campus.

A day after Dabholkar’s murder when some members of the Akhila Bharateeya Vidyarthi Parishad attacked Kabir Kala Manch members and students of FTII, I had got a call from Gauri, who I fondly called Captain, asking for details. She had expressed her solidarity with all her heart.

Later when FTII went on strike against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan by the new Government at the center, Captain had spoken to me a couple of times regarding the same with great concern.

It was during the same time that M.M. Kalburgi was murdered in Dharwad and Captain was one of the leading voices to protest against this and demand justice. She drew connection between all these incidents.

Now I see in photographs  Captain’s name in that very campus and on that board.

I recollect all these because all these incidents scattered over time and spaces are all, as I see, clips of the same chain.

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Dil Sau-Sau Ka Chutta Hai…

July 27, 2017 at 9:15 AMJul (Cinema, Friends, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

After watching Jagga Jasoos I kept humming the song Dil Ullu Ka Patta Hai, probably the only thing I carried back from the hall. I couldnt help but keep admiring the brilliance of Amitabh Bhatttacharya. I was particularly stuck with the line, “dil sau-sau ka chuTTa hai.” I messaged some friends about this line in particular and also how much I admire Amitabh Bhattacharya for his lines like this and how I feel deeply that he understands the characters and their emotions better than the director themselves.

Later when I fell asleep I had a special guest in my dream. No it wasnt Amitabh Bhattacharya. It was Gulzar.

I woke up wondering how Gulzar had come into my dream when I had gone to sleep thinking about and admiring Amitabh Bhattacharya!

Probably my love for Gulzar started feeling insecure after witnessing my high appreciation and admiration for Amitabh Bhattacharya, especially because this time the heart was declaring that it comes and goes like a change of hundred rupees!

Love is independent with its own desires and insecurities, beyond us, though a part of us. Isnt it?

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Personal Success Amidst Collective Failure

May 26, 2017 at 9:15 PMMay (Cinema, Media, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Adding nothing more to what we already know about Sachin, relying only on moments of thrills, from archival footage, with its straight-forward narrative of a life, James Erskine’s film Sachin: A Billion Dreams, in wanting to celebrate the legend makes us realize that Sachin, though a man who gave us many thrills, is just not worthy a story to be told, though certainly a series of statistics worth being documented.

During the interval of the film, I called a friend, unable to resist telling him that the film is like any 80s-90s decent Mumbai cinema focusing on an individual who respects elders, values family, finds his love, has a dream (World Cup here) which is personal and wants to achieve it for the country and works hard for the same day in and day out, with the support of a loving teacher (who says “if you save the kit the kit will save you” in the lines of ‘dharmo rakshati rakshitaha’), a sacrificing wife, a loving family and an unquestioning blind mass support, where every other person is just an ornament to highlight the magnitude of the individual in focus. Knowing the trajectory of the life, and hence the film, I knew in the second half of the film, like in any decent Mumbai cinema, the dream will be achieved with some minor struggles.

Video footage from family archives of Sachin Tendulkar spending time with his parents, siblings and his wife and children are few moments where we get to see what we haven’t earlier. Of course there is a moment when speaking of the match-fixing Sachin says, “I was asked why I am not speaking. How could I speak of something which I did not know of completely?” which answers his silence from those days but fails to satisfy. Other than these all we get to see and hear is what has already been spoken and seen of the man who became God to many in this country.

The days around the match-fixing controversy, Sachin says in the film, was the darkest phase of Indian cricket and the people had to be won back again. Immediately the film cuts to the India-Australia test series where A Sourav Ganguly lead Indian team with a historic Laxman-Dravid partnership made the impossible possible. This, Sachin says, made the country finally put behind all the bitterness of the past few years.

A similar “dark phase” reoccurs when India has to return to India from the World Cup very early because of the poor performance. “I contemplated retirement then,” says Sachin and adds, after recollecting Viv Richards calling him and asking him to stick on, that his brother reminding him of the next World Cup being played in India with final to happen in Mumbai made him look forward to 2011 World Cup.

What is to be noticed is that what brought Indian cricket team out of the “dark phase” was, in the first instance, a team led by Ganguly, and in the second instance, a team led by Dhoni, of which Sachin was a part. Even in the film which is designed to celebrate the legend, there are no hints of Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run scoring cricketer, having saved the Indian team’s face or dignity.

Even when speaking of his long career there are no references made to how Sachin Tendulkar made the Indian team succeed though it rightly says that for innumerable Indians hope sank when Sachin got out.

So, what makes Sachin Tendulkar a legend who, in the words of Virat Kohli, “carried the Indian team for 22 years” and for whom team India pledged to win the Word Cup in 2011?

