Thursday, June 30, 2011

Khushboo (1975)

I have always had a liking for the friendly and warm rural settings in both books and movies. Such settings may seem idealistic and may refrain from showing the murky realities, but their simple tone, and the simple problems that people in such stories have, have always allured me. Malgudi Days is my second favorite book after the Harry Potter series- and I was thrilled when I saw Gulzar’s ‘Khushboo’ unfolding in a manner similar to the RK Narayan’s classic fable based on the lives of people in a fictional village.

Starring Jeetendra and Hema Malini in lead roles, Khushboo is based on a story by Saratchandra Chatterjee (The man who also wrote Devdas). Kusum (essayed by Hema Malini) looks after a wealthy old lady who lives all alone in the village. This lady falls sick and Dr. Brindavan (Jeetendra in a role and look similar to his earlier film with Gulzar-Parichay) is summoned from a nearby village to tend to her. Kusum soon realizes that Dr. Brindavan is none other but the guy who she was engaged to marry as a kid. Their alliance had been fixed when they were very young, but it could not materialize due to certain misunderstandings. Subsequently, she and her mother had been unceremoniously disowned by Brindavan’s family- and while he and his family move on in life- Kusum remains still stuck in the past. She still considers herself married to Brindavan and refuses to marry anybody else.

Soon Kusum learns that Brindavan is married and even has a four year old son Charan. When Dr. Brindavan recognizes her and learns about how she still considers him her husband, he starts to feel a little guilty- but at the same time she gains a lot of respect in his eyes. He decides to marry Kusum (his first wife being no more) and solemnize the possessiveness she felt for him, but due to certain misunderstandings it does not happen. At the same time a beautiful bond develops between his son Charan, and Kusum. Charan also becomes very close to Kusum’s brother (played by Asrani).

The story takes a turn when Dr. Brindavan’s village gets hit by the epidemic of Plague. Many people die, including some of his near and dear ones- his highly efficient and respectful compounder Birju being one of the victims. As many people start leaving the village out of fear- there remains no option for Brindavan to leave Charan with Kusum at her home. He too starts living there on her behest, though most of the time he remains away tending to the victims of the epidemic.

Gulzar treats his stories with a lot of love and affection. I am yet to see many of his works, but I can bet that this would rate as one of his finest efforts ever. He is perhaps the most perfect writer/poet who has graced Hindi Cinema- I won’t exhaust my eulogies for him as, as I mentioned I am yet to see many of his works and hopefully write about. Hema Malini delivers surely one of her best performance ever, and Jeetendra is equally sincere and effective. The supporting cast, that includes the likes of Farida Jalal and Asrani, too leaves a mark with their earnest performances. Special mention must be given to Master Raju (who plays Charan) who simply lights up the screen whenever he appears and is most definitely the best child artist ever in Hindi Cinema.

This movie also boasts of memorable music by RD Burman. Each and every song is a gem and may be a part of the playlists of old Hindi film music lovers- ‘Bechara Dil Kya Kare’, ‘Oh Maajhi re’ being two of the most popular ones. 

Parting note- I loved watching this movie, and people who don’t mind a simple story unfold at a leisurely pace will surely enjoy it. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reflections: Actors and the Act of Acting

Now a days we see a lot of people trying to make a perfect top 10 list of actors. Well here are my views on acting and actors and why I don’t agree with most of such lists and why such lists should not be attempted.
First. It is the writer, and not the actor who speaks on screen. It is the scene, the context, the environment and the treatment which translates into a performance. So naturally the general view is that dark, disturbing and edgy movies comprise of the best ‘acting performances’. So Abhay Deol is hailed as a great actor after DevD, while most people rubbished his performance after Socha na Tha (actually how many people saw Socha Na tha?). After DevD worked and once Abhay was accepted as a great actor- people see Socha na Tha on TV and cant stop singing praises. This example brings me to the second point.

Second. The general sentiment is seldom argued. If ABC is a good actor, and DEF is an over the top actor. Then ABC is a good actor and DEF is an over the top actor. An example- when you ask people who are the best actors ever- people who want to sound intelligent and knowledgeable (almost everyone) will say Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Irfan Khan, PANKAJ KAPOOR. Then ask them how many movies of Pankaj Kapoor have you seen? “I don’t remember. Recently I saw Dus. He was brilliant”… So there are many youngster who havent seen any work of Guru Dutt, Ashok Kumar etc. but will still include them as the best actors ever.

Third. Histrionics / EDGY/ EMOTIONAL= good acting. Now again this is my view and people may choose to disagree. I didn’t like Aamir Khan the actor in TZP. Now this is blasphemous almost. If I say this to anyone- ANYONE- they will say- “Are you mad? How could you not like him?” Well I was very uncomfortable while watching him cry and shed tears when he saw child labor etc. (in the title song). His dialogues seemed too rehearsed- an actual teacher like that wont talk like they way he did in the movie- in that sense it was not a natural performance. But because he is a good actor in general and the movie was great- he was great in TZP. Now I hear that the people in Shaitan are such good actors- they all pitched in with fabulous performances- but the truth is- most of the times they were looking into the camera and acting weird. I am not an actor- but give me those parts and I would be able to do them (it’s another thing that I would have refused them). This brings me to the fourth point.

Fourth. There is one simple test. I am not an actor. Most of us are not. (its another matter that all of us are actors). So when I see a performance sometimes I wonder- can I do this? could I have done this? I could have easily attempt what Abhay did in DevD (thats what I feel), what Rahul Bose does in many of his movies, in fact what Aamir did in TZP (I could have made an attempt at least). Maybe this point sounds a bit weird. But how many of us can attempt Dabangg. So when a man does that and makes it a huge phenomenon- people just say that he is a star- what was there to act in it? common try. give it a try. Okay its a larger than life role. But if somebody can carry it off- he needs skill- and that skill describes acting for me.

Fifth- Now a days actors are defined by the company they keep. So Ranvir Shorey, Vinay pathak, Rajat Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla are brilliant actors. So if some one acts in their films/ or films of similar sensibilities- he is a good actor. Neha Dhupia a case in point ( I have made this point earlier but cannot resist)- After Qayamat she was deemed a bad actor- now a days she gets praise from leading critics and public alike- how perceptions change.

Sixth- it is very easy to experiment when there are almost no stakes. So a Irfan Khan, Kay Kay Menon, Abhay Deol can experiment and do hatke stuff and win accolades ( I am not saying that they are not good actors- I am really fond of both Irfan and Kay Kay) – it is just that they act in films and subjects that people associate with good acting. And people dont even remember their bad works- or they easily forgive them for that- who remembers a HISS when you have a YEH SAALI ZINDAGI to praise? Can someone like Salman Khan really afford to do such roles? When he tried in London Dreams- he tried to please the masses and mix commercial elements- and it ended up as a confused film- he did great- and had the same role been done by say a Kay Kay menon- it would have been hailed as an awesome performance- because it wouldnt have had the comic /fun elements salman’s character had-

Seven. And last ( I am tired of typing- and you guys would be tired of reading- if you are reading that is) ABUSES. EDGY STUFF. Dont know what is happening these days. So when Rani Mukherjee says fuck- it makes the audience go WOW- WHAT A REALISTIC PERFORMANCE- Vidya Balan in Ishqiya was good- but I feel she was as good in her bad films too- like Kismat Konnection- but there it was her wardrobe that got the attention- Bad film is not =bad acting, good film is not = good acting.

THESE ARE JUST MY VIEWS. People are free to disagree. As they are free to have as many top ten lists as they want.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sparsh (1980)

The subject of disability on celluloid has its share of fans but I am certainly not one amongst them. I, for one, could not comprehend Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Black’ and found it quite tedious to sit through. His ‘Guzaarish’ was no masterpiece for me either. So when I decided to watch Sai Paranjpai’s ‘Sparsh’, I was a little apprehensive despite being a great fan of her other noted works- ‘Katha’ and ‘Chashme Buddoor’. It stars Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi- two of the most celebrated actors in Hindi cinema- and after you finish viewing this little gem- you would have no doubts remaining as to why these two are so highly rated. Naseeruddin Shah plays Anirudh, a blind man, who runs an institute for blind children. Shabhana Azmi plays Kavita, a widow, who has not recovered from the death of her husband even three years hence.

Anirudh is shown to be self-reliant man who scorns at any efforts made to help him lead his life. He hates it when blind people are referred to as ‘Bechaaras’. His is a really strong persona that commands respect from his students and staff alike. One, however, wonders whether this show of strength and courage an effort made by him to conceal the pain and incompleteness he feels within himself. Kavita on the other hand makes no attempt to hide her dolefulness and lack of purpose in life. She spends all her time in singing and gardening.

The story starts off really slowly with hardly any movement in the first twenty minutes. However things pick up considerably when Kavita joins Anirudh’s institute as a mentor, guide, and friend to the children. They warm up to her immediately and start reveling in her presence. Even she is thrilled to receive so much love and respect from them. She starts coming to the institute on a regular basis and starts devoting her entire time and energies completely to the happiness and benefit of the children. She tells them stories, helps them prepare for dramas, but more than all this, she gives them the motherly love they were devoid of earlier. Meanwhile, the bond between Kavita and Anirudh starts getting stronger with each passing day. Regular meeting and interactions slowly gets translated into mutual liking. So much so that after some time they realize that they both need each other in their lives and decide to get married. However complications arise in the form of Anirudh’s self doubts that get elevated by a few stray remarks made by his acquaintances. He starts to feel that Kavita is making a sacrifice by marrying him and is forcing herself into lifelong misery and compromise.

The running of the blind school is shown remarkably well. It looks like considerable research went into the whole thing and the results are just amazing. All the kids perform naturally, so much so that one is forced to wonder whether they were actually blind or just acting. There is one kid ‘Paploo’ who stands out, and incidentally he is the only kid in the school with the gift of sight. There is a small track about him feeling jealous of the blind kids as they managed get more attention from their aunty Kavita. There are a lot of moments between the kids and Kavita that are so endearing that you can’t help smiling. The drama between Anirudh and Kavita too is very engaging. Same is the case with the interactions between Anirudh and his sighted assistant to whom acts as a ‘love guru’ (borrowing a modern lingo).

The strength of this movie lies in its dialogues. Unlike many other movies from the 1970s and 80s that looked like they were made without prior written material, this one looks like it was made after meticulous planning. The story is set in the suburbs of South Delhi- and even the locations are devoid of any misery or darkness just like the content. The music is soothing and works well for the film, however it boasts of no songs that are popular even today.

Parting note- Sparsh is a happy movie about life and learning to cope with its losses. Never once is a kid shown crying over his lack of sight, or feeling depressed about it. And that, for me, is film’s greatest victory. Sai Paranjpye more than deserves all the plaudits she got for making this, so did Naseeruddin Shah (who got the National Award) and Shabana Azmi. Sanjay Leela Bhansali needs to take a cue from this movie and reflect on how he could have treated his earlier movies better. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Deewar (1975)

As I promise in the blog description, every now and then I will revisit popular classics for, as I mention, it is hard to stay away from fast food for long. And what better mouth-watering and sumptuous meal than Deewar.

Yash Chopra’s Deewar is the quintessential Hindi movie for me. It would be futile trying to put in under a genre, for it’s a genre in itself. Many films hence have tried to repeat the formula (or what is perceived to be a formula), but hardly any other movie can claim coming close to level of intensity that was evident in each and every scene of this iconic movie written by Salim-Javed (Bas naam hee kaafi hai). I write this piece as a humble ode to this memorable offering from the 1970s, and this in no ways is a review.

