Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saaheb (1985)

Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee enthralled many in the 1970s with their uncomplicated approach to film-making. Their simple tales set in the middle class India acted like a breath of fresh air during the times when Masala potboilers were ruling the roost. In the 1980s however, both these maestros started losing their steam. During that time there were many directors who tried to follow their template and come up with their own takes on the urban middle class people and their day to day living. But most films ended up being a pale shadow of the kind of cinema that was seen in the 1970s. A few notable exceptions were few and far between- for instance Sai Paranjpe most certainly offered something to cheer about with her troika of Katha, Sparsh, and Chashme Buddoor. But still the standard of film-making in the 1980s wasn’t as high as the preceding decades.

Anil Ganguly’s 1985 family drama Saheb starring Anil Kapoor as the central protagonist is one of those rare good movies in the 80s that managed to enliven the spirit of the kind of films made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the 1970s. It is an ensemble cast film, but the focus is mostly on Anil Kapoor’s character Saaheb who is the fourth and the youngest son of a retired patriarch Badri Prasad Sharma (Utpal Dutt in a remarkably restrained role). His family is a typical middle class joint family headed by a sexagenarian and ably run by the eldest mother-like ‘Bhabhi’ (Rakhee Gulzar in a quintessential middle aged woman role). Saaheb’s elder brothers and their wives (except Bhabhi) are too much into their own little world and hardly care about the issues and worries of the household. Saaheb’s younger sister ‘Bulti’ has reached the marriageable age post completing her graduation, which, incidentally Saaheb has not been able to complete despite three attempts. The reason for Saaheb’s lack of interest in studies is his love and passion for football. He is the star of his university football team in which he plays as the goalkeeper.

The movie has got not story till about the last half an hour. It is just a pleasant depiction of the world in which Saaheb breathes and aspires. His interactions with his family folk are really interesting. His three brothers and two younger Bhabhis consider him to be a good for nothing fellow, and are always ready with scathing remarks at his idleness despite him doing all their menial jobs with a smile on his face. Saaheb’s father appreciates his zeal for the sport but at the same time is skeptical at his future prospects, especially because he is unable to land even a decent job owing to his lack of qualification. He shares a lovely relationship with his younger sister who respects him despite not knowing anything about the sport he loves. As for his eldest Bhabhi, she is more of a mother to him than a sister-in-law. There is romance too in his life, with Natasha (Amrita Singh in a boisterous role she would repeat in Chameli ki Shaadi), a girl next door having a huge crush on him and making it loud and clear at more instance than once. This romance leads to a few unnecessary songs, including ‘Yaar Bina Chen Kahan Re’ (a really popular and rhythmic song- vintage Bappi Lahri). These songs obstruct the narrative but one can’t really mind them in a film of this nature.

The last half an hour is what elevates this movie from being ‘just average’ to ‘good’. When his father and their home faces a huge financial challenge, Saaheb makes a great personal sacrifice to bail everyone out of the trouble.

Utpal Dutt having a heart to heart with his family
This is a movie that needed strong performances, and the stalwart Utpal Dutt leads the way with a completely natural portrayal of a helpless man just wanting to see his children happy. Recognized for his comic roles and highly energetic characters, here he does a complete U-turn and takes up a laidback character that lacks much drama. Watch him in the scene when he explains his financial position to all his children and asks his sons to take the responsibility of getting their young sister married off. Rakhee Gulzar comes up with an amazing performance by bringing to her character the right amount of affection and selflessness. But the star of the show is a young Anil Kapoor. He is in the title role and the entire drama centers around him, and for such a young actor lacking experience, he does a remarkable job. Post watching Saaheb, I have a completely different impression of Anil Kapoor the actor.

Parting Note: Saaheb is pleasant watch that excels because of its performances and its lack of pretensions. Although it is not the perfect film (with a shoddy comic side-track involving Deven Verma, and 2-3 unnecessary songs), it still has a likeability attached to it that is a result of its honest intentions.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Madhumati (1958)

So when one of the biggest superstars of our country is reliving a cult character from the much loved Amitabh Bachchan classic Don in cinemas this week, me recalling one of the most popular Dilip Kumar classic from the 1950s- instead of the usual lesser known stuff.

  • A rainy night with the hero finding it tough to navigate his car through the sloppy slippery roads. CHECK
  • The car breaking down and no help in sight. CHECK 
  • A ‘purani’ desolate ‘haveli’ where the hero decides to take shelter for the night. CHECK 
  • An old and rickety caretaker with a ‘lalten’ in his hand. CHECK 
  • A huge photograph of the haveli’s one time owner. CHECK 
  • The hero finding many things familiar about the haveli and the setting which evidently he is visiting for the first time. CHECK 
  • The hero remembering his past life. CHECK 
  • The hero falling in love with a village belle. CHECK 
  • The hero singing songs with the village belle. CHECK 
  • The hero not getting along well with his boss and the owner of the estate he manages. CHECK 
  • The owner being a lecherous fellow starts lusting for the hero’s love interest. CHECK 
  • The disapproving father of the girl. CHECK 
  • The disapproving father of the girl giving his approval after the hero’s show of honesty and integrity. CHECK 
  • The village celebration song with the hero’s girl joining in. CHECK 
  • The hero’s lecherous boss setting a trap for the hero to go away from the scene. CHECK 
  • The hero’s imbecile girl falling in the villain’s trap. CHECK 
  • The villain going after the girl like a mad animal. The girl escaping his claws and jumping of the terrace. CHECK 
  • The hero unable to forget his love. CHECK 
  • The hero laying a trap for the villain to confess to his crime (being helped by his girl’s look alike). The look-alike girl entering and scaring the daylights out of the villain. The villain shouting for penitence. The police coming forward and grabbing him by his neck. The look-alike standing there smiling after getting ‘her’ revenge.  The hero suddenly realizing that there is something weird going on. The actual look-alike bursting late on the scene. The spirit of the hero’s dead love luring him to salvation. OM SHANTI OM
All of the above points may sound familiar. In fact take any Hindi mystery/reincarnation movie; chances are that one or more of the above points will be a part of that enterprise too. Bimal Roy’s 1958 Dilip Kumar starrer MADHUMATI is a movie that had all of these points together for the first time in a Hindi movie.

