Kangana Ranaut’s Emergency is likely to get a lot of traction when it releases later this year, but the 25th anniversary of one of the most powerful films involving Indira Gandhi has been forgotten. Such a Long Journey, based on Rohinton Mistry’s book and referencing to the infamous Nagarwala scandal, was released in 1998 and fetched its lead actor, the brilliant Roshan Seth, a Genie Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In this Indian-Canadian film, Seth plays a fine, upstanding householder and bank clerk Gustad Noble, who gets caught up in a diversion of funds meant for the then freedom fighters of East Pakistan. The money, or so Mistry’s book says, were misappropriated by the then prime minister for personal use. The case details remained murky and Rustom Sohrab Nagarwala died while in prison. Naseeruddin Shah plays Major Jimmy Bilimoria who uncovers the scandal and Om Puri plays his dear friend Ghulam. Soni Razdan is Gustad’s much harassed wife. But the subtext is that corruption is creeping into the democracy so dear to Gustad. Unfortunately, the film was never released in India. Ronnie Screwvala, its line producer, bought the rights when he ran UTV but they crossed over to Disney when the latter bought the former. I asked Screwvala where the rights were now, and he said they were vested in Disney. Perhaps it’s time for them to air it on Disney+Hotstar. Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, the movie was set in 1971 and shot in Mumbai. During the course of the shoot, Mistry and Seth became good friends, and this led to Seth adapting a particularly moving death scene directly from the book. Though nominated for a Genie, Seth didn’t travel to Toronto for the award ceremony because he didn’t want to be disappointed by not winning. He won, and when you see the performance, you know why. It’s sublime. The New York Times’ AO Scott described Seth’s performance as arresting, saying he plays “a man who without undergoing a dramatic transformation—he is consistently anxious, temperamental and mistrustful—nonetheless manages to win our sympathy”. Roger Ebert was as effusive, saying Seth “plays an everyman, an earnest, worried, funny character always skirting on the edge of disaster, exuberantly immersed in his life”. Now if only we could get to watch it on a streaming service.
Life after Miss World
There was a time during her duties as Miss World 2017 when Manushi Chhillar couldn’t remember which city she was in. It was during a particularly hectic two months of travel. She has had to summon greater reserves of patience and alertness as an actor in the Hindi film industry, given she waited for more than three years for her first release, Samrat Prithviraj. It didn’t do well at the box office despite its supposedly careful attention to detail and lavish budget. But Chhillar hasn’t let disappointment deter her. Instead she’s been busy this year, acting as a “sort of spy” in Tehran with John Abraham and as a working woman, a “simple, yet layered character”, in Operation Valentine, the Hindi-Telugu bilingual film co-starring Varun Tej. Chhillar makes the most of downtime by prepping for her next role, be it working on her diction, her appearance, or her fighting skills. “My body is my tool so I have to keep it in good working condition,” she says. As for dejection, she is philosophical: “As an actor you can only give it your best shot. A lot of energy comes together to make a movie work.” If Miss World was like taking a tough, competitive exam, being in the movies is what adulthood is all about, she says. “Miss World was all about sisterhood,” she recalls, “we all helped each other.” Not quite the vibe in the film industry with all its intense ambition.
Scene and Heard
Baiju Bawra, directed by Vijay Bhatt, is one of the greatest tragedies on the Indian screen, starring Bharat Bhushan and Meena Kumari. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has been living with the film for the past 20 years. As soon as he completes his ode to Lahore’s courtesan classic Heeramandi for Netflix, he will start working on the remake of the 1952 classic. This will be his second reinterpretation of a classic movie after the 2002 Devdas which took off from Bimal Roy’s film of the same name. Now if only he could get Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt to stop screaming at each other as they seem to be doing in the trailer for Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani.