Direction: Madhur Bhandarkar
Actors: Akanksha Puri, Avani Modi, Kyra Dutt, Ruhi Singh, Satarupa Pyne
Every Madhur Bhandarkar film feels the same - it’s the same storyline, the same plot points. The only things that change are the industry and the characters’ names.
Bhandarkar’s latest, Calendar Girls, is exactly like Page 3 (2005), Corporate (2006), Fashion (2008) and Heroine (2012).
A woman from a middle-class background is given the opportunity of a lifetime in a glittering industry, chases her dreams, faces cut-throat competition, realises the dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, gets embroiled in the seamier side of things, and is eventually consumed by the darkness around her.
She also gets to have a conversation with a cartoonish homosexual.
This time there are five women descending into the dark - Nandita (Akanksha Puri) from Hyderabad; Nazneen (Avani Modi), a Pakistani from London; Sharon (Kyra Dutt) from Goa; Mayuri (Ruhi Singh) from Rohtak; and Paroma (Satarupa Pyne) from Kolkata. They have all been picked for a Sports Illustrated-style calendar.
Each goes through the five stages of being a Bhandarkar heroine: excitement, glamour, drama, betrayal and loss.
One ends up in a prostitution ring, another marries a philanderer, a third becomes part of a cricket betting racket, and so on. It feels like 2005 all over again.
You want to track the man down and wail: Are you every going to tell us a different story, Mr Bhandarkar. Because I’d like to know now. Before I see the same story a sixth time.
Meanwhile, Calendar Girls takes on a sleazy air as it turns into a skin flick masquerading as social statement. No acting prowess is demanded of the women; instead, they’re put on display in tiny dresses and voyeuristic scenes.
There’s one sequence in which a series of lecherous men exploits the nubile young girls; the lack of subtlety is unsettling and the poor direction makes it unintentionally funny, so you end up laughing helplessly as the tacky melodrama unfolds on the screen.
The performances are universally awful, partly because the characters are mere caricature.
Meeta Vashisht is particularly dreadful as the ringleader of a high-profile escort service, widening her eyes and trying to be clandestine. Nazneen’s Pakistani ex-boyfriend sneers and spews anti-India rhetoric like a baddie from the ‘80s.
Bhandarkar shows up in a cameo, playing himself. One of the girls cozies up to him and speaks for five whole minutes about what a great, bold, realistic filmmaker he is. It’s even ickier than the sleazy smut scenes. You want to track him down again and say, Come on, Mr B! Anyone can do better than this.