Saturday, May 29, 2010

The 400 Blows (1959)

I am no expert on the French New Wave. In fact, The 400 Blows is possibly the first film of that movement (if you can call it that) that I have seen. Francois Truffaut is one of the most celebrated directors of his time and The 400 Blows is regarded as his best work by some. Hence, I looked forward to the film with great anticipation. I had the opportunity to watch in a small dark theatre as a part of the NLS Film Festival “When the Lights Went Out” being held at the Centre for Film and Drama at Miller’s Road this weekend. Here’s what I thought of the film:

There are films which look deceivingly simple and straightforward. Their premise is basic and their execution on the face of it seems fairly ordinary. However, beneath that first layer of simplicity, there are complex themes being portrayed. These films are easy to dismiss for the average viewer but for the more discerning ones there is so much to see and interpret that it provides that rare cinematic experience that absolutely unforgettable. The 400 Blows is one of those movies.

The premise is as follows: the film follows Antoine Doniel, a Parisian adolescent who is ignored by his family and is seen as a troublemaker in school. Feeling neglected and alienated, he slowly turns to a life of petty crime.

The film goes about the story in a quiet manner. We see Doniel’s doing his house chores while his parents out, his neglectful parents who fight without caring that he can hear them, his unfaithful mother who dislikes him, and his lacklustre father who sees him as a compulsive liar. These are conveyed through small tiny details which, at times are very easy to miss. While Truffaut chooses to infuse humour in certain places, he takes an equally harsh tone in others.

The film is shot beautifully. There are moments where the camera captures emotions in its lens to perfection. The pigeons flying away as the children cross the street; the long tracking shot of Doniel running in the end, the long take showing the kids jogging in a files across the Parisian streets; these sequences are not only well shot; they convey the emotions that Truffaut is trying to put across. Paris looks beautiful especially, the Eiffel Tower in the film’s opening credits and the panoramic view of the city on one of the adventures Doniel has with his friends.

(Warning:: Minor spoilers)

Above all, there are many points in the film that are open to interpretation. The story is semi-autobiographical, inspired by the life of Truffaut himself as a child and his friends. Yet, at the same time, the neglectful adults can be seen as a parable for the authority figures in children’s lives more generally. The story of this one boy can be seen as a reflection of the failures of that society and state. Going further, we can even ask, who is to blame and to what extent? That could be a source of endless debate. In these terms, my absolute favourite sequence was the in the final moments of the film as we see Doniel running towards the sea. It could be seen as a sign of his independence, but in those last frames before the end, you are not so sure. You could ask yourself, what is he running from? And more importantly, what is he running to? The 400 Blows is a wonderful film for a patient and discerning audience. Exquisitely shot and edited, it resonates emotionally and is more subtle than movies like The Bicycle Thieves and others. It allows you to get lost in those little details and discover new meanings; to interpret, and reconsider your interpretations many times over.

Although it is a little late in the day, I would recommend that you visit the NLS Film Fest which continues tomorrow as well. The entry is free and the discussion is fairly interesting. The schedule and details of the movies can be found on the following links:

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Shrek Forever After (2010)

Saturday night with little else to do, Divi and I decided to do a double movie marathon. One of these was Kites, a movie I have already discussed. The second one was the latest addition to the Shrek franchise: Shrek Forever After. Shrek was a great animated film, a landmark of sorts in the fairytale genre which poked fun at its origins without losing any of their warmth and charm. Shrek 2 was a decent follow up saved by some golden moments (“I Need a Hero” anyone?) while staying true to the core ideas of the original. However, with Shrek the Third, the standards have fallen considerably. The latest addition does little to salvage the franchise.

The plot is as follows: Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their three little ones are living their hard earned happily ever after. Unfortunately, Shrek misses the old action packed days and is bored by the monotony. He decides to sign a deal with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) to trade a day of his life for a day as a feared ogre again. The plan backfires and he finds himself in an alternate reality where he never existed and Far Far Away is being ruled by Rumpelstiltskin and his bitches. I’m sorry, I meant witches. Anyway, Shrek must find a way to make things right again and get back his happily ever after.

