'Hyderabad Blues' faced 91 cuts from the CBFC and in an event organised in Hyderabad, director Nagesh Kukunoor spoke about making the landmark film.

20 years of Hyderabad Blues Director Nagesh Kukunoor and cast speak about their journeyFacebook/Anoop Ratnaker Rao
Flix Cinema Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 18:32

Nagesh Kukunoor’s Hyderabad Blues completes 20 years since its release this year and yet, young people today probably cannot find a movie that essays their dilemmas and paranoia of living in a post-globalised India any better.

At an event organised at Hyderabad’s Lamakaan to celebrate the remarkable journey of one of India’s first indie movies, Nagesh calls Hyderabad Blues a novice attempt born out of a US returned engineer’s unflinching love for movies.

“When I returned to India in 1996, twice after quitting my job, my parents realised that MBA was not my forte. Hyderabad Blues was produced with all that I had saved from my job in the US. But I am glad that even after two decades, people still recall me as the director of Hyderabad Blues,” Nagesh said.

Shot in 17 days under a budget of 17 lakhs and with a zero star cast delivering dialogues in three different languages, Hyderabad Blues was among the first films to open up the genre of indie cinema in the country. HB was also perhaps the first movie in Telugu that told its audience that having a flawed hero was acceptable and that Indian women too kiss.

“The film went through 91 cuts from the CBFC. Elahe Hiptoola (who plays the role of Seema) and I approached the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. The tribunal had an issue with the kissing scene because apparently ‘no Indian women kiss.’ I am glad the movie passed without the cut, otherwise the film wouldn’t have been the same,” Kukunoor said.

Talking about the scene, Rajashri Nair (who plays the role of Ashwini) said to the amusement of the audience that it was a ‘revenge kiss’ as she had just broken up with her boyfriend. “I was studying in NIFT when Nagesh approached me for the role. I found the kiss part to be adventurous as I had just broken up with my first boyfriend. But after the movie released, I got an earful from my mother who also said that no boy from a respectful family would marry me,” Rajashri chuckled.

Even after two decades, when women gleefully dance to the tunes of 'masala' numbers, clad in chiffon sarees, and drool over egoistic men with anger management issues, Hyderabad Blues is remarkable for the role Ashwini played, with her eloquent lines slamming men who've never heard of the term ‘consent’.

When Varun, played by Nagesh, talks about the couple’s future in the US, Ashwini, wastes no time in putting first things first.

“We? I beg your pardon, we? You haven’t even proposed to me yet. And even if I say yes, you assume I will pack my bags and follow you like a dog?” Ashwini retorts.

Amidst the myriad Romeos and Juliets of 21st century Indian cinema, an Ashwini, who prioritises and asserts her importance over the hero’s dream of a ‘happily married-ever-after’, is still not a welcome change in the world of many Varuns.

Rajashri, with no artificial eyelashes or rose blushed cheeks, embraced her acne and curly hair locks much before Malar Miss (played by Sai Pallavi) in Premam became a rage.

“I had made it a point that none of the characters in my movie will use make-up. I liked them to be real and authentic. On a lighter note, once a journalist even pointed out the pimple that was constantly there on Rajashri’s face throughout the movie,” Nagesh shared.

Nagesh, as Varun, essays the role of an NRI’s struggle to re-adapt himself to a familiar culture, with ease. Varun is a good-humoured young man who, despite his initial resistance to Indian customs about arranged marriages, feels drawn to an attractive young woman doctor.

“Though Varun in the movie staunchly opposes orthodox Indian traditions and tries putting sense into his parents’ minds as to why he does not wish to marry any random woman, the character comes with his own flaws,” Nagesh pointed out.

Like the average Indian man, Varun does not shy away from ogling women and cracking a few sexist jokes with his friends. He also uses his American-return male privilege to score a point in front of the woman he loves. But what makes Varun’s character flawed yet beautiful is his readiness to accept and acknowledge his mistakes.

Varun is not the sort of egoistic man who drags the woman he loves out of classrooms to fulfill his petty fetishes (like a certain Arjun Reddy). But rather, he chooses to wait at the hospital lobby until Ashwini finishes her rounds, to apologise. Varun, like Ashwini subtly puts it in the movie, is truly "shameless", because unlike the average Indian man, he does not punch his fist or sing "soup" songs with his friends after facing rejection from a woman.

 

And unlike the ultra-posh ‘Veeres’ of Bollywood who choose foreign destinations to win the ultimate test of their camaraderie, Hyderabad Blues talk of friendship that comes without any pre-conditions. In fact, Seema (played by Elahe Hiptoola) who is a confidante to Ashwini, is as pretty as the heroine and is shown to be more pragmatic and wittier than Ashwini.

“I was running a boutique when I joined Nagesh as the assistant director for the film. I even managed to rope in Sanjeev and Harish (who play Varun's friends) on board. Later on, I played Seema who was carefully sketched as a woman who ‘chose’ to be a homemaker and not a glorified domestic worker doing the work for free,” Elahe says.

Even though Hyderabad Blues speaks about the cultural dichotomy in two different countries, it does not at any point attempt to glorify Indian traditions over that of the US. While Varun’s lines talk of Americans with equal grace as the Indians, there is no essentially good or bad culture in the film. Unlike the modern day jingoistic flicks that usually have a tirade by the hero on preserving our cultural "sanctity", Hyderabad Blues compels its viewers to only think beyond the futility of certain Indian customs.

The movie, made on a shoestring budget, also does not harp of the struggles of an independent filmmaker in Indian cinema. Rather Nagesh, in an interview to Film Companion, calls Hyderabad Blues a movie born out of passion and camaraderie, without any Godfathers to look up to.

Nagesh still cringes about the climax of the movie, which, he says, was his overreaching attempt to recreate Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.

Hyderabad Blues is perhaps an ode to such fallacies and spontaneity - which is why it remains a class apart from today’s mainstreams films which are made on huge budgets, with big stars and yet fail to achieve the magic that it did.

As a member from the audience said, "It feels really nostalgic to watch the movie after 20 years of its release and trust me, nothing much has changed in Hyderabad, especially parents like Varun's who take their US-returned son around like a trophy."

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