Most significant moments from Indian films in 2015

Some moments in films are so powerful that they remain with us long after the end credits roll. Sometimes it’s the only way we remember a good film, through one great scene, which was so skillfully and arresting, that it ended up defining an entire movie. Here are five such scenes, from Indian films released in 2015, that have remained with me, whose impact, I am sure, won’t be washed away anytime soon.

5. The single take Gallan Goodiyan song from Dil Dhadakne Do: Most mainstream Bollywood filmmakers seem to have given up on songs — a wonderful narrative device that makes Indian films unique — for they are often poorly placed and picturised, completely devoid of artistic vision and merit. As a result, it’s difficult to differentiate one Hindi film song from the other and understand its humdrum mechanics. But trust Zoya Akhtar, a filmmaker who revels in subversion, to shake things up a bit. In an early portion of Dil Dhadakne Do’s second half, the families on a luxurious cruise liner break into a song, Gallan Goodiyan. Its musical qualities — lyrics and composition — aren’t particularly remarkable, but its picturisation is, for the entire song is composed of one long take.

If that doesn’t sound like an impressive feat, consider this: A long take, an uninterrupted shot that usually lasts for several minutes, is difficult to execute (and, usually for the same reason, uncommon), because it requires the actors to perform well for a considerable duration of time and increases the chances of error, resulting in continues retakes that can tire the crew. A shot that lasts for more than a minute is usually considered to be long; the Gallan Goodiyan song clocks in more than four and a half minutes. It also must have been a challenging song to film, given it has plenty of dancers, both in the background and foreground, six principal characters — who are introduced one by one, as the camera glides from one part of the deck to the other — all executed within the ambit of coordinated dance movements.

This single shot trick, though, doesn’t look like a stunt (as the craft doesn’t call attention to itself), and, in fact, frees the song, makes it casual. The hard edges of choreography, evident in many Hindi film songs, are replaced here with actors enjoying the moment, reacting naturally (by the time the song’s about to get over, Anil Kapoor looks evidently tired, which, given the fact that the actor’s in his late 50s, adds another layer to this scene). Akhtar — who in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’s Senorita song, made her three actors actually sing the number — has shown her peers how Hindi film songs can still be creative. Now, it remains to be seen if someone picks her cues.

4. The hammer that broke bones (and hearts) in Titli: In this particular scene from Kanu Behl’s debut, Titli (Shashank Arora) drives his wife, Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi), to a desolate location, gets down, makes her sit on his battered scooter, and says, without a smidgen of hesitancy, “Haath todna padega tera (I will have to break your hand).” Neelu would be soon forced to sign the fixed deposit papers (her dowry amount) by his brothers, says Titli, and she won’t be able to say no, but a broken arm will give her an excuse. Titli needs that money to escape his family, which will also allow Neelu to marry her boyfriend. Neelu protests initially (a fake plaster won’t work, according to Titli, it will get them killed), but eventually gives in. Titli injects her arm with an anesthetic so that it becomes numb to pain. He then begins slapping Neelu’s wrist, much to her chagrin, to check if she can still feel the pain. When she finally says no, he takes out the hammer. Neelu pleads him to change his mind, but he simply tells her to look towards the other side, which she does, and then lands four blows to her wrist. The multifold violence in this scene, physical as well as emotional, is too disturbing to endure, too real to evade. And it is made all the more chilling because it doesn’t allow us to take refuge in a background score. Here, all we hear is ambient sound — a vehicle honking far away and a metal hammering Neelu’s wrist — and feel, just like Titli’s leads, helpless.

3. The grandmother making ‘pizza’ in Kaaka Muttai: The Tamil movie Kaaka Muttai is about two pre-teens trying to procure Rs 300 so that they can buy pizza from an eatery that’s opened on the outskirts of their slum. The kids’ family can’t afford the money; they don’t even know what pizza looks like. One day, when the grandmother can’t stand the kids looking sad, she decides to make pizza for them. She sees its picture on a takeaway menu, and tells the younger one to get some onion, tomato and capsicum. She takes a close look at the picture again, cuts identical slices of vegetables, places them on dosa kept on a hot pan, and tops it off with ghee. And that’s it; this is their pizza, their small answer to this world that always shuts them outside, tells them that they can’t dream or hope. Happiness is also a choice, this wonderful scene tells us with much mirth and grace, one that we can create for ourselves, in the way we want and like.

2. Anushka Sharma smoking a cigarette in NH10’s climax: In NH10’s chilling and gory closing segment, Meera (Anushka Sharma) goes after a gang of family members who murdered her husband. They had earlier killed their relative and her love interest and, then, chased Meera and her husband through the night. A major part of the movie revolves around Meera running for her life, asking for help and not getting any, but here, finally, she’s the one who’s in control. After crushing one of the gang members under her car, and smashing the head of the other with an iron rod, she ambles towards the main guy — the head of this group — to finish him off. The guy can barely walk; he’s crawling on the ground, his lower part of the leg bruised and bloodied. But Meera doesn’t attack him right away, instead sits down and calmly smokes a cigarette. She’s in a hamlet that equates women to dispensable objects; she’s seen a girl being killed because she dared to fall in love, she’s seen the word “whore” scribbled in Hindi in the loo of a dhaba and on the wall of a tunnel where her husband was murdered. But Meera smoking a cigarette here has larger implications. In the initial portions of the film, her husband, a liberal city slicker, often forbade her from smoking, which led to mild disagreements between the two. Meera, however, is on her own now, having paid a huge price for her freedom, and the film allows her to have this moment — no matter how gruesome. This scene, populist at its core, could have easily pandered to the audience’s baser instincts, but it didn’t, because of the way it’s written, shot, and performed — one that’s honest about its theme and intent.

1. Nawazuddin Siddiqui (literally) shutting up Salman Khan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan: A Salman Khan movie is like a vanity project, where the star usually plays himself and towers above everyone else, leaving little scope for others. In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, however, Khan shared space with two other characters, Munni (Harshaali Malhotra) and Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who had fleshed out arcs of their own. In this scene, which comes shortly after the interval, Chand Nawab, a reporter for a Pakistani news channel, is helping Bajrangi (Khan) and Munni flee the cops. Bajrangi is wearing a burqa, acting as Chand Nawab’s wife, to hide his face, but since common sense is really not his thing, he keeps removing his hijab and talking. Which ticks Chand Nawab off, because he thinks they will be caught. When Munni, helped by Chand Nawab, causes a passerby’s jeep to malfunction (so that they can get a lift), a miffed Bajrangi says, “Yeh galat baat hai. Jhooth bolne se koi kaam theek nahin hota. Dekh lena (This is wrong. Things always go wrong when you lie. You wait and watch).” Chand Nawab replies, “Tum phir boli begum? Chalo dhako (You spoke again, dear? Cover your face).” And Bajrangi can’t do anything but keep quite and save his face (quite literally).

This scene is impressive not just because it’s funny, but here, Kabir Khan — Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s filmmaker, who earlier directed Salman in Ek Tha Tiger — allows Siddiqui, an actor known for his roles in offbeat films, to overshadow a star in a film he’s co-produced. If you want to analyze this scene further, it is, in a way, about offbeat (or ‘indie’) cinema prevailing over the mainstream in its own backyard, even if for a few seconds. Kabir, knowing how stars are protective about their image and having worked with them in the past, might not have even written this scene, or, worse, Salman could have objected to it, but none of that happened, which tells us that big budget star vehicles still have hope.

A shorter version of this piece was published in FirstPost

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