Tuesday, November 23, 2010


In a world increasingly caught up in abstractions, trying to always avoid facing realities, is Bruno Dumont's L'Humanité one of the last-ditch efforts to try to make face people themselves, to recognize the stories in their lives, and to make an effort to clean up themselves, to find meanings in the beauty they could be grateful for?

The film is a stunning, brave, and unintimidated answer to the direction cinema has been taking over the past half-century: not just the Hollywood penchant for futuristic fantasies, but also the so-called arthouse or intellectual cinema of directors like Godard. It's ironic on first news that Bruno Dumont is an erstwhile philosophy teacher, but not anymore so, when you realize that sucked into a pseudo-science he realized how he's lost contact with the people, how he can't touch them, and thus he turned to film-making. This is where the wide gulf is between Dumont and Godard. Godard is what I call as "a philosopher" in cinema, referencing and referencing, stacking layers upon layers of meaning, and creating an edifice that will yield high cerebral pleasure to the ones in the esoteric circle; he forgets that cinema as the knowledge of life should touch people and should draw from people. But Dumont knows that the most beautiful edifice is only when it can be built from lay notions, lay words: humanity is a participatory experience, of senses, of impressions, of images and sounds and whatever we sense, and of the people we interact with. Stories are the most beautiful creations, whether fairy-tales or the tales of reality; and when told well, when the narrator is sincere to each of his characters and uses his voice only as the medium to communicate but nothing more, then the story is loved, speaks at least to someone's heart, incites passions and emotions and something to think. To different audiences, I may speak in different languages; but when I change the language, the heart should not go missing, the cores should remain intact.

Many people and critics, among whom some I respect, compare Dumont with Bresson. I do not agree. It is very difficult for me to explain why, but Bresson's camera is an objectifying, deadening gaze; it looks around without searching for meaning, without finding meaning. Dumont's camera is an absorbing, non-judgmental gaze: it looks around without judging, but still trying to understand the meaning. Note that even trying to understand is a kind of judgment, because what you are still trying to understand is not something you're still comfortable with and hence your mind is still active with it. On the other hand, can a complete deadening gaze of Bresson be called non-judgmental? Or, would you call it an indifferent gaze, figuratively speaking a cold gaze?

The remarkable thing about this film, L'Humanité, is that Dumont also finds an actor, Emmanuel Schotté (playing Pharaon de Winter), whose gaze is as absorbent; the character of de Winter reminds one a lot, a real lot, of Dostoyevsky's Prince Myshkin. It is a very, very difficult task to show how a man can feel utmost contempt for the crime, the act, and yet love and/or pity for the criminal, the perpetrator; how one can be in love with humanity, even if one keeps on encountering actions of a bewildered humanity, actions that one not only hates, but which eat up your soul constantly with their why?, how is it possible?, why?. De Winter is sexual and yet sexless; he can keep hoping blindly and endlessly for his neigbour Domino (played by Séverine Caneele) and watch her with a voyeur's gaze, and yet he can do that without a voyeur's delight, as if all the time he's trying to put 2 and 2 together, as if he's trying to understand the motor impulses of a human being, of humanity, that impels them to things like rape, murder, and the very commonly found insensitivity to another person. For, everyone's busy in their insensitivity: de Winter's mother, Domino herself, and all the world; life is a burden upon them, that they try to shake off, do a jig, and grunt again under its load. For de Winter, it's the uncomprehendingness ("incomprehension" means something else; I don't mean that) that is a bigger burden, against which he wants to scream; for once, he also feels the burden of the society that won't let him shriek when he wants to.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Manon des Sources (1986)

(For entry on Jean de Florette, refer here.) Borne on by the beautiful music of Jean de Florette and the strong presence of Yves Montand, the second part of this Marcel Pagnon saga spread across generations, Manon des Sources (int'l title: Manon of the Spring), is resolved to balance out the injustice and play the judgement game; and as a story, it suffers a lot on that count. Emmanuelle Béart might be very pretty, but she also looks hardly the role of an intelligent, wild woman: and her shortage of acting skills are in full evidence. The issue here is that she is playing the title character, and as much as Yves Montand can do to shore up the film, it is Béart who must light the film.