There are moments in the film where we see the magic that made us fall in love with the series: in the first place the emotional moments between Shrek and Fiona in the alternate reality really do strike home and seem very real and touching. They made me care for them and even managed to move me in places. Also, the humour sparkles in places thanks to the impeccable performances of Walt Dohrn as Rumpelstiltskin and Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. These do set the film well above Shrek the Third. However, these are a few intermittent moments hardly worth the time spent to see the rest of the movie.

My problem with Shrek Forever After is twofold: first, the story is too sad. It truly feels tired, dreary and miserable in places. While the Shrek-Fiona moments really resonate romantically, they are too serious for kids to sit through. I can see children either yawning out of boredom or crying out of trauma. There is just not enough humour to make the themes enjoyable. Also, the supporting characters seem to annoy more than endear. The jokes fall flat in several places and the story seems jaded and familiar. This makes the film too dull for adults and in places, too serious for kids.

Secondly, the Shrek series seems to have slowly become what it once ridiculed; an ordinary typical fairytale. There is no creativity; no freshness in the film. The plot borrows copiously from other better movies like Beauty and the Beast and It’s a Wonderful Life. However, the trademark humour of Shrek is lost in a sea of cynicism. Pop culture references to U2, the Wizard of Oz and others seem forced and are unable to salvage the situation in any way.Vocal talents like those of Jane Lynch, Julie Andrews and John Cleese are entirely wasted. And King Artie (Justin Timberlake) is oddly absent from the film with no explanations offered.

Overall, Shrek Forever After is an improvement over Shrek the Third but that isn’t saying much. There are moments when the movie truly moved me. But these moments were few and far between. As a whole, the film is extremely underwhelming. It is too banal, dull, erratic and inconsistent in tone. It fails to live up to the standard that the series set itself to by the first (and to some extent, even the second) film. Ultimately, it is not only an unnecessarily film but also a mediocre one. And for Shrek, that just won't do. I believe it is time we give these characters their well deserved happily ever after.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kites (2010)

Kites is to Hrithik Roshan what Murder was for Mallika Sherawat and Julie for Neha Dhupia. There is one word to describe him in this film: overexposed. Just how much can you rely on Hrithik’s looks and dancing skills alone? The movie tries really hard to make you believe that the answer to that question is an entire film. His looks are given more emphasis than his acting. His make up is over the top. His performance is surprisingly mediocre. And the movie is unsurprisingly a mess.

The trailers made Kites look like another big budget extravaganza promising little or no content. Consequently, I went into the theatre with few, if any expectations from the movie. After having seen it, I can say that those non-existent expectations were, by and large, met. Unlike most big budget movies though, Kites as a concept was fresh and had great potential. Also, it had a highly dependable lead in Hrithik Roshan. However, bad scripting, mediocre music and occasionally awful direction pretty much sink it faster than the Titanic.

The story is of J (Hrithik Roshan) who is set to marry Geena (Kangana Ranaut), the daughter of Bob (Kabir Bedi), the owner of a big casino in Las Vegas. He meets Natasha (Barbara Mori), a Mexican who is getting engaged to Geena’s brother Tony (Nicholas Brown). The two share a past. Sparks fly and they elope thereby setting off on a cross country chase and battle cops and criminals alike.

Yes, that pretty much sums up the story. It is on this waferthin plot that this gigantic production has been mounted. The analogy with kites is a weak one and the movie runs out of steam pretty quickly. The biggest weakness of the film is that it is very confused about what it wants to be. It starts of as this serious, sensuous love story with all the danger and thrills to go with it. Then half way through, the background score switches from racy to sassy and suddenly we find ourselves in a comic version of Bonnie & Clyde. Then, suddenly, once again, the movie goes all serious and macabre before descending into half-baked humour once more. The culmination of the film, by far the strongest bit in the film is weakened by long drawn out sequences which made me glance at my watch several times.