The film gives no hints, no insights.

When Sachin claims to be “playing for country” and when the country declares that winning the world cup was for Sachin, how is one to understand the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar and make sense of the seemingly opposing views?

The film gives no hints, no insights.

The film hints at the poor performance of the team while Sachin was the only hope. The film hints at how the nation was starving for some good and banked its hope on cricket ad Sachin. Is Sachin Tendulkar a story of a personal success amidst collective failure? The film leaves us with this question, without intending to.

Similarly in the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams the cricketer Sachin manages to win even when the film fails.

While watching the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams I was constantly reminded of two documentaries Steven Riley’s Fire in Babylon (for cricket) and Nasreen Munni Kabir’s two part documentary on Shahrukh Khan (for humble background to legend story with similar family touch).

Fire in Babylon tells the story of West Indies cricket team observing the phenomenon not just as a triumph of the underdogs but also as a story of a team making their game an anti-colonial statement. The humiliation faced by the West Indies team and their grit to beat the master in the masters’ game is no less of a thriller. But the story of Sachin is not a story of neither an underdog nor a battle against a force which is larger than human, though, I stress again, its a series of statistics worth documenting.

Nasreen Munni Kabir’s documentaries The Inner World of Shahrukh Khan and The Outer World of Shahrukh Khan explores the human side of Shahrukh Khan who, like Sachin is attached to family, focuses on work etc. But what makes the two part documentary beautiful is that it makes Shahrukh come across as a human with all his vulnerabilities, his anxieties, his playfulness etc. Though the film on Sachin speaks of the playfulness of Sachin during his childhood, speaks of his health issues, fails to make the same impact as Nasreen Munni Kabir’s film does precisely because while Kabir’s attempt is to understand and explore the phenomenon called Shahrukh Khan, the film by James Erskine’s purpose is only to put Sachin on a pedestal and sing glory of the man, which makes the film a flat two dimensional narrative, giving no fresh insight to Sachin the man or Sachin the cricketer.

Why are India-Pakistan matches given an extra emphasis in the film? Why does the tension between Azhar and Sachin get underlined with a negative sounding BGM? why does Bora Majumdar makes reference to the insurgency in Kashmir saying “it was brave of a 16 year old boy to go to Pakistan then” while he was going to play cricket to face Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and not to the border to serve the army? They might be coincidental if we are to ignore the long portions of Sachin performing pooja, comparing cricket to temple going, embodying the values of an ideal son, husband and a citizen. All put together we see, let me say though I will be accused of stretching this argument too far, a portrayal of an aadarsh baalak which India fancies, for what it values are and what it doesn’t value. Also given the unquestioned acceptance of commercialization and justification of it saying, “Yes, money is important,” after saying “What mattered the most was country,” the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams is like a Sooraj Barjatya, JP Dutta, Karan Johar and Yash Raj films from the 90s, the era in which Sachin emerged.

The film has nothing to offer to cinema lovers or cricket lovers or even Sachin lovers, except for some nostalgia and moments of reliving thrills, which Sachin, we need to acknowledge, gave this country in abundance.

Impressive statistics doesn’t necessarily make an impressive story and inspiring statistics doesn’t necessarily make an inspiring story.

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RIP Om Puri Saheb

January 6, 2017 at 9:15 AMJan (Cinema, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

In his autobiography, Girish Karnad recollects an incident from the initial days of his term as the Director of the Film and Television Institute of India.

Interviews for the fresh batches were being conducted and among the faculties a discussion was taking place regarding one particular student who was good with his performances but wasn’t good looking. “His looks doesn’t make him a hero material for films,” argued almost everyone. Girish Karnad, as he recollects in his autobiography ‘aaDaaDtaa aayushya’, as the Director of the Institute said, “If there is an eligible candidate and does well in the entrance exam it is our duty to select and train such a student. Whether he fits the roles of a hero or not is not our concern and we are not a hero producing factory for the Bombay industry.”

The boy was finally selected for the acting course at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

That candidate was Om Puri.

My heart ached to hear this morning about the demise of Om Puri. In some time a friend (Ritwik) from the Institute shared a photo of the board outside the Main Theater where details of the daily screening is made known everyday. The board is also a space where the list of National Award winners is announced and congratulated every year and also the space on which the demise of an alumni is made known.

Today the board read, “6 /01/2017. RIP Om Puri Saheb.”

om-puri

The Institute, which I hold in great affection and am grateful to as an alumnus, which once was reconsidering the admission of the same person has respectfully referred to him as “Om Puri Saheb” and that shows what an artist and an artist of what caliber Om Puri Saheb has been; an artist who could make an institute revise its thought!