Despite the familiarity born out of watching many rehashes of this movie over the years (some good some tacky), Madhumati is an extremely fresh watch owing to it’s well crafted scenes and some sparkling performances by Dilip Kumar, Pran, and Vyjayanthimala (the last especially for her ebullience in the songs and dance sequences). Moreover each and every song by Salil Chaudhary is a classic, and it was a pleasant surprise to see so many memorable songs back to back in a movie. Though it must be said that having eight songs in a two hour movie is like an overdose, and considerably hampers the otherwise fast paced narrative. Without the songs the story could have been said in an hour flat. But then, it wouldn’t have been this charming.

Parting Note: Madhumati is a highly enjoyable affair and people who love old Bollywood musicals should certainly watch this one. For them it would be an absolute treat.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Inkaar (1977)

After watching Chhoti Si Baat, I was browsing through Vidya Sinha’s filmography on Imdb, and there I discovered Inkaar. Described as a thriller on the website with an average rating of 7.9 (40 odd votes), I decided to check it out. And thankfully, watching this movie starring Vinod Khanna as a CID officer turned out to be quite a good call.

A taut, fast paced thriller from the 70s, Inkaar is a stylishly made highly entertaining movie directed by Raj Sippy. The movie is a kidnapping drama and has its central theme right in sight throughout its run-time. The movie opens with a very interesting scene in which Inspector Amarnath Gill (Vinod Khanna) enters a restaurant where a man has reportedly suffered from a heart attack causing quite a concern amongst its patrons. Inspector Gill, however, identifies in a jiffy that the man is faking the attack to escape from paying the restaurant bill. This scene firmly establishes Gill’s character as a sharp, no-frills inspector who keeps emotions out of his already very tough job.

The focus then shifts on the professional and personal world of a successful businessman Haridas Choudhary (Shreeram Lagu in a typical patriarchal role). He is shown to be living a near perfect life; a fact thumped down by a typical ‘sukhi ghar sansaar’ family song featuring a special appearance by Rakesh Roshan; and like it happens in so many of our Hindi movies, as soon as the song ends disaster strikes. Choudhary receives a ransom call from a maniacal criminal Raj Singh (Amjad Khan) and his two accomplices, claiming that they have kidnapped his son. Chaudhary starts hyperventilating and immediately agrees to pay the ransom. However things change rapidly when they realize that the kidnappers had taken the wrong kid with them. Instead of the businessman’s son, they had abducted his driver’s young boy (Master Raju) of the same age.

Things take an interesting turn here, as the story runs on two parallel paths. While a team of CID officers led by Amarnath Gill start chasing the kidnappers, on the other hand there is the emotional melodrama involving the faithful ‘almost family’ driver and the Choudhary family which also includes inspector Gill’s love interest (and Choudhary’s young sister) Geeta (Vidya Sinha). The movie then becomes a riveting crime thriller with an intelligent team of CID inspectors chasing an intelligent and dangerous villain. The good thing is that it stays that way till the end. The narrative is highly engrossing, and despite a few clichés, manages to keep you interested. The last ten minutes or so are somewhat protracted, but the way they have been shot is very interesting (though they remind of the climax of another Vinod Khanna starrer Achanak).

Films like these don’t leave much scope for histrionics, but Vinod Khanna is superb as a plain clothes cop (mostly dressed in black suits throughout the movie). His character is suave and unrelenting and has a strange cool quotient that is hard to explain. Amjad Khan is equally impressive as the mad villain, and adds a lot of weight (no pun intended) to the enterprise. Shreeram Lagu gives the impression of overacting, and the same goes for the actor who plays his driver. Vidya Sinha has nothing much to do, and unfortunately neither does Master Raju.

The songs by Rakesh Roshan are forgettable. Ah wait! The movie also boasts of one of the most favour Helen number ever ‘Mungda Mungda’ (Katrina’s item number in the upcoming film Agneepath seems designed on the same lines). This song, and a small portion following it, seems forced into the otherwise hiccup free screenplay.

Parting Note: ‘Inkaar’ is an extremely engaging movie and fans of the thriller genre will definitely enjoy this one. It would have been rated as one of the best Hindi thrillers ever had it evidently not been a scene by scene copy of a Japanese classic Tengoku to Jigoku by Akira Kurosawa.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dillagi (1978)


Dharmendra and Hema Malini as professors in an all girls’ college, with a playful Dharmendra sprouting exotic Sanskrit poetry that border on the erotic, and an upright Hema teaching the girls Chemistry, literally adopting all its dryness and lack of fun. Sounds like fun? Basu Chatterjee’s little known 1977 film (and understandably so) is an interesting idea treated in a mundane manner, that many of the times, borders on the inane. Despite that there is a certain charm in watching the two stalwart actors (a couple in real life too) rise above the script at many instances and creating some genuine laughs by the sheer strength of their performances.

A simple premise (like almost all of Basu Chatterjee’s other films) of how an independent and well settled working woman, who is about to cross the acceptable marriageable age, is wooed by a charming man who she absolutely detests in the beginning- Dillagi is a kind of film that you would not mind watching on a Sunday afternoon while it plays on TV- nothing less, nothing more. Actually, when I come to think of it, I don’t really recall any other Hindi movie that has a setting like this (except maybe a terrible Anil Kapoor-Karishma Kapoor- Juhi Chawla film Andaaz which also talks about romance in high school). The movie has a host of side actors (either as students or as fellow professors of the star pair), and like all other light-hearted films of that time also stars Asrani (as Hema’s brother). The songs by Rajesh Roshan are nice, and ‘Main Kaun saa geet sunaaoon’ is the pick of the lot.

