What a wonderful idea, this. Four super-talented filmmakers collaborate to make an anthology film as a tribute to Indian Cinema in its 100th year. And how cool that the film opens on May 3, the exact date that marked Raja Harishchandra's release in 1913.
But while the effort is commendable, the result isn't as glorious as one would have liked. While some stories do delight, the others leave you unsatisfied. Here's an individual review of the four.
Karan Johar (Student of the Year, My Name is Khan)
The film begins with Karan Johar's story that already has your attention because of Rani Mukerji. She plays the entertainment editor of a publication (Mumbai Masala). Johar shows her moving around with a coffee cup in hand, giving vague instructions, as an uneven representation of the job.
Dressed in ethnic chic, Mukerji befriends the new loudmouth and openly gay intern Avinash (Saqib Saleem).
The plot thickens when Avinash comes over for dinner and meets Mukerji's reticent husband (Randeep Hooda).
The 'twist' in the film can be predicted a mile away and that's not the film's only undoing. Randeep's character isn't fully developed and neither is Rani's.
But Johar's story is watchable mainly for the superb acting. Rani Mukerji is masterful in the role, and aided by the equally good Saleem. Hooda, too, brings out his character's conflicting emotions superbly.
Dibakar Banerjee (Shanghai, Love Sex Aur Dhoka)
Next up is Dibakar Bannerjee's tale based on Satyajit Ray's short story - Patol Babu, Film Star. We see a former actor (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who lives in a chawl with his wife and ill daughter. Quaint and humorous, the film shows Sheikh rejected for the job of a watchman, leading him to watch a nearby film shoot.
He gets picked from the crowd for a role (by the screaming director's voice) as the quivering assistants convince him to do the bit part. Having done theatre, this is a cakewalk for him.
But he has a strange and surreal encounter that leaves him dazed. Battling these inner demons, he hopes to give a good shot, and perhaps take back an interesting story to regale his daughter with.
Wonderfully directed, shot and enacted, this is one of the best stories in the film. Siddiqui is outstanding and Sadashiv Amrapurkar's cameo is simply delightful.
Zoya Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Luck By Chance)
Zoya Akhtar takes a simple story and keeps it uncomplicated. We meet our little protagonist (Naman Jain), who we instantly root for, and his elder sister (Khushi Dubey), who also makes for an interesting character. Their father (Ranvir Shorey) feels the boy should toughen up and take up football practice.
But the little boy often likes to watch the kathak class in school. During a family outing, as he watches Katrina Kaif groove to Sheila Ki Jawaani, an epiphany strikes. He realises he wants to grow up to be a dancer.
And when Kaif visits him in his dreams and encourages him to follow his dreams, he gets all the encouragement he needs. But this time, he knows how to work around his parents.
However, there's something missing in this story. Perhaps it's the image of the kid dancing to an item number with all the suggestive steps that puts you off. Perhaps it's the unconvincing ending, that's too convenient for its own good. But still, it's a sweet story and the child actors steal your heart right away!
Anurag Kashyap (Gangs of Wasseypur, Dev D)
This writer's favourite arrives right at the end. Directed by Anurag Kashyap, the story takes us to Allahabad (the atmospherics are to die for), where an ailing father (Sudhir Pandey) makes a strange request of his son.
Showing him a sole murabba in a huge glass bottle, the father says he's sure to get better if Amitabh Bachchan ate half of it.
He convinces his son of this bizarre theory so completely, that the son (Vineet Kumar Singh) sets off for Mumbai at once. When met by the watchmen outside the tall gates of Bachchan's Jalsa, he is confused.
Reality strikes as he realizes this won't be an easy task. Hours turn into days and then into weeks. He takes up a job to fend for himself, and shares a room with several others at night.
Will he be successful in his unique quest? It's worth watching to find out!
The story is beautiful and hearty. Full of humour, emotion and thought, this story is a fitting end to the film.
Sadly, the film doesn't end here. The four stories are followed by an embarrassingly poor song with stars (Shah Rukh Khan, Ranbir, Sridevi, Vidya, Karishma) and a fan-boy who won't stop smiling. One wishes the film had ended with Kashyap's story.
Bombay Talkies, with four separate stories, is a special effort to mark a tribute to Indian cinema. While all four are refreshing and interesting, there's that niggling feeling they could have been much better.
But you're sure to love at least two out the four, and you'll dislike none. Sweet, moving, and often humorous, this is an opportunity to watch your favourite directors throw caution to the wind and tell the stories they really want to. Watch Bombay Talkies for this unique film-watching experience!
Rating: 3.5 stars