Experience: The Hathapayi Experience

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Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan!

That was the sentiment that resounded as I sat through the film “Hathapayi – Enter the MMA”. I was taken to the Eastman Color era of Bollywood of yore. When characters were colorful and dialogue delivery was definitive. Electrifying vamps and entertaining villains cavorted across the screen effortlessly as the story unfolded. I looked around at the 1200 strong audience. I was actually lucky to get in past the crowd outside. Despite PM Modi’s visit coinciding at the same time, the police had to come in to control the mob frenzy that ensued at the houseful theatre! But let’s get back to the story.

The Story & Colorful Characters

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As the curtain rose and the film began, the audience in the 1200 strong theatre (which was house full!) began whistling, screaming and cheering! I began to wonder if I’d walked into a Rajnikanth film or an Amitabh Bachchan film from the 80s! The movie began with a song and in that short span of time introduced the charismatic heroine Savvy and her college love affair that blossoms into marriage with the cute and endearing ‘Yahoo’ Aryan. From that hip urban youth atmosphere, the film quickly moves to Aryan’s ancestral home where the multicast nature of the film is revealed with a pot pourri of colourful characters – in all shapes and sizes. The MMA teacher known simply as Guruji, holds sway over the audience as a teacher who stands tall with his principled approach. The Raj family & Nath family both are a colorful lot with the extrovert and aggressive Rajs dominating the demure and gentle Naths. Shaka, Kallu, Teja, Shakira – powerful and potent villains. Yogi, Bholu, Gopal, Aryan, Medhu – heroes who stand up against their villainy. The characters bring their individual charm to the screen with playful banter, snide undertones & over the top throwing of gauntlets. The love affair between Savvy & Aryan would appeal to the college kids, but as a worldly adult, I simply adored the mature love between Guruji & Sam, with it’s multi-hued shades – infatuation, adoration, separation and reconciliation. I’ll admit that ode by Guruji to his lady love Sam brought tears to my eyes. The amazing chemistry between this power couple is palpable and playful as they sparr together to sort out the standoff between the warring clans. They dance deftly through their conflict to the eventual resolution and the end of the story. I was left with a feeling of empowerment, infused with energy and a song on my lips. Did I mention how catchy the tunes were? I’m going to be humming “hoo haa haiya hoosh!” for a long time coming. And if I could meet my childhood bullies again I’d sing “Dum hai tho saamne aa..!”

The Leading Ladies

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Savvy, Sam, Shakira. Each of these powerful women have made waves in story of Hathapayi. Women have traditionally been delegated to support roles in combat, and sidelined by the male heroes of war in history books. Yet they will always shone through whether as Joan of Arc or Jhansi ki Rani. In Hathapayi Enter the MMA, Savvy the leading lady is the hero (intended) of the film. She endures defeat, trains in the arts of combat and returns to redeem her honor and defeat her tormentors and also defending her husband. The film is realistic in it’s depiction of conflict & combat, acknowledging that brute force is overcome by strategy and women are capable of standing on their own. The JKD Teacher Sam, helps the heroine Savvy overcome the superior might and dominance of her opponent by using strategy to take advantage of his weakness. This is a very important lesson for our times, where women often find themselves at odds against greater odds. Every woman out there can derive inspiration and knowledge, that they too can endure, fight back & emerge victorious against overwhelming odds.

Kaleidoscope of Combat

In Hathapayi Enter the MMA, the cinematography and action choreography was unlike any I’ve witnessed before. Real. Raw. Unedited. Single take. Continuous footage. The use of JKD (the art founded by Bruce Lee) strategy is used by the Nath family who are traditional martial artists of Karate, Wing Chun Kung Fu, Judo, Krav Maga and Street Fighting to defeat the Raj family (their oppressors) who are warriors in more modern martial arts – Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Boxing and Filipino Kali. I’ve always grown up watching action films, whether the typical ‘dishoom dishoom’ of Bollywood films, the ‘masta, teach me kungfu’ Asian films or the ‘biff, bang, boom’ of Hollywood fare, but the avant garde action in this film featuring contemporary action without cablework, crashing furniture or stunt doubles had me on the edge of my seat! This kind of reality action is being pioneered by those who modernized the combat for Indian forces and got the rare Presidential rank honor for outstanding contribution to counter terror training.

Technical Team Work

Would you believe it if i told you a team of 12 made this full length feature without any knowledge of camera production or direction? First time actors with no theatre background were taught acting then and there in front of the camera. These actors are surprisingly from all walks of life; CAs, engineers, doctors, CEOs, corporate executives, MBAs et al. The only common ground between them all – they’re all real life BlackBelts! Not only did they act, but they did it in single takes! Sets were created using available furniture from their houses with dramatic scenes worked out on location using sheer ingenuity. The whole shoot was completed in almost two weeks, in two cities. Made with zero budget they just invested in a handycam and a casio sound mixer. Working with a handheld camera, natural light, live audio, spontaneous dialogues, self written (constantly modified) script and shot at home owned locations, they have pulled off a gargantuan effort. It actually gets better – video edits, audio edits, DI, color correction, all completed on a home computer with no special equipment. Microsoft would be happy to know that Windows was the rockbed of the entire effort, while the industry swears by Apple. The color correction was made by human sight and not metering devices, just as the audio equalisation and balance was done by ear. The background sound & music score was composed by the Rao couple themselves. The lyrics were composed by the team during a walk in the park (quite literally) & the songs were sung at a single sitting in a quiet bedroom at their home. This is really guerrilla stuff here! Need I remind you again? All of this done by a team of 12!

Who? Haa Haiya Hoosh..

The unfamiliarity of the actors to the common man makes for this films biggest lacuna. No big name actors. No big banner support. One would certainly hesitate to walk in and spend the next couple of hours with this motley bunch. The lack of big budget spending behind the film could also be a point but none of this detracts from the fun filled experience that is Hathapayi!

Enter the MMA!

Once in a while comes a film that is truly an epic. Hathapayi, I believe has firmly entrenched itself in my mind. It’s inspiring to know that all of this began with a desire to empower women; to stand up and fight back against injustice! This is a cult film in the making – a movie that can be dissected and discussed as an avant garde effort on so many planes.

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