In October, Varun Dhawan cements his credibility as a performer; it’s a role devoid of filmi

The compliment ‘career-best performance’ gets tossed around so much that it’s in danger of losing it’s meaning. But Varun Dhawan’s performance as the disinterested and surly understudy Danish ‘Dan’ Walia in Shoojit Sircar’s exquisite October is a career-defining work. Decades from now, when Varun’s movie career is being written about, this outing will definitely find a mention.

By now, Varun has already proved that he is a consummate Bollywood hero. There is no doubt that he can dance up a storm; take off his shirt and make girls swoon; beat up baddies, and indulge in tomfoolery to deliver laughs. Commercial successes like ABCD, Dhishoom, Judwaa 2 and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania have meant that his six years in the business has been smooth sailing.

In a bid to expand his repertoire, he first dipped his toe into the off-center film pool with Sriram Raghavan’s twisted revenge thriller, Badlapur. Having only played versions of the easy-breezy ‘hero’ until this point, Varun made everyone sit up with his performance as Raghu, the everyman-turned-vigilante, opposite the always-fantastic Nawazuddin Siddiqui. As the character ages, the transformation is not merely physical. Varun imbued the older Raghu with melancholy and sadness without losing the rage in his eyes. Although Badlapur had a mixed critical reception due to a weak final act, it was universally regarded as a win for Varun.

Varun Dhawan/Image from Twitter.

If Badlapur was a step in the right direction, his latest release October cements his credibility as a performer. When we first meet Dan, he is a disinterested, faceless hotel employee changing sheets, polishing silver and killing mosquitoes. He lives life on autopilot. He hates what he does but does it nevertheless because he has no other choice. He is a confusing mix of insolence and earnestness. When Dan slips up, his boss tells him to be more like Shiuli, a fellow trainee who he barely knows. Unlike Dan, she is the perfect employee – hardworking and focused. A freak accident renders her comatose and inextricably links their futures.

This is a story of love and loss that takes it’s time unfolding. Working from a script by Juhi Chaturvedi, a longtime collaborator of Shoojit, October is the kind of film you won’t be able to stop thinking about for a long time. Big shout-out also to Shantanu Moitra’s unflashy score and Avik Mukhopadhayay’s evocative cinematography. But it’s a never-better Varun, in a role that’s completely stripped of all filmi affectations, who gives the film a center of gravity.

Hunched over and shuffling, Dan is the most ‘regular’ character the actor has played till date. He is so ordinary that he goes unnoticed as he waits tables, chops vegetables and replenishes toiletries. There is a stillness in how Varun plays Dan that makes his outing as Raghu in Badlapur seem flashy. His coming of age is just as undramatic. There is no explanation for why Dan is overwhelmed by Shiuli’s accident and why he can’t tear himself away from her.

Even as her family rallies around, trying to make sense of the tragedy, Dan is just always around. Somewhere in the background, he is always present. One of the unwritten rules of being a Bollywood hero is to never get lost in the background. That Varun not only picked a character so understated this early in his career, but also delivered in spades is a reason to celebrate.

October box office collection: Varun Dhawan-starrer records substantial growth on day two, mints Rs 7 crore

Varun Dhawan’s October, which is also being touted as his best performance so far, had a slow opening. However, Shoojit Sircar’s film exhibited immense growth on the second day of its release. While on the first day, the film had made Rs 5.04 crore, it recorded a growth of 48.21 per cent and minted Rs 7.47 crore, according to trade analysts.

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Analysts have linked the drastic growth of the movie at box office to increasing interest in metropolitan cities. Predictions about the film’s stability at the box office in the coming week have also been made.

Also starring Banita Sandhu, October is bittersweet tale of attachment. Dhawan and Sandhu play hotel management trainees in the film and work at the same hotel together. However, things take a drastic turn when Sandhu Shiuli meets with a horrific accident and is left in coma. The incident hits Dhawan’s Dan hard and he finds himself deeply attached to a wheelchair-confined Shiuli. The good-hearted Dan also finds himself perturbed about the fact that the people around are not as affected by Shiuli’s condition as he is.

The film was released on 13 April.

John Abraham reportedly opts out of espionage spy-thriller Romeo Akbar Walter; will film be shelved indefinitely?

