Bollywood is cruel to outsiders, but it is not too nice to insiders who fail either. Harman Baweja, who was launched with much brouhaha in 2008 by his father and director Harry Baweja in Love Story 2050, was billed as the next Hrithik Roshan, with the physique and eyes to match. His career didn’t take off, and his films, including What’s Your Raashee? (2009), directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, failed badly. Both starred Priyanka Chopra, whom he was rumoured to be dating. Baweja went missing from all screens for 10 years, venturing into startups, producing entertainment, and writing as well. When Hansal Mehta offered him the role of JCP Shroff (based on a senior Mumbai police officer who committed suicide), in Netflix’s forthcoming series Scoop, based on the murder of J Dey and the incarceration of Jigna Vora, he was not too keen on it. “It had been 10 years since I faced the camera,” he says, “except for birthday and wedding photos.” But when Mehta persisted, Baweja insisted he do a screen test to ensure he suited the character. He does, making the leap from actor as the primary product to the film being the primary product and the actor being a character in it. “It was liberating to not being the main lead with the entire film mounted for you. Now, shows are about storytelling, about the writing, and the direction,” he says. Now 42, he is grateful to be playing someone who has grey in his hair and in his character as well. “My character is manipulative, knows how to use his power, can hustle, but behind his tough exterior, he is struggling with a lot of issues,” he says, adding that it was challenging to play the anti-Singham police officer as it were. As for all the unflattering things that were written about him, he admits it took an emotional toll on him. But Baweja has moved on, as he looks forward to the release of two web series and three movies he has produced. And yes, that phone which will be ringing when Scoop is released and watched widely.
The Poetry of Cinema Songs
There is a tremendous appetite for old Hindi movie songs, and nowhere is it more pronounced than in the subcontinental diaspora. So it’s no surprise that Javed Akhtar’s concerts are sold out in the US this summer. The format is unusual. Akhtar travels with two singers, Meiyang Chang and Jahnvi Shrimankar, as well as five musicians, and there is a question-and-answer session about some of his most iconic songs, beginning with the first film for which he wrote lyrics, Silsila (1981). The story goes that he was not interested in writing songs for Silsila, but filmmaker Yash Chopra was adamant, and agreed to pay the exorbitant fee Akhtar had demanded thinking it would not be paid. Some stories that Akhtar narrates are funny, some emotional, but nearly all the concerts feature audiences singing along. The persistent popularity of Hindi cinema’s wordsmiths Gulzar and Akhtar is proof of why poetry matters and why words still make a difference. It’s the secret sauce that still makes our movies stand apart, that smoothens our daily rides, and fills our solitary nights with beauty. ‘Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaoon’ (a song he wrote for the underrated Aziz Mirza movie Yes Boss, 1997) doesn’t have any dancing on stage or crude humour, as they do on our awards nights. Just plain, simple beautiful songs. Launched in 2019 with eight cities in the US, the concerts had to be called off during Covid-19 but now happy times for music lovers are back again.
Scene and Heard
Imtiaz Ali’s musical Chamkila is making headlines even before it is released. The movie, based on Punjabi singer Amar Singh Chamkila (played by Diljit Dosanjh) and his wife, Amarjot, is about Chamkila’s career and untimely death. A Dalit, Chamkila sang about drug use, extramarital sex, drinking, and toxic masculinity. He was assassinated along with his wife and two bandmates in 1988. Parallels are being drawn with the 2022 murder of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala. Chamkila’s killers were never caught, but his songs live on in the countryside, especially on long bus and car rides. Parineeti Chopra, who plays the role of Amarjot, is engaged to Rajya Sabha member Raghav Chadha. Ali filmed Chamkila in Punjab, one of his favourite destinations for movies, and also a state currently governed by Chadha’s Aam Aadmi Party. Politics is not only about hate, clearly.