One thing that is striking about most potboilers from the 1970s and early 80s is that they nearly always started by showing the childhood of the protagonists. For it was the childhood that shaped the way the protagonists would turn out to become after the time leap. It is the same in Deewar, but the initial sequences here have arguably more significance than in any other movie. It starts off with dilemma faced by the union leader when he has to decide between the good of his union and the lives of his children and wife. Compelled by circumstances, he makes a terrible choice and bows down to the demands of his bosses- thus in the process letting down the hopes of hundreds of co-workers. He is humiliated and unable to face the wrath of his community, he runs away leaving his children and wife (played by Nirupa Roy) to take care of themselves.
For me there are a few things that define the phenomena Deewar is, and the first follows soon after-

MERA BAAP CHOR HAI- Few street hooligans forcibly tattoo the words ‘Mera Baap Chor Hai’ on young Vijay’s arm (elder of the two brothers). This is one of the many master-strokes by the Salim-Javed. These words on his arm have a tremendous impact on young Vijay’s mind and these words play a crucial role in shaping his psyche and behavior as he grows up and even later on when he goes on to become what he becomes.
THE BRIDGE- after Nirupa Roy and her two children move to the city to escape the hostility of their community, she takes up menial jobs to earn bread of her two children. She toils hard and sacrifices her own health to enable her children to live as comfortably as they possibly could. They spend their nights under 
bridge which becomes a sort of home for them.

MAIN PHENKE HUE PAISE NAHIN UTHATA- Young Vijay takes up to boot polish to earn some money so that he can help his mother educate Ravi. His refusal to accept the coin unceremoniously thrown towards him by a customer defines the angry young man persona that he would later go on to adopt (played by Amitabh Bachchan).

As the two kids grow up, they choose radically different paths in life. While younger Ravi (played by Shashi Kapoor) studies hard and becomes a graduate, Vijay keeps at doing menial jobs and lands up as a worker in a factory. What follows next is one of the most powerful scenes in Hindi cinema when Vijay refuses to pay the weekly tax to the local goons after witnessing the death of a young co-worker doing the same.

Things take a dramatic turn when Vijay takes to crime and starts doing illegal activities. On the other hand, Ravi takes up the job of a Police officer after been unable to find a job anywhere else (with the help of his girlfriend played by Neetu Singh).
Meanwhile Shashi Kapoor and Neetu Singh find time to sing one of my favorite duets from that era- Keh Doon Tumhein-

Once the conflict is established the screenplay remains taut and engrossing throughout. The clash of ideologies between the two brothers creates a wall (‘Deewar’) between the two brothers and leads to drama that has awed and enthralled hindi movie lovers since these past many years.

BHAI TUM SIGN KARTE HO YA NAHIN- The drama reaches a high point when Ravi confronts Vijay and demands that he accept his mistakes and give up the life of crime. The mother is shown to be a witness of this confrontation and this elevates the tension of the scene- a memorable exchange between two characters having diametrically contrasting viewpoints in life.

MERE PAAS MAA HAIN- I think if we have to make a list of Hindi movie dialogues that have been repeated the most in some form or the other- then this one would be the undisputed winner. Again a confrontation sequence between the two brothers that takes place under the very bridge where they started their lives in the city- this is one something else altogether. 

AAJ KHUSH TOH BAHUT HOGE TUM- Now this is one relationship that is as powerful and critical to the whole movie as any other (if not more). The relationship Vijay, the naysayer, the disbeliever- shares with God. In a memorable sequence Vijay enters a temple for the first time in his life (since they moves to the city at least)- his objective- to save his mother’s life.

THE END- Now this one was expected and there was no other way to culminate the film. Vijay had to die. He died, but the character still lives- Arguably the best performance of Amitabh Bachchan, arguably the best script by Salim-Javed- and most certainly the best movie by Yash Chopra. Legendary stuff.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ankush (1986)

They spend hours just lazing around at the corner of the street, unfazed by the scorching heat, and oblivious to the snide remarks about their idleness. Every now and then they go and haggle with the roadside ‘paanwallah’ for a cigarette or two. Sometimes they make do with ‘beedis’ to go along the cups of teas they manage to drain into their vacuous selves. Every few minutes they spot a lady going to or coming back from work. Their eyes follow the lady till she gets so far away that their eyes start to water from the strain of straining. The daily news is just an excuse to vent their frustrations- on the Government, on the system, on the society, on themselves. When someone tells them to look for a job, they ignore that someone, they ignore their inner voice, and they ignore the possibilities. Every other day they pick up menial fights with other idle ‘dadas’ of the other streets of their parts of the world. Come the ‘Ganpati’, come any festival- they are the ones who make the most noise- they are the ones who dance with the most gusto…

They are the four protagonists of Ankush, an award winning movie by N Chandra (who later made films like Style and Excuse Me). OR they can even be someone you know. In fact they are the same as thousands of unemployed youth who start their days without having any clue about what they are going to do in the next twelve hours of the day- before they go to sleep again late in the night. In the movie these four are tacitly led by Ravi (Nana Patekar in a characteristic hard hitting avatar).

