Direction: Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap
Actors: Farhan Akhtar, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem, Rani Mukerji
Bombay Talkies begins with a young man pushing his father against a wall and angrily declaring that he is a homosexual and not a eunuch. From that moment on, you know that this isn't going to be your regular Hindi movie. The anthology of four short films by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap and Zoya Akhtar is a celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema. But this is no vacuous song-and-dance party. It's an evocative essay on our love affair with the movies.
The four shorts in Bombay Talkies depict the degree to which movies permeate our lives; how a film song becomes a melancholy lament for a life half-lived; how stars consume us and fill us with magic.
The strongest film is Dibakar's adaptation of a short story by Satyajit Ray. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a failed actor who strays into a film shoot. Dibakar narrates his story with such tenderness and Siddiqui is so good that by the end, I was wiping away tears. Karan Johar also steps out of his comfort zone, with a brave, quietly heartbreaking story about a couple and the exuberant gay man who enters their lives. The actors, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem and especially Rani Mukerji, are terrific. Post-interval, Bombay Talkies drops a few notches. The shorts by Zoya and Anurag don't have the same complexity. Anurag's lead actor, Vineet Kumar, is very good, but the story feels stretched. It's interesting to see what Zoya does with a little boy whose most ardent desire is to be Sheila from 'Sheila ki jawani'. Usually a child dancing to an item song is deeply uncomfortable, but here it becomes an anthem for joy and freedom.
Bombay Talkies ends with its own item song, which brings together a roster of stars. The song is distinctly forgettable. And yet, I enjoyed it. Because it ends the film on a necessary note of celebration. And because, truthfully, I'm a sucker for stars. Bombay Talkies is a unique experiment that works very well. The collaboration between four leading directors suggests a confidence that was rare in the industry even a decade ago. I believe that things can only get better from here on.