This film was touted as the best Hindi film ever made. It was said that a craftsmanship of this measure has been reached for the first time ever in the history of Indian cinema and that this movie would signify the coming of age of Bollywood itself. Let’s see if the claims are justified…….
The start of the film is good. The afflicted girl child’s cameo is the best piece of acting in the movie, even better than the roles put up by Amitabh and Rani. The story is well told. It had to be, because the Director specializes in the themes related to the impaired as can be seen in his previous (and first) movie “Khamoshi”. The intensity of pain is captured well enough in the scenes of the first half. I personally feel that the first half of the movie is the better half; the film sags a bit in the second and becomes slightly monotonous. The acting of the characters is brilliant without any exception at all. I personally think that this is one of the best roles Amitabh Bachchan has done in his lifetime. He is remarkably restrained, and never lets his off screen persona get the better of him in the movie. He is the Teacher he portrays. Rani is wonderfully alive in the role she plays and given her acting skills, one would like her to be rated as one of the few good female acting sensations that Bollywood has managed to lay its hands on.
The first half of the movie: The first half of the movie is brilliant, beautiful,
breathtaking and flawless. The most endearing and heart warming thing is the ephemeral stint of success that Amitabh manages to grasp fleetingly and loses again only to regain it yet again in the depths of that water fountain. The obduracy, the devilish wildness and the “effortfully controlled” taming of the uninhibited spirit is portrayed with a sensitiveness that is the hallmark of a wonderfully talented director. I say it again, the revelation of the movie is not Amitabh, not Rani, but that little devil of a girl that manages to evoke a feeling other than indifference in the most cynical of beings (me being at the top of them) that crawl upon the face of this earth.
The second half of the movie: Given the fact that the second half of the movie had Rani to
accompany Amitabh in the proceedings, one should have guesstimated that the second half should outshine the first. Yet, this sadly doesn’t happen. The film unnecessarily digresses into inconsequentialities and the tight control and compact structure formed in the first half sags a bit. The unnecessary histrionics in the class about the importance of sight and Rani reminding people that she was in the University to prove a point had too much theatricality for people like me to absorb. Same thing about the speech at the graduation…. unnecessary………dispensable. Though I am not overcritical. These glitches pale into insignificance when compared to the wonderful performances by the artistes.
The time at which these things are supposed to have happened seem a bit baffling. Sometimes you’d get a hint of all this happening in the Shimla of today and at times it would seem that the times are those of the Raj. Taking the mean of the two, the time comes out to be somewhere just after independence. But jokes apart, I really think that this movie is supposed to have shown the times not very much later than after Independence. However, the time is inconsequential as it provides the background of the story only.
One of my main criticisms of this movie is the same that I have with every Snajay Leela Bhansali movie (except Khamoshi)—excessive opulence. This is a fixation he is unwilling to abandon. We saw this in “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” and again in “Devdas”. In fact, one of my reasons for disliking Devdas was that his excessively large glass houses adorned with marble paraphernalia seemed painfully cosmetic. You needn’t have a Paro who would need to be a larger than life, divine nymph who would not wear a saree which would be less than 50,000 rupees and not embellished with diamond zari. Here also, the Shimla that is shown to us looks florid in a way that would hurt your eyes. The times are unmistakably Victorian and so is the ambience. These uncalled for and totally dispensable and unnecessary constructs make the movie look a little less natural. However, to dwell over it for so long is excessively harsh on my part. Every Director has his signature style and this garishness happens to be that of Sanjay Leela’s. It’s OK to have some personal indulgences, so we let the matter drop.
The ending of the movie is good. The movie ends with Rani getting a college degree finally after 15 years (this pleasure is one I can understand very well personally; I think I wouldn’t get mine before 8, heh heh heh………). She dedicates it to her Teacher who battles with Alzheimer’s disease. The final scene shows Rani declaring that she taught the first word that her teacher had taught her, back to him—“water”. The basic philosophy of the movie, “Never say die!”
Now to evaluate the claim whether this is the best Bollywood movie ever made. The answer is an emphatic NO. I don’t know whether it was the garishness of it, or something else, or maybe my biased-ness, but I wasn’t touched in the least anywhere in the movie. I still think that I was the closest to being touched only sometimes during that little girl’s mulish anger that found no abating and yet that “closest to being touched” wasn’t as close as I have felt in many other Bollywood movies. If there are people who think that this movie is better than the likes of “Anand”, or “Satya”, or “Dil Se”, or “Guide”, or “Mother India”, I’d rather disagree. To have made a good movie when recently there haven’t been many good movies to speak of, requires tremendous effort, yet to rate one good movie that comes along your way as the best, underlines that you haven’t seen many good films lately. Everything about the movie is wonderful, but it’s wonderful in a way that doesn’t leave a sharp anguish in your heart. Compare, again the feeling that you have in the movie “Sadma” when Sridevi declares Kamal Haasan to be insane/beggarly, and you’ll get the wind of what I am saying.
And the most damning indictment of the movie is that it seems to have been made especially for the Oscars. There is a lot of stuff that is extraneous and has been inserted for the coveted (but by no means the most reliable parameter for rating movies) Academy Awards. This explains a lot of cosmetic-ness there in the movie.
Last note: I really would have been happier had the ending been at the scene in which Rani manages to convey to her demented teacher that she finally cleared the exam and he dances a sort of peculiar dance—a ghoulishly ironical dance remnant of the olden, cheerful dances that have come to a sad end.