The story is set in a Mumbai ‘Chawl’ and takes a realistic look at how people with minimum means lead their lives in the busy city that Mumbai is. On the surface they all are busy in their own worlds. But in reality their lives are interconnected and from their hearts they all care for each other. The movie starts with ‘Ganpati visarjan’- one of the biggest days in the year for a ‘Mumbaikar’. And that proves to be a good omen as the movie grows from strength to strength in the scenes to follow. The screenplay for the first thirty or so minutes paints a snapshot of the lives of the four, and sets up the characters and the mood wonderfully. Things take a turn with a young lady and her grandmother coming to live in the ‘chawl’. The movie then basically looks at how these two women change the perspectives of the four idle men and instill a sense of purpose in their lives. Towards the end the movie takes a rather dramatic and tragic turn, and culminates with a thought provoking commentary on the system of justice in India.

“Itni Shakti Humein dena data- mann ka vishwaas kamzor ho naa’

This is one prayer (‘prarthna’) that we all are familiar with. It plays a crucial role in bringing about the transformation in the lives of the four. In the movie it creates a stunning impact, and even I as a viewer was really moved by it. There was one more song in the beginning of the movie which celebrated the wastefulness of the four young men.

The performances are good from everyone. Nana Patekar won the national award for his portrayal of the anguished Ravi. The rest of the cast has no other known names. But more than the performances it is the brilliant dialogues and screenplay by N Chandra that shines through. To conclude- this is very relevant movie from the 1980s when unemployment was rampant in urban cities and lacs of youngsters were wasting away their lives. Even today its relevance has not diminished, although there have been some drastic changes in society. It deserves to be seen by people who like realistic cinema- as it paints a very accurate picture of the society in the 1980s.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reflections: Cinema, Censorship, and Society

I don’t do drugs. I will never do them. And had it not been for movies like DevD, Shaitaan and London Dreams etc., I would have not even known how to do them...

I don’t think sex is taboo. But I don’t think having casual sex and one night stands is cool either- like many of the modern, cool, hippie, in vogue movies would like us to believe. “How many men have you slept with” wow- liberated youngsters- liberated women- BULLSHIT

The point I am trying to make is what is censorship? Do we need a body for it? Is it really doing a job? Shaitaan is rated A- big deal- its hoardings are everywhere- its promos are everywhere- tweets from the maker claim that this is the new age cinema- intelligent- and liberated- BULLSHIT

I am a 22 yr old- its been just 5 years since I left school- and I am scared to see the transformation in the age group between 12-17 in these past few years- this generation is growing (as makers like A Kashyap would like us to believe) – according to me on the contrary, this generation has just stopped caring. PRECOCIOUS PUBERTY.

Our young generation in the adolescent and pre-adolescent years is being exposed to filth-and wrong notions are being given to them left right and center. So now underage drinking is cool- one who doesn’t do it is labelled as a weirdo- GET A LIFE- he is told- and finally he jumps on the bandwagon-

And the intelligentsia debating on an innocuous BHAAG DK BOSE (Loop)- Common- Hypocrisy of the highest order- Highest order BULLSHIT

No censor board can save us- it is up to the people who have the power- who can make films- to restrain from making India cool and a poor imitation of the western decadence- I would write this as an open letter to the infinitely talented Mr. Anurag Kashyap- but he is too busy re tweeting the praise this new uber cool urban India is lavishing on his new movie- the kind that is taking India forwards- BULLSHIT

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dhund (1973)

No one I know knew about this movie from the early 70s. Produced and directed by BR Chopra, a man who gave a series of enthralling mystery movies in the late 1960s, Dhund is amazingly well-knit suspense thriller that may even be termed as the best effort of Mr. Chopra and stars Zeenat Aman, Navin Nischol, Danny Denzongpa, and Sanjay Khan in principal roles.

