Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Apradhi Kaun (1957)- A short Note

Last night saw 'Apradhi Kaun', a 1957 murder mystery produced by Bimal Roy and directed by Asit Sen. It could have been a taut and gripping tale, had it not been for some silly side-tracks and romantic adventures. The first 40-50 mins of the film are deceptive, as they promise a delicious Agatha Christie kind of an atmospheric murder mystery. But once the actual crime is committed, things go haywire. Although the suspense element is intriguing, I guessed it right very early into the film, owing to some obvious hints they didn't bother to disguise . After that it was all about how the sleuth would work things out. But to my surprise, the sleuth was an ultimate buffoon, rather not much different from his silly assistant. In fact, I have never seen a worse detective on screen. Then too many songs and too many ridiculous plot turns later, the mystery ended with a 2-3 minute explanation from this genius (which in a serious film should form a major chunk of the entire last act) . It was too funny actually, but I don't know whether the makers intended to make a comic-mystery. The film also features a KatrinaKaifesque woman in a meaty role. She is terrible on the acting department, but her character is a so dumb that it is a joy to watch. That can be said for the whole film really. The songs by Salil Chaudary, although melodious, are quite ridiculous in the context of the film. But the actors have had so much fun performing them, that it made me smile. Quite entertaining actually. But not the neat mystery I expected.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Raat Aur Din (1967)

‘Raat Aur Din’, directed by Satyen Bose, is a rare Hindi film from the black and white era that explores the complex subject of a psychiatric disorder that leads to a split personality. Nargis plays the highly convoluted lead character of woman affected by this malevolent condition. Varuna, the only daughter of a well to do estate owner in the outskirts of Shimla, falls in love and marries a city businessman Pratap (played by Pradeep Kumar), which puts an end to the lonely life she leads in the hills. In the city, however, she frequently turns into this other woman ‘Peggy’ who is a complete anti-thesis of her real self. These periods of transformation are marked by headaches and partial amnesia. How this affects their marital life, and how her disorder is investigated and cured, is what the film is all about.

The story is as tangled as the lead characters affliction. The screenplay though is slightly repetitive and falls in the trappings of usual commercial fare of that time, which is quite understandable. So there is lots of family drama, and there are a number of songs. But even in these slightly ‘run-of-the-mill’ moments, there are some exciting possibilities owing to the unique nature of the plot. For instance when Varuna’s orthodox mother-in-law summons a ‘tantrik’ for curing her, it results in an incredibly moving sequence. Similarly when Varuna in one of her ‘Peggy’ transformations lets herself go completely in the company of a young and bumbling doctor, and then intermittently comes back to her own self when other experienced doctors join them, is fantastically done. In fact there are portions in the film that are so ahead of its time that they could pass of as brilliant even today, i.e. fifty years after the movie was made. The last twenty minutes or so, which trace the childhood of Varuna and its connection to her disorder, are the best of the film. They tell the story of a repressed childhood, of yearn for freedom, of need of expression, and the lasting effects of misplaced guilt. And all this is remarkably performed by Nargis, who is in top form. It is easy to see how the jury at the National Film Awards would have been compelled to give her the best actress award.

Although it is slightly unfair to unfair to question the technical aspects of a film from that time, especially after having been exposed all the modern day wonders of film-craft, one thing stands out glaringly in the film, and that is the frequently changing physical appearance of the lead actress. It seems like the film was long time in the making, and all the songs were shot at the end, by when Nargis had put on considerable weight and was looking much older than the normal self in the film. But that quibble aside, one has to appreciate how challenging it must have been to make this sort of a film in that era of soft romances, family dramas, and social/historical opuses. The songs in the film,  by Shankar Jaikisan, though melodious, are too many in number (like most films of that time). Two of them stand out:

Modern day films like Bhool Bhulaiya and Aparichit might have taken slight notes on the treatment of a split personality from this film. But then again, they might not have. But one has to compliment ‘Raat Aur Din’ for choosing and competently examining a subject fifty years ago, which till date has not turned mundane.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! (1984)

After watching ‘Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho’, a deftly written early 80s flick by Saeed Mirza, one realizes how little of (and in) Mumbai has changed in all these years. Or rather, how little has our society evolved. In fact, watching this movie can lead one to reflect upon how seeds of the modern day degeneration we see around us, had already been sown some decades back…

The film is a depiction of the power struggle between the land grabbing aristocracy and the common man buried under the debris of avarice while also being burdened by the daily skirmishes he has to master for mere self-preservation. And it is a strong depiction indeed, for, despite its simple motif of one man leading a judicial battle against a malicious land-owner, it contains multiple narrative streams, all being helmed by some of the finest parallel cinema actors and performers of the time. Also stark is the sarcastic (and caustic) tone of the proceedings, where humor is sufficiently employed to take digs on pretty much everything that’s lacking in our judicial system, and how it heeds to arm-twisting and delaying tactics of the influential.

One thing that I look forward to in a satirical movie is to see what kind of closure it choses for itself. Does it end on an ‘All is well/All can be well’ note leaving behind a ray of optimism, or whether it revels in the hopelessness of the situation and concludes on a pessimistic note. As this particular movie moves along, the odds for the latter happening keep on getting stronger. More so, the tone of the film is quite unequivocal in regards to this. But despite the unambiguous defeatism of the narrative, it is engrossing for most parts, largely helped by the actors playing out their quirky, well-written characters to the hilt.

Parting Note: The movie is a must watch, if not for everything else, just for the fact that it has hardly lost its relevance even after so many years, and makes points extremely pertinent to even this day.