Romeo Akbar Walter has been facing troubles ever since it was first announced. Sushant Singh Rajput was supposed to play the lead in the spy-thriller movie, but later opted out citing prior commitments as the reason. It was later announced that John Abraham will be playing the lead in Romeo Akbar Walter; the actor himself made an official announcement on his official Twitter channel.

But now, according to a report in DNA, John Abraham has also pulled out of the project. DNA quoted a source as saying, “John allegedly felt RAW’s storyline is similar to that of Alia Bhatt’s Raazi. When he watched the trailer of Meghna Gulzar’s film, which released a few days ago, he was convinced about it. It’s just that RAW is from a man’s perspective.” Raazi is the tale of an Indian woman who is married off to a Pakistani boy who hails from a family of army-men. The woman’s father asks his daughter to be the “eyes and ears of India” in the neighboring country.

John Abraham/Image from Twitter.

A different source is quoted saying that John Abraham’s movie is also about an Indian spy who joins the Pakistani armed forces to relay information to the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW). Even though the team wanted to alter the script a bit, the actor wasn’t convinced as the main storyline would still be the same. Hence, the source adds, John politely asked the makers to move on.

DNA quotes another source who provides a different story. According to the source, the movie’s rough budget without publicity and promotion came up to Rs 40-45 crore which is a big figure to recover with John in the lead. With John signing the deal for Rs 11 crore as his remuneration, the makers scrapped the idea for now. If they plan to make RAW sometime in the future, they will do it with a bigger star who can ensure a good return.

Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Sonakshi Sinha take the stage at the Da-Bangg tour in Pune

Salman Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Maniesh Paul perform onstage at the Da-bangg Tour in Pune. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Daisy Shah, Salman Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Maniesh Paul during the Da-Bangg tour. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Salman Khan performs onstage with Daisy Shah at the Da-Bangg Tour. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Katrina Kaif dances onstage at the Da-Bangg Tour. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Salman Khan performs with Katrina Kaif. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Salman Khan performs with Sonakshi Sinha. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Sonakshi Sinha performs during the Da-Bangg Tour. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Salman Khan during the Da-Bangg Tour. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Katrina Kaif performing onstage in Pune. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Daisy Shah performs onstage. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

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Maniesh Paul performs at the Da-Bangg Tour. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan speaks out about #MeToo; says it shouldn’t be restricted to one part of the world

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, finally spoke about the #MeToo movement that swept across Hollywood last year.

According to a report by Zee News, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who was recently in Sydney for work commitments, said, “A movement, such as the #MeToo movement, has brought out a lot of conversation and sharing. The good thing is that people are talking. I don’t think this (subject) needs to restrict itself to one part of the world. That is definitely positive, which has come about with this entire subject.”

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan/Image from Twitter.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan added more by saying, “If a woman feels compromised and she feels the need to share an experience that has completely challenged her sense of being, it is amazing that she comes out, speaks forth about it, and takes the people to task. This idea does not limit itself to show business or the film industry. It is people discussing it from all walks of life.”

The #MeToo movement went viral last year after Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal came out in the open. The hashtag was used to spread awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan will soon be seen in Fanney Khan, which also stars Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao. The actress is also rumoured to be starring in Woh Kaun Thi remake opposite Shahid Kapoor.

Padmaavat crosses Rs 300 cr at box office; Ranveer Singh says artistes must stand by their vision

Ranveer Singh is overwhelmed that with Padmaavat, he has entered the club of actors whose movies have minted over Rs 300 crore at the box office. He says it’s a “historic” project that will “glow” in his career.

Ranveer Singh in a still from Padmaavat. Twitter@Film_Padmaavat

The actor essayed Alauddin Khilji in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali directorial, which also stars Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor in pivotal roles.

Ranveer said in a statement: “Padmaavat is a historic film for our country. I’m overwhelmed and extremely happy that the film has received this much love from audiences not just in India, but also the world over.

“It is a film that is and will always be extremely close to my heart and with it becoming my first ever Rs 300 crore film, the memory of Padmaavat will be that much more special.”

He thanked Bhansali for his vision, and for giving him a character like Khilji that “will forever glow in my body of work”.

“This success is for all of us to cherish and remember that as artistes, we need to stand by our vision, our craft,” said Ranveer of the movie, which was released on 25 January after much controversy.