The movie is essentially a murder mystery and it wastes no time in coming straight to the point (a thing that cannot be said of previous BR Chopra offerings). The first few minutes really set up the interest levels at the zenith and the taut screenplay ensures that they don’t go down till the very end. As in many other suspense movies, the story takes place in serene landscapes and that adds to the overall effect in this case. Giving anything away about the plot will be a disservice and I restrain from doing so.

According to me the star of any mystery movie is its script and Dhund has a ‘Superstar’ in that regards. It is an adaptation of an old Agatha Christie play and stays true to the original, for its own good. And although the screenplay in inherently engaging, the performances of all the actors elevate it to even greater levels. Zeenat Aman is amazing in her portrayal of a damsel in distress. Most of her movies don’t go beyond showcasing her stunning looks but this movie gives her the chance to put her acting abilities to show. Modern day heroines can take a cue from the earnest manner she approaches her character with. Navin Nischol looks the part of an intelligent ‘pardesi babu’ and does well in an understated manner. Danny Dengzongpa is menacing as the brutal husband and evokes hatred from other characters and viewers alike- a feat very few on screen negative characters can accomplish without caricaturizing their performance. Sanjay Khan looks handsome and is decent in his role. The surprise package is Ashok Kumar who pitches in with a cameo that in taken straight out of the earlier BR Chopra classic ‘Kanoon’. Deven Verma manages to garner a few laughs in the role of a wayward servant.

On the whole Dhund is an unknown gem of Hindi cinema and is a must watch for both ardent fans and cynics of our movies. This movie just gave me one reason to complain- it does not rise very high on the musical front which is rare for a movie coming from BR Chopra.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jurmana (1979)

Amitabh Bachchan is the most iconic personality of Hindi cinema. This is the inference I draw after looking at his enviable filmography- which comprises of few of the most popular movies ever and at the same time still includes a range of movies on diverse subjects- covering diverse genres. It is a true testament to his phenomenal range as an actor that in a period in which he was dishing out ‘angry young man’ blockbusters and huge money spinners by the number, he still tried out stuff that gave him the opportunity to indulge different facets of his acting prowess. ‘Jurmana’ by Hrishikesh Mukherjee is his one such endeavor.

Starring him alongside Vinod Mehra and Rakhee Gulzar in lead roles, Jurmana is a romantic drama, kind of stuff that one would associate more with someone like Rajesh Khanna or one of the Kapoor clan. Bachchan plays Inder- a super-rich spoilt brat, a womanizer, and someone who believes in the philosophy that money can buy anything. On a visit to a quiet small town for a construction project, he meets his old college friend Prakash (essayed by Vinod Mehra), who is living a lifestyle that is poles apart from Inder’s own. A few days into his stay he spots Rama (Rakhee in a typical seedhi-saadhi avatar) and gets attracted to her charm, oblivious to the fact that his Prakash has true feelings for her. Just as Inder decides to woo Rama, Prakash gets its inkling- and there ensues a bet. Prakash believes that the simple Rama would in no way get attracted by the charms of the suave and debonair Inder, and would instead teach him a lesson. What Prakash doesn’t realize at that point of time is that it is this presumably harmless bet that would turn their lives upside down.

The sequence of events unfolds in a predictable manner for most parts but that does not take anything away from the intensity of the drama. The scenes where Amitabh turns on the charm of Rakhee are interesting and show him in a different light altogether. Towards the later part of the movie when the story shifts to Mumbai, it loses a bit of steam- but the culmination of the story is good- and there could not have been a better way to end the movie.

The music is good, which is not at all a surprise. The song ‘Saawan ke Jhoole’ is the pick of the lot and graces the narrative more than once. The performances by the actors are top notch- though the character played by Mr. Shreeram Lagoo (of Rama's dad) is a bit hard to digest. Amitabh Bachchan stand head and shoulders above the rest (both literally and figuratively). Rakhee pitches in an earnest performance. I have seen a lot of her work lately and she certainly was amongst the better actresses of her time.

Parting note- The movie is a good watch for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and it is certainly one of the underrated works of the masterful Hrishikesh Mukherjee.