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Film Review: Sulemani Keeda

Sulemani Keeda is the oft-quirky, oft-drifting story of the eternal strugglers of B-town, the writers

Ritika Bhatia 

Sulemani Keeda is an urban slang that when roughly translated, refers to a pain in the posterior, even though the English title for the film is Writers.Any cinephile worth her salt knows the difference between writing for TV and writing for “cinema” – TV is for sellouts, being the idiot in a box will get you money and a steady job. Cinema is the great struggle of Mumbai, imbued with a romance that is the stuff tinseltown dreams are made of.

It gives our protagonists the intellectual high ground, even if it offers them little else. The film begins with this premise, where the aspiring cinema writers, after jostling with their 'second-class' TV writing friends, come to a stop outside Salman Khan’s house, and realise that Salim Khan lives there too. Moral of the story? “Writer actor ka baap hota hai!”

These poor sods, the wannabe creative types who want to break the rigid formulaic structure of the film industry and write new stories are thought to be bitten by the ‘sulemani keeda’. The foul-mouthed shaggy-dog Mainak and the poetry-spinning doe-eyed Dulal, the main protagonists of Sulemani Keeda are played by Mayank Tewari and Naveen Kasturia, who nurse passionate hopes of becoming the next Salim-Javed and Abbas-Mustan of Bollywood -- peddling their scripts at every door.

But no matter how hard they try to sell their film to top directors, even their security guards, (“Sir, our film will be a mix of LSD and Hukumat, with shades of Dev D and the costumes of Gadar!”), it is rejected for lacking a blockbuster “formula”, a larger-than-life “hero”, an implausible overarching “story” – the three pillars of every aspiring Bollywood film. Richard Linklater can make a hit trilogy of episodic events without a story (the Before series), but as our dear writers find out to their frustration, this kind of fluff doesn’t fly in our 100-crore-club driven industry. Mahesh Bhatt and Anil Sharma sportingly play themselves as useless mentors -- offering meta wisdom and zero help to the hapless duo.

In such a scenario, there are few possibilities, apart from the looming one that the writers won’t make rent. Opportunity finally knocks on the door but as always, temptation leans on the doorbell. Bollywood producer Sweety Kapoor’s son Gonzo is looking for an “out-of-the-box” script to make his debut. Dulal, freshly bruised from a long-distance breakup, falls for Ruma, played by a sparkling Aditi Vasudev, after meeting her at a house party Mainak-Dulal attended in hopes to get laid. Ruma is refreshingly level-headed, gentle and generous, and proves to be Dulal’s anchor in a movie where real life is quite unlike the movies. Their budding romance is filled with memorable exchanges delivered with a deadpan hilarity (“What do you do when you can’t write?” “I write my own obit.”)

Gonzo Kapoor is an audaciously kooky character played to aplomb by Karan Mirchandani. The Coen brothers are his heroes, and he only will debut in a feature nothing short of The Big Lebowski. The coke-snorting cat-cuddling Gonzo believes that his knowledge of European cinema makes him much smarter than his street-smart producer dad. (“Bete ka baap se hoshiyaar hona bohot zaroori hai, it is an evolution theory”). The story angle with Gonzo pokes fun at the new-wave alternative cinema in the country and its own myriad tropes and trappings, reminiscent of TVF’s entertaining spoof of Indian arthouse films.

Portraying the writer’s creative struggle in an increasingly commercialised industry and its tragicomic fallouts has become quite the trend in the last decade. On television, Lena Dunham did it with Girls, Tina Fey did it with 30 Rock. Another indie filmmaker, Srinivas Sunderrajan did it too, four years ago with The Untitled Karthik Krishnan Project. Sulemani Keeda’s director Amit Masurkar has laced his debut feature with his own experiences as well -- a potently lovable brew of raw indie angst against big, bad Bollywood.

And so the film leaves no stone unturned in spoofing some of B-town’s worst kept secrets: the sheer hypocrisy of the Censor Board, the laughable chances of actually getting paid for any work, how all the great original ideas are just stolen and then pitched with a twist, how every second person fancies themselves a writer, and so on. The heroes of Sulemani Keeda are rather unheroic, and that’s what makes the film tick.

Whether it’s hitting on girls in bookshops and open mics to no avail, or attending house parties drinking beer out of a plastic glass, or dealing with the landlord’s annoying son Pokhriyal (played by Krishna Bisht) who gives them unwelcome pearls of wisdom such as palang todo, kalam mat todo -- there are some peculiarly realistic details of the urban slacker comedy that Sulemani Keeda gets bang on. Made on a shoestring budget, this is as indie as indie gets. There are many establishing shots in fast-mo, trippy lighting et al – and one animated scene with Gonzo’s cat that’s brilliantly done. The city itself makes its presence felt more in spirit, in conversation more than cinematography.

The film is peppered with cinematic references, deftly treated with equal parts devout worship and irreverent satire. It follows an episodic structure much like their script in the film that never sees the light of the day, but whatever it lacks in action it makes up for in wordplay. Though some might say that Sulemani Keeda can be best described in one of its own closing lines, (“Dialogues acche thhe, film theek thi,”) I’ll say it’s definitely worth a watch for some zany comedy, breakout performances and a peppy soundtrack that you’ll surprisingly find yourself humming on the way back home.

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First Published: Fri, December 05 2014. 16:19 IST