I love the smell of popcorn in the morning (I hope you’re impressed by the Apocalypse Now reference). So it didn’t take much to drag myself out of bed on a Sunday for a 10 am show of Mission Mangal. I’d missed the film when it released but needed to see it before an interview with Vidya Balan. The theatre, incredibly, was three-fourths full and this one truly seems to be, what Hollywood calls the four-quadrant film – appealing to both men and women, and to viewers over and under 25. There were many senior citizens and younger children, awestruck by the journey to Mars. My brain resisted the silly science – director Jagan Shakti has taken dumbing down to the next level – but he expertly pushed all the right emotional buttons. By the end, I was teary-eyed like everyone else. When the film ended, viewers applauded.
Vidya is the beating heart of the film. As a middle-class woman juggling her career as an ISRO scientist with her commitment to her family, she is terrific. She’s instantly relatable, combining a keen intelligence with maternal warmth. It’s perfect that she’s leading a mission called M.O.M. (Mars Orbiter Mission). You feel the same warmth when you meet her in person. Vidya and I have known each other since she did her first Hindi film Parineeta with Vinod Chopra Films in 2005. She has of course matured and evolved as an artist but she still has a childlike enthusiasm and the ability to laugh uproariously – she throws her head back and has to wipe her tears. I’m also a big laugher and when we meet, we invariably end up giggling like little girls. Vidya has been instrumental in changing the narrative for women in film. Her incredible talent is buttressed by her lack of vanity – she isn’t afraid to be unattractive on screen. Mission Mangal is the biggest hit of her career. And it’s such a pleasure to see her soar.
This week, I also saw the Telugu film Evaru (Who). The film is an official adaptation of the Spanish film The Invisible Guest, on which Badla was also based. But director Venkat Ramji, who has adapted the story, reworks the narrative. Evaru doesn’t have the craft of Badla but the innumerable twists and turns keep you hooked. I enjoyed watching Adivi Sesh as the corrupt police officer Vikram Vasudev who, like everyone and everything else in the film, isn’t quite what he seems. During the interval, Sesh said that he wasn’t stressed about reactions because the film was already a hit but he was just thrilled to show it to more people. At the screening, I met the lovely Radhika Madan (Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, Pataakha). She’s one of the most exciting young actors working today and I can’t wait to see what she does in Angrezi Medium. Her, Irrfan and Kareena Kapoor in the same frame – I’ll be first in line.
The Evaru screening was at Sunny Super Sound and as we were entering, Sunny Deol was exiting. I reminded him that we had an interview coming up and requested him to be a little chatty. He said: “You watch, I’ll be a different person.” He delivered on that promise. Despite having spent the last three decades in front of the camera, Sunny is shy and almost awkward in interviews. So it was nice to see him relaxed and open. He spoke about the pressures of launching his son Karan – he said as a father he wants everyone to love everything about their film Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, which of course is impossible. The Deols exude a certain traditional Bollywood charm. Among their admirers is Sriram Raghavan who wants to make a film with Sunny. Again, I’ll be first in line!
My current favourite film is Kumbalangi Nights (Malayalam). Directed by debutant Madhu C. Narayanan and written by Syam Pushkaran, the film is a gorgeous and lyrical meditation on family, relationships and the definition of masculinity. There a haunting sweetness and sadness in it and the performances – Soubin Shahir, Fahadh Faasil, Shane Nigam – are terrific. You can see it on Amazon Prime.