Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kinara (1977)

Anubhav Sinha’s ‘Tum Bin’ is one my favorite romantic movies of recent times. Its premise of the hero trying to make amends for an accidental death caused by him was heartwarming and gave ample scope for dramatic situations. While watching ‘Kinara’, written and directed by Gulzar, I was reminded of ‘Tum Bin’ as this movie had essentially the same premise as the modern day musical.

Starring Jeetendra, Hema Malini, and Dharmendra (in an extended cameo)- Kinara is a touching tragic tale of love and fate. Jeentendra plays the rich nephew of a famous architect. While driving to catch a performance by a noted classical dancer (played by Hema Malini), he meets with a disastrous road accident. Six months hence, when fully recovered, he travels to explore a historical town in Madhya Pradesh. There he meets Hema Malini who is there to click some photographs to include in a historical book written by her late fiancé (played by Dharmendra). His world is shaken when he realizes that Dharmendra had lost his life in the very accident which had been caused by his own rash driving. What follows next and how Hema Malini reconciles with the loss of the love in her life is what is movie is all about.

This is the second directorial feature of Gulzar that I have watched (Parichay being the first). World renowned for his poetry, Gulzar mounts his stories on celluloid akin to his writing a beautiful prose. Somewhere I read that Gulzar makes his characters talk like himself in real life. And after watching this movie I could truly appreciate this observation. The dialogues are carefully worded and one can make out that a lot of thought would have gone into writing them. The characters are well defined and evolve as the story progresses. Music plays a crucial role in binding it all together. The film includes one of the most haunting melodies from the 1970s-

“Naam Gum Jaayega- Chehra yeh Badal Jaayega- meri awaaz hee pehchaan hai- agar yaad rahe”

Hema Malini plays one of the toughest roles of her career. The way she conveys longing, pain, anger, and helplessness is admirable. She also gets to display her expertise at classical dancing. Far from the campy, clichéd stuff he engaged himself with in 1980s, Jeetendra delivers one of his career best performances. Carrying forward the sincerity he displayed in Gulzar’s earlier Parichay, he gives a heartfelt performance as the young man who becomes a victim in the eyes (quite literally) of someone he likes and respects- more than once. Dharmendra has the easiest part of playing a charmer and a man madly in love, both with his fiancé and with his life. The supporting cast is efficient and I personally found the character of Jeetendra’s uncle striking and most impactful.

Parting Note- Like most good poetry, this movie too demands patience and a discerning eye for subtle highpoints. The drama is understated but still charming, quite like the man Gulzar himself.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Yateem (1988)

'Western' is a really popular genre in Hollywood. But if we have to look for a Hindi movie that can be put in a similar bracket, we won’t go further than Sholay. However there are many other lesser known Bollywood movies that embody the western spirit- shot in virgin countryside, with horseback chases, gunshots, dacoits, loot, and romance. Yateem, written and directed by JP Dutta (the man who made ‘Border’), is one such movie. I had not heard about this one at all until I chanced upon a page on it recently. And upon watching the movie subsequently I got more than one reason to be surprised of.

First- the cinematography- the locales- the shots- are all spellbinding. As a kid when I used to travel on the Bhopal Shatabdi express to Gwalior, I used to be fascinated by the view of the Chambal valley in a stretch between Agra and Gwalior. It always made me curious and I yearned to explore the unknown terrains it kept hidden. And this movie helped me satisfy my curiosity. It has been shot in Chambal and its heartlands, and also in UP and parts of MP and Gujarat/Rajasthan. The way the shots have been mounted, the frames have been captured- is really fascinating. Upon watching it one can easily appreciate that India offers each and every kind of natural beauty a tourist may seek elsewhere in different parts of the world.

Second- the storyline- has many really unconventional elements that can be considered bold for the Indian audiences. In fact this may have been a plausible reason for its critical and commercial failure at the time it released. The movie explores forbidden relationships and the central conflict arises because of a woman seeking pleasures outside her home.