Just earlier this week, the movie crossed 50 days since hitting the screens, and it’s still counting at the box office.

With Hichki, I’d like to tell the world about the kind of brave films India is churning out, says Rani Mukerji

(This is part one of an extensive, candid and absorbing interview with Rani Mukerji. There’s lots to catch up on with the talented actor, who returns to the big screen after a short sabbatical with YRF’s Hichki on 23 March. Stay tuned for part two, out on 20 March)

After a hectic day, Rani Mukerji is scrambling for a quiet corner to sit in peace and have lunch, which has gotten delayed by couple of hours. Finally, she picks a make-up room at Yashraj studios and opens her tiny tiffin box. Rani seems to have found that perfect work-home balance and she seems to enjoy motherhood as well. Nothing gives her more happiness than spending time with her two-year-old daughter, Adira.

“I just want to finish work and rush home. Adira is waiting. I usually take advantage of the afternoon slot because she sleeps at that time but today I’m a bit late. I used to go for my shoot early morning and get back home around lunch so that she didn’t miss me much. Now I have started telling her that I am going for shooting,” says Rani, who’s busy promoting her upcoming film, Hichki.

Rani Mukerji in a still from Hichki. YouTube

She continues, “Yesterday when I returned home, Adira asked me, ‘Mama aap shooting par gaye the? Makeup nikaal diya? (Did you go for your shoot? Have you removed your makeup?) Both, Adira and her father are happy to see me without make-up. The first thing Aditya (Chopra) says when I reach home is, ‘go remove your make up’. But it is wonderful to see Adira grow,” she smiles warmly.

Rani has done 43 films in her 21-year-old illustrious career, and is undoubtedly one of those rare actors who has adapted well to the sensibilities of changing times; she’s an inventive actor, and it shows. Known as one of the earliest in contemporary times to transform into a superstar, Rani returns to the big screen after a hiatus of three-years. She was last seen in Mardaani (2014).

“What’s most important for an actor is to innovate. The day innovation dies, the actor dies. If you don’t come up with new ideas for your audience, your fans, you will lose them. It is important for me at each stage to understand how I should be portraying this role, how can I make it look contemporary,” she says, adding, “Also, my husband is a producer-director so even if I don’t want to, I am in touch with current styles and my work as an actor keeps on evolving,” she says.

So naturally, we have to ask her. Will one now see her on the silver screen more often? “I am actually hopeful that I won’t be taking such a long break any time soon because I have no other reason to take a break,” she says. But who among the younger lot could take her legacy forward? Rani, without batting an eye-lid, says with a laugh, “No one, because I would like to believe that there should be no one like me.”

Rani Mukerji in a still from Hichki. YouTube

However, Rani admits that she was extremely nervous on the first day of her shoot for Hichki. “I was very scared because I was leaving Adira for the first time, she had not spent even one day without me. Also, I was wondering whether I would be able to act or not as I was facing the camera after two years. I wondered if I still have it in me. But on sets, it came naturally to me and I realised that I am meant to be here,” she says.

After Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (1997), a social drama which marked her Hindi film debut, Rani’s career took a giant leap with Vikram Bhatt’s Ghulam (1998) opposite Aamir Khan followed by Karan Johar’s directorial debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. KKHH cemented her stardom and the rest as they say, is history. Rani stood apart from the rest with box office hits and critical acclaim, with films like Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram, Shaad Ali’s Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli, Aziz Mirza’s Chalte Chalte, Mani Ratnam’s Yuva, Kunal Kohli’s Hum Tum, Yash Chopra’s Veer Zaara, and of course, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s much acclaimed, Black.

And even as these films brought her accolades and awards, Rani continued to woo her audience with her performance the in biographical thriller, No One Killed Jessica (2011), Talaash (2012) and crime thriller Mardaani (2014) in the recent past. Hichki is inspired by the real-life success story of Brad Cohen, an American motivational speaker, teacher and author who has severe Tourette syndrome. Hichki is an adaptation of Cohen’s Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. The film portrays Rani as Naina Mathur, an aspiring teacher suffering from Tourette.

