Thursday, January 12, 2006

Movie Review -- Black

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.

Movie Review -- Forrest Gump

This is supposed to be one of the things I’ve always wanted to do—review movies. The other thing is book review which I hope would soon follow.

Well, I saw this movie for the third time and I am not counting the number of times I’ve seen clips of the movies on Star Movies and it’s only after this long that I finally understood the purport of the movie. The review is as follows:

The basic idea of the movie is echoed in the lines “Run Forrest Run” and “Life is like a box of chocolates”. These are the lines that run through the entire movie as a kind of leitmotif. The movie shows the extraordinarily simple Forrest sail through everything with the aid of his extraordinary luck. It shows Lieutenant Dan finally reconcile himself to the idea that each man is the master of his own destiny and runs his life the way he wants to, in opposition to his earlier idea of a set and separate predetermined destiny. Finally he makes his peace with God and life.

The entire biography of Gump is set against the tumultuous history of the U.S. during the ‘60s and the ‘70s. You are driven across the numerous assassinations and scandals and wars and movements that defined the moods in those times. This is done rather cleverly with the protagonist going through the political and war stuff and the cultural revolution of the Hippies is reflected through the life of Jenny. So the dichotomy covers about everything from history to geography (literally, in the now legendary Forrest’s Run for three years). And yet it would be wrong to take the entire movie for a commentary on U.S. history with the life of Forrest as a background. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The American history forms the background and the basic, really basic philosophy that the Director Robert Zemeckis wants to convey takes the centre stage.

Now to the philosophy that the movie represents: The movie calls you to run whenever you are in doubt. The movie calls you to run whenever assailed by doubts, problems, enemies……whatever. Again, it is important to note that running is not synonymous with escaping; quite the opposite. Running here signifies getting along with life. It underlines the need to keep moving no matter what happens. The three year run of Forrest is a run that is purely symbolic. It has absolutely no significance other than that. There is no need for him to run, there is no purpose, no world peace to espouse, no women’s right to champion. It’s simply an action that signifies moving on especially after the heartbreak with Jenny.

You are no different from any other human. You are the master of your own destiny. Or maybe it’s a combination of both the factors operating simultaneously—you being in control of your destiny and there being some other predetermined destiny in store for you.

This movie also deplores the pseudo, hollow intellectualism that is represented by Jenny. It champions simplicity and a belief in certain core values like running. Everything else is an embellishment, an expendable entity that can be dispensed with. Through the imbecility and yet miraculous success of Forrest, the Director lampoons this gratuitous intellectuality and skepticism. The extraordinary good fortune of Forrest comes only because he doesn’t (or maybe he can’t) get involved in hollow fundays about life, because he doesn’t involve himself in intellectual masturbation. He keeps running and running and running all the time. This is what life is all about—running. Forrest is the personification of the will to live devoid of the pseudo-ness that arbit intellectuality loads on to you.

It, like “Shawshank Redemption” is a movie that will help you in the darkest of times, filling you with hope and gladness. It truly is, on of the finest pictures that I have seen.

The Thadambail Diaries

One of the best things about the insti is the presence of a beach. It provides peace, calm, tranquility and most importantly, cover. The lighthouse is our friend and guardian and looks away when dealings get shady. I like the beach. I love it beyond measure……or maybe I should say, I liked the beach, I loved it beyond measure.

It was one of the regular, routine Saturday morns. I had smashed the comp shut after being fragged by K. Getting fragged isn’t that bad, but getting fragged 20-(-4) in Vertical Vengeance after you wager 20 bucks in front of the whole wing is quite different. And getting fragged when you are convinced of your boundless superiority over the scum that goes by the name of K is a completely different experience that no non-quaker can ever fathom. Ah humiliation! Ignominy!

My watch showed 04:40 then as I dispiritedly, lugged along, hands buried deep in my pockets, head bent down and weighing a million tons on my frail, slender neck. The trees looked like shadowy ghosts smirking and gloating over my loss. Clutching the ten rupee note with all my might, I cursed one and all. And swifter, I marched to Thadambail, where all is forgiven, all forgotten.

The haven for the creatures of the night, the hallowed shanty that we knew by the name of ‘Thadambail’ had a new, unlooked for competition from Rinku now, and given its proximity from the Final Block (not including other factors) it was crystal clear that Thadambail would lose out to Rinku. However, for those people for whom Thadambail wasn’t just an eating joint (if indeed it could be described as such) but a place that harboured them during the crack of dawn from the debilitating pain of acute hunger, felt even more acutely by the swill that they were forced to eat in the mess, it was a Temple…………a holy place. For such people there was no question of thinking about leaving Thadambail and flocking to Rinku. It was positively a crime. “Jeena yahan, Marna yahan/Iske siwa jana kahan?/Jee chahe jab humko aawaz do/Hum hain wahin, hum the jahan”

That morning, however, Rinku would be a big help. Solitude was of paramount importance. I needed a few moments of unhurried calm along with the warm, oily poori-sabji to fix my mind up. Time was the best healer. I needed a considerable supply of time to heal off and assuage my sense of pride and dignity. It would be obviously a pain if I had to endure the company of living people precisely at the time when I had, in my opinion, ceased to exist as one of them.