During my days at the Film Institute, I remember, being numb after watching the speechless performance of Om Puri in Aakrosh, which to me till date is his best performance. That day in the mess I had told my roommate Lohit that no filmmaker no screenwriter seem to have sculpted a character which would challenge Om Puri and Naseer. I still stand by my word.

Aakrosh, a film where Om Puri Saheb is wrongly accused of murder and the lawyer in his defense begins his conversation asking, “Why did you kill?” A judgement was already made in the mind of the lawyer who was supposed to defend the case of Om Puri Saheb. The film is about the lawyer, played by Naseer, revising his opinion about Om Puri Saheb and the entire case. As we watch we too, who initially believed Om Puri to be wrong, slowly discover the truth and feel ashamed of our initial judgement and revise our opinion.

Years later while watching the cunningly scripted interrogation of Om Puri Saheb on a national tv by a man who is disgrace to journalism, I was secretly wishing Om Puri Sahebwould sit silently like he did in Aakrosh. But sadly, Om Puri Saheb fell into the trap of self proclaimed nationalists and was disrespectfully and mercilessly attacked by them, first for not any valid reason and also after he apologized for a crime he never committed. Watching the show was painful, to say the least.

Now in this hour of mourning, I sincerely hope that a day will soon arrive when all the nauseating jingoists will revise their thought about Om Puri Saheb after having harassed him unnecessarily during his last days!

Though not a believer of time and history being just, today I would like to believe it to be true. Because Om Puri Saheb deserves it and he has proved it right once earlier.

Accept my salutations Om Puri Saheb. Rest in power.

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Is Only Khaap Patriarchal and Problematic? Not Baap?

December 23, 2016 at 9:15 AMDec (Cinema, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

dangalHere is a father who imposes his dreams on his daughters, who doesn’t even once bother to ask, ‘What are your dreams like?’, a father who snatches the childhood from his daughters and more importantly refuses to cut the umbilical chord from his daughters once they grow up and continues to control them and impose his own methods refusing them any agency and refusing to even give their will a chance to breathe; all to boost his own ego, in the name of ‘Nation’. Please tell me why should my heart go out for such a man/ character or even sympathize with him?

There are fathers whose imagination doesn’t see their daughters beyond ‘choolha‘ ‘roti‘ ‘shaadi‘ and ‘bachchey‘, as shown in the film. But if that is to justify the militarized upbringing and to give a clean chit to the force used on children, validate and justify a control freak father, then it must be told in loud voice that a force is force whether into marriage or into a profession,sport etc.

We need to celebrate free spirit and will of the individuals, dreams of the hearts. Constant parenting beyond need and a certain age, uninterrupted monitoring is, to say the least, claustrophobic and denial of the right to be a free spirit, a violation of human rights.

There is one scene where Geeta wrestles with her father and wins. That moment was one of the most brilliant moments to witness. But how sad and frustrating that Geeta, in no time, is made to feel guilty of battling and opposing her father and his ways.

The way in which the training of young girls is shown in a comical, light hearted ways is disturbing because it doesnt want to take the trauma of it seriously nor does it want to show it seriously. It is made acceptable, palatable with the touch of humor to it. But deep within the training the cry of the girls is, “baapu sehat ke liye tu toh haanikaarak hai,” which the filmmaker, the film nobody seems to be listening to. Because you know, winning a gold medal for a hyper masculine idea of nation and to fulfill the dream of a father is more important.

No, I cant celebrate this film knowing that it will do well at the box-office, will be applauded by a large section of the society, will be given good reviews. The film, as I see, is not just regressive but also dangerous.

Baap is more dangerous than Khaap because it has the capacity and strength to play with emotions, manipulate minds and thus make individuals conform, at their own will, after silently and in imperceptible ways snubbing the free will of individuals. To be honest, “tum sey behatar toh apni Hindi filmon kay khalnaayak hai.”

And it is beyond me as to why to Bollywood strong woman means someone who can beat up boys or display strength the manly way.

Amir Khan suffers from the same Messiah complex which was shadowing him in Lagaan, Taarey Zameen Per and 3 Idiots. His dialogue, in the end, telling Geeta that her father will not always be around to help her, seems like him departing from this self-imposed Messiah role but then again, it is just to feel good about yourself, through words, as someone who raised up an independent girl. But if you actually respected her independence and her strength you wouldn’t have molded her into what you want her to be. It ends up being a story of your dream being fulfilled by your daughters and not about them and their dreams; or their dreams which could never flower.

