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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Trailer launch of Nikamma: Useful insights into the making of a ‘Useless’ (Nikamma) film

Trailer launch of Nikamma: Useful insights into the making of a ‘Useless’ (Nikamma) film

Sony Pictures International Productions have put their faith in producer-director Sabbir Khan and a relatively new hero, an absolutely new heroine and a veteran who made her debut 30 years ago to deliver a vehicle that goes by the moniker of Nikamma. Translated, it means Useless. Abhimanyu, who has already acted in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and Meenakshi Sundareshwar, is the son of Himalaya Dassani and Bhagyashree née Patwardhan, the latter being an accomplished actress while the former is better known as her husband. Shirley Setia is a social media queen (YouTube sensation) for whom this will be her dream come true. And then we have Shilpa Shetty, who made her entry with Baazigar, in 1993, is now in her mid-forties, looks fit as a fiddle, and plays Abhimanyu’s mother.

All of the above, including Bhagyashree and Himalaya, were present at the Juhu PVR multiplex for the launch of the trailer of the film, which has, since, already garnered more than 1 crore views, and 65,000+ likes, in just a day. It begins with the captions that read ‘Once every few years Comes a boy Who is perfect. Adi is not that boy.’ And soon, it explains why…because Adi is a nikamma and being a nikamma is an art, that one can learn from him. You see the muscles that would be the envy of anybody who has less than six six-packs. Shirley is introduced in the familiar way in which lead actresses are introduced in Hindustani films, shot first with her back facing the camera and them turning towards it, face revealed in mid shot. She proposes marriage to the boy right away, who, taken aback, asks whether she is an alcoholic or a drug addict. She replies with a disarming and passionate, “Love addict”.

Looking hot and sexy, admittedly, Shilpa thanked Sabbir (pronounced Saabir) for breaking her 14-year hiatus from films with such a lovely script that she could just not say no to, and agree to go for shooting, leaving her babies behind. She plays a powerful woman in the film, named Avni, but not the Wonder Woman in costume that we see fleetingly in the trailer. That is only Abhimanyu’s imagination. She felt like a newcomer, among the two millennials (not really; Abhimanyu was born in 1990, and Shirley Setia, who was born in India but grew up in New Zealand, has been active on social media and as a singer since 2012; neither is a millennial), and always refers to herself as a “newcomer” when she talks to Sabbir. “I am not Shilpa Shetty in this film, I am Avni. If you are coming to watch Shilpa Shetty, don’t go to the theatre. Come in to watch Avni.” She also shared the nervousness she had experienced while shooting for her debut film Baazigar, mainly because she could not speak Hindi at all, and used to blurt out her lines.

In consonance with this strong woman avatar, Abhimanyu calls her “Avni Devi”. “It was a fantastic learning experience working with her. A lot of fitness tips. I had to check my diet every single day.” Responding to a comment that he did not get the kind of recognition a newcomer wants with his first film, he said that his first film got him what he wanted and more than what he asked for. From his first film, he started believing in himself, and even won a best debut award at an international film festival.

Incidentally, he made a sensational, never-before, rehearsed and pre-shot entry on the screen, wherein he is being stopped by security personnel from entering PVR Juhu because he has no entry pass or ticket, and never mind if he is the hero of the film. Expectedly, he manages to get the better of them, with some action and a few slippery getaways, and finally runs up the steps and lands up inside the auditorium. This was inspired, he said, by an incident, when his first film was being shown at Toronto, and he landed-up without a pass, convinced that he, as the hero, would not be stopped from entering. But he was stopped, and it took the intervention of some authorities inside the auditorium to get him in. Also, Abhimanyu began his journey in the film industry as an assistant director, and has done at least two films in that capacity, so he does have a director’s mind. For the role, he put on 10 kg, and was definitely looking leaner, some 2-3 years after the shooting of Nikamma began.

As soon as the script was ready, Sabbir said he instinctively thought of Shilpa as Avni. A man of few words, Sabbir has some big ticket films against his name, like Kambakht Ishk, Baaghi and Heropanti. According to the Net, he is the son of poet-lyricist Noor Dewasi, who wrote that evergreen song, ‘Aao huzoor tumko’, from the 1968 movie, Kismet. Sabbir joined films in 2014, so he completes a decade, while Nikamma is the first film that he is producing himself. Talking about the title, he said, “It is 100% Nikamma and 100% entertainment.” He is just about as old as Shilpa Shetty, the two being born in 1975 and 1976 respectively, so no wonder the thought of casting her came to him in a flash. Amidst infectious laughter, Shilpa said that Sabbir had extracted so much good work from us “Nikammas”. Sabbir responded with, “There is little point in repeating it, but all three of them have put in so much hard work, and the trailer gives you a glimpse of all that went into the film.”

Bhagyashree, best known for the film Maine Pyar Kiya, came up on stage and was visibly choked with emotion as a mother, “He’s put his life into in to this film,” she could barely utter. She hugged Abhimanyu, and added, “Sony Pictures have waited two years to get this film on to the big screen (instead of releasing it on OTT), so the public will have to come to cinemas to watch this Nikamma.” Himalaya confided that Abhimanyu is Nikamma in real life, “I have scolded him many times in life for this, but it is the faith shown by Sabbir that has taken him where he is. Everybody, please bless the Nikamma team.”

This writer asked Abhimanyu how much does he think success owes to Bhagya (a pun on his mother’s name) ‘destiny’ and who are the actors who he thinks have reached the Himalaya (pun on his father’s name) of acting? Abhimanyu gave a good reply, remembering his father’s advice to him, when he was young, that whatever you do, give it 100%, and then leave it (if it does not work). “Whether destiny supports you or not, be proud that you put in your 100%. Don’t leave anything to ‘What if?’ and one day, cumulatively, today, tomorrow, day after, your time will come.” The reply got him a round of applause.

That ‘time’/date could be four weeks from now, 17 June 2022, when Nikamma releases in cinemas all over.

A couple of snapshots of the event.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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