Looking back at her career, she says, “I started when I was 16 and next month I will turn 40. I have grown in this industry. It has taught me a lot with many ups and downs. Also, my choice of films changed with each phase whether it was my early teen days, or early 20s, late 20s, early 30s and late 30s. Each time I chose a role, it has always connected me at that point in my life. Hichki is a very special film that connected with my soul, and [through it] I would like to tell the world [of] the kind of brave films India is churning. It’s a very special film about overcoming one’s weakness and turning them into strength. It also talks about the education system in our country and the discrimination that people face from society.”

When asked which film was more challenging for her as an actor — Black (she played a visually and hearing-impaired woman) or Hichki, Rani says, “Both were challenging. When you play a sensitive character you have to keep in mind the sensitivity of people who have the syndrome. My whole concern with my character in Hichki is that it can become comical. Lot of people laugh and make fun of those suffering from Tourette. It has to be done in a sensitive and real way. When people see Naina, even if they begin by laughing wondering what noise is that, they will change and feel empathetic towards her. There is a lot of complexities that come with playing a role like that.”

Motherhood has made her more sensitive to her surroundings, says Rani. “There is a different kind of passion, different kind of love you feel after being a mother, which you can translate into your work,” she says.

Behind-the-scenes of a song shoot for Hichki. Photo by: Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

Post Hichki, Rani will be seen in a cameo in Aanand L Rai’s, Zero starring Shah Rukh Khan. When asked if Aditya Chopra will ever direct her, and she shoots back, “Tell Aditya to direct me. Actually I would love to ask this question to him personally. But I’m sure he is the kind of director who chooses his actors according to the script. Whenever he feels that a script or character would be suitable to me, I am sure he will ask me but probably that day might not happen because we are too close and connected to be able to work together.”

While Rani will not be celebrating her 40th birthday (21 March) this year because of “too many loses” — referring to the demise of her father and veteran actress, Sridevi, she feels that it’s an amazing age to step into. “When we were young we used to feel that life is over at 40 but today life starts at 40 especially for me because I have just given birth to my daughter. My life has just begun. Also, my new career has begun and I feel like a newcomer. I am raring to go,” she says and gets back to enjoying her favourite macher jhol.

Rizwan Siddiquee has been made scapegoat to protect Nawazuddin and his brother, claims lawyer

It was earlier reported that the Crime Branch of Thane police arrested Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s lawyer Rizwan Siddiquee for illegally obtaining call detail records (CDR) from private detectives.

After the arrest, Rizwan Siddiquee was produced in a Thane court on Saturday, 17 March. The lawyer is suspected of having illegally obtained Call Detail Records (CDR) of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s wife through private detectives.

Now, according to a report in MiD DAY, there is a suspicion that he may have got CDRs of more people.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui/image from Twitter.

Rizwan Siddiquee was arrested on Friday (16 March) in the CDR racket case. The case was unearthed in January by the Thane crime branch. The police has seized the laptop and mobile phone belonging to Rizwan Siddiquee and has claimed that the lawyer had deleted all data from both devices.

Rizwan Siddiquee’s advocate, Rizwan Merchant, said that his client was illegally detained by the police.

“Rizwan Siddiquee has been made a scapegoat to protect Nawazuddin and his brother,” said Merchant. He also said that a big officer was trying to protect the actor and that the officer’s name would be revealed very soon.

In the meantime, the court has sent Rizwan Siddiqui to police custody till 23 March.

Diljit Dosanjh on picking projects in Hindi films: ‘Unlike in Punjab, I’m not in a position to choose roles in Bollywood’

A few years ago people would wonder whether a turbaned sikh guy could be a mainstream Bollywood hero but Diljit Dosanjh has put those doubts to rest. Not only is the singer-actor having back to back releases in Bollywood but is also being cast opposite A-list heroines. After making a promising debut and an earnest performance in Udta Punjab opposite Kareena Kapoor, he was seen with Anushka Sharma in Phillauri. In his upcoming release, Welcome To New York, he will be seen with Sonakshi Sinha and then with Taapsee Pannu in Soorma, a biopic on hockey player Sandeep Singh, which will hit the theatres in June. He is currently shooting with Kriti Sanon for Arjun Patiala.

Diljit Dosanjh. Image from Twitter/@diljitdosanjh

Naturally, Diljit’s confidence has taken a boost. In his initial days, he would have probably wondered in self doubt when asked if there was a limitation to the kind of roles offered to him, but today he confidently states in a mix of Hindi and Punjabi, “Isn’t there a turbanator in every field? Sikhs are there in Navy, Army, the police force…there is no profession left where there is no sikh. So how can I have any such limitations?”