I hardly noticed the rather long walk, absorbed as I was in these thoughts. They had taken possession of me completely and I followed the long train of these entangled ideas hardly noticing that the Thadambail Swamy had not come yet and a dark shape sat hunched on the unoccupied bench. I noticed the figure finally and could not contain my boundless surprise. My watch showed 04:50.

My watch showed 05:25. “Shit, the Thadambail Swamy will be here any minute now. I’ve got to get away from here as fast as I can”, I thought and before I could realize, I was running away from the scene as fast as possible. “Have you gone crazy? Do you realize how dangerous can it be? Your running away like this? You are the only regular customer here. The enquiry will lead everyone straight to you. Ahh……stupid!”

I ran back to find the body still lying there, eyeing the now very pale blue dawn with a horrifically serene smile. I somehow began dragging the body and tried to take cover under the dense undergrowth behind the Thadambail shanty. To my horror, I saw moped lights in the distance. ‘Time is precious’. For the first time in the twenty wasted years of my life, this statement made sense to me. I began dragging with all my might and finally, as if sensing my urgency, the body yielded and began sliding itself reluctantly. The lights came nearer and I realized to my dismay that all my efforts would end up in nothing. I would be discovered, put up on trial and summarily cast with the sodomites of the infamous Tihar jail. My future life there flashed in a horribly clear image before my eyes. The cumulative effect was not so much frightening as numbing—a petrifying, cool, damning numbing. I sat there with the body, transfixed, paralysed, unable to move a finger even, and awaited with quickening breaths the end of it all. “I would faint if this takes a bit longer than this. There is no use at all…………no, none at all.” But the moped kept moving, just went on and on. The flash of its headlight kept strictly to the NH 17 looking not here, not there but straight ahead. Initially at least, I could not register anything at all. “How’s that possible? I don’t understand anything at all!”, was my impulsive thought. I was outraged even. I still had to think of the body after all! Oh what a bother! And here I had given myself away and awaited the outcome! However…………work had to be done. There was no option. I wiped the cold sweat off my brow. My watch showed 05:30.

My watch showed 05:50. I had succeeded in dragging the body to the beach via a relatively unfrequented shortcut that hardly anyone in the institute would have walked on. This, if nothing else, was one of the main advantages of going at least 5 days a week to Thadambail. I found myself on the beach with the body and nothing but the roaring of the sea waves to give me company. I did not have much time. Maybe 20 minutes or so and the beach will be full of people ready to answer nature's call. I did not have time at all. My brain was working faster than it had at any other point of time -- faster than it had in the HT lab endsem viva. And yet, it didn't seem fast enough. The dragging of the body had been a big pain. I hadn't known he would become suddenly so heavy after dying. Damn! I hadn’t known he’d die in the first place itself. However……

I spotted a small boat. It was anchored to a nearby tree with a loose, withered rope. Impulsively, I ran towards it, unknotted it as quickly as I could (It came out fairly quickly. I couldn't but help being surprised by it. Something was strange. Nature seemed dead set to abet me in this ghastly endeavour of mine). I coiled up the rope in my hands and ran towards the boat with all the speed I had, jumped into it and inspected it with a cursory glance. It seemed okay for a short round trip which I had planned in feverish haste. I would somehow fling the body out of the boat when I was close to the large rock. It was a reasonably good plan because the rock was less than a kilometer from the beach and it would be easy for me to row back the boat in ten minutes or so. On the shore I would be, before the boats' owner could come back and discover the theft and the murder that would make the theft look childish in comparison. Yes, the plan seemed good enough. It would work.

I ran towards the body which was close by. My watch showed 06:05.

My watch showed 06:15. I was, for the first time in my life, rowing and tearing away at the breasts of the waves in a boat that I had filched and the body of a 'friend' whom I had murdered. Yes, there were many firsts in that short and fateful trip. 'Many firsts and many lasts', I noted not without a sense of irony. There was however, no time to smile (in a wry way or otherwise) at the turn the events had taken because the rowing was getting harder as the wild waves slashed against me in opprobrious fury. It was getting harder and harder for me to maintain control. I felt the cold brackish water smash against my face in all the strength that it could muster in a kind of useless, angry requiem, outraged both at my having committed the murder and the apparent, calculating, insolent cunning that I was exhibiting.

Then suddenly the vision of the morning returned to me in all its repugnant details. The odious way in which he had eyed me after having seen me surprised at seeing him there at Thadambail. "Just came here to have some fun", his eyes seem to have smirked in the most repulsively reptilian a fashion. His constant jeering look tore my heart, his calculated quietness drove me to the most extreme bouts of anger that I could have succumbed to. The worst part of it all was that towards the end of the match, driven by constant embarrassingly dismal tactics that had resulted in my being smashed for good, I had taken quad damage (something we had agreed not to do) and yet the bastard had managed to smash my guts out with a simple machinegun. The result was supreme, unmitigated humiliation. The issue had transcended the normal victory/defeat equation; it had scaled itself up to questions regarding existence of belief/disbelief in one’s ability and the dignity that stems out of it. I fought off my tears and tried not to look at him. His eyes would have betrayed the infinite disdain he was feeling for me then. Suddenly, an unparalleled strong hatred and fury surged within me and I felt like hitting him square on his frail chest. My watch had shown 05:10.

