Why is Madhur Bhandarkar still making movies? This is not a question about craft, for it is evident that the word means to him something that flies in the sky or sails in the sea. This is more about his interest in exposing the seamy underbelly of dance bars, jails, the fashion industry, Bollywood, and so forth. Heck, give this man a camera and slip him into Sabarmati Ashram, and he’ll find something there – probably that a limp-wristed male employee is blackmailing Page 3 socialites caught doing it in the charkha room. Bhandarkar’s hysterical sensibility is made for television news. With his ceaseless preoccupation with what the nation apparently wants to know, he’d out-Arnab Arnab. So, again, why is he still making movies? His reply, courtesy a recent interview: “I feel when people can read about it, can gossip in corridors, can see it on TV sometimes, why can’t they see it as a film?” And so we have his latest exposure of female flesh exposé, Calendar Girls, a film that comes with the backing of a ‘lingerie partner.’
Calendar Girls is the story of five… uh, calendar girls. (In a Bhandarkar movie, what you see in the title is what you get.) One of them is from Kolkata. Her name is Paroma. Her boyfriend’s name is Pinaki. We see them eating puchkas and strolling around puja pandals. Bhandarkar lives in his own world – he’d have to, otherwise he’d watch his films and renounce this one – so the idea of a city being populated by multiple ethnic types completely eludes him. What if the Kolkotan went by the name Sharon Pinto? Or Mayuri Chauhan? Ah, but then Bhandarkar would have to think up a new name for the Goan girl and the girl from Rohtak. I clutched my armrests and braced myself for the inevitable South Indian, who’d no doubt be called Soundaravalli Subramaniam, and be seen ladling sambar on her plate of idlis. Surprise! The girl is from Hyderabad. And she’s called Nandita… Menon. And she addresses her friend as akka, which is Tamil for sister. Has Bhandarkar, finally, discovered multiculturalism? Nah. He probably just gave himself a crash course on South India by watching Chennai Express.
These girls leave their respective cities and land up in Dante’s ninth circle of Hell Mumbai. We expect the film to delve seriously into the world of, um, calendar shooting – the fashioning of those bras, for instance, and the intricacies of engineering that keep them in place. But no. The calendar shoot itself is quickly dispensed with over the course of a song, so that Bhandarkar can get to what really interests him: the continuation of his thesis that where there is an apple, Eve will bite. One of the girls becomes a high-priced escort. Another girl begins to seduce cricketers and fix matches. A third finds herself married to a tycoon who cheats on her. The only one who manages some fun is the girl who becomes an actress. In the film’s best scene – though that’s really not saying much – she accepts a fat fee to attend a funeral. I wanted to see more of her and her secretary, but halfway into the shoot, Bhandarkar probably decided to develop that subplot into a future film: Starlet.
Calendar Girls, in all respects, is root-canal painful. The acting is mostly terrible, but I wouldn’t blame the girls (Akanksha Puri, Avani Modi, Kyra Dutt, Ruhi Singh, Satarupa Pyne). The pacing of scenes brings to mind a goldfish gasping for air. (See the conversation between two girls getting a massage to know what I mean. It’s as if they shot the rehearsal and forgot to shoot the actual take.) One of the girls has the good fortune to come under a speeding car. As for the others, they soldier on through further indignities – bad lines, bad makeup, bad clothes. And bad co-stars. At some point, the film gets all meta on us by having Madhur Bhandarkar appear as himself. He sings his praises without a hint of self-awareness, without an iota of shame. I finally understood why his films don’t have comedy tracks. His delusions inspire more laughs than anything he could dream up.
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