One thing about the film is pretty clear- it looks like one which was agreed upon by Dharmendra and Hema just to spend some quality time together while making of the film. The production values aren’t that great and Dharmendra looks quite jaded in many of the scenes. Basu Chatterjee perhaps wanted to create something on the lines of Chupke Chupke, but falls well short in terms of the entertainment and engagement quotient of the narrative. The first half is packed with intended humor (which many people won’t find as humorous), while the second half focuses on the romance between the two protagonists. I liked the simplistic second half more endearing. However the finale fight sequence is so shoddily done that it seems to be a sequence out of a low-budget B-grade movie.

Parting note: Harmless ‘almost’ fun. All in all, it is an average film that deserves a watch only because of its lead actors. It’s the kind during which you can attend to an errand for a few minutes and you won’t miss much…

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Namkeen (1982)

What would be the worst part of living a nomad’s life? The lack of a settled dwelling? Or the felling of constant disengagement with the society?

Human beings are not meant to live alone. People, who try to fool themselves into believing that they need no one else in their lives, are usually the ones who get the worst out of this unforgiving world.  One can never stop having attachments in the world around us, and one cannot really leave everything behind and move to another location taking everything away with him. This is because while moving from one place to the other, some small part of one’s heart always does get left behind. One cannot really escape this, however hard one tries. And that’s the reason people find it so hard to say goodbye.

Gulzar’s ‘Namkeen’ is a simple film about simple people who have to work very hard to make a decent living. It is a story of a nomadic truck driver Gerulal (Sanjeev Kumar in one of the last significant roles of his illustrious career) who picks up contractual work that requires him to travel to various towns, and that does not allow him to settle down at one place for long. For his latest assignment, he has to live in a small hilly village for a few days, and he picks up residence as a paying guest with a family of four ladies- one mother (Waheeda Rehman) and her three young daughters (Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi, and Kiran Vairale). Soon, he gets sucked into their world- their problems, their hopes, and their day to day living. But before he can truly make them a part of his life (although at one level that happens just days into his stay with them), he has to leave the village and move on.

This is one movie where the drama is understated, and a lot of time is given to the building up of the relationship between the three girls and Gerulal. How he becomes so important to them and how manages to win the trust of them all, including their mother, is shown with the help of a series of bitter-sweet exchanges between them, most of which leave a smile of the face of the viewer. There are subtle references to the hardships that a household, composed entirely of women, has to face in a rural setting. The bonding between the three sisters, their respect for their senile mother, and their warm acceptance of a complete stranger in their lives- all of this reflects the rootedness and simplicity of the people of our villages. On the other hand Gerulal, the foul mouthed-large hearted truck driver, is equally respectful and warm towards his hosts and he demonstrates this warmth through his genuine concern for the ladies and his efforts to alleviate the challenges they face.

Gulzar mounts the story (written by Samresh Basu who had collaborated with Gulzar previously for Kitaab) on a very realistic canvas. The proceedings gradually transport you to the quaint little world of a small hill-station, and therein lay the magical Gulzar touch that makes make-believe believable. The dialogues are crisp and witty- another of the man’s hallmark. The performances are quite good, which is somewhat needless to say for Gulzar could have made even logs act, and this movie boasted of few of the most celebrated performers of that time. Sanjeev Kumar is Sanjeev Kumar- restrained, believable, and completely natural. Sharmila Tagore pitches in with a much more polished act than her previous attempt in a Gulzar movie- Mausam. Shabana Azmi is saddled with one of her rare supporting roles. 
The scene stealer however is the youngest sister, played by Kiran Vairale. Hers is a fiery character with a streak of rebellion, and she manages to hold her own in front of the best actors of those times. Waheeda Rehman, the veteran, in the role of the mother is effective, but hers does seem to be a labored performance.

The music by RD Burman doesn’t boast of a truly memorable song, but all songs are melodious and go with the texture of the narrative. The best one is ‘Raah pe Rahte hain’, a song in the same philosophical mode as ‘Musafir Hoon Yaaron’ from Parichay.

Parting Note: Namkeen is another good movie from Gulzar’s stable; I guess there isn’t really any below the mark movie made by the maestro (just a few left for me to catch up on). I guess a thoughtful and articulate man as Gulzar who was primarily a writer (and a superb one at that) would have found it hard to make a movie which was not at least above average.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bandini (1963)

Now, this is celebrated as one of the classics from the black and white era. Of course, it is not spoken in the same breath as Pyaasa/Mother India/Devdas/Mughl-e-Azam, but those conversant with the cinema from that era do recall this Bimal Roy film as one of the finest to have been made in India. I had not heard about this one at all, and I believe it would be the same case with most others of my age. And now that I have seen it for myself, there is a case for me to include this on my blog about lesser known cinema (By calling it lesser known, I don’t mean to disrespect the movie in any manner. This disclaimer is the result of some feedback I had received when I had written about ‘Do Bhiga Zameen’ as a part of this series of posts)

Bandini is one of those rare female-centric Hindi movies that have a strong story to tell. When we look at some of the movies of today that have central female characters like Fashion or Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, they have had extremely predictable contexts (This is not a comment on the quality of these movies). But Bandini has a story that cannot be expressed in two sentences. It is thoroughly engaging not just because of the way the narrative plays out, but also because it evokes a lot of interest through the suspense route it takes to bring out the facts in front of the viewers.

