Paris is Burning Review

PIB.jpgDirector: Jennie Livingston

Starring – Dorian Corey, Pepper Labeija, Willi Ninja, Octavia St. Laurent

Rupaul’s Drag Race may be among the top binge-watching television series for many LGBTQ individuals. Its highlights are plenty. The stunning runway walks that feature exotic & daring costumes. The spectacular ‘lip-sync for your life’ decider rounds. The backstage gossip, and the shade (explained in Paris is Burning by Drag veteran Dorian Corey as ‘when a queen doesn’t have to say you are terrible because you already know it yourself!’). The savage commentary, especially by comedy queens Bianca Del Rio and Darienne Lake. The over-the-top weekly challenges that no producer on any other programme on American television may air. And the standout candid moments that counterbalance the entire spectacle with a humane touch.
The show resembles a gaudy elaborately decked Christmas tree decorated

Season 6 of Rupaul Drag Race

with anything and everything available at bargained prices (most of the show’s drag queens can’t pay for originals, one exception being Alyssa Edwards and her $3000 wig). Kudos to the mega-successful Rupaul, an African American drag mother still killing it her stilettos as she hits fifty, for pulling her show for eight consecutive seasons, including introducing various spin-offs along the way. And props to each of the drag contestants who’ve brought a much needed variety to identity. We find parts of ourselves – the diva persona, the bubbly face, the goofy self – in the broad spectrum of characters they so explicitly present to us.
Even with all this praise, I cannot turn a blind eye to the show’s shortcomings. These queens are often encouraged to be critical and snaky (to generate ratings, like on most reality shows). Sometimes the judges’ feedback tends to get brutal, especially as it targets the person’s appearance. For a show which at root is about ‘the acceptance of every size and shape’, the focus on pageantry often kills the cause. And finally, what’s often shrug under the carpet is the marginalized presence of African American drag queens in the race. Even in Season 6, it was sadly evident that a competent Trinity K Bonet would invariably be the last in the pecking order.
Paris is Burning shows that one of the cornerstones in drag history drags back to the ball culture in the 80s, mainly shaped by African American and Latino trans and gay communities. The documentary, made by Jennie Livingston was filmed in the late 80s and found (to many people’s surprise) a successful release in American theatres. And the various ramp walks, taking place in dinghy & cramped quarters than on expensive stages we now see on Rupaul’s show, evince a majority of African American and other minorities. This is evidently a stark contrast from the professional runways, magazines and movies back then, which gave even less opportunities for black people in media except in secondary/minor roles.
Each of the drag queens of colour interviewed here, including Pepper Labeija – mother of ‘House of Labeija’, Freddie Pendavis and Willi Ninja – mother of ‘House of Ninja’ and easily the most famous of anyone in the movie – identify not with famous black women, a few and far in between the tons of white celebs, but with Monroe and other successful white women. And the film exposes their problematic aspirations to blanche the black out of them to fit into the mainstream society. It is unfortunate these immeasurably strong individuals, who inspired by Egyptian

Drag Veteran Dorian Corey Interviewed in Paris is Burning

hieroglyphs and gymnastics, created the distinctive dance form of voguing, couldn’t fully embrace their African American heritage and so casually slighted it as inferior to the ‘white culture’ of sophistication. It is one of the few white drag queens Dorian Corey featured in the film who underlines this misguided ambition of many African American drag queens. She is the astute one to observe the dangers of drag life – the escapism from reality, the intrusion of pageantry. Her remark that no matter how hard one tries to hide oneself through disguise, one cannot escape the harshness of the real world – is the realest moment in the entire film.
No matter how much Rupaul show glamorizes the drag world, the hardships, pains and prejudices of the world outside drag exist. And one must’ve forget them.