Sorry Baapu, there is blood on the gold medal. If a ‘bachpan‘ went ‘tel leney‘ then no gold’s shine can hide or compensate for that blood. And eclipsed by the gold medal, your glory, the tri-colour flag fluttering high in the air and the national anthem is the corpse of a ruined childhood which was cut short early and never given a chance to live and explore the basic right; the right to dream and which could never be what it was born as; a free spirit.

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Rainbow, Music and Tears

December 14, 2016 at 9:15 AMDec (Cinema, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Sir and me after the talk.

Sir and me after the talk.

“Once as a small boy,” started recollecting K.P. Rao, “I saw a rainbow on the hill near our village and walked towards it. As I went closer and then under it, all the seven colors vanished and turned into mere droplets. I could only feel the moist, nothing else. It got me wet and I could hear a strange sound in my ears.” Remembering this childhood incident he asked, “How can I speak of this experience of mine?” Pausing for a brief moment he continued. “It is the same with music. It is colorful from distance but when you go under/ within it the colors vanish and it absorbs you and you get drenched in that state of being possessed by the rainbow.”

K.P. Rao, my mentor, was speaking at SaRiGaMa Bharathi, Parkala last evening (13 Dec 2016) on music and musicians in his life.

Taking us through his journey of life, closely associated with, violinist Sridhar Parsekar who taught him that music means to see through ears, Salil Chaudhary who composed music in ‘vaadi-samvaadi’ manner, Vilayat Khan, Amir Hussain Khan, narrating stories of his initial refusal to meet or listen to Ravishankar and he becoming the disciple of Annapurna Devi, Sir not just made us listen to some music clips saying, “See this music,” but also provided us with insights on their music and their personalities.

“Nikhil Banerjee was once critiqued heavily by Annapuruna Devi for one of his performance. When we stepped out of her house Nikhil was heartbroken and was almost in tears. He was considering quitting music. We drove sense into him saying Annapurna Devi had only asked him to do more rehearsals to better himself and had not suggested him to stop.” That night, recollected Sir, Nikhil Banerjee sang, in pain and out of will to better himself, from around 10:00 pm till 4:00 in the morning next day.

“I have never heard him perform so well,” said Sir. As Sir said that his lump in this throat and and his eyes became misty, becoming one with the tears of Nikhil Banerjee, of decades ago.

“How do I speak of all these experiences? How can I share what I felt and have carried within me always?” asked Sir.

Hearing of Nikhil Banerjee’s tears for failing in music and pushing him to music, seeing tears in the eyes of my mentor recollecting music and the tapasya for music, my eyes became wet. In that moment I felt/ realized that the language of tears is the closest to the language of music.

You get drenched by both, in an explicable manner, like by the rainbow, when absorbed by it, possessed by it.

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Library of Experience

December 9, 2016 at 9:15 AMDec (Cinema, Friends, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Photo: Hiren Patel

Photo: Hiren Patel

Last night I had a strange dream.

In my dream all of Amrit Gangar sir’s experience- reading, viewing, listening etc- was turned into a library where he would visit every now and then to access the huge archive of experience and knowledge. It was a huge huge huge library.

In that library of experience, I was the librarian. Of course I was feeling extremely happy that I have access, though second hand, to all that Sir has read, heard, viewed, experienced and understood.

On waking up I realized the trigger for this dream was my envy for all the experiences in reading, listening and viewing Sir has had and my deep felt desire to be able to access all of them through him.

This was one of the two most beautiful dreams I have ever had, the other being one where I was a line of poetry in the heart of Gulzar.

Thanks for everything Amrit Sir.

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New Antagonist of Bombay Cinema

July 8, 2016 at 9:15 AMJul (Cinema, Musings, Soliloquy)

Javed Akhtar had once pointed out the changing antagonists in Bombay cinema.

While in the 1940s, Javed Akhtar, observed, the antagonist used to be a zamindaar, a thakur, in the 1950s the antagonist was a capitalist, an industrialist. The 1960s saw urban gangster as the antagonist, who as Javed sahab pointed out, became the protagonist in the 1970s. In the 1980s people’s disillusionment in law and order made the politicians and police the antagonist and in the 1990’s mostly it was Pakistan who was the antagonist in Bombay cinema, Javed sahab notes.

Following this there was no antagonist as such in Bombay cinema for which the reason as Javed sahab saw is, “because the villain had become the ideal.”

I happened to remember this because after watching Sultan and some recent films like Tamaasha, Fan, Udta Punjab etc. I am wondering if the new antagonist, now in Bombay cinema, is oneself! We see people battling against/ with themselves.

Just wondering.

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