Kalyani (Nutan in an award winning role) is a convict who is serving her sentence in a women’s jail, after admitting to having killed someone. Dr. Devender (Dharmendra in one of the earliest roles of his career), is a young and debonair man who has recently been appointed the post of the prison-doctor. Devender meets Kalyani, and they strike a companionship while tending to a sick co-inmate of Kalyani for whom she acts as a nurse. Rumors start to go about all over the jail about their love affair, and Devender admits to being in love Kalyani. He offers to marry her but she refuses to accept his generous gesture, citing the terrible past she has had and the terrible sin she had committed. Unable to digest the disappointment, Devender resigns from his job and leaves the prison complex. Meanwhile Kalyani goes on to reveal everything about her past to the kind prison-master (who is also Devender’s close relative). What all had happened in her life, and what had forced her to commit the grave crime, is what the movie is all about from that point in time.

The movie is set in pre-independence era when young revolutionary men were making huge sacrifices for the cause of their motherland. Kalyani had become romantically involved with one such man Bikash Ghosh (played by Ashok Kumar) and how their love story had panned out is what the story looks at. Apart from this story of course, what is extremely interesting to note is the way the revolutionaries were handled by the British Raj at that point in time. Bimal Roy brings to the proceedings a sense of authenticity which is extremely rare and refreshing. The jingoism is kept out completely; the focus never deviates from the central theme i.e. the journey of the central character Kalyani.

What is really remarkable is that Bimal Roy chose to create very real characters. One trapping of Hindi cinema has been that the bad people are always terribly bad, and the good guys are angels on earth. There is something between black and white, and it is a good reflection on the grey matter of the maker of the movie, that he did not choose to ignore grey. So while the young doctor falls so hopelessly in love that he ignores all his roles and responsibilities; on the other hand Kalyani does not hesitate to kill someone out of her anguish and anger. Even Bikash Ghosh betrays the trust of his love, though he has a very good reason to do so. All this gets summed up in a brilliantly shot climax sequence. It would be a disservice to write about it in detail, but one this is sure that it is one of the most thought provoking and emotional end to a movie. Also, there is a song that plays in the background while Kalyani is forced to make the biggest decision of her life- the lyrics of the same are amazing in the manner in which they bring out the dilemma of the central characters.

I admit I haven’t seen much of Nutan’s early work (My best memory of her is her portrayal of Anil Kapoor’s mother in Meri Jung), but Bandini gives a fair idea of her amazing acting prowess. She truly is brilliant in an author backed role. Ashok Kumar is his usual efficient self (But it is strange to see that even in a 1963 film he did not look much different to how he looked in his 1970s films). Dharmendra has a supporting role, in which he looks great and performs ably. The music of the film is very nice and the songs complement the story beautifully. The story is adapted from a novel by a noted Bengali author Jarasandha (who incidently was a former jail superintendent and wrote fictional accounts of his experiences- Source Wikipedia)

Parting Note- Bandini is a remarkable movie that is different from anything else that has been seen in Hindi cinema. It is one of Bimal Roy’s most noted works and most certainly deserves the tag of a ‘classic’.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ankur (1974)

India lives in its villages. It is unfortunate that people like me, born and brought up in India’s rapidly developing metropolitan cities soon transforming into world centers for commerce and quickly imbibing a culture to match that of their western counterparts, don’t really have much of an idea about the way things were (and still are) in what still forms more than 70 percent of our country- i.e. our heartlands- our roots. It is only through books and texts that we get a perception of this world that exists alongside us, but is largely unknown. Unfortunately, most of our movies paint a rosy picture of it- with farmers singing away happily through the seasons of harvest, and the village communities living like large families- tackling challenges, and subsequently celebrating together- in unison. Hardly any movie touches upon the social dynamics, the caste system, and the stigmas prevalent in that world. Shyam Benegal’s first feature- ‘Ankur’ is an exception to the norm. It is the stark reality that a part of us knows about, but refuses accept. It is an award winning movie that opened the doors for independent thought in Indian cinema- one that is uninhibited, courageous, and bold.

The film opens with a traditional village ceremony on a cloudy day, and the sequence ends with Laxmi asking God for an offspring...It is a story of Laxmi (Shabhana Azmi is a role for which she won the National Award), wife of a drunkard, jobless, deaf, and dumb 'kumhaar' (someone who makes mud utensils) who looks after the estate of a wealthy village personality.  Then one fine day Surya, the son of this wealthy person, comes to stay over and manage the estate. Surya is a young man who has just completed his schooling and has taken the marital vows (though his wife is still too young to be staying with him).

Laxmi spots an opportunity and on her request Surya gives her jobless husband the job of manning the bullock cart. Soon, Laxmi takes full responsibility of the household chores for Surya, who does not refrain from having the food cooked by her (an untouchable), much to the chagrin of the village priest who repeatedly asks the young man to have food from his house. Her involvement in Surya’s life attains greater proportions when her husband, found to be stealing stuff from the estate, runs away abandoning her and the small hut they shared. Surya starts getting attracted to Laxmi, and after her initial hesitancy, they get into a physical relationship. Things take a turn when Surya’s wife comes over to stay with him at the estate, and immediately starts to detest Laxmi’s presence in their lives. The tension escalates, and soon reaches a crescendo when Laxmi discovers that she is pregnant with Surya’s child and is forced to retreat to her hut.

Slowly the village folk get to know this fact, and things start going around in the air. Just when Laxmi starts fearing that there would be nothing left for her in life, her husband returns back- happier, and determined to make amends for his disloyalty. The scene when Laxmi discovers her husband’s return and starts bawling her heart out, overcome with guilt and remorse, is one of the most powerful ones in the movie and superbly performed by Shabhana Azmi (I guess it would have been this scene that would have clinched the National award for her). The climax too is heart-wrenching and really thought provoking.