The film also has an extraordinarily slow pace, probably because the story is a little puzzlingly simple. It is not clear why would Manon's mother leave her for the operas; it is also not clear that what was Manon, if she was filled with that much hate for the Soubeyrans, doing all this time? Happily singing to her herd of goats and waiting for a schoolteacher to arrive to enlighten her? There is also a serious disjunct between her father's character and hers: which of course is something that happens all the time, but the only thing is that a revenge story craves for a justice arrived at, rather than being meted out.

Ben-Hur is a great film not just because of its story of miracles and its sheer belief in humanity and life, but also because Judah's wife asks him: You've become the very thing you set out to destroy, Messala! This is the poignant crux of life: to kill the killer I need to become the killer, and then what is the point of that justice I am seeking? A mere unspent bloodthirst? At this important point, Manon des Sources fails.

Daniel Auteuil has little to do in the film, while Montand has simply the role of a tired man doomed to the results of his wickedness; his remorse, the revenge for him, is only because Jean was his own son, but he would still do the same thing tomorrow to some another man who wouldn't be his son. Is that even revenge? Béart is insipid, while the rest of the village's sudden desire to talk about an affair that happened more than a decade back is strange, as is their newfound ability to suddenly connect the drying up of water with what happened at the Romarins. However, on the whole, the two films Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources are classic examples of French cinema: slow and thoughtful, lingering shots, a woman's nudity as a fact and beauty and not in the way most American films show, a simple story with not many twists, life's ironies and realities, ordinary acting and beautiful music, and an emphasis to content over style. I could watch these two films just for Dépardieu and Montand and the Verdi music that is the refrain of the film.

As an aside, I must say that have the DVD poster-makers started making posters without seeing the film and from their own imagination? The current poster higlighted on imdb.com for Jean de Florette (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091288/) is not only not a scene from the film, but it couldn't have been: the sheer tragedy of the films lies in the fact that Montand drove his son to his death and ruin without even ever meeting him, his eyes, his voice.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Paltadacho Munis

A searing critique of institutional religion and the ways it is wedded with politics, Laxmikant Shetgaonkar's film Paltadacho Munis (int'l title: The Man beyond the Bridge) is first a thoughtful, beautiful story of a lonely forest guard fighting off his loneliness as much as the greed and corruption around him, with nothing but a big heart and a cane in his hand. The film's strength lies in that without using dialogues, it's sort of a monologue: the forest guard (Chittaranjan Giri) is an insignificant peg in a vast administrative network, and the forest is his closest friend. Every element of the forest means something to him: including the mad woman he first falls in lust with, and then love with.

The theme of loneliness is not simply explored through Giri's nonchalant character, but also through the mad woman's (Veena Jamkar). If she has escaped the taunts and the stones of the villagers, then was it only to lose the last remnant of independence: her ability to roam and to laugh at her own will? Giri wants to care for her, but in the process he forgets how she came to him: and he tries to cage her, and give her an image of his own. But water is not molded; it has to break free, it has to flow on. Giri and Jamkar realise their limitations, and also how each must respect the other, and only then could love continue: because the forest is not only full of silences but also predators. Outside, there is only the forest; and the warmth must be made within, even of themselves, themselves the flint and steel and themselves the fire.

Throughout the length of the film, the hypocrisy of religion, rituals, and politicians is well exposed, albeit as a silent observer. The way in which Giri chooses to fight is being himself, by doing what he wants; rather than anything symbolic or grand, he dares to love, and he dares to protect. And so does Jamkar. The man beyond the bridge may be outside the pale of civilization, but it could be that the world is more beautiful on that side.

