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Bollywood’s ‘Gulaal’ Takes on Indian Politics Before Election

March 25 (Bloomberg) -- It took eight years for Anurag Kashyap to make “Gulaal.” Yet this tale of political intrigue on a campus in northwest India is timely, with general elections scheduled for April and May in the world’s largest democracy.

The film centers on mild-mannered law student Dilip (Raja Chaudhary), humiliated by seniors in a harsh initiation ceremony in a college in Rajasthan. That brings him to the attention of Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon), who’s plotting to revive the erstwhile Rajputana, the kingdom of the Rajputs. Bana persuades Dilip to stand in college elections after his handpicked nominee is murdered.

The well-meaning Dilip wins the rigged poll and is manipulated by those around him, including the rival he beat, Kiran. She seduces him and something snaps in Dilip when she becomes Bana’s lover, leading to a blood-soaked denouement.

While writer-director Kashyap’s take on campus politics isn’t new, he uses the story to make wider political points. Bana stands for the provincial, divisive leader desperate to exploit a sense of grievance and determined to destroy the idea of India: that a billion people of vastly differing characteristics and cultures can find enough common ground to unite around a secular, democratic ideal.

“Gulaal” is rough, rude and brutal. There are some splendid performances, particularly those of Deepak Dobriyal, as Bana’s aide, and Piyush Mishra, who plays Bana’s peace-loving older brother and also scored the music.

Dobriyal melts into the characters he plays. In one scene he is chewing paan (betel leaf), a moment set up so well that conversation would have robbed it of the resonance he brings to his wordless performance.

The movie title refers to the colors used during the Hindu festival of Holi. Still, “Gulaal” has nothing celebratory about it. The movie is about the masking of true intentions by the smearing of a bit of color on the face of things.

Gulaal is produced by Zee Limelight, a unit of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. Rating: ***1/2.

‘Little Zizou’

First-time director and veteran screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala’s “Little Zizou” is also about jumped-up, malevolent and intolerant bigots, of which there seems to be an endless supply.

Taraporevala regularly collaborates with another director, Mira Nair, who she met at Harvard. This time she turns her gaze inward, choosing to look at her own Parsi community, followers of the Zoroastrian faith who fled from Persia and began settling in India about 1,000 years ago.

Some Parsis adhere to “purist” theories of lineage, especially when it comes to women who marry outside the community.

‘Psycho Dad’

A widower, Cyrus II Khodaiji, is one such dogmatist, described by his older son Art as “my psycho dad.” The younger son, Xerxes, spends most of his time being mothered by the neighboring aunty Roxanne, who is married to Boman Pressvala (Boman Irani), a liberal newspaper publisher and enemy of Khodaiji.

Xerxes is an imaginative 11-year-old, dreaming about his dead mother and about the soccer player Zinedine Zidane coming to Bombay (Mumbai), hence his nickname and the film title.

Khodaiji seeks to turn his troop of followers into firm defenders of his values. He also believes the Russians are coming, seeking to gain admittance to the Parsi faith and take over properties held by the community.

Pressvala exposes Khodaiji in his paper, ridiculing his efforts at building up an “army.” As the battle escalates, Khodaiji tries to get Pressvala’s paper shut down.

Taraporevala brings a light touch to “Little Zizou,” using humor and sparkling dialog in scenes that never outstay their welcome.

Irani is the best of a terrific ensemble, with the ability to bring the house down with his one-liners.


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