Third- Sunny Deol’s performance- over the years Sunny has been synonymous with high adrenaline action with him beating the pulp out of many hooligans at once. This movie too has its share of action packed scenes; however the difference is that Sunny’s portrayal of anguished young policeman has a certain raw charm about it which is missing from his current day performances. He manages to convey vulnerability, pain, and fervor at the same time- a feat few modern day actors can accomplish.

Fourth- the gripping drama and dialogues- many elements of the story are formulaic, however the narrative is fast paced and engrossing for most parts.

And finally- there are no memorable songs in the movie despite having Laxmikant-Pyarelal at the helm. Now this is a surprise because the movies in a 80s depended heavily on music to engage the viewers. The run-time is a bit long and fast-forwarding the songs helped.

Parting Note- This movie will draw totally diverse reactions. Some may trash it vehemently, but there would be others who would give it the highest praise. For me the movie worked as a more than decent time-pass ‘masala’ entertainer elevated by its performances and stunning cinematography.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mirch Masala (1987)

The movies that try to recreate an era gone by always have a quaint charm irrespective of how good their content is. It is wonderful to be able to witness something that is way behind us, especially because most of these movies try to depict our historical roots and culture. Mirch Masala by Ketan Mehta- starring Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Deepti naval, Suresh Oberoi amongst others is a fine take on the pre-independence era when the exploitation of villages by tax-collectors was rampant. Naseeruddin Shah comes to this quiet Gujarati village to collect ‘Lagaan’ on behalf of his white-skinned masters. And with him comes his entourage- all of them intoxicated by the power and control they have over the poor villagers. Naseeruddin Shah- the ‘Maalik’- the ‘Saheb’- can do anything and everything- can get anything or anyone from the village to his liking to do his bidding.

The first half of the movie sets up the story very nicely. Although it is a bit slow, it is interesting to see the way the characters are established and the everyday chores of the village people are depicted. The story is set in a timeframe when women were by and large an oppressed lot and enjoyed little independence. In the mornings the women of the village are shown to work at a ‘Masala’ factory for a local ‘sahukaar’. The only source of entertainment for them is shown to be small get-together at night for a round of ‘Garba’. The delight on the faces of these women when they playfully engage themselves in this dance form is a wonderful testament on the doggedness of human spirit.

The story takes an interesting turn at about the halfway mark and the rest of the run-time is a fast paced narrative that is highly engaging and at the same time thought provoking. Tension is built up remarkably well using a simple linear plot structure despite being an ensemble cast film. The climax, despite being abrupt, is an apt way to culminate the story. The last shot and the expression on Smita Patil’s face perfectly epitomizes the core idea of the movie.

The performances by everyone are wonderful. I had always heard of Smita Patil being a great actress and this movie completely justifies her prowess. Naseeruddin Shah is menacing, and had the movie been a popular one- this would have gone down as one of the best villainous performance ever (the category often dominated by caricaturized, over the top characters).

Parting Note-Must Watch- this is one movie on women liberation that is not at all preachy- it has a story to tell and that is tells remarkably well J

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chitchor (1976)