Shot in the beautiful Goa-Karnataka border region, the film is made in Karwari and Bardezi dialects and available subtitled in English.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vendredi soir

The film Vendredi soir (international title: Friday Night) draws in and repels in equal measures: without a story, with its object of simply showing a one-night stand, the film revels in images and senses; a Paris of the congested roads because of the proverbial French strikes, but also a Paris of the now-empty, again owing to the strikes, cafés and hotels; a Paris of loneliness where the radio announcer hints the car-drivers to give a lift to passers-by for it can be "fun," to a Paris of crowds of islands roaming in the night, seeking pleasure or a final edification.

To talk of the theme, Claire Denis probably means to show a woman's decision to be a part of a one-night stand as women's lib, as some feminists do believe it to be; the final image that rests with the viewer is an ecstatic Valérie Lemercier after a night of pleasure: there is neither guilt nor a lust for an encore. She is satisfied and happy. However, that jars in when compared with the attitudes of the two brief lovers for all the time: the man (Vincent Lindon) is cool, detached, and very sure of himself (and probably, as the woman later suspects, he used, though maybe not, the ten franc change to buy condoms, before the woman had even evinced any apparent interest in him). He is not bothered if the woman leaves, but he feels welcome to her body if she would let him. The woman likes being suddenly cared for; driving alone on the streets, living a monotonous life, the man comes as an ephemeral spark to her, and she need not even take any initiative. Now if the film were to be a non-committal comment on urban life, this would have been another story that happens: even now, this does indeed remain a very credible story, but then it does not say why should it merit one and half hours of footage? Why should the film want to give a message at the end, and freeze it there: does the film itself intend to be treated like a laxative? It is strange liberation being suggested when the man is sure of his sexual possession over the woman: even if one could argue the woman has only used him instead for that night, it would only lead furthest to the conclusion that the man didn't possess her but rather she wanted to be possessed; is that the women's lib the director believes in?

As for the style in which the film is made, I would say the film is to cinema what a haiku is to poetry: nothing but the impressions of a night in an urban environment being gathered by a woman. The man is dead, the woman is dead: they are concentrated in themselves and seek each other out as ejaculations; it could be a film of masks. Haiku however are often beautiful if well-conceived, for they do not drag: this film drags for half an hour on the traffic jam and for the remaining time on the fling. I think sex scenes are often quite tragic in films: they purport to show an intimacy that gets violated the instant it is being shown on screen. Here, Denis obscures many details in darkness, or moves the camera here and there, or shows the act here to be a slow kill rather than a wild dash; however, she only succeeds in prolonging the torture: any eroticism, if it could have been imagined, is flushed out (one could have simply recorded a couple all night and called it a film!), and what remains is a sick tale of what all possiblities are present in life.

There's one saving grace of the film: the shots of Paris in the opening; rooftops, houses, a falling day.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


While the epic Ramayana, which the film has for its storyline but in modern settings, is a victor's account of the quest for supremacy of Aryans over Dravidians, Raavan does the magic trick of pushing the same struggle between state administration and guerrilla justice at the periphery, rather simply a context. Foremost, Raavan is the story of truth: and of truths. The absolute is in the eyes of Ragini, which make Beera transcend himself: and the moment he attains it, it is then that Ragini must face and live with the pain of that truth. And taut between this continuum of absolutes, there are the truths: in the name of dharma (duty), in the name of possession, in the name of revenge.

