In the cultural wasteland that our movies have become, December 18 will have a special place.
On this day, there was a clash of two cultural sensibilities.
On one side stood an ageing, much loved superstar, trying to photocopy his own best moves from memory, with one of his most beloved co stars, with no sight of plot or narrative in sight.
On the other side stood a diva filmmaker, given to excessive emotionalism and hyper sentimentalism, working with three young actors, trying to create a spectacle, a lean-back-kind of extravaganza in this age of Netflix and chill at home.
Which side wins may well determine the future course of movie making in Hindi cinema.
How long will we continue to suffer mindless movies by beloved actors, who are living off their past? Sure, they have every right to make money, but must they assume that audiences are silly? That they will spend good money to watch bad movies? They they don't expect good acting, a great story, and wonderful dialogues? That they are like beggars at a king's banquet and are happy to feast off crumbs?
We expect it of Salman Khan now--though occasionally even he surprises us with movies like Dabangg and Bajrangi Bhaijaan.But Shah Rukh Khan, really?
A man who is so obviously intelligent, well read, and super aware?
Why must he thrust down our throats ridiculous dialogues (yeh nacheez, kya hai Pamper Huggies), an irritating Varun Dhawan, a clearly hungry Kajol, and a succession of car crashes?
On the other hand, there is Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who at least is trying to give us something new, even if it is a little reminiscent of Jodhaa Akbar.
There are two gorgeous women - Deepika Padukone is a dancing, fighting, superstar. Priyanka Chopra is both fun and funny as the cuckolded first wife. Then there's Ranveer Singh, who has clearly worked hard on his character of Peshwa Bajirao. The accent is right, the physicality is perfect, the acting is restrained. The battles are designed as ballets, the costumes are brilliant, and the dances are scintillating. So what if the film is not historically accurate?
At least there are notions of a Hindu nationhood, there is talk of religion and love (rang ka koi dharma nahin, dharm ka koi rang nahin) and questions of inclusiveness (hamari ladai aapse hai, aapke dharam se nahin).
In this age of questions about the idea of India, it is good to hear a mainstream movie discussing how there is no distance between Durga and dargah. And not dialogues such as this gem: Woh fast hai to aap furious mat ho.