The biggest USP of this film was that it featured a love story between an Indian who only spoke English and a Mexican who only spoke Spanish. There is copious use of subtitles in the movie to make us understand what the heroine is saying. However, despite the gutsy move, the story is painfully routine and the writers squander any chance of either emotional resonance or chemistry thanks to laughably bad dialogues and a highly convenient screenplay abound with continuity errors. The chase sequences look ridiculously overblown and require severe suspension of disbelief. The background score is surprisingly ordinary (coming from Salim-Sulaiman) and the soundtrack is just awful (courtesy Rajesh Roshan).The supporting performances (Kangana Ranaut, Kabir Bedi and Nicholas Brown) are uniformly bad thanks to pathetic characterization that verges on parody.

In the midst of this entire mess, there are two things that work in favour of the film. The first is Barbara Mori who looks like she was sent from heaven to be the stuff of dreams for most men. To call her gorgeous or beautiful would be a gross understatement. She makes people like Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra look average. She makes horrible clothes look beautiful and finds the right balance between sensuality and elegance. She also acts reasonably well and her ethereal beauty considerably helps in making the movie tolerable.

The second thing that works for the film is the look. Rarely has a Hindi film looked this beautiful and aesthetically shot. Each frame looks stunning and the camera does full justice to each aspect: the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, the lush fields in Mexico, the calm silence of the sea and the harsh loneliness of the desert. The glossy finish makes each frame worthy of a postcard. The rich texture of the film adds a distinct class to it which makes its flaws as a story and script all the more glaring.

Barbara Mori and the look of the film together make it almost worthy of a recommendation. However, at the end of the day, Kites is beautiful film with no soul. It has the potential for greatness. However, it squanders that for convenience. I wouldn’t say that the movie is as bad as Singh is King or Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. However, it is not much better either. I had great fun poking fun at the movie especially with the company I had. However, that is far from enough for recommending it. Stay clear from the theatres unless you are a whore for great visuals.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Confessions of a Gleek

I am a self-professed “Gleek”. I have been in love with Glee ever since Sriraj showed me the clip of “Don’t Stop Believing”, a clip I repeatedly saw for a month or so till Asma finally managed to get her hands on the Pilot and gave it to me. Glee is my weekly dose of happiness. Every Wednesday morning, I feel glad simply for the fact that there will be a new Glee episode to cheer me up before the day ends. I have never been this hooked on a TV show and it is unlikely that I will ever be again. Plenty has been written online dissecting the good and bad things about each episode of the show and everyone has an opinion over it. Well, here’s my little bit.

There are many reasons why I love Glee: It is the one of the few shows/movies to really get teenagers today. For a long time, I strongly believed that John Hughes was arguably the only person who understood the teens of his time, or any time. With movies like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off he gave us little gems about the 80s teens: their angst, their styles, their apprehensions and aspirations. Thereafter, mainstream teen movies and shows have settled for a barrage of monotonous scatological jokes and innuendos with sexed up teens providing little insight, if any. Glee is the show of our times that fills that void.

The show displays rare understanding and maturity in dealing with its themes. It wears its heart on its sleeve and uses humour to tread into uncharted territory. Within 19 episodes, it has addressed heavy issues relating to teenage pregnancy, peer pressure, sexual orientation, disability and so much more armed with just the right dose of humour and music. Of course, it does get it wrong sometimes and in those rare occasions, very badly so. However, there are moments, every now and then, when it lets its characters grow; its scenes breathe and its themes resonate so much that I forget everything else and watch magic happen, spellbound.

Glee is also one of the few shows that celebrates the imperfection of its characters. The satirical touch, the gentle mockery and the occasional revelations help make them real and believable despite all the fancy music and choreography. No one is perfect including the star singer, the head cheerleader or the popular jocks. TIts supporting characters are more than just fillers in the background. Slowly, but surely, Murphy is developing each one of them; giving each character a distinct personality and each actors a chance to demonstrate just how much they are capable of. Also, unlike Hughes, the writers give their adult characters more depth and dimensions, consciously avoiding stereotypes. The result is a character like Sue Sylvester. Need I say more?

