Director: Tariq Naved Siddiqui
Cast: Jackie Shroff, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Arjun Bajwa, Neetu Chandra, Manjari Fadnnis, Divya Dutta
The Playboy Mr. Sawhney smacks of the kind of outdated worldview and superficial themes that plague old-school filmmakers who refuse to exit their cozy bubble of retro fame. Times change, but the creators continue to spend their time fostering their versions of “modern” ideas in smoky Versova pubs. Incidentally, director Tariq Naved Siddiqui has worked under Sudhir Mishra. And unfortunately, it shows. Twelve years ago, this might have been a calling card in an industry yet to equate ‘edgy realism’ with anyone not named Madhur Bhandarkar.
This short film, for example, is about an extravagant retired journalist named Sawhney (Jackie Shroff, doing a jovial Devdas) who loves his whiskey and jazz (love is erroneously compared to Ray Charles), and narrates to his red-blooded grandson (a guileless Tahir Raj Bhasin) his tale of 1960s love to prove that he has been more of a “lover” than a cool “womanizer”. The flashbacks – of his affairs with three different women named Mary (money), Maya (feminism) and Mumtaz (fame) – appear in black-and-white frames with the sort of garish period details that seem to have been inspired more by the Bollywood movies of that era than actual life. A sultry sax – the kind you might have heard in cheesy vintage porn narratives – occasionally becomes the background score to remind us that Sawhney had plenty of sex. That changes to piano when he speaks with fondness instead of lust.
Mary (Manjari Fadnnis) has a poor mother who is a failed movie extra and a father with paralysis – “I’m too pretty to remain poor” and “Love is an expensive mutton curry I can’t afford” are her articulate reasons to leave young Sawhney (Arjun Bajwa, whose role is solely limited to naked post-coital breakups in bed). Maya (Neetu Chandra), the fierce specs-wearing feminist author, dumps him because…he is a man? It’s not quite clear, and I will spend many sleepless nights trying to decode her life-shattering hostility. Mumtaz (Divya Dutta), an actress, dumps him because “our worlds are different” – the morning after her lavish party is graced by none other than Sudhir Mishra playing Satyajit Ray.
Maybe Sawhney was just terrible in bed. There can’t be any other reason for the women sheepishly communicating their emotions from under his bed sheet. Maybe this realization dawned upon old Sawhney late in life, which is why Shroff keeps giggling between his lines and drinking himself silly. Siddiqui’s film is a bad ‘Bollywood’ short – a genre in which filmmakers infuse this medium with all the artistic limitations and commercial traps of a large-scale Hindi movie. It ends with the Whatsapp-forward-depth-level line: “If you find love even for sometime, it’s enough for a lifetime”. To which all I can say is: If you make bad movies for sometime, it’s enough for a lifetime.