Cast: Naveen Kasturia, Mayank Tewari, Aditi Vasudev
Direction: Amit Masurkar
Sulemani Keeda means “a bug so big that it’s a pain in the ass.” Or at least that’s how writer-director Amit V Masurkar describes his film’s title. Sulemani Keeda is about two writers desperately trying to break into Bollywood. Dulal, played by Naveen Kasturia, is comically solemn and angst-ridden. Mainak, played by Mayank Tewari, is a hustler who will do what it takes to sell a script. He pitches a film to director Anil Sharma, who is playing himself here as “a mix of LSD and Hukumat with shades of Dev D and costumes like that of Gadar.” That’s a film I want to see.
Together, Dulal and Mainak negotiate the mean streets of Andheri, struggle with rejection, nepotism and Gonzo – a painfully pretentious producer’s son who wants to launch himself as a hero in a Tarkovsky-style movie with no story but full frontal nudity and, as he puts it, lust-less, angry, dark orgies.
Masurkar is a keen observer. There are some lovely moments that perfectly capture the inherent absurdity of the film industry. At one point, Dulal and Mainak are standing at YRF studios and begging for an audience with Aditya Chopra. When that doesn’t happen, they even ask the watchman if he will give them a hearing.
Early in the film, a writer friend gives them this advice: agar filmein bechni hain toh dukandaar ki tarah socho, writer ki tarah nahin. Masurkar accurately pinpoints the class system between television writers and film writers – the TV guys have money but are considered sell-outs. The film folk are poor but they see themselves as artists. Dulal and Mainak tell the TV guys that they write shit – and they say this in Hindi, which somehow sounds worse.
The set-up and characters are promising but Sulemani Keeda never becomes more than the sum of its parts because it’s too thin. Masurkar is unable to weave layers or build on his premise. Sulemani Keeda remains narrow, both in its concerns and in what its saying. By the mid-way mark, the narrative starts to meander and the fun deflates. Bollywood is such an easy target that you need to work hard to make fun of it in new and creative ways – The Shaukeens did it by having Akshay Kumar spoof himself.
In Happy Ending, Govinda as an arrogant single-screen star did the heavy lifting. Masurkar gives us an inventive animated sequence that has Gonzo’s beloved cat meeting a darkly comic end but mostly Gonzo is a predictable cliché. Just like the film that they ultimately end up making. Ironically then, a film about writers is felled by writing. But despite the soft spots, it’s clear that Masurkar is a name to watch. I’d like to see what he does next.