The song selection is simply stunning. Nearly every major genre of music has found place in the show: pop, hip hop, rap, jazz, classic rock, disco, show tunes, rhythm and blues…you name it and it is there. I love what the recent episodes have done for popularising some of the classic 80s music as well. It is introducing today’s music to an older generation and yesterday’s music to today’s. It is doing for these songs what The O.C. did for the contemporary music. The reworking of songs is usually stunning (“Rehab” and “Mercy”) and the vocals are amazing in places (“And I’m Telling You”, “Dream On”). Every week, the show provides us with something new and fresh to listen to. And even after nearly 100 songs, it still rarely ceases to entertain.

Glee tries very hard to find the balance between its story and its music. The show is still growing, changing and developing. The possibilities are endless. There are episodes where the music is so stunning that all else is forgotten. “The Power of Madonna” is a prime example of that. An excellent homage to the work of Madonna, it had some stunning musical moments (especially “Vogue”) that more than compensated for the ordinary story. The music was overproduced, very much so, but in times like these, it’s so much fun that I couldn’t care less. And then there are episodes where the story is the mainstay and the music is strictly on a need to use basis. The initial episodes are solid examples of this. However, there are the occasional episodes where both the music and story fall in place together to provide us both, the opulent and the poignant. It is in these episodes where the show seems to be the most comfortable. It embraces its musical side without compromising on its characters and story. “Throwdown” and “Dream On” are the best examples of this. The plot is smooth, the song selection is superb and the themes resonate for a long time after the show is over. When the most emotionally poignant moment in “Dream On” is a song sequence (“Dream a Little Dream of Me”), you know you are watching great entertainment, not just in terms of other Glee episodes, but generally.

At the end of the day, like I recently told a friend, Glee is surprisingly honest, occasionally poignant and always fun. These are three things more than most other teen movies and shows that have come out in recent times. You don't need a Gossip Girl to make high school interesting. It's far more relevant than 90210 or American Pie and it's more real and fun than High School Musical can ever be. It makes me laugh, cry, sing and dance every week. I find comfort in the quirks and imperfections of the characters and love them for it. Even in its darkest moments, there is a certain warmth which makes it all worthwhile. I love this show. Give it a chance, and I think you will too.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Middle movies are tricky business, especially the ones with a big budget. They are, first and foremost, movies that are a bridge between two movies and therefore, fundamentally, destined to be incomplete as stories. There will be plot lines which will not be concluded, loose ends left deliberately untied. And yet, they must provide a fulfilling motion picture experience to cash in at the box office and keep the franchise alive. Finally, no matter how good or bad they are on their own, their true value will only be determined on the basis of the conclusion of the series. Therefore, you may have a good middle movie like Matrix Reloaded, the impact of which is considerably lessened after seeing Matrix Revolutions. And then there are the bad middle movies that just leave you unsatisfied, either due to lack of action (that means you, Quantum of Solace) or lack of plot (Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest). And rarely, very rarely, there are the great middle movies which look even better after the conclusion of the series (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers).

Within this context, Iron Man 2 is close to a great middle film. Sure, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson do not get enough screen time. There are loose ends in the plot. That would also lead many to complain that there isn’t enough of a plot. However, there is indeed a plot that, though basic, not only sets up the premise for the subsequent films in the Avengers series but also on its own provides for dollops of entertainment. The story takes up immediately where the first movie left off. The world knows that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is Iron Man and the government is desperate to get its hands on the suit. The world is enjoying an unprecedented level of peace thanks to the Iron Man and Stark Industries’ stocks are through the roof. However, Iron Man is having personal issues and matters get complicated when the technology is replicated by Ivan Vanco (Mickey Rourke) who is out for vengeance against the Stark family. He finds an ally in Stark’s competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and all hell breaks loose.