Raavan as a film is primarily designed for being a visual treat: but the design has not been done through any visual effects, but through the stunning nature and diversity of the Western Ghats, one of the countable few remaining ecological hotspots and treasuries in the world. The camera does not play tricks: rather, it brings out every beauty. From the creatures endemic to the Ghats, to the roaring southern rivers amid wild herbs and mists, to the drops of water, mud, turmeric, tear, sweat, fear on the protagonists' faces - the camera is in an observant mode, as the story of stoicism plays out. If Ragini had not been as pure as her cries that only come back to her in this world where man and nature share a home's warmth, if she had been more afraid of the vulture who comes near to pounce, then this could have been a mere Thomas Hardy story: where the frailties of humanity are mourned; or a modern counterpart, where they are celebrated. But, even if Beera is a dacoit steeped in blood, even if Ragini has been immune to the truths around her and yet dares to think herself as true, even if the Superintendent of Police plays with life and its denizens like a cat with mice: even then, the desire to win the water that shall sweep everything away, the battle to win a heart, the scorn for the hand to protect for it seems a master reign the field, as if nature has gained ascendance over them and imbued each of them with an own freedom, an own whim, a liberty defined by the furthest mountain, the most treacherous cascade. To which, there is no end.

The character built for Beera deserves special mention, and I also think Abhishek Bachchan has played it to a difficult perfection. It is a hero unlike any hero or anti-hero or even any character role that I've seen in any film across the world and Hollywood cinema; he is built as if to alienate audiences! Except for his staunch figure often silhouetted on the screen, he has hardly any dialogues: and when he has, they are noises, they are his irritations and his amusements and his angers venting forth in the form of some of his typical mannerisms, which do not change but keep repeating throughout the duration of the film. His smouldering eyes are probably the only indication of how alone he is within himself, of how much depth he is capable, and how quick he is to divine things. The opening half-hour of the film, and Beera throughout, also reminds a lot of Peer Gynt: there's the same lyrical drama structure, and while Peer Gynt plays around with girls and doesn't know where his happiness could have been till late, Beera plays around with blood and doesn't know where his actual death would come from - Ragini, the woman he respects and desires - till late.

Talking of the other actors, Aishwarya Rai fits in the film well; somehow, her kind of beauty and figure blend in with the story, and her eyes always seem to say as if she thinks herself superior, so they match with the character of Ragini. The remaining however, except for Priyamani, do not fit; and there lies a major weakness of the film. The greatest weakness of the film is however in its loose editing: but Ratnam lapsed with this job even with Dil Se, which I consider to be his best ever, and was probably only on the mark, to some extent, with Guru. Rahman's music is again brilliant, though most of the scores also feel to me a rehash of his old ones: in particular Beera has an echo in Dil Se. But Gulzar's lyrics light a fire unparalleled: he has probably surpassed even himself with the lyrics of Behene de.

The one aspect where Ratnam disappointed me the most was his sudden use of northern Indian motifs, in and around Jamuniya's marriage scenes. From Maharashtra to Kerala, the coverage of Western Ghats that is present in this film is in itself locating the story at too many places, because the Ghats differ a lot as one moves a few hundred kilometres; but to show houses and ceremonies in a manner which could not happen in that Indian world, and on top of that to show a highly rich and bourgeois style of marriage considering that it's a guerrilla leader's sister who's getting married, is a bit jarring and offputting to say the least. One of the marks of a good film is consistency, and I am afraid Raavan does not have it in many respects. However, if for nothing else, the film is a must-watch for the exploration of one of the most dangerous and beautiful places in the world: the Western Ghats.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Yes, Kites is indeed Koyla stylised, repackaged, and trimmed, and in fact a much inferior version of the latter. Yes, the Indian critics are right to rip it off for its complete lack of story and the actors' non-acting. But yet, the film I would say is more rather an introductory tutorial into the world of Indian cinema for the Western audiences, and in that it does the job: the warmth of the film stunningly contrasts with the coldness of Hollywood films and has been a major factor besides its very design that has made it the first ever Indian film to make it to the US top ten at the box office, and the chemistry between the lovers - Hrithik Roshan and Barbara Mori - is a sight to watch in spite of the two different languages they speak in - English and Spanish. Love is a lot like music.