The performances in the movie are top-notch, with Shabana Azmi leading the way, and Anant Nag (as Surya) too pitching in with an earnest act. But it is essentially a director’s film and Shyam Benegal handles his vision with supreme confidence and utter disdain for the norm. He speaks his own language, and does not refrain from keeping the dirty words out to please the eye. This movie, though essentially a story of a woman’s longing for love and acceptance, touches upon and comments on many social issues afflicting our society. It is a film that has the power to arouse debate- and that is the key winning of the attempt.

Suitably lauded at that time, Ankur won a lot of awards, and more importantly opened the doors for many directors to progress their vision without looking for commercial acceptance, and caring for footfalls in cinemas. Shyam Benegal himself followed up this movie with Nishant and Manthan- equally powerful movies that were made with similar fearlessness and clarity of purpose.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Koshish (1972)


The one thing common to all Gulzar movies is that they all have very simple titles. Write a story (or a poem for that matter), and you would know that sometimes it is a lot tougher to think up a title for it than the actual writing itself. Kinaara, Parichay, Khushboo, Mausam, Lekin, Angoor, Kitaab, Namkeen, Achanak, Ijaazat, Maachis… all these names tell so much about their respective movies- not always before viewing them- but more so after you experience them. Try asking a few people to give some alternative names to these stories- most likely you would get really varied answers and none would have the pertinence and relevance of the titles Gulzar chose for them. Only a highly observant and artistically articulate man like him can think of things like these. However, try doing the same exercise for the 1972 movie by him starring Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri, and I don’t think you would need to put in much ‘Koshish’ (effort), for there can really be no other name for this sensitive feature by arguably (and most certainly in my eyes) the best story-teller that Hindi cinema has seen…

It is a movie that would have most certainly provided reference points to films like Khamoshi (The Sanjay Leela Bhansali one). A story of a deaf and dumb couple (Haricharan and Aarti) and their attempts to lead a normal respectable life is a delightful watch for more reasons than one.

First. It’s abstinence from melodrama for most parts- For a movie on two handicapped people, Koshish is amazingly restrained in most things it attempts and refrains from the clichéd trappings of such stories. In that sense it is fresh perspective, and a few scenes bring out this perspective wonderfully well. One such scene is when the two, relieved at finding out that their new-born son does not suffer from the same handicap as they do, start whistling alternately to capture the attention of the kid from two sides of the bed on which he rests comfortably. The rapturous whistles (growing in intensity every second) attract the attention of all the people on the street, who are shunned out in good humor by the joyous father Haricharan. The people continue with daily chores after having a good laugh. It is the treatment of this laughter by the normal people around the two, which is really different here. The focus is entirely on the world between Haricharan and Aarti, and the rest of the world doesn’t really matter. 

Two. The detailing- Utmost care is given in depicting the sign language authentically. In fact the schooling shown for the deaf and dumb kids is heartening to see. The way the two interact with each other and with the rest of the world is so realistic, and so well researched, that it is hard to believe that Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri have the gift of sound and speech in real life.

Three. The thought- The idea is not only to show the difficulties that a handicapped couple may face while trying to lead a respectable life, but also how such people can rise even above the normal people if they remain optimistic and are given the right environment and opportunities to succeed. One thing that is repeated more than once in the film (or in fact said more than once in the film by one of the characters) is the deaf and dumb are blessed for they will never hear the bad things that are said in the world, and will never say the bad things that are said in the world. It is a refreshing view that acts as the thrust for the narrative.

Four. Its love story- If one has to put a genre to this movie (forget for a moment that its leads are handicapped), then it is no question a love story. It has everything- from the initial meeting, to frequent interactions, to those stolen moments, to the hesitancy and ultimately the acceptance. Even post marriage how their love stands the test of time and difficult times, is what the movie emphasizes on.

And Last. Its performances- Yes, it is a kind of movie where even average performances from the leads would have appeared wonderful. But leaving aside this fact, both Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri pitch in with WONDERFUL performances- it is actually hard to find the right words to describe the finesse and the polish in their efforts. Right from the start to the finish, Sanjeev Kumar just converts completely into the deaf and dumb Haricharan on screen, and not even for an iota of a second does his real life persona becomes visible from behind character that he plays. The same goes for Jaya Bhaduri, who delivers a knock-out performance that will rank amongst the best if one has to make a list of the top performances by female actors in Indian cinema. The supporting cast provides able support, especially Om Shivpuri who plays a blind man and a friend to the couple. 

But there are certain portions in the film that are not as convincing as the rest. The entire Asrani track is kind of tangential to the central theme, and does not actually add anything to the plot, except a few bits of drama. The track is not even given a proper closure, which is highly uncharacteristic of Gulzar (but then this was just his second film). Also, I felt that the climax raised more questions rather than answering some- and the end was slightly hurried and meek. But even then, in a delightful trick, Gulzar smartly completes a circle by referencing an earlier dialogue in the narrative. One slightly disappointing thing about the movie is that its music (by Madan Mohan) is nothing to write home about, which is so unlike a Gulzar movie. 

Parting Note: The movie is certainly a must watch for its freshness, its novelty, its finesse, and most importantly- its thought. Another gem from Gulzar…

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Aakrosh (1980)

Angst. Anger, Aggression… Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh (1980) is a dark and disturbing film set in the heartlands of our country where there is little regard for law and order and the men in power have all the powers of the world in the true sense. Based on true events, Aakrosh tells the story Bhiku (Om Puri in one of the most acclaimed roles of his career) who is accused of killing his own wife (played by Smita Patil), and how he remains silent-suppressing his cry of outrage due to his distrust and disbelief in the system.
This helpless and defenseless peasant, who refuses to tell his side of the story to the lawyer who has been appointed for his defense, is an enigma for the people around him as he literally stays mute all the time. The Lawyer Bhaskar Kulkarni (Naseeruddin Shah in a remarkably restrained and uncharacteristically powerless role) is utterly disappointed by his client’s lack of support (read speech), and in an attempt to salvage some pride in his first case, makes some investigations on his own. In the court, his professional adversary is his real life mentor- Public Prosecutor Dushane (played by Amrish Puri).