There are two things about Iron Man that fundamentally set him apart from other superheroes. First, Iron Man is just a suit. It is the man behind the suit who is the real reason why we love Iron Man. Anyone could wear the suit and do cool things but when Tony Stark does it, he brings a distinct personality to Iron Man. So, here, unlike Spiderman or Superman, it is not the superpowers that make the hero cool but the hero who does it for the superpowers. Iron Man would be nothing without Stark’s narcissism, ego and arrogance. Secondly, unlike Spiderman and Superman, there are no ridiculous attempts to hide his identity. The world knows Tony Stark is Iron Man. That makes the whole premise infinitely more interesting from other movies in this genre.

The film is embellished with great action sequences, both big and small. No expense is spared in the production and it shows. From the Grand Prix in Monaco to the visualisation of the Stark Expo, the film is grandiose in its ambitions. At the same time, the screenplay is embellished with brilliant one-liners that are absolutely hilarious. In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that this is one of the funniest superhero movies I have ever seen. These, together with a brisk pace and solid performances, make up for the average plot and provide for some excellent entertainment.

Just like Iron Man would be just an iron suit without Tony Stark, the film would be impotent without Robert Downey Jr. He is the soul of this film and is an embodiment of the cockiness and arrogance that is Stark. He is mean, rude and really funny with his deadpan dialogue delivery. Most actors in superhero movies are replaceable. But nobody but Downey could pull off a character like this.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle lend solid support. Mickey Rourke is menacing as Vanco and Rockwell is bankable as always. It is Scarlett Johansson, however, who is the other star of the movie. She looks ravishing as Natalie Rushman a.k.a. Agent Romanov or the Black Widow. The movie made me realise that she is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. She manages to makes Paltrow look positively unattractive. Like a few shots of neat vodka, with barely 15 minutes of screen time, she has you drunk on her beauty.

Coming to the point where I started, Iron Man 2 is ultimately, a middle movie. There will be more movies from Marvel studios to tie up the loose ends created here. Nevertheless, it is a worthy sequel with just enough material to stand on its own. The magnetic charm of Robert Downey Jr. elevates the movie close to greatness. Within the boundaries of conventions, Iron Man 2 is about as good as it gets in the superhero genre. This one is well worth your time and money!

P.S.: Do not leave the movie as the end credits roll. There is a scene after which you don’t want to miss.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

As Good As It Gets (1997)

Less than a week back, I saw Dil Se, I had avoided for years for no good reason and loved it. I had new found faith and this week, I decided to give another such movie a shot: As Good As It Gets. Now most of you who have seen the movie will probably be aghast that I should not have seen this movie and still be writing a movie blog. But yes, despite having had it for almost 2 years now, I avoided the movie like the plague: either it was too long or Jack Nicholson was an overrated actor. But now, I did give it a shot and here’s what I thought:

There are movies which are glitzy, glamorous and big-budgeted and yet, leave you stone cold. And then, there are movies which are smaller in their ambitions, straight out of life, simple and yet, somehow, inexplicably, they blow you away. As Good As It Gets is in the latter category. Here, imperfect scenes are possible thanks to imperfect characters. A lot of unexpected things can happen with them within the span of one scene. Your hero can be manic and suffering from OCD and still be a leading man without being painfully neurotic like Woody Allen. Your leading lady can be difficult, complicated and yet caring and the greatest woman alive. The kiss they share can be an imperfect one and mothers can intervene at unexpected moments. Your supporting characters are stand on their own make you fall in love with them on their own terms rather than in relation to the leading characters. These are movies that celebrate the unpredictability and imperfections of life. And this is what makes them perfect.

