Fashion – Dir: Madhur Bhandarkar; *ing: Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Mughda Godse, Arbaaz Khan

“Look that’s Madhur Bhandarkar – the director who makes realistic films. Maybe he is going to expose the fashion industry now.” Thus whispers one very savvy model to another upon spotting the filmmaker in the crowd, roughly halfway through Fashion, the said ‘realistic’ director’s take on the Indian world of haughty couture. Unfortunately, this pointless little vignette also sums up what is wrong with the film, which is the filmmaker’s own inflated sense of self riding rough-shod over everything in its sight. Bhandarkar (much like Sanjay Leela Bhansali), it seems, is so taken with his own reputation as an auteur of ‘gritty’ cinema, that he feels the irresistible urge to have it spilling out of every pore of his film, and ends up sacrificing the work’s integrity at the altar of his now rather sizable ego. Fashion may be his glitziest production to date, but it’s also his hollowest.

Meghna Mathur (Chopra) is a wide-eyed, small-town girl looking to make it as a top model in the big bad world of fashion in Mumbai. After a few hackneyed false starts (oh my sainted aunt, she has to resort to a cheesy lingerie shoot to make ends meet!) she starts to make headway and lands the coveted job of being the face of some big deal called Panache (you’d think there would be more than one coveted job to go around in the vast Mumbai fashion scenario, but no, in the film’s strange incestuous little world that’s about as far as you can go. And we really are supposed to believe that Panache controls all the goings on at every fashion concern in the city, if not the country, like a genuine style mafia). But what goes up must come down, and Meghna starts to falter. And on the way down, she will, as the film’s tagline says, lose more than just her morals – friends, lovers, a baby (in the obligatory abortion thread of the narrative – gag!), her self-respect, and also, apparently, her marbles, as underlined by the film’s most egregiously offensive and bigotry-laced sequence in which, after getting high, our heroine ends up in bed with – horror of horrors! – a black man!

But ultimately, the story is pretty much immaterial, for Fashion is but a bunch of clichés strung together on a thread of predictability. According to Bhandarkar’s vision, as etched by writers Ajay Monga and Niranjan Iyengar, every (male) designer is either gay and asexual, or gay and conflicted, every straight guy is either a predator or nice-guy-finish-last, it’s all dog-eat-dog and bitch-snipe-bitch (and you’re a loser if you’re any different), if you make it to the top you ARE going to turn into a coke-head slut so there’s really no point resisting, and all models are contractually obligated to guzzle a gallon of wine each before walking on to the ramp; it’s a wonder they’re not all tumbling into the audience at every turn.

The film does have a precious few redeeming qualities, the first and foremost of which is Kangana Ranaut as the tragic coke-addicted ex-supermodel Shonali (a character allegedly based on the real-life model Gitanjali Nagpal who was found begging on the streets of Delhi). The actress has played the fractured soul before so is on familiar ground, but still leaves an impact. Her enunciation may not be as refined as some of her counterparts, but she has an intriguing, almost haunting presence on screen and it is exploited well here (sadly, ‘exploited’ is a discomfortingly apt term that can be applied to the whole film). Chopra is slowly turning into an appealing actor and is competent enough here, but, like the rest of the cast (especially a surprisingly charismatic Godse as unsuccessful model Janet) is shortchanged by the asinine script and childish character development. There are some nice musical moments though, in particular the sublime ‘Mar Jaavan’.

The fashion scene, laughably self-important as it is the world over, is ripe for comment, whether in the form of parody/satire ala Zoolander, or dramatic introspection like Gia, but Fashion is criminal in its disdain towards its subject matter. It simply can’t be bothered to attempt to do more than just skim the surface and reinforce stereotypes. Bhandakar obviously fancies himself a social commentator, out to expose the moral corruption permeating all nooks and crannies of Indian society, but if Fashion is any indication, he’s really just a good old sensationalist at heart. The script pretends to be sympathetic to its coterie of wretched souls, but it also revels in their wretchedness. “Step right up, ladies and germs! Come see these poor vacuous, deluded, beautiful creatures wallow in the filth of their ambition and depravity – isn’t it fun?”

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