Places often go to seed. Sometimes people too. And usually it’s heartbreaking. However, writer-director Madhur Bhandarkar’s going-to-seed-with-speed, a journey which can be verified and mapped film by film, is infuriating because we have to suffer his tacky morality tales again and again.
When Bhandarkar arrived, with Chandni Bar and then Page 3, he held out a zealous if solemn promise — to lampoon one and all, including us, the spectators. Even Fashion and Traffic Signal kept that promise in small parts. His smug, single-word films bemoaned our rather commonplace realities — glamorous lives we look at with resentful admiration, and grisly stuff we turn away from out of guilt or repulsion. And he would do all the unravelling of cliches and facades while telling a compelling story.
No longer. Not since Corporate, Jail, Heroine and now, Calendar Girls. It can’t get any worse.
With Calendar Girls, his transformation is complete. The haranguing pallbearer has completely taken over the storyteller and filmmaker. Bhandarkar is now in perpetual phoney mourning — over his current subjects’ slide down the morality drainpipe. He tracks this slide not because he’s interested in these lives. But because he wants us to know what he thinks of it.
Problem is that he doesn’t think much. About anything. He just tells a sordid tale of exploitation and sleaze so that he can be a sordid, exploitative and sleazy filmmaker himself.
Calendar Girls is not about Vijay Mallya and his Kingfisher Calendar about which many jokes have been texted across the country. Bhandarkar’s film begins with that, but it’s only a take-off point for his squalid spread.
Kumar (Suhel Seth) plays Mallya for about two minutes, to tell us that the calendar, now 15 years old, is a “symbol of success”. The calendar’s photographer (played by Rohit Roy) grins in agreement. He should not. Because he wears bow-ties with shirts that are not tucked in and because most of his conversations/reactions can be summed up thus: “Yo bro!” “Chill bro!”
There are five calendar girls: Paroma (Avani Modi) from Kolkata; Mayuri (Ruhi Singh) from Rohtak, Haryana; Nandita (Akanksha Puri) from Hyderabad; Nazneen (Satarupa Pyne) from Lahore and London; and Sharon (Kyra Dutt) from Goa.
They have to cross one hurdle each — mortified family members, an angry boyfriend, a sceptical pal, a dismissive extra, an airline official — to take their first step towards stardom. They do and land up in Mauritius where the photographer calls a late-night meeting to ask them, “When did you really feel a man?”
One talks of a two-minute noodle, one recalls a lesbian experience, one about a long-term affair, one misses the wild pyaar sessions and one can still smell the dung in a Rohtak cow shed.
As the mushaira ka chirag passes from one to the other, the director instructively cuts to the practical make-out sessions, all captured in angles which together make up C-grade flicks like Pyaasi Aprasa, Kuch Karona, Kachcha Yovan, Raat ke Ladoo…
At the next day’s shoot the girls, against the best advice of the orthopaedic, arch their backs and thrust their stuff at us. The titty-llation has the same, aforementioned C-grade air.
Calendar is launched, and so are five careers. There are acting and modelling offers, even a marriage proposal from a high-profile businessman. But before they have even taken off, some start to sink. One because of greed, one because of stupidity, one because she got emotional. So now there’s cricket league and match fixing, creepy but powerful ad agents, cheating husbands, and an escort service where a glamorous girl has to sleep with men pursuing rather dull sexual fantasies… Who knew that the shoe designer Jimmy Choo was also a drag queen!
Calendar Girls is not a film. It’s a powerpoint presentation created to showcase Bhandarkar’s worldview which is shallow and self-serving. Each slide is about How To or How Not To handle success as per the fraud morals of the filmmaker.
Characters arrive to only demonstrate this, and they speak only for the express purpose of being the boobies that float or the ones that sink. And it’s structured like a neat roll call: Kolkata girl, Rohtak girl, Pakistani girl, Hyderabad girl, Goa girl…
Through scenes and situations made up of the cliches which Bhandarkar has built and nurtured over his film-making career, he seems to be saying that chasing glamour in skimpy clothes is not a bad thing, neither is slapping an agent or two. Because if you didn’t, what would I show? Just be smart and you’ll find success. Or journalism.
The film’s five exceptionally talentless girls have been given dialogue that begin with either “Oh! My! God!”, or “Babe…”
They are forever in a hyper state and only speak in a hyper pitch. They scream out their dialogue as if they were one-line greetings in an Archies’ card — with excitement and audible exclamation marks.
The girls are in a serious competition amongst themselves for the worst acting award. They are, however, beaten hollow by the two men who arrived at the film’s beginning — Vijay Mallya and Atul Kasbekar.
Bhandarkar’s touch, style of direction is no less exploitative than say Kanti Shah, the king of C-grade cinema. Only his Calendar Girls is without humour, irony and fun. It’s stupid, boring and disgusting.
While trying to show how predatory men and women feed on women who are confident enough to use their beauty and body to achieve success, he does exactly that with his creepy camera angles. Almost every scene, every dress, every touch is shamelessly mercenary and seedy.
Calendar Girls has, perhaps, a total of 30 seconds that are mildly bearable. One is a joke about actresses who undergo plastic surgery. Mr Bhandarkar arrives to crack this joke himself, but only after he has instructed us that his films are “realistic” which do “khullasa” of things, and that his life and career was made on “zid” (pigheadedness) and not “umeed” (hope).
There is no umeed in hell for those who plan to pay and watch this film.