Yaadein (1964)


There is something almost hilariously over the top about the set up for Yaadein, as the title credits declare this a “one actor only film”. But it is Sunil Dutt at the helm and in front of the camera, and he made some very interesting films and film choices over the years. Yaadein is neither as bombastic nor simple as it seems at first glance, and doesn’t come across as a vanity project.

The camera tracks through an empty house with a lovely romantic melody accompanying the fluttering draperies and stylish interiors. A man comes home on this dark stormy night and finds the house empty, his wife and children gone. Being a Hindi film hero, Anil (Sunil Dutt) assumes the worst.

He wanders around calling for his wife Priya but the place is deserted. He looked quite terrified when he wandered into the kitchen and there was no dinner left for him. What on earth!

He gets a phone call and spends a few minutes chatting with someone and seems to be cheered up after the call. But his game of manic hide and seek around the house soon turns to melancholy as he flirts and declares his love for…a statue. And then through phone calls, a note, and a lot of talking to himself we learn that he and Priya had a huge row recently, that she is good as gold and he is not so much and there seems to be another woman in his life.

Dutt uses lots of tricky camera angles, shifting perspectives, lots of sound effects, and uses objects to trigger more of Anil’s introspection and reactions. It’s appropriately noir-ish when Anil’s thoughts turn dark. Akhtar ul-Iman wrote the script and I wish that I’d had subtitles as I missed a lot of detail, but think I got the gist of it. Anil is demanding, pleading, bargaining and eventually depressed as he works through something akin to the Kübler-Ross model.

He is full of bravado when he yells at the empty house that he can cook with his own hands and straps on an apron. Then he moves on to trying to boil a kettle. Well. He is going to need building maintenance to sort out the flood in the kitchen. He is useless, especially when distracted by memories of Priya.

He relives their early relationship when he was first bowled over by Priya, wandering around extolling her virtues and mumbling “Kya Ladki Hai!”. Anil is a sensual man who appreciates the heady days of new love and physical passion. He was overjoyed at the birth of his son but hadn’t stopped to think about actually raising a child and what that might mean to his lifestyle. Especially the no late nights rule, which he breaks almost immediately, and the separate beds. At one stage Anil does a very cheesy striptease, and although there is no Priya in the scene I could feel her total lack of interest.

Despite this being a One Actor Film, there are other actors involved. There are phone calls, party guests and other characters heard but not seen in flashbacks. I couldn’t recognise all the voices and caricatures though. We see Shyama, the probable other woman as one of many airy gas filled guests at a party. I love the stylised caricatures and balloon people that stand in for other characters. A party scene is filmed in front of a very 60s cartoon panel depicting a jazzy party. Vasant Desai’s music is lush and melancholy, a perfect match. And Sunil Dutt really doesn’t miss a beat no matter what he is acting at.

His longing for Priya is palpable but when she refuses to have sex he pokes her with a hairpin and has a childish tantrum. He was a spoilt manchild himself and while he loved his kids he resented the way they forced new priorities and demands that aren’t all about him into his blissful life.

The emotional waves seem to flood in a bit suddenly. I mean, he could have just called her parents and asked if they knew where she was, or gone out to have a look. He seems so utterly sure they are gone forever despite all the things she has left in the house – her hairbrush, clothes, jewellery, her lipstick that he tastes as though he is kissing her again. But the emotions do ring true even if I think the person having them might be overdoing it. He does go a bit over the top but we are not seeing Anil’s physical reality, more his remembered events and emotions with all the distortions of time and memory, and with himself firmly at the centre.

He passes out after a particularly energetic flashback to his kids tormenting him. Finally he is attacked by toys. The snarling mechanical lion is not all that terrifying but Dutt emotes fiercely enough for both of them. His disturbance turns into a full blown breakdown, and he becomes suicidal partly because he has been abandoned and partly because he knows he doesn’t deserve another chance.

Sidenote: There is a very silly game based on the actor William Shatner. The rules are simple. If someone shouts “SHATNER” at you, you have to overact whatever you are doing at that moment. And at times I wondered if there was a prototype of that game called “DUTT”.

Despite her absence, it is the woman who shapes the movie. The gap she leaves in Anil’s life, the way he has taken her for granted, the infidelities and inconsiderate behaviour he regrets. He realises he was incredibly lucky to have her and it is devastating to him, who has always been so suave and devil may care, that losing her may be all his own doing. Everything that is good and real in his life is represented by his unseen but ever present wife. But will she return? And what will she do if she sees the mess he has made of their home? I’d have turned around and walked back out if it was me!

Despite the heavy subject and the intense focus on Anil, Yaadein is not a chore to watch and it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. There is suspense, humour, some facepalm moments, and some beautifully sensual and romantic scenes. I’m not sure I’d watch it over and over, but I certainly recommend it as an engaging artistic project made by an interesting director who had a clear and individual vision. 4 stars! (a little upgrade from my original thought of 3 ½ for the sheer vision and commitment)

Udta Punjab


After a very wordy anti-drugs and pro-Punjab disclaimer riddled with spelling and grammar errors which may or may not indicate its sincerity, Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab opens with an intense, crass, loud and proud drug anthem.

Visually strong and often confronting, Rajeev Ravi’s high impact imagery is balanced with scenes of delicate loveliness. The take seems to be that Punjab is turning into a place with the morals of a Mexico or, ahem, Goa. Packages of heroin are making their way across the border nightly, and dubious shipments of pharmaceuticals are waved past by police. We see a young girl, one of many out of state workers coming to labour on farms. The divide between the worlds of privilege and subsistence is evident, and the film doesn’t shy away from the gory, violent, consequences of disrupting the status quo. It’s powerful stuff, and quite gripping. Unfortunately the second half revolves around unnecessary and unconvincing romance just when the main plot should have been in laser sharp focus to bring it all together.

Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) takes the sex, drugs, and rock n roll mantra to heart. Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) is a mid-rank cop with flexible morals, happy to overlook the drugs as long as he gets his cut. Dr Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) specialises in treating addicts and wants to cut the problem off at the source. The nameless girl finds a package in the fields, and thinks she can make some fast money. The film shows the close but not quite intersecting paths characters take, passing each other without a blink or occupying the same space at different times. There is definitely a pervasive feeling that some lives are held cheap and existence for many people has become the wait for death. The sense of connection and community, what affects one will affect many, is clearly drawn out.

Sartaj’s brother Balli ODs on the drug that Sartaj had waved through a checkpoint. In the blink of an eye Sartaj becomes a crusader for justice and decides to help Preet take on the system. The girl is forced into prostitution and drug dependency, and one of the men she has to service is Sartaj’s boss. Tommy attempts to get cleaned up but his own friends get him using again, and fans have no interest in a more honest, introspective star. They want their bad boy back. After a near riot, Tommy runs away and encounters the girl, now also a fugitive. Sartaj falls for Preet, Tommy falls for the girl. All for love and love for all. Apparently all you need is a girlfriend and you will immediately develop moral fibre and a resistance to highly addictive substances. Poor Balli is locked in a treatment cell and all but forgotten, with no magical insta-love to rescue him.

I’m sure Shahid wasn’t at a loss for examples for playing a coked up celebrity. Tommy comes across as a very naughty boy, not a complex or dangerous man in the grip of addiction. Is it bad that in one of his meltdowns I found the elaborate toilet lid more compelling than the dialogue? He thinks rapping about his cock is HILARIOUS. When he ends up in jail, two young boys in the cell perform one of his hits before quietly admitting they killed their mother because she wouldn’t give them money for drugs. Shahid shows Tommy’s growing fear and uncertainty as he realises he is in serious trouble and tries to get off the gear. It’s when Shahid reverts to his bunny-teeth boy in love shtick that he seems most comfortable, and yet nothing made much sense. How can such a famous man with a memorably bad haircut travel across country with no money and not be recognised, even when wearing one of his own crew t-shirts? And what about the girl, who we are expected to believe could fully and easily recover from the trauma of being a sex slave and a drug addict just because Tommy likes her. And don’t mention the ballad.

Alia Bhatt’s performance is excellent, and reminded me a little of her role in Highway. She has minimal dialogue as the Bihari farm girl and even less as a sex slave. Her character is smart and strong, but the brutality of her life with the drug barons is overwhelming and Alia lets her expressive eyes go dull. The girl doesn’t ever give up on herself though. It’s a little disappointing that Chaubey seems to think Tommy is the cure for her, and sad for her that she will acquire a manchild for her troubles. And I could have slapped someone for the oh so clever name they reveal at the end of the film. I was half expecting her birthday to be on April 20th.

Kareena’s approach to Preet is less makeup = Serious Lady Doctor, plus coquettish hair tossing and simpering. Unfortunately her lightweight characterisation exposes her weaknesses when compared to the rest of the cast, and then her character turns stupid. In a film about the social cost of drugs, should a scene where Sartaj is accidentally injected with the same drug that nearly killed his brother be turned into comedy? And should Preet and Sartaj be all awkward about the dopey flirting and forget the medical issue of someone having ingested a highly addictive drug made in a shed who knows where with who knows what chemicals and being stuck with a needle that may have had someone else’s blood in it and so exposing the injectee to Hepatitis or HIV? No. Why would a doctor worry about that? It’s a shame as Preet had potential to be interesting and she certainly had the only fully operational moral compass.

I’ve sat through the trailer for Sardarji a few times now so having Diljit Dosanjh actually in the film I had gone to see was almost disorienting. He delivers a competent performance, and tries to generate some one-sided chemistry with Kareena. His character in some ways is the most complex, although the film moves on too quickly from moments of epiphany, self-loathing, and despair in favour of simplistic love and revenge.

The large supporting cast is good but while I recognised some familiar faces, I couldn’t put names to everyone. I took a violent dislike to one of the girl’s captors in particular, and wanted to get my Tight Slap Administrator gloves on with some of Tommy’s cousins. The production values are high, and I can appreciate the effort and care given to the visual design and soundtrack. Amit Trivedi has gone beyond his usual tweedly guitars and tried to extend Tommy’s character through his featured songs.