Before I go on about my mumblings on the movie I have an interesting observation to make. The basic plot of this movie is replicated in Puneet Issar’s Salman Khan Starrer Garv (2004). Despite having the same thread throughout the movie- one cannot have two more diametrically different movies. While Aakrosh is given a really realistic texture- Garv is full on front-bencher pleasing commercial cinema with a hero at the helm of the affairs. Needless to say, in Aakrosh there is no hero.Also while Garv doesn't let the evil prevail over the good in the end, Aakrosh does not fall in any such trappings and takes a realistic look at story. 

Aakrosh has a narrative that does not flow unrestrained. It is multilayered and has many political and social points to make- which it does by giving due importance and care to each and every scene. The story is told from the eyes of the young advocate Bhaskar. It is his fears, his apprehensions, and his persistent efforts at knowing the truth that bring out the tension in the plot. Bhaskar Kulkarni represents the educated and grounded youth of the country, fresh out of their studies, and having very little idea of the malice in the society. He makes his efforts not in an attempt to save Bhiku, but because he considers it his moral responsibility being the lawyer assigned the case. He never gives up, despite facing resistance from not only his detractors, but also from the people he tries to defend (Bhiku and his family).

Although Amrish Puri’s character is not very important to the central plot, his Dushane is very important to the points that Govind Nihalani intends to make with the movie. Dushane is respectable man in the society who, despite being from the lower caste, has managed to gain acceptance from the people around him, by the very strength of his professional achievements and legal acumen. He is also an impassive observer to the whole dirty politics that is being played out in the village. On his level of involvement in the swamp, the director remains non-committal. However he is shown to be a regular at the get-togethers of all the powerful people of the village (who are also the villains in the plot- to use the conventional lingo). Also, Dushane is the only source of comfort and also a confidante to the young Bhaskar who lives alone in the village infested with criminal elements. All this lends him a very ambiguous position, which Amrish Puri justifies very well with his polished portrayal of the character.  

The director shows no hurry and treats the story with a touch that is reminiscent of his mentor Shyam Benegal’s cinema. It is the harsh reality- take it or leave it. There are no efforts to please on set of people over the other. I guess such movies aren’t banned by the authorities as they know hardly anyone would watch them. There are many powerful scenes that stay with you once you are done watching the movie, but none is more stark than the climax scene when Bhiku finally abandons his silence with a heart-wrenching cry of outrage. His savage act which precedes this cry makes a very pessimistic statement (which is unfortunate), but it manages to put across the point that the director is trying to make effectively.

Parting Note: Aakrosh is a dark, disturbing, and hard to watch (despite it being really well made) mainly because of its serious content. For people who like their cinema all grim and true to life (that too the dark side of life), this is a mandatory viewing. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

JFFS: Dostana 2

dostana2 JUST FOR FUN SEQUEL: Dostana 2

So at the end of D-1 Neha gets hitched to Abhimanyu. So what happens to Sam and Kunal? What happens to their Dostana?
Sam and Kunal start their lives again, away from that apartment and those fun filled moments. But they realize that they can’t get over their true feelings for Neha and they both remind each other of her and the fun times they had together. They decide to help one another in finding new partners but that all efforts go in vain. In fact it is because of the presence of the other in their lives that they can’t fall in love again. So they decide to end their friendship and stay away from each other until they find their respective matches.

So, Sam and Kunal are once again on their own- like they were at the beginning of D-1. On his mother’s insistence Sam goes over and visits her. There, his mother has already found a nice girl for him and wants him to get married to her. Sam doesn’t want in the least, but on his mother’s insistence meets the girl, Ayesha, and finds her really nice (read hot). So he decides to give marriage a chance thinking that in any case he has to move on in life. So Sam and Ayesha get married and proceed to go for a honeymoon on a cruise. Once on the cruise Sam gets a shocker and finds that Kunal is there with his girlfriend…

All this while, when Sam was in London, Kunal manages to fall in love with Sonam- a hotshot model who he had once photographed for a magazine. Kunal and Sonam don’t rush into a marriage and decide to know each other better by going on a holiday together. They get an opportunity in the form of a cruise on which a small film is being shot in which Sonam has landed up a role. Kunal too becomes a photographer with the film crew and they both join the cruise- with the intention of mixing work with pleasure.

Kunal too is as astonished to find Sam on the same cruise. However, they once again bond- over drinks- and introduce their respective partners to one another. But there is a shock in waiting for them. Neha’s ex boss (Boman Irani) too is on the cruise. He still thinks that Sam and Kunal are a gay couple. He is baffled to learn that both of them are with girls. He confronts Sam and chides him that he had suppressed his natural instincts because of his mother and had ended up marrying a girl. He thinks Kunal is just passing his time by going out with Sonam as Sam has broken his heart by marrying Ayesha. He sympathizes with Kunal. Now both Sam and Kunal have to prevent Neha’s ex boss (‘NEB’) from fulfilling his mission of telling Ayesha everything.

