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!