Milan Talkies Review: Tigmanshu Dhulia's film insults movie nostalgia
This small-town romance is muddled and stretched, and wastes some great cameos
Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang’s 2003 film, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, remains, for me, the greatest love letter to single-screen theatres. Magically alive with aching humour, the film is deemed an arthouse masterpiece, and a classic of the slow cinema movement. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s new film, Milan Talkies — centred around an Allahabad movie theatre — is excruciatingly slow, and no cinema at all. Sentimentality of this kind, I suspect, is better off dead. I went in sniffing for nostalgia and came out battered with boredom.
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Cast: Ali Fazal, Shraddha Srinath, Sanjay Mishra
Tigmanshu’s filmmaking apes the stickiness of wedding videography: scattered half-thoughts spliced together in a disjointed fashion, with no voice. The director appears smug about his nose for texture. Characters speak as though holding back spittle, scurrying through streets on rickshaws and bikes. A Brahmin patriarch calls movie people ‘paapi log’, and an anti-Romeo squad castrates lovers with blades.
But realism of late has become a running joke in Tigmanshu’s movies. So smitten is the man by filmy homage — of the most unimaginative, unloving kind — that his fidelity to craft has all but vanished. No wonder then that he turns up in floral shirts as the hero’s father, indulging his son with the same pertness as he indulges himself.
Still, as a veteran, Tigmanshu commands obedience. Ali Fazal is admirably committed as the film’s self-aware lead, happy to extend his UP homecoming from Mirzapur. Ali plays Annu Sharma, an Allahabad University jock running a cheating scam, reminiscent of the gags in Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. He is also an aspiring film director, and shoots low-budget features with his three best friends. These films are played at the local Milan Talkies theatre, where Sanjay Mishra is a projectionist.
Vikram Vedha’s Shraddha Srinath debuts in Hindi with Milan Talkies. The actor is plainly unremarkable as Maithili, the girl who catches Annu’s fancy. Shraddha’s discomfort with the language is amplified by the accented lines; her reading recalls a poorer version of Sonakshi Sinha’s from Lootera, with the same pained chewing up of words. Nonetheless, she manages to steal one scene: where she pledges to Annu to keep their relationship sexually spiced, and not be neutered by routine. “Hum baat bhi karenge, aur gandi baat bhi,” she teases, lending much needed arousal to a script beset with erectile dysfunction.
Milan Talkies is a long, laborious film with no sense of direction. It wastes some great cameos — from Ashutosh Rana to Sikandhar Kher — and is too muddled and stretched in its telling. As is routine for Bollywood pastiches, a Holi dance number crops up near the end. It’s a scene in a film that Annu is directing, but instead of the onscreen actors, we see him and Maithili as the performing pair. That also sums up, sadly, the fate of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s recent works. Like his hero, he is a director who would rather act.