While Koyla brimmed over with anger and focused on the angst of a man, Kites chooses to remain being a simple love story doomed to failure: in some senses, there is more of Ghai's Kisna to it than any other film. But instead of the Himalayas, this time we have the New Mexico's sunflooded arid landscapes. The beauty of Kites lies in the fantasy feel to it: the love between Roshan and Mori seems like too good to be true, and yet it seems to be true. Even though the actors themselves don't know much about acting and have a limited stock of expressions on their faces, the chemistry between them is just alluring, and forgotten is their greed for money which brought their cruel fate onto them in the first place.

What is sad though however is so much non-use of Kangana Ranaut as to force her name as in a guest appearance in the credits roll: one of the finest actors of the world that she is, and reduced to a few minutes' screen time? Her character, too, could have been developed more: her father's one dialogue that he has seen her happy after a long time in itself sets in chain a thousand sequences that could have come off, that could have established another niche in the film, and all we have is just a jilted woman, who is shown to be obsessed so that the audience may not sympathise with her at all. On the other hand, the brother is rather more focused upon, in the old tradition of Hindi films where the villain was equally important as or even more than the hero, and it only makes the film a bit caricaturish. But then, as one US critic said of the film, everything is forgiven. It's a warm, crazy film, and just for the sake of that, it's not all that bad.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Roma, città aperta

Probably, stripping away the old Hollywood flair and style meant "neorealism": Roma, città aperta (Rome: Open City) works well, and grippingly enough, for a small snippet from the occupation days, but realism? Melville's L'armée des ombres, a film strikingly similar, would have highly merited this tag; Lino Ventura, even if an actor, looks more natural than the "non-actors" here. Realism doesn't just mean filming in devastated cities and showing life to be hollowed out (which is what was also probably thought by the Bicycle Thieves maker) but life as it is. The German officer might scorn the rhetoric that Italians are fond of, but there is hardly any visible rhetoric in any actor's mouth: instead, the director indulges in much of it - the running betrothed woman was bound to be shot; the German officer had to forget his cruelties in drink; the woman who gave them away had to swoon; the whistles sing before the priest is shot. Is this not rhetoric?

Rhetoric might be a reality in people's words, it hardly is when it comes to life. Things don't happen so opportunely, especially when one is not seeing in hindsight. A key force to realism is lent by an inability to see backwards or forwards: one lives in the moment, just as one lives life. To show depressing sights is not the answer; for that one can see a grim documentary. A film must work on the level of fantasy - even if it tries to project reality - the fantasy of a tightly strung thread running through; reality does not work on the basis of what might have been and eliciting such sighs from the viewers, but the brute slap of what happened and can happen, the realization and the fear, the action and the anticipation.

Though Melville's film came much later, as a viewer of the modern age having once seen it I see little to choose in Rossellini's film. The story of Rome: Open City is fortunately centered around only few characters, and yet a poor cinematography and lack of characterization make the film appear like one were watching a story through binoculars; there is hardly any depth to the film, and it seems to make blanket statements for or against each of the protagonists, covering all in a shroud of inevitable tragedy. As long as one breathes - which is reality - nothing's inevitable, nothing's impending!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Harishchandrachi Factory

It is not only a marvellous story of the pioneer of the world's largest film industry, but also in equal measures the story of an always enterprising India, the story of a middle-class Hindu family, and the story of a man who refuses to die whatever the moment be. Nandu Madhav stars as the irrepressible Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, a man fascinated by stories and magic and machines and now bent upon learning and unfolding the magic of moving pictures upon the world. The best thing that Harishchandrachi Factory (English: The Factory of Harishchandra) does is to stick to its title; it has no interest in showing the multiple facets of Phalke: the brilliant photography student from the MS University of Baroda or the man obsessed with printing machines and who went to Germany to learn more of them or the man who worked with Raja Ravi Varma and learnt magic from Carl Hertz. The film is only about the making of the first Indian film, Raja Harishchandra, and almost parallels the enthusiasm in a similar story shown about the first Romanian film's making in Restul e tăcere.

