|Great Expectations indeed.
Unfortunately, this is a film full of male assholes being assholes and then whining about how hard it is to succeed in a male-dominated world. DO SHUT UP. It's another instance of the young, relatively privileged male experience being assumed universal and apparently without any acknowledgment of other perspectives (which is how I felt about the otherwise adorable Big Hero 6 too, incidentally). Whether this is realistic to the world the film is portraying or not, it stinks. The women—primary love interest Ruma, side arc love interest Oona—are there just to reflect back men's ambitions, needs, and emotions or prompt men to experience the turmoil and soul-searching required as creative fuel for their own success. Think about it: do women in this film do anything that isn't in service to males? A mutual friend introduces Ruma to Dulal and Mainak, Dulal's mother provides cooking instructions over the phone, the silky-haired heroine in the producer's movie about a tough cop (spoiler-y image from this is at the end of the post), and even the unseen woman heard on a DVD of Last Tango in Paris from Mainak's laptop is in male-scripted sexual ecstasy consumed by men. Ruma, the one notable female character, is a whole person with plans and dreams of her own that don't involve any men at all, but we only see her through the eyes of Dulal. He rifles through her bedroom when she's out. She asks him more questions than he asks her. So boring. Sulemani Keeda is an unfortunate contrast in a year when big-scale films actually did put some thought, creativity, and focus on female roles and actors.
There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to tell a story about males, and as male Twitter users love to remind me every time I bring up this topic, males are people too, so why can't they be representatives of the human experience? I agree that they can, but that argument ignores the reality in which most stories around the world exist and get told. There is something very wrong when men (and privileged members of a dominant culture at that) are assumed to be the default representatives and conveyers of the human experience. Filmi Geek and I were talking about this tendency, and she pointed out that when most of the stories you consume reflect you, it's hard to notice that other people aren't reflected. And of course this one film is only responsible for its own version of the "male experience=only/all experience" problem, not every other film's indulgence in it (though it is certainly contributing to the problematic tradition that films of the future will inherit), but somehow I have snapped. What Sulemani Keeda tells me is that even men whose profession is to create won't imagine a world with human-like women in it.
Granted, Dulal and Mainak are hardly in a position to use their imaginations freely. Despite their pretensions, they are the lowest of the low, groveling to studio office guards and having to feebly ask for money for their work because of course nobody hiring them bothers to offer or explain payment or give them an actual contract (they're even punished for asking). They're in a line of work that is simultaneously attractive and repulsive. When it comes to creativity, they're clearly no better off making either of the options shown in the film (European-inspired "outside the box" or formulaic crap, both for a producer's kid) than the tv writers they disdain.
Observation of the film industry is Sulemani Keeda's strong suit, and it has some assured, funny, and important moments. I want a 20-minute version of this film that is only the guys bumbling through the industry; this part of their lives is much more empathetic and interesting. Some of the depictions of writer life are familiar from various people I have run across online, most notably people who call themselves writers but take every excuse not to do any work (#amwriting) and present themselves in the most slacker-ass ways to people they need to impress. I can easily read Mainak as largely a figure of ridicule. I love how he uses book stores to hit on women without paying any attention to what book he's actually holding and later proudly proclaims that he's a writer, not a reader. The more public scenes of socializing are also familiar (that poor girl and her response to Tagore [oh, she counts as a woman who's just doing her own thing with no need for male reaction! yay!], the appearance of a plaid fedora at the end of the film), and I am so very, very glad that I am too old to have to deal with people in settings like that and I pity the good souls who do.
Despite the anger that burbled over in the beginning of this post, there are other things I really like about Sulemani Keeda. It's interesting to look at, especially the Bombay streets and the inside of the Mainak and Dulal's flat, because of course they have a DVD of Udaan and The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics.
"Sarangi Blues" is lovely and feels genuinely contemplative. The acting is pretty darn great—I really believe all of these people, which is part of what is so frustrating about them—and the cameos by real industry figures are funny and pleasingly random, showing how project relevance is not necessarily a consistent factor in the life of a flailing writer. I even like the bleakness: at least for dudes like Mainak and Dulal, whose actual talents are never really commented on or made clear to us, if you're floundering in The System, you may have to either give in or get out. Like Anupama Chopra says, the letdown here is, ironically, the script.
If you want to see Sulemani Keeda without leaving your house, it's available on Amazon Instant (at least in the US—I'm not sure about other countries). I've just spent some time digging around for legal streaming options, particularly for recent Hindi releases, and I'm pleased to report that I found more than I had expected. Netflix only has a handful of newer things, but there's also Hulu (again, only a few), Amazon Instant, Spuul, Eros Now, and more impressively, iTunes and Google Play. I'm most excited about this last one; combined with it not requiring a subscription and having a longer rental period than iTunes (at least on the films I've compared), I'm choosing it for catching up on several other films that came out in 2014. (Again, I have no idea if these services are available outside the US or what they might offer. It'd be great to form a master list somewhere.)
For fun, a spoiler-y image from a film within the film. Read the credits.