He further adds, “In the beginning when I started with music in Punjab and was keen on acting as well, people would dismiss me saying it wasn’t possible as no sikh had ever been seen as a Punjabi film hero and that I should be restricted to music. My first Punjabi film didn’t but I slowly started delivering hits, some of which even became top grossers. (Diljit has been appreciated for his versatile performances in Punjabi films like the Jatt & Juliet series, Punjab 1984 and Ambarsariya). Later, people said that I won’t be successful in Bollywood because I wear a turban, but my turban helped me get films here.”

Not easily accessible and also considered media-shy, Firstpost tracks him down on the sets of the singing reality show, Rising Star, where the jovial and happy go lucky jatt is the centre of attention. He is in the midst of young singers and some big names from the music industry – Shankar Mahadevan and Monali Thakur. Sporting a shiny yellow jacket and black turban, Diljit seems to be enjoying every bit of it. “I am enjoying both, acting as well as singing, I just wanted to do some good work which I am doing, let’s see where my life takes me. I enjoy each day of my life. Sometimes I have my mood swings but I still try to maintain a balance,” says the singing star, who candidly talks about his upcoming stage-show reality film, Welcome To New York which is based on an award show. “There are so many actors in it, and I, too, have a small part. But if you ask me the experience of doing the film, I really didn’t understand anything. I don’t know how they shot the film in so much chaos. I have no idea. It was difficult to shoot but I kept taking orders from the director and went on doing what I was told,” he laughs.

Known for his rustic charm and simplicity, Diljit might have a lot in the pipeline, but he isn’t someone who would succumb to stereotypes. He wants to do roles that are integral to the story. “I won’t do as many films now. It is just that I had lesser commitments and hence I can be seen in so many films. Last year I refused three to four films. If I don’t like anything I say no to it. Even in Punjab, I did just one film a year and I will follow the same in Bollywood provided I am offered one. I am in no hurry, no greed, as I am getting more than what I am capable of. I would like to use the remaining time on my singing and churn out more Punjabi films for my fans. I also have fans in the US, UK, Canada and I would like to continue doing stage shows for them. Whatever I have to say from my heart, I do it through Punjabi music,” he says without displaying an ounce of stardom.

“I enjoy making music more because there are no limitations as compared to movies. You have a team with who you gel and make music. But the film is not under your control. You listen to the story and script but what finally comes on the canvas could be different, whereas in music you can reject your own composition if you don’t like it and try something different. But films are huge projects; a lot of money is invested and directors have their own point of view,” he adds.

Secondly, Diljit says, he finds more freedom in the choice of movies back home. “I am not in a position to choose roles right now in Bollywood but in Punjabi films I have that choice. Producers are friends there but in Bollywood whatever is being offered I am taking up. My upcoming Punjabi film, Rangroot is on World War I which was something I was passionate about,” he says.

Considering the fact that Diljit never played any sport earlier in his life, one would expect the Shaad Ali-directed Soorma to be one of his most challenging roles of that of a hockey champion. Diljit says jokingly, “When I was a kid, I didn’t get the opportunity to play much sports as my parents would tell me to study. And now when I am getting paid to play so why not? (laughs) But I didn’t face any difficulty while shooting for Soorma. I didn’t have to do much training in the sport, I just had to play the game. I am very happy that in the second year of my acting career in Bollywood I got to do a biopic. Actually, I don’t find my work difficult. Just that when I am acting, I try to feel for the character I’m portraying but every take of mine tends to be different. I don’t treat myself as an actor who has a process, I perform with instinct.”

And even as Bollywood is showering love on him, Diljit prefers to meet people only for work as he doesn’t like “bothering people unnecessarily”. “I don’t stay in touch with industry folks much. I am here only to work. I never got work because of networking or meeting producers in parties. I don’t believe in PR,” signs off the endearing star.

Kangana Ranaut, Bipasha Basu accuse Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali Gems of non-payment of dues, breach of contract

Kangana Ranaut and Bipasha Basu have accused Gitanjali Gems, founded by Mehul Choksi (Nirav Modi’s — recently accused in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam — relative), of breach of contract and non-payment of dues.

Kangana Ranaut-Bipasha Basu. Images from Twitter.