Where the film however makes a mark is in situating the story firmly in the Indian context: while the few slogans for Tilak and pictures of Kesari are just artificial ploys to make the film appear in 1910s, it is the brilliant artwork and well-written dialogues that do the job. Hardly has anyone succeeded in so meticulously constructing a typical Hindu family's lifestyle and dynamics as Paresh Mokashi has in his directorial debut. The chemistry between all the four family members is a sight to watch, and each member of the family shares work and respect equally; coupled with the humor attending the never-say-die spirit of Phalke, who makes the bleakest of situations appear as games to be played, the film is a life-changing story.

One thought that strikes the viewer is the large contrast between Benigni in Life Is Beautiful and Madhav in Harishchandrachi Factory. Benigni comes upon suddenly as an overacting, highly affected actor in comparison to the natural skills of Madhav, who seems to be lifted out from life and placed in the film. Benigni 'keeps' himself happy, Madhave knows to be happy.

And a special mention to the film's effervescent music: not only capturing the days of old Marathi cinema, but also tilting the viewer into the craziness of DG Phalke.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Road, Movie

The much-touted, much-anticipated Indian answer to Cinema Paradiso never materialises in spite of a talented cast, stunning locales, and a vast and diverse country as the backdrop: Road, Movie never adopts a story, instead ending up with a confused one that wanted to tackle all the Paradiso themes of coming of age, journeys, and the magic of cinema, and yet ends up with only an abstract shimmy into the hot, arid desert landscape of Kutch-Rajasthan. Where it fails even more miserably is by giving the story the typical oft-seen Hollywood notion that young men have to come of age; on the other hand, in Paradiso, Toto came of age at every moment of his life: the childhood of learning from Alfredo, the youth of love and waiting for love, and the old age of the magic still alive and yet the realisations and the revelations never ending, a life thrilling to touch at each moment. A life to live with the gumption of Alfredo, whatever it may bring: there's always a story, romance.

Abhay Deol carries his Dev D mistargeted angsts to this film and set against the flimsy hairoil business of his father that he hates, the undecided nature of the film sets in. The film from there on does not manage to balance the several threads running right through: molière-sque farce and life-changing journeys. It does not explain how does the Rajasthani boy manage to pronounce Starbucks so correctly, and how does Yashpal Sharma, the water dacoit, manage to pronounce the English "~tion" as "shun" and "son" both. The sweet Rajasthani dialect or the salty Kutchi one, wherever the film is meant to be placed, is completely absent, and instead we have every character speaking khariboli Hindi; how? If a lonely truck roaming in the desert picks up a gypsy woman who speaks just like a woman you met in a real Starbucks cafe would have, and when this woman roaming in search of water even manages to have a full coat of lipstick on her lips, then how do you manage to feel the film? Especially when the whole point of the film is somehow to just get lost in the hotness, the ballooning white skies, the sheer struggle of finding oneself through travelling. And not just find places, not just peace for yourself, not get lost in wildernesses, but to find humanity, outside and within you.

There are times though because of the beautiful landscape that the film does work and shows travel to be what it is. Punctuated by a selfish Abhay, bright Mohammed Faizal (who seems to be simply the most effortless actor I have ever seen, and with a head on his shoulders; a good match-up for Ishqiya's Alok Kumar), a maverick and lovely Satish Kaushik, and a sultry gypsy Tannishtha, the film is essentially hardly cinema and its magic, but just the various colors of this world, and how each life, each voice, each background, each drop of water carries a story, a breath, a dream. This is what travel is and this is what Abhay realises, alongwith finding a bit of more humanity in him than he was wont to. Showing remote human settlements cinema is just the guise for Abhay, and the filmmaker.

For lovers of the beauty that India presents, the film is a gift: though not going outside the desert, there is enough to make the viewer curse that why did the director not make a full Hindi feature-length film, instead making some chopped-headed 2-hour-or-less film. Short length is a major weakness of the film: when you start with Lawrence of Arabia landscapes, and try to play some of the same tricks that Lean played masterfully, then you also have to let your films seep into the viewer's mind, into his consciousness. Lean was able to ignore the Hollywood commercial guidelines and still ended up a winner, since his films were good: and even if they had not worked, he wouldn't have shelved his grand sequences that got into the sun and wind of a shot.