Meanwhile the cruise reaches a small island. Sam and Kunal go out together for some sightseeing, taking NEB with them, so as to keep him away from Ayesha and Sonam. But just when the ship is leaving NEB falls in a trench. In saving him, all the three of them are left stranded on the island and the ship goes away. Frustrated, they explore the island. They find it to be a very small one with just a few locals and a very few English speaking ones. Just as they think that the things couldn’t go any worse, a group of local goons attack them and take all their money and possessions. They spend the night in the jungles and when the sun rises they get up determined to get out of the mess. They reach a small hotel. They are shocked to find that the hotel’s owner recognizes them. He had been at the party where Sam and Kunal had kissed each other in front of Neha and Abhimanyu. He has a very little English but they manage to tell him that they had been robbed and had missed the ship. The owner then tells them that there was a vacancy where they could earn some money at one go. They decide to trust him- for they had no other choice. To Sam and Kunal’s horror and NEB’s delight, they take them to a strip club with a large number of people (both guys and gals) waiting for them to start the show. They go through hell and just as they are leaving the strip club, Sam spots someone he knew very well. It’s Sunaina. His first love. The girl with whom he had made love for the first time. He is shocked to find her in a completely inebriated state along with a group of other hippies. He runs over to her but she recognizes him in an instant. His heart takes a huge lurch. He takes her away from her group and away from Kunal and NEB. They both spend the night chatting away and recalling their past memories. Sam realizes that Sunaina had been always his first love and even Neha’s memories faded in her presence.

Meanwhile the next day Ayesha and Sonam return to the island in a steamer. They find Kunal and NEB and rush over to them. Ayesha asks Kunal about Sam. Kunal realizes that there could be big trouble if Ayesha found Sunaina with Sam. He rushes over to Sam and finds him locked in an embrace with Sunaina. He confronts him and tells him that his wife was on the island. Sam has to return to the cruise but before leaving he promises Sunaina that he would be back for her. On the cruise Sam realizes that Ayesha had fallen madly in love with him and he couldn’t ask her to separate. And then it strikes to him. He had to do it again. He and Kunal once again pretend to be gays and create raucous on the cruise. NEB is thrilled that both of them had overcome their unnatural instincts and were back together. Kunal tells Sonam that they are play-acting but Ayesha is shocked and completely heartbroken. She tries to make Sam realize her love for him and tries to seduce him to ‘better things’ but all her efforts prove futile and ultimately she has to leave the cruise completely shattered.

Sam, Kunal and Sonam return to the island to find Sunaina. But there is another twist awaiting them. They find that Sunaina is Abhimanyu’s sister and Neha and Abhimanyu were on the island visiting her. Kunal spots Neha and this time it’s him who finds his heart take a lurch. He looks at her and then looks at Sonam and then realizes that he could never forget Neha and could never do justice to some other girlfriend. But he is not able to tell Sonam all this. So once again they do what they are best at and pretend to be gays, telling Sonam that in the process of play-acting on the cruise, they had actually fallen in love with each other. Sonam too, leaves the island in a huff.

Meanwhile cracks have started to appear in Abhimanyu and Neha’s marriage. Neha has been a fantastic mother but professional differences and different opinions on most things at work have started to trouble their life at home. Abhimanyu had realized that Neha could be very infuriating in matters of work and he had begun to regret their marriage. But the only thing that had kept them together was his son and Neha’s love for him. They had come to the island to try to patch up their differences. But when Neha spots Kunal and Sam she finds no time for Abhimanyu. The three of them recall their Dostana and have fun together; only difference being that Sunaina joins them. Kunal starts to woo Neha when he realizes that things were not right between her and Abhimanyu. Neha too has always had a part of her, which had loved Kunal and that part takes over her entire existence because of his charm and she too is smitten by him. Abhimanyu too realizes Kunal and Neha’s feelings for each other and he and Neha decide to take a divorce. The only thing that stops Neha is her bond with Abhimanyu’s son. But Abhimanyu thinks of a solution. Abhimanyu tells her that he has decided to move to India to establish their businesses there and their son could stay with them if she would like it. Neha is thrilled. Abhimanyu tells his son to love Neha as a mother and that he would be always there for him and would come to meet him often.

So a new Dostana begins with two grand marriages. Sunaina and Sam. Kunal and Neha.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lekin... (1990)

“Yaara Sili Sili Virah Ki Raat Ka Jalna”

‘Lekin’ is a movie best remembered for this timeless song by Lata Mangeshkar. Directed by Gulzar and produced by the nightingale of Bollywood herself (along with her Brother Hridyanath Mangeshkar, who also takes up the responsibility of composing music for the film), Lekin is the most 'hatke' theme attempted by Gulzar in his long and illustrious directorial career. It is a story that is mythical, rustic, and open to interpretations- like so many of the folktales that can be heard in villages abode to old monuments that act as bridges between our past and the present. Starring Vinod Khanna and Dimple Kapadia in principal roles, Lekin is a story seeped in the culture of the most mystical part of our nation- Rajasthan.

Samir (Vinod Khanna) is sent to a non-descript village in Rajasthan to evaluate and classify the possessions of an old palace that was once owned by the king of that region, and the doors to which have not been opened since the past few decades. On the way he has a strange encounter with a gypsy woman (Dimple Kapadia). Not thinking too much about it, he reaches his destination where he discovers that his old friend Siddique (Amjad Khan) is now a collector. The very next day he starts his job in the old palace, but things take a strange turn when he meets the gypsy woman once again. Soon, a lot of things start happening thick and fast around Samir, of which he cannot make any sense at all. How Samir gets embroiled in the age old forgotten tale of the sandy ruins, and how his life gets hijacked by an apparition from the past, is what the movie is all about.

