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 clich├ęd 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.