Dilwale Review


Rating – 1 out of 5 stars

Dilwale is akin a faux-John Constable work whose restoration efforts are handed to an age-11 gen-Z kiddo whose fancies include va-va-voom Hot-wheels cars, hunky-dory send-dem-enemies-flying-outta-buildingz superheroes & ‘cool’ romanchic-magnets. The yellows-glowing petals and gleeful-green meadows from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, the original malady that struck the Indian audiences’ hearts back in 95 and affected them with symptoms that most prominently include an affinity to idealistic romance, have found a much bigger, more life-sapping derivative in the form of Dilwale. And its Dr. Strangelove/Mogambo is none other than Golmaal trilogy/Chennai Express master-of-the-mindless Rohit Shetty.

You’d find more excesses in this Shetty wreckage than you’d get to see if you creep into a Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz concert. At least the liberally-louche Cyrus, despite drowned in a glitter, goo and dildos, gets (most of her) her songs just right. Conversely, Shetty puts on a spectacle as slipshod as that recent TOI headline referring to Modi’s surprise Pak sojourn.

He reunites Kajol and Shahrukh Khan, the superstar screen couple who reigned over Indian screens as Simran and Raj in DDLJ. Queen K looks as gorgeous as ever, and with cryogenically frozen features she struts through the film like it’s her runway. Her costume designers pull out all the stops to drape her like she’s the star of the most expensive ad for a 4K resolution Samsung TV. (Watch the Gerua video to catch snippets of the couple claiming unknown icebergs, crashed airplanes and practically any unfound corner of the earth like Columbuses’ Indian counterparts). Well, who wouldn’t be psyched to get paid in crores for flittering around the streets of Bulgaria in florals? Later, when a plot twist requires her to shift base to Goa, she gets in Charlie’s Angels mode for a moment to bash up Johnny Lever in a fake-Tamilian getup. And when the big baddies come into picture, she comfortably steps back like an obedient Bollywood heroine and lets King K take charge.

King K goes through the motions, bumping off enemies like a Masterchef chopping veggies, posing shirtless with his arms spread wide, and staking claim on Kajol with a momentary Bolly-gaze (‘hero spots heroine. Looks into her eyes. And she’s bought!’). He has aged, and suitably plays a peacable garage-owner in Goa who goes by the name Raj. Except his face very clearly shows he’s got a past and he needs to revisit it because if he doesn’t… no shirtless scenes, and no frontin with Kajol in his arms, right? And for this, he needs a trigger.

And the mention of ‘Kaali’ does the trick. Who’s this mystery person ‘Kaali’? Well, guess who? It needs Varun Dhawan, playing his younger bro Veer and hamming his way to glory, and his brawly antics with local drug dealers to threaten Raj’s hidden identity from tumbling out of the closet. Till then, the plot revolves around Veer perving on Ishita Malik (newbie Kriti Sanon) until she’s head over heels in love with him (Bollywood lesson-on-romance 101 – Act inappropriate until the girl finds it cute). But once Kaali’s subplot takes over, the films switches to a lengthy flashback in Bulgaria that extends until interval.

We learn Raj was actually Kaali, the son of a underworld don living in Bulgaria. He’s in a speedy car chase until it takes an untimely halt when Kajol is sighted. And then begins the predictable romance track between Kajol’s Meera and Kaali as they romp around cafes, lakes and in case of Gerua song, Windows wallpapers. But wait – there’s a bigger twist. There’s more to Meera than meets the eye; she turns out to be the daughter of the rival crime-lord. The betrayal is a high point in this otherwise tepid affair. But for how long can one see SRK and KJ in rivalry mode? So, by the next two scenes, Shetty has them patch up. And then there’s family opposition. And finally a gunshot that sends Kaali to Goa, where he resigns from his former life.

The film gets back to Dhawan’s run ins with drug baron King (played by Boman Irani) and his henchmen. But that’s all fluff. There’s nothing much that can be done to this tale, so Shetty adds Sanjay Mishra as unauthorized dealer Oscar Bhai and Varun Sharma as Dhawan’s friend Sidhu. The padding done is so glaring it embarrasses. By the time Sharma ended his Pyaar Ka Punchnama inspired rattle about the fairer sex, I scuttled out of the theatre. My greatest regret – paying Rs. 320 for this busted product.