The movie is about unlikely relationships that a writer suffering from OCD (Jack Nicholson), a single mother and waitress (Helen Hunt) and a gay artist (Greg Kinnear) share. What starts out as distaste and disgust soon turns to friendships and more. Sure, that sounds like a predictable premise. What elevates it beyond the generic is some fantastic writing and direction by James L. Brooks and extremely poignant and flawless performances by each of the cast members. The script is nearly perfect with great characterisation, sharp dialogues and just the right number of scenes. No track appears forced or out of place. Jack Nicholson does what he usually does best: being foul, difficult and mean-spirited except here he has a heart of gold. Helen Hunt looks beautiful and sexy in a very earthly manner and lives her character in every single scene. Even Cuba Gooding Jr. shines in a smaller role and makes you wonder what the hell was he on when he chose his subsequent movies. However, for me, the real star of this movie (and one who probably got cheated of an Oscar statuette) was Greg Kinnear. He plays the character of Simon to perfection finding the right balance between expressive and subtle. It is so rare to see gay characters being done realistically without unnecessary stereotyping. He takes to all the aspects of his character: a man sensitive almost to a fault, an artist and a homosexual so beautifully that it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone else playing this character so well.  

Sure, the movie is fairly glitzy and glamorous within its genre considering its casting and production. However, as a story, it is beautiful in its simple look at complicated characters. The movie strongly reminded me of The Station Agent, a more unconventional, quirky and complex take on a similar friendship between a dwarf, a married woman and the owner of a refreshment stand. While As Good As It Gets is considerably more conventional and safe in its conclusion, it benefits from some great characters and even better actors who bring them to life on screen so well so as to elevate it to greatness. At one point Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) asks, “What if this is as good as it gets?” To that, I would say, “If this is, then it’s fine by me.”

Both Dil Se and As Good As It Gets have convinced me to watch more of the movies I have been avoiding and share in this space what I thought about some of them. It would be fun to shake things up a little bit. Watch this space for more!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dil Se (1998)

As a moviegoer, it is ironic that there are often movies against which I have a mental block. It may be for several reasons, it was critically panned when releases; it didn’t work at the box office; it looked too violent; I was never in the right mood for watching it etc. The list is a long one and just about any reasons is good enough for avoiding it. For me, these movies are often the gritty, dark or ones which require very patient viewing. I keep postponing these movies especially in law school where I keep opting for simpler and more conventionally enjoyable movies instead. However, once in a while, I do end up watching these movies and even more rarely, wonder to myself why I waited this long to watch it. One such movie was Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se.

The movie is about Amar (Shah Rukh Khan), an All India Radio programme executive who falls in love with Meghna (Manisha Koirala), a mysterious woman, after a number of chance meetings in Assam. However, Meghna tries to avoid him at all costs despite a growing attraction. He becomes obsessed with her and despite being beaten up by her tribesmen, he follows her all the way to Ladakh. There, after spending some time together, she suddenly disappears leaving him dumbfounded. He returns home in Delhi to get engaged to Preeti (Preity Zinta) only to find Meghna at his house with her colleague (Mita Vasisht) looking for a place to stay and a job at the All India Radio. Set in the backdrop of terrorism and 50 years of independence, the story leads to revelations and difficult decisions for all the principal characters.

Mani Ratnam has fallen from grace for me as far as Hindi movies go. Yuva was a surprisingly average movie and Guru was downright disappointing. While these had Mani Ratnam’s technique, they lacked his power packed stories and execution. Dil Se is a fond reminder of what he is capable of as a story-teller. The film ranks easily as one of his best work ever, well above even Roja and Bombay.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Dil Se is Ratnam’s most ambitious work. Instead of looking at victims of violence like he did in films like Roja and Bombay, he looks at the perpetrators of violence and tackles the theme of terrorism without giving in to unnecessary sermonising or melodrama. The story and screenplay, also by Mani Ratnam, takes real and difficult themes but uses a fictional story to weave them into a powerful narrative. In doing so, he thankfully avoids the problems of factual inaccuracies, a fault for which I thought Bombay was unforgivable; and brings a maturity and sensitivity to these themes that only a handful of directors (like Gulzar in Maachis) have been able to achieve. He makes a bold choice by taking a love story to explore these themes and manages to do justice to both.

The movie was way ahead of its times for several reasons: many blamed the end, but I think there were several things: that it chose to look at terrorists generally as humans, its critical view of the actions of the Indian government in the North-East and Kashmir and of course, an obsessive love story between an ordinary man and a terrorist was too much for Indian audiences to accept then, let alone appreciate. Nevertheless, it is these precise reasons why I love this film especially when seen in the context of its time.

Very rarely has a mainstream film been this aesthetically brilliant. The music is undoubtedly Rahman’s best, in any language. The lyrics by Gulzar are mesmerising, especially the use of Ghalib's shaayari in "Satrangi Re" and Bulleh Shah's kafi in "Thaiyya Thaiyya". Farah Khan's choreography is appropriately grand for "Chhaiya Chhaiya" and intimate for "Satrangi Re". While the placement of some of the songs and Manisha Koirala's costumes there are perhaps my only complaints with the film, the visuals created for these songs take it to a whole new level together. While the title track is perhaps the worst placed, its video symbolises the central theme of the movie: that of love in a burning paradise. The cinematography of Santosh Sivan is exquisite. The sequence of Shah Rukh and Manisha wrapped together in red satin by a lake in Ladakh or Shah Rukh playing with school kids in a war torn area make for haunting visuals. His camera movements really help in capturing the sense of urgency, desperation and danger at several points of the film.

The performances by each of the principal and supporting actors are uniformly good. Shah Rukh conveys the angst and irrational obsession of his character remarkably well. Manisha Koirala gives away so much without saying anything at all. She has only one long dialogue sequence and a few bare lines in the movie. However, it is in her silent implosions as her character is unable to come to terms with her traumatic past and the consequences of her future actions where she really excels. Mita Vasisht, Arundhati Nag, Raghubeer Yadav, Aditya Shrivastava and the others fit their roles perfectly.

Overall, Dil Se is one of those movies that require a dark room, a quiet undisturbed viewing and above all, an open mind. The movie seeks to deal with some very serious themes through a micro view of its two principal characters. The social setting is too large and complex for either of them to completely understand or comprehend. The movie accepts that as its premise and within it, tries to show as a clash of ideologies and their origins. While doing so, it also gives us one of the most irrational and yet, poignant and powerful, love stories of all time. Do watch this one.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Iconic Pairings in Hindi Cinema

Amongst all the trashy movies I have been junking on recently, I had the opportunity to finally watch On the Waterfront today. An absolutely stunning movie by Elia Kazan, it featured a great performance by a young Marlon Brando and the cinematic and cultural significance of the film makes it a must watch. It also got me thinking: like Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan, there have been several iconic partnerships at the movies. Some have provided us with some great movies while few others have changed the way we see movies forever. While such pairings are well documented in Hollywood, here are some I thought were significant for Hindi movies:

Gulzar and Sanjeev Kumar: One of the few director-actor pairings that consistently provided us with some unforgettable films. Gulzar, I think, had a very significant role in bringing out the versatility of Sanjeev Kumar, an actor for all ages. In Koshish, Gulzar gave us a sensitive story about a deaf-mute couple trying to raise a family against all odds. In Aandhi, he gave us the great political epic of Indian cinema inspired from the life and love of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India and her husband, Feroze. There, as J.K., Sanjeev Kumar brought a dignity to the portrayal of his character that no other actor could match. Of course, then there was Mausam where the boundaries of relationships with the dynamics between Sanjeev Kumar, playing an aged wealthy man and Sharmila Tagore, playing the daughter of the woman he loved once. Together, Gulzar and Sanjeev Kumar were a perfect match and they brought a sensitivity to their films in their respective capacities as actor and director. The result is for all to see.

