Panning Shots

Coming together over Bollywood’s blunders

Dharmendra withstands an onslaught of kisses from Rajendra Kumar in Ayee Milan ki Bela. {{name}}
01 November, 2015

On a rainy evening in October, 700 people turned up at an auditorium in a quiet part of Bandra, Mumbai, for a screening of curiously chosen Hindi film clips. The screenwriter Kiran Kotrial, who had organised the show, took the stage at 8.30 to offer a word of advice to his viewers: “Please don’t behave yourselves. Let this evening be like a noon show of a Salman film at Gaiety.” Kotrial needn’t have bothered. The rain had not dampened the enthusiasm of the crowd—good-looking hipsters in wispy white dresses, television actors wearing static expressions, and Puneet Issar.

The event was called Timepass Talkies and featured a collection of technical gaffes, continuity glitches and funny moments, culled by Kotrial from Bollywood films. In one clip, a villain’s pet tiger lets out a bark instead of a roar. In another, a background dancer makes faces every time Shammi Kapoor passes her. In several sequences, a heroine’s hair interferes with an intimate moment, once it even snakes up a hero’s nostril.

This was the first time that Kotrial, who wrote the screenplays for films such as Bodyguard and Kambakkht Ishq, organised Timepass Talkies as a ticketed event. Prior to this, it was an invitation-only, underground affair, funded by Kotrial and his friends, who would rent out a small screening space to watch films that he had picked out. Over the last 11 years, they put together 14 such soirées, at first drawing friends and industry-wallahs, and later, other regular enthusiasts. Early on, the event was held every six months, but its frequency soon tapered to once a year. Over time, Kotrial’s cache of film material has grown, although a lot of the show remains the same.

Before every clip, he briefed the audience with a short comment on it. In some cases, such as a song from 1957’s Pyaasa, where a hand sneaks in from behind a curtain to rock a chair, a brief instruction to look to the left or the right of the frame was enough. I’ve watched Pyaasa 12 times, and each viewing has revealed a new facet of the film. Kotrial’s clip of the film, brief as it was, did not disappoint either.

Once some short videos had set the tone, the scenes grew longer and more ludicrous. Kotrial played that oft-YouTubed favourite of house parties, a scene from Clerk, where Ashok Kumar recovers from a heart attack with medical intervention from a patriotic song.

A stealthy hand in Pyaasa reaches from out of frame to rock a chair. {{name}}

But the show really took off when Kotrial began to uncover connections between films, a seemingly effortless exercise that belied the hours of work that this must have demanded. He pointed out a junior artist who makes a fleeting appearance in a minor scene in the blockbuster Amar Akbar Anthony. Minutes later, we saw the same actor in the background of a song from Dosti, 13 years prior. Next was a series of sequences from Rajendra Kumar films, which Kotrial used to illustrate how intensely the star inhabited his roles—often at the expense of his co-actors, who bore the brunt of his on-screen affections and animosity. In a clip from Ayee Milan Ki Bela, Dharmendra’s discomfort is writ large on his face as he receives an onslaught of friendly kisses from Kumar.

Had I been watching the clips on my own, I might, at best, have been amused. At worst, I might have missed the gaffes and special moments. Our popular culture has inured us to far more bizarre things. It was Kotrial’s benign affection, as he called out these scenes, that really stood out to the crowd—which, like me, appeared to consist of people with a love-hate relationship with Bollywood. The loudest screams that evening emanated from my neighbour, who had now seen the show four times, each time in the company of new friends. “I’d told Kiran so many times that he should open this up to a wider audience,” she said.

The screenwriter Kiran Kotrial has organised 14 shows of Timepass Talkies since 2004. PRAKASH VADEKAR

Kotrial later told me over the phone from Lonavala, where he is shooting for the upcoming season of Bigg Boss, that his work commitments had prevented him from turning Timepass Talkies into a public event earlier. “It was around 2004 that I was watching a movie alone”—he won’t disclose which one— “and falling off the chair looking at the glitches.” Later that year, he, along with his friends—the actor Jimmy Moses and the musician Kedar Bhagat—hired a rehearsal hall in Oshiwara and invited about 60 people, including the comedians Sunil Pal and Raju Srivastava. “By interval, we had to add 70 more chairs because people heard about the screening and just turned up.”

At subsequent shows, other actors began to attend: Sachin Pilgaonkar one year, Riteish Deshmukh and Genelia D’Souza another. “Akshay Kumar keeps asking me if I’ve screened his film,” said Kotrial. “So has Sonu Nigam. Abbas-Mustan have given me material from their own movies! One year, Bali Brahmbhatt came up on stage and apologised for one of his films.”

In an industry infamous for fragile egos, the show’s popularity is refreshing. According to Kotrial, that popularity is possibly because the commentary he offers is only gently irreverent. “Some of these people are legendary,” he said. “It is all very sporting, but I couldn’t bear to tear into their films. I wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep.”

Karanjeet Kaur is the former deputy editor of National Geographic Magazine (India). She writes on art, culture and travel, and has reported for Mint Lounge, Time Out, Yahoo! India, Art India and Mail Today in the past. She tweets as @kaju_katri.