Kuch Bheege Alfaz
You know what's the best pick-up line in town," a radio jockey (RJ) friend, with a pretty large listenership and female following, once asked me. "Go up to someone at a party, and say you're me," he said, quoting his own name. I'll tell you why that won't work, I told him. She'll find out in a second that the said person is not an RJ. For most of the RJs I know are a unique personality type of their known—verbally diarrheic, chirpy to the core, it's impossible to tell when they're on air, and not."
Of course that's not true for all. There are also the very serious, sombre types, with much timbre in their gravely voice. Often on late-night or weekend shows, they tell stories, read poetry, such as the hero in Onir's delightful film, set in Kolkata, that releases this Friday—Kuch Bheege Alfaz, which I first felt was a very wannabe Gulzar sorta title, but obviously it makes sense in the context of the story, where the radio-pseudonym of the lead character (debutant Zain Khan Durrani; couldn't have been better cast) is Alfaz, and he softly spins words in Urdu to express mainly melancholic love through 'dard-bhari' stories, and shayari.
Geetanjali Thapa and Zain Khan Durrani in stills from Kuch Bheege Alfaz
What kinda audience would lap this up? Millennials, as it turns out, or at least the young girl in the film (the charming Gitanjali Thapa). What does she do a living? Make memes. "If there are so many memes circulating on the Internet, surely there must be someone making a whole lot of them in the first place," says a very sorted, first-time screenwriter Abhishek Chatterjee, on how he really came up with the film's central idea, which he adds was basically inspired by writer-journalist Neelesh Misra's popular radio show, and the fact that he wanted to make a film on a girl who suffers from leukoderma, a skin disease that leads to white patches all over the body, including the face, as is the case with the girl in the film.
But, no, this isn't a film on leukoderma. In the same way that I thought Onir's splendid debut My Brother Nikhil (2005) wasn't simply a film on homosexuality. No one is full-time gay or straight, or someone with a skin ailment for their whole life, to be defined by it—a common flaw among several 'issue-based' movies, as it were. Responding to the world we live in (like any good film must), Kuch Bheege Alfaz in fact is as much a love story in the times of WhatsApp pings, and Tinder swipes, that the lead character is somewhat addicted to—only swiping right to profiles on Tinder that don't have a display picture on them. I often wondered, who does that? Well she does, self-conscious as she is of how her millennial Tinder dates could react to the loss of melanin on her face.
Surely, a world obsessed with selfies would eventually produce a generation that is equally under-confident about the way they look in general. Is it hard to stay away from it all? The shayar in the film does a fine job of it. I guess in the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes. Has technology redefined modern love? I don't think the film argues that, for love in any form is still love, and the heart pounds the same way if you're lucky enough to be with someone special, or at least get your oxytocin moving, listening to immortal songs like 'Lag jaa gale' (from the black and white, Woh Kaun Thi?), or 'Pehla nasha' (the more recent, cult-classic, Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander). Both tracks feature in this film, produced by the music label HMV Saregama.
Here's what technology has changed for good though, and not necessarily for the better: Movies, chiefly by scooping film out of cinema altogether. Looking at Kuch Bheege Alfaz, I couldn't help but wonder if it would work the same way if I'd seen it on my laptop. Most movies, shot in digital, playing in theatres, anyway seem like television on the 70 mm screen.
It still boils down to the story though. What I loved most about Kuch Bheege Alfaz is in fact the way I watched it. How early a producer is willing to share their film with the press is directly proportional to how confident they feel about its content. It's a thumb rule. A full week before its big-ticket theatrical release, Kuch Bheege Alfaz premiered before a non-paying public at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in South Mumbai, free for anyone to walk in, grab a seat, and check it out. Given the ecstatic response, the confidence on the part of the producers, evidently, wasn't misplaced.
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to email@example.com