Maybe if you see the film as an allegory this second half works a little better, to a point. The girl is perhaps a representation of salt of the earth Punjab tempted by easy money and being screwed over by the drug cartels and cops, Tommy is the privileged class who can largely avoid consequences, Sartaj is the system that has neglected its duty to protect the people and uphold the law, and Balli is at the end of the line with no one to pass the blame or damage on to. But Chaubey leaves us with the message that all you need is romantic love. And a gun.

I was disappointed by the direction Udta Punjab took after such a powerful start. But I am happy to regard my ticket as a contribution to supporting and encouraging filmmakers’ freedom of artistic expression after all the ridiculous censorship shenanigans.



Ribhu Dasgupta’s Te3n is an official fully credited remake of South Korean thriller, Montage (2013, dir Jeong Geun Seop). I’ve seen the original so I was more interested in the how than the who or the what. Te3n is a solid remake of a decent film, so I still enjoyed it despite a couple of changes that I don’t think were at all necessary from a film or narrative perspective.

John Biswas (Amitabh) is an old man haunted by the death of his granddaughter Angela. She was killed in a botched kidnapping 8 years go, and the perpetrator was never caught. He spends his days haunting the police station and has nothing else in his life to sustain him. His wife Nancy (Padmavati Rao) is wheelchair bound and never leaves the house. John seems forgetful and vague, giving no energy to his present day and dwelling on the past. But when another child is kidnapped in exactly the same way, he believes he can catch the criminal and get justice (and revenge) for Angela. Sarita (Vidya Balan) has inherited the Biswas case file, and is leading the investigation into the latest crime. Sarita is smart but unimaginative when it comes to solving a complex problem. She will follow the leads and interpret the evidence in a logical and common sense way, not questioning whether she is being lead down the garden path. Martin Das (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) was the original investigator but he left the police force to become a Christian priest. He feels the guilt of his previous failure and the damage done to the Biswas family, and can’t keep away from the new case when Sarita starts her investigation. Although he used to do a fair job of evading John who only wanted to talk about the old crime. Martin’s zeal is less about John or Angela and more about his own personal guilt and need to atone.

It is almost a shot for shot remake of the original despite the new location, so I can’t really say much about Dasgupta’s directorial style. There were changes made in terms of which character did what. (In Montage, the mother of the first little girl is the one who purses the investigation and the police characters are a little different.) I feel that needed some more solid rewriting which didn’t quite happen. And because the film elevates Amitabh above all else, it ultimately buckles a little under the weight of a Star in what is otherwise a solid thriller.

Amitabh shows the best understanding of his character and the genre. I really liked his performance, and thought he built up the layers in John’s character well. There are scenes where he just becomes an old man, bewildered and a little out of step. As he steps up his own investigation, he sharpens up and seems to come into focus more. Because I knew that the original was slightly different, I was looking closely at the changed characters to see if the alterations were for the better. They really added nothing, except maybe funding, as I suppose it is still easier to get money for your movie if the Big B is your star than if Vidya is. But it also made me ask if women are overlooked in society the same way old people are. Maybe since they were both invisible to the people that mattered it actually did make sense.

I never fully understood why Martin had taken vows or why Sarita was a bit flirty with him, but I didn’t feel I needed to know all the details to appreciate the present circumstances. It felt like they split the original ex detective character a little between Martin and Sarita, and added some more emotional baggage for the sake of it. Both Vidya and Nawazuddin have garnered huge audience and critical support for their undeniable talents, but the material here lets them down a little. Their characters were sketchy despite their best efforts to add nuance and a sense of connection.

The story translated well to Kolkata. Pardon my saying so, but the Indian police and legal systems are not exactly a byword for judicial excellence so the scenes where things went wrong seemed almost inevitable. The bureaucracy and sheer time spent in nothing much happening also seemed quite realistic. Sarita was surrounded by mountains of old files and new ones, everything showing that the Biswas case was just one of many. The streets and old houses added to the mood with hints of things happening under the surface, out of sight. Despite the huge city setting, the characters all live their lives in quiet little pockets of their own making. The neighbourhoods and houses are lived in and have a sense of history and context that we are just glimpsing as we skim past.

The use of sound was excellent except for when a song like Grahan was forced into the mix. I did like the recurring use of Kyun Re during montages of uncertainty. I don’t know that the Amitabh version was needed as it was subtle as a sledgehammer, but it suited the moment. The ambient sounds and silences were far more powerful than the pretty generic musical stylings.

The investigations – John’s and the official one – are both quite logical and it all makes sense. Korean and Indian movies often share a sense of outrage at the lack of justice for victims of crime, and then go looking for that reparation outside of the system.

See this for a fairly restrained big budget take on an indie film subject, and for the well structured plot. It’s not the usual high level histrionics and it does showcase late career Big B in a role that lets him comfortably play to his strengths.