In KD Satyam’s Bollywood Diaries, Ashish Vidyarthi plays Vishnu, a 52-year-old government servant in Bhilai. We meet him at his daughter’s wedding reception – he’s happy, relieved. But it’s not just the usual middle-class relief that he’s done with his duties, that no more money will have to be stashed away for the big day. Vishnu is relieved because he can finally pursue his dream of becoming… a Bollywood actor. His wife Lata (Karuna Pandey) is appalled. At first, she fights this foolishness, but when she sees how stubborn he is, how much he wants it, she relents. At the farewell given by friends and family, Vishnu dismisses the accusation that he’s lost his way. “Gumraah to woh hain jo ghar se nikle hi nahin.” At least, he’s taking a risk, going after what he wants. Or so he tells himself. No one else is listening.
There are two other dreamers – Rohit (Salim Diwan), a call-centre employee in Delhi, and Imli (Raima Sen), a sex worker in Kolkata. The initial portions have a looseness that makes us laugh. Rohit recites Agneepath dialogues on the pot, and Vishnu’s petulant fits remind you of a child who’s been told he’s not getting that ice cream. Imli, too, exists in a ditzy world of her own, refusing a great offer from a dance bar in Dubai because she’d rather knock on producers’ doors in Mumbai. The difference is that, unlike your typical struggler, she does not dread the casting couch. She knows all the tricks, she says. Bring it on. At this point, I was expecting a screwball version of Luck By Chance, a knife-sharp procedural about the various steps on the journey to a dazzling destination. Or would we get a triumph-of-the-underdog story, with Vishnu making it against all odds?
What I did not expect is a full-blown horror movie. There may be no ghosts in Bollywood Diaries, but Vishnu, Imli and Rohit compensate – they’re possessed by their dream. Vishnu forgets he has a wife. Imli forgets she has a daughter who needs her. Rohit forgets his dignity – the things he does at a talent show are outrageously funny, but the laughs are tinged with sadness, desperation. Salim Diwan is pitch-perfect – he makes us wonder if he is a great actor playing a lousy one, or a lousy actor playing himself. Vishnu, meanwhile, gets hold of a holy man, who gives him a mantra. This is the kind of film where endless chants of Om Mumbai Bollywood Bachchan-aya Namaha don’t make you giggle – you feel sick to the stomach. Vidyarthi is magnificent. He takes you deep into his delusions. Karuna Pandey is equally good, standing at the edge of a quicksand pit and watching her husband disappear slowly. Bollywood Diaries is a splash of ice-cold water on everyone who stands in front of a mirror and says: Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon.
- Gumraah to woh hain jo ghar se nikle hi nahin = Those who don’t step out of home are the ones that lose their way.
- Luck By Chance = see here
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