It's still a wonderful film for a traveller: s/he will know the pleasure of being on the open roads and the not-roads. But a film is meant to be a story at some level, and Abhay's character didn't excite me to write a story about him - how to build a film without any empathy, or hate, for or with the hero?

Friday, January 29, 2010


A firebomb of a film, Ishqiya dares to take the viewers through one of the most dangerous places on this earth: the Hindi heartland of eastern Uttar Pradesh, where prospective goons are nurtured, the international arms trade occurs with as much no fuss as onions in other parts, caste wars rage and every single child knows the A to Z of a gun and dreams of an automatic, and where even the passion of love is consumed with the desire of power, to play a game with lives. Till love revenges itself.

What can you say about a film whose only most glaring fault is the distinct dichotomy in pace pre- and post-interval; the languid harpy atmosphere interspersed with two robbers falling in lust and love for a woman who doesn't care for them and the antics of their survival, sharp snapped against the sudden pick-up of tempo as a story hidden resurfaces in all its horror, and the India-Nepal border doesn't simply remain a safe haven to cross for the two on the run, but also a bristling source of the Maoist terrorism existing across a vast swathe of India, sourced through Nepal, funded by ? no the film does not go so far, as first and foremost this is a Vidya Balan film.

The brilliant actress she showed herself to be in her very debut (Parineeta), she has hardly managed to find more such roles; in years and years of film-watching from the world over, I don't think I have ever met such a whole-heartedly strong woman character, as constructed by debutant director Abhishek Chaubey with Vishal Bhardwaj here. It is curious that apart from the swear words, her language is the civilized Hindi; and yet it only adds another twinge of curiosity about her past, her likely upbringing, as does everything else about her. On apparent looking, a beautiful widow; the complex layers emerge and fascinate soon; on retrospect, a beautiful woman with a will to live, with the joy to be able to love and live. It is a fortune to find that the rest of the cast is as creamed into their niches as if they were taken deliberately out from them and placed here: Arshad Warsi, with his open-mouthed stupid seeming looks and murderous darting eyes at any girl and a ready wit when occasion needs, gives in an unexpected good acting performance; Naseeruddin Shah is the run-down elegance personified, a man who has still hankerings left after what he thinks as his alter ego; Alok Kumar the unwitting boy to set the climax on fire; and Adil Hussain the power-hungry man obsessed with his ideals and bloodlust. The selection of previous Hindi film songs played at various times in the movie is a pointer to the excellence of the film: their relation or unrelation in the right degree to the scene unfolding, the characters unfolding, and the complexion of the Hindi heartland unfolding; for where can you move in Uttar Pradesh without hearing songs playing from radios and tape recorders and CD players and MP3 players and iPods?

Ishqiya also catapults the vibrancy of Indian cinema to the very fore: while Hollywood clutters itself with fake characters and parodies of world-saving farces, with mindless comedies and mind-numbing action films, while Europe sticks to the fare of depressing, dysfunctional tales or low-key warm tales of 'ordinary' lives, which maybe it tries to project as more ordinary than they are, the Hindi cinema does not remain to any one stand. It tells stories: not formulas. It mixes ordinary people with extraordinary events, it believes in people with a frenzied warmth and in the potential to discover dramas in lives; it's not a coincidence that on the same day as Ishqiya releases, another film diametrically opposite, Rann, based on the ugly sides of the media industry, also releases, and makes another impression of the breadth of the Hindi filmscape.