A few minutes into this Basu Chatterjee- Rajshri productions collaboration, I almost shouted ‘Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon’. A quick Google search later I was indeed vindicated. Sooraj Barjataya’s ‘Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon’ was indeed an underwhelming remake of this little gem of a movie. While its newer rehashed version is a tedious 176 minutes watch, Chitchor is an unusual hindi movie from the 70s with a breezy runtime of just about 100 minutes.
Chitchor stands for everything that made our earlier cinema so endearing- life like characters, simplicity of the plot, melodious music, engaging situations, and subtle humor. The setting is beautiful and in a way adds a lot to the movie…
“Gori Tera Gaon Bada pyaara- main toh gaya maara- aake yahan re…”
The premise of mistaken identities is simple enough- but it is the execution that is the winner here. Again, like most other Rajshri productions, the movie stresses on recognizing and relishing the simple pleasures of life. A bouquet of fresh flowers that the heroine (Zarina Wahab) gives to the hero (Amol Palekar) every evening is symbolic of the same. Amol Palekar is truly amazing in his portrayal of a cultured, well mannered and musically inclined man who is sent by his company for overseeing a construction project being carried out near the village where the story takes place. Zarina Wahab is an unusual Hindi film heroine. Certainly not the best looking of her times, this dusky lady has an unconventional appeal that works very well for this movie.
With a story with such few characters, the supporting cast does a fabulous job. The parents and the other hero- I don’t know him by name (he plays what Abhishek played in MPKDH) are effective. Special mention must be given to the kid who plays Zarina’s friend here. The relationship between him and Zarina is really sweet and is a highlight of the movie. In fact it can be said that the kid is the third most important character in the story. No, maybe that recognition should be given to the music which plays a big role in taking the narrative forward. The songs are soothing and melodious- notice the lyrics that convey the feelings of the characters in a superb manner.
Parting note- Although its story is familiar- the movie is still a must watch as it has the one thing that today’s movies lack- simplicity…

Friday, May 20, 2011

Khamosh (1985)

Though the title hints at it, Shatrughan Sinha is not a part of this supremely well-crafted suspense thriller by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Instead this movie stars a host of other well-known actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Shabhana Azmi, Amol Palekar, Pankaj Kapoor among others. The story takes place in the pristine locales of Pahalgaam and is about a murder that takes place while a film crew is shooting their new venture in an outdoor schedule. The premise of a film shoot within the film is certainly novel for that time. Revealing the exact plot would spoil the fun and therefore I resist the temptation to do so.

For a suspense genre fan like I am, this movie is a must watch. The script is full of twists and turns and it is hard to guess what will happen in the next frame. The mood, setting, and treatment are ideal for a murder mystery. Also, this is one rare Hindi movie that has no songs. The narrative, however, is peppered with instances of satirical humor. The performances are natural and Shabhana Azmi leads the way in that department. Naseeruddin Shah is top-notch. Now that I am watching more of his work, I am fully able to appreciate why he is known as one of the finest actors in the history of Indian cinema.

Parting note- if you like Agatha Christie and don’t mind a bit of violence Khamosh is a must watch.

PS: There are no loose ends in the plot and everything fits together perfectly. However there is a small thing that is left unexplained, although it doesn’t matter as it is not a part of the jigsaw. I won’t mention it right now. If you spot it then please do comment.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Katha (1983)

First post in the series- and will start with 'Katha'- for that's what movies are- stories on celluloid...

This 1983 Naseeruddin Shah- Deepti Naval- Farookh Sheikh starrer is a take on the popular children’s tale- ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’. It is a light-hearted comedy with a simple narrative that shows the daily hustles and bustles of a Mumbai ‘chawl’, and how the life of the simple-helpful-naïve-idealistic Rajaram (Naseeruddin Shah as the Tortoise) changes when the confident-clever-manipulative-complacent Bashu (Farookh Shiekh as the Hare) re-enters his life. The sequence of events brings out a stark contrast between the two characters and how they approach each and every situation and life in general. Very subtly the film also paints a comparative picture between the ‘high society’ and the ‘chawl class people’. The unity that binds the ‘chawl’ people and the way they enjoy simple joys of life is shown in a very adept manner. Although this is an ensemble cast film, there are almost no sub-plots or distractions and the movie sticks to its core idea. The end is beautifully done and is really thought provoking. The old story has it that the tortoise always wins. But in today’s times, as a character rightly sums up- ‘yeh jeet bhi koi jeet hui?’

A very little known classic by Sai Paranjpaye movie- this certainly deserves a watch. No big budget- no foreign locales- no big stars- no popular songs- no thrills and action- just a simple engaging story that will make you smile a lot. Farookh Shiekh plays the brat really well and Naseer excels as the simpleton. In a way this a role reversal of sorts as Farookh Sheikh was known to play simple sad characters and Naseer would be thought of as more suitable for what his anti-thesis in the movie is.