V.K. Murthy and Guru Dutt: A cinematographer is responsible for bringing the director’s dream to life. Through his camera, he brings together the work put in by all the actors and technicians and, at 24 frames per second, presents their labour for all to see. No pairing in Bollywood quite signifies this relationship more beautifully than V.K. Murthy and Guru Dutt. Together, they created visuals that dreams were made of. They pushed the boundaries of black and white cinema further than anyone had ever before. The melancholic impact of classics like Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool is considerably heightened by the cinematography in several scenes. Take, for instance, the filming of “Waqt ne kiya…” in Kaagaz Ke Phool. The doomed love between Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, both on and, in retrospect, off screen, seems to resonate deeply through each frame of film there. That was the power of cinema and these two maestros were responsible for bringing it to us.

Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman: No, they weren’t the most romantic onscreen pair in Hindi cinema. However, rarely has a pairing of an artist and his muse had such a dramatic impact on the way cinema is made. It was his love for Waheeda Rehman that inspired him to make some of his best works. Today, Kaagaz Ke Phool, very much inspired by their love affair, is regarded as one of the greatest films of all times in any language. The doomed affair may have been one of the many factors to drive Guru Dutt into depression and subsequently, his death. However, it also may have contributed to some of the finest work in cinema.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar: What would Hindi cinema be without their collaboration? A director-writer combination, their collaborations led to superb films like the hilarious Chupke Chupke & Khubsoorat, the emotional Anand, the adorable Guddi and the idealistic Namak Haraam. Gulzar knew how to sketch out beautiful characters and Hrishida had mastered the art of bringing them to life on screen with a warmth and vibrancy matched by few others. Together they brought beautiful stories to life which came from every nook and corner of life: the rich, the poor and everyone in the middle.

Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar: Better known as the duo, Salim-Javed, the two people together wrote approximately 16 movies together over a span of 11 years. However, these are the masala movies that came to define Hindi cinema after the 1970s. Their works include classics like Sholay, Trishul, Shakti and Deewaar. They are responsible for some of the most unforgettable lines of Hindi cinema from “Kitne aadmi the?” to “Mogambo, khush hua!” Hindi cinema would be far less colourful had it not been for these two writers. They gave us iconic characters like Gabbar Singh, Shakaal and almost single-handedly immortalised Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man image. 

Vishal Bharadwaj and Gulzar: In a span of 15 years beginning with Maachis, Bharadwaj and Gulzar’s collaboration has manifested itself in several forms. They have done music and lyrics together in several films (Maachis, Satya, Maqbool, Omkara and most recently, Ishqiya being the prominent ones). Bharadwaj is also one of the few directors that Gulzar continues to work with. Together, they have created a distinct sound which is very uniquely their own. There have been other music directors like Shantanu Moitra who have a similar style. Yet, they remain on top of their game giving us some of the finest musical gems in recent years.

Yash Chopra and Shiv-Hari: While the pairing of Gulzar and Bharadwaj produced a unique sound that remains distinct even today, the collaboration of Shiv-Hari and Yash Chopra resulted in music that inspired a generation of music and film directors. Their blend of the santoor, the violin and the saxophone; the huge orchestras and background singers resulted in the romantic music that came to define an important segment of movies in the 1990s. Musicians like Jatin-Lalit, Uttam Singh and others were clearly inspired by their style of music. The defined musical conventions and cliches.  Consequently, their music remains powerful till today.

Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan: It’s corny I know. But more often than not, audiences like corny. They are looking for corny. Hindi cinema has had several actor pairings: Dharmendra and Hema, Amitabh and Rekha, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar. However, no pair seems to match up to the magic created by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. In their collaboration over 6 films (Baazigar, Karan Arjun, DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and My Name is Khan), they have given us some of the most romantic moments in contemporary Hindi cinema, be it catching a train together in DDLJ or dancing in the rain in Kuch Kuch. I think what really works for the two is that although neither is conventionally good looking, they both have great spunk and confidence and are absolutely unapologetic about who they are. They make you believe that love is possible against all odds even when one of them is a Muslim in post 9/11 America suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. No couple in Bollywood has gone through so many transformations and yet, complimented each other every step of the way. They are the stuff that dreams are made of.