Ishqiya, another Vishal Bhardwaj film, another explosive and beautiful combination. Vishal's screenplay, music, and dialogues, and Gulzar's lyrics - who can better the combination? Maybe Chaubey's, and not Vishal's, direction: it infuses a yelp of young energy throughout the film even though none of the characters, even those on the sidelines, in the film is in any way young.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Showing Mumbai like never before, Aamir, in spite of a gaping logic hole in the central motive of the plot, leaves you stunned completely: a low-key thriller, daring to take on the world of jehadis, the Muslim society of India, the Mumbai slums, and the urban life where no one is willing to take you on board, all that Aamir does, and with one of the most brilliant acting performances I've ever seen in my life. Rajeev Khandelwal makes you really sit up and wonder, that what has this man been doing on television, in countless soaps and reality shows, and even after this film? The whole 3 Idiots argument of money running in after excellence I think is quashed, right here.

Camera, besides Khandelwal, is the single most important factor behind this film; the music is great, and an ably done camerawork would have sufficed to make this film 'powerful'. However, the camera goes beyond that, and makes the film talk: to our hearts, minds, senses. I could myself feel nauseous when Khandelwal is about to step into a dirty, often-seen toilet in an Indian milieu; and that's the key to a film. Without even showing anything, how to build the tension, how to grip the viewer completely: not least is the expression of individuality that runs right through the story. Khandelwal, playing the title character of Aamir Ali and a young doctor, says "I only want to live for myself", and when pooh-poohed for doing that and not "doing anything for his community", he quite simply says, if everyone were to live for himself, the community would be well served. That - and that statement seen in the context of the film's climax - signifies the film as one breacher of all values plodding along since centuries in the guises of ideals, and keeping men divided: the men and the women, shown as different facets of a moving and a still life at various and all points of the film. As a confused, terrified, tired, and desperate Aamir is made run through the mazes of Mumbai, his gaze falls on unseen slices of lives: lives of perpetrators, participants, onlookers, alienated, all sorts of lives. Lives of people somehow tired, somehow deadened like an outer dermis, and yet somehow alive, who also get tired after all, who can feel it, who would like to stand one day. Someone holding a baby, a woman hanging clothes, an old man now used to look helplessly ahead: and amidst it all, the protagonist trying to give meaning to his day and life, in a few hours his destiny to be decided, not this time by himself. And this is the pride with which the terrorist works and gives the name of khuda to it: a brilliantly paced film, with no sermons attached, the snippets of Mumbai life make you only think, why? Why has man chosen this? Why an imagined heaven instead of one here?

3 Idiots

I almost now associate an Aamir Khan film with the worst of cinema: Dil Chahta Hai, Rang de Basanti, 3 Idiots (of course, I didn't even bother to see Taare Zameen Par). Those three are pretty much united around one single thought: an expectation of how youth behave, and should behave, an attempt to make a norm. The most striking thing is how people love being defined, and hence the films: I will set out on a course trying to learn myself.

3 Idiots does not merely make your blood boil by its propagandist intentions: it also disappoints terribly by having no story at all, and the skeleton that stands without any logic at all. I would have said the ending of the film an add-on eyesore, if I had believed the film to be moving in any direction at all till that moment. Not only could I completely not understand that why a man who claims to be in love with a girl has in fact cut himself off from her quite conveniently and happily and without any compulsions to do so, but I also couldn't understand if this was Ayn Rand in a supposedly light-hearted makeover? After all, if the film starts with hurly-burlies of giving out 'messages', then it should send out the right ones, if any: by suddenly projecting the protagonist as some kind of super-genius, the film in fact reinforces the notions of those parents who want their children to be doctors and engineers - they do that since they don't think their kids to be super-geniuses! And their prescription is, if not, then do this, it will at least ensure money, and thus whatever you want with the money. By equating everything with success, as at the end of the film, what is the point sought to be made?

The actors are decent, there's a zing of freshness to the print of the film (!), and the far and few in-betweens of the Shivaliks and Upper Himalayas are a delight to watch; and on those crutches, a film presumes to call itself a work of cinema. And also earns money, and money, and money. Incredible!