The movie is different not only in terms of its story, but also in terms of the way Gulzar has treated it. He very beautifully captures the mood of the ‘lands of kings’, and adds a stamp of authenticity in each and every frame of the narrative. He creates a world that sucks you into it, and involves just like a very well written and intriguing bit of poetry. There is suspense, but it is not hurried. Everything is languid, and each and every bit of the puzzle unfolds patiently. It appears that Gulzar wants the viewers to feel the restiveness, the confusion, and the curiosity that is haunting Samir. Also, in terms of its theme, Gulzar chooses a story that could well have been converted into a tacky Ramsey affair, in the hands of a lesser and a more commercially inclined man. But Gulzar not only tells a story, he also raises a lot of questions about the paranormal, and the supernatural. Of course, the viewers are left to form their own interpretations through the course of the story, and also at the end of it all. It may all seem implausible, as it does to the protagonist initially, but then suddenly it may start making sense. Or rather, you would stop caring about its plausibility, and would just start to go with the flow of the proceedings (that is what happened with me). The only glitch is that this flow gets a little too slow in the middle of the movie- and that has led to it becoming a lengthy feature at around 160 min.

There are a lot of important characters in the story played by well known names of that time including Alok Nath and Vijayendra Ghatge. Hema Malini chips in with a very important cameo appearance. And like in most Gulzar movies, the music plays an additional character, one which often commands more respect than the mere mortals on screen. That said, even the mortals aren’t far behind in this feature, for both Vinod Khanna and Dimple Kapadia do a fabulous job. Dimple Kapadia looks ethereal, and talks more through her eyes than through her words. Amjad Khan (highly obese at the fag-end of his career) is efficient as the hero’s best friend and confidante- and so is the actress who plays his wife.

Parting Note: For those who don’t mind a slow pacing to their movies, and can digest a theme involving supernatural elements, Lekin is a very good watch.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vijeta (1982)

While no one can put a stop to ageing (the world is still waiting for the chemical formula), coming of age  is an arduous job. It is a journey like no other, which is more psychological than literal. Unfortunately history tells us that the best men, more often than not, get made only after facing a lot of hardships and going through personal losses. Maybe it’s a small tax that they have to pay on their path of self-discovery and conquest. 

Govind Nihalani’s Vijeta is a movie that emphasizes on the above fact and explores human relationships through challenging times. It is basically a story of guy’s journey from boy to man, and how he conquers his doubts and apprehensions to emerge victorious in life. The movie has been produced by Shashi Kapoor, and stars his son Kunal Kapoor as the protagonist.

Vinod (Shashi Kapoor) and Neelima (Rekha) form an estranged couple, who despite their differences live together for the sake of their only son Angad (Kunal Kapoor as a young surd). Vinod is in the entertainment business, while Neelima is a housewife who is highly involved with her pursuits in classical music (This deep involvement suggests a void in her life that she is trying to take care of). One day Angad, their son, returns home after leaving his boarding school. Utterly confused about what to do in life, and highly troubled by the shaky relationship his parents share, Angad feels that his life is completely worthless and confesses contemplating suicide in front of his mother (with whom he shares a friendly relationship, contrary to the acerbic one that he shares with his father). Neelima’s young brother (and Angad’s uncle), a Naval officer, takes Angad to stay with him for a few days. During his stay with his Uncle, Angad finds life in the armed forces highly disciplined, challenging, and adventurous, and decides to enter the National Defense Academy to train for becoming an Air Force Pilot.

Soon, after countering the initial resistance to the idea posed by his father, he enters the Academy and settles into a new regime that throws more challenges at him that he anticipates initially. Thus his journey ensues, and how along the way he forms new bonds- finds few friends for life and finds love, and how his success in life helps resolve the issues between his parents, is what the movie is all about.

The one thing that striking about this movie is its authenticity. Be it the manner in which human relationships are depicted, or the way the life at the Defense Academy is showcased- everything is done realistically and nothing is over the top. Even the love story between Angad and Ana (played by a young Supriya Pathak) is unconventional in the way it has been handled on screen- minus any melodrama and the usual kitsch associated with Hindi cinema. There are many sequences that deserve mention-right from the initial ones involving Shashi Kapoor and Rekha, to the pre climax when Angad is at the front fighting the 1971 war. Certain scenes are so powerful that they can be easily included in the best shot scenes ever in Indian cinema. One such lengthy sequence is at the Air Force training academy when the handling of an in flight glitch is depicted wonderfully. When one contrasts it to one such scene in the latest movie ‘Mausam’, one can only feel highly impressed by the way Govind Nihalani shot the scene almost 30 years ago without using the kind of digital technology that is at the disposal of the directors today (incidentally, just struck me, Supriya Pathak is another connection between the two movies).

This movie is embellished with truly remarkable performances, led by Shashi Kapoor and Amrish Puri. The latter is, in my opinion, the greatest character artist ever in our movies, and the respect for the former has grown leaps and bounds in my eyes after watching this and Junoon (both unconventional movies produced and backed by him). The people who play Angad’s friends are all very efficient, and so is Rekha, in a complex role that required much emoting but no histrionics (again unconventional by usual standards). Om Puri, who plays Angad’s Uncle, is effective in an extended cameo. Supriya Pathak is damn sweet in her portrayal of Angad’s love interest, and I wonder why she didn’t do better as a mainstream actor. The only one who disappoints a little is ironically the main lead- Kunal Kapoor, for whom this movie was a kind of launch vehicle. Maybe in an effort to remain restrained, he is surprisingly insipid and dull in many scenes, and does not enforce himself on the movie at all. He shows flashes of talent in a few sequences, but overall, it is not hard to understand why he was not a success as a mainstream actor after watching this movie where he was handed a role of the lifetime by his father.

Parting Note: This movie is a must watch for many reasons. One- it is a technically brilliant film that has a strong theme and an engaging storyline. Two- it is an unconventional take on human relationships, the kind is realistic and at the same time has tremendous entertainment value. Three- it shows life in the Air Force, and the growth of an individual as he progresses through the various stages of his career in the defense forces. And lastly, it is an ode to the human spirit, undying and relentless in its pursuit of acceptance, peace, satisfaction, and victory…

P.S. A poster of the movie, that did not care to even slightly depict its central theme. Commercials trappings hard to eschew completely in the big bad world of Bollywood.