My watch had shown 05:20. I was just sitting down quietly on the bench waiting for the Swamy to come when he had winked at me asked in the coolest manner possible -- "Kyun munna? Fut gayi?". This was the only thing he had spoken and yet when combined with all his mannerisms that morning, it seemed to me to be small and yet the definitive blow that he was planning to give me. All reason left me then as I jumped onto him in uncontrolled and wild anger. I closed my hands in on his thin, frail neck and pressed with all my strength. The bastard could have begged for mercy but still tried to smile in order to humiliate me further. I felt my anger rising and I resolved to crush his neck harder until he would scream for mercy. The smile still sat firm on his face though his eyes went white. I was sent into paroxysms of rage because of that condescending smile and kept crushing him....... And then a weak emaciated scream let itself off from his throttled throat. I let go immediately, but somehow, I realised it was too late. The accursed smile still clung on tenaciously to his wilted face..........

And then, suddenly, in the midst of all the lashings of the waves and the hard rowing, I realised finally what I had done and the truth hit me so powerfully that I could not row any further. The grotesqueness and weirdness of having "killed" somebody finally hit me squarely. And that it was done because I got pounded in a match was the most bizarre part of it all. "You can't kill. And to have killed for a reason that you did is the most obscene thing to have thought of". "But I didn't want to kill him at all! He shouldn't have smiled. He shouldn't have smiled. This wouldn't have come to this is he hadn't smiled to mock at everything I thought was good in me. He should have not humiliated me and jeered at any remnant nobility that I thought I had. I didn't kill him. I killed the contempt he had for me. And I only wanted to give him a lesson. I just wanted to protect my existence. I didn’t kill him, I protected my existence. There is much more to life than arbit flesh and bone. The most important part of it all is that which you hold sacred, that which you feel is noble. And an attack on that is much more than an attack on your self. That is precisely why a slap from your dad hurts so much more than does a beating by a mugger."

But the hour had struck. A feeling of shame unparalleled engulfed me within its cold embrace. I was suddenly overcome with a deep sense of remorse and suffering. I still wished it to be a bad dream that I might have had. I wanted to wake up to find myself sleeping next to Ma. The ‘reality’ of it gripped me in complete mercilessness. The guilt overpowered me. To stay alive with this notion of guilt buried in your heart forever was more than what I could have borne. Living your life in the knowledge that you are a murderer was asphyxiating........... My watch showed 06:30.

My watch showed 06:40. I was trying to row back to the shore. And yes, I had not carried out my intention of flinging the body away from the boat. The only path to my redemption lay in bringing back the body from the sea and completely accepting all of my sins. Yes, I had to bear this cross. For my own sake, for my own regeneration, for my own resurrection, I had resolved to do what was good.

The rowing was getting harder and harder. The wind seemed to be rushing opposite to the direction in which I was rowing. To make matters worse, I was on the end of my tether. I was exhausted completely. The corpse eyed me the same way, the same ghostly smile mocking me for my audacity against the gargantuan powers of Nature. My efforts seemed directed against an antagonistic force vastly superior to me, hell bent on stopping me from doing what was right. And then I discovered what I had not expected I would ever see. I saw a tiny leak that had by now transformed into a large hole and was letting what it seemed then, unimaginably large quantities of water into the boat.

And then suddenly, everything made clear sense to me. The tacit accomplicement of Nature in this crime of mine, everything going unplanned and yet no hurdles which would let me be discovered with my crime -- the moped going on straight at the NH 17, the boat lying in front of me unguarded, the loose rope that tied the boat to the tree......... It was as if everything was done as a part of a grand plan in which I was just a small piece of a stupid pawn. Nature had dragged me into this mess Herself. She would not let me redeem myself because She did not believe in this Herself. She was red in tooth and claw. I was being punished by Nature for my transgression, not by giving me a choice to redeem myself and undergo voluntary suffering, but by making me a pawn in a large planned chess game with certain death reserved for me from the very outset. This was Nature's way of doing things. This was Her way of punishing the transgressors. No evidence, no trial, no nothing. She had seen everything. Redemption was too lofty an idea for Her to entertain. “Nah boy! I don’t have time for such crap”, She seemed to say. “Down you go into the hole I have reserved for you. And hurry, I don’t have all the time in the world, I’ve got other crimes to punish.”

I had finally unmasked this mystery. I gave up. I stopped rowing. I accepted my punishment humbly, smiled, closed my eyes and flung the oars away into the sea. I tried to become one with the universe; wanted to feel my flesh dissolve into Hers, to become the disembodied notion of ‘Self’ the Indian philosophy speaks so highly of. But somehow, I didn’t feel that way. The nagging feeling that said that I had committed the crime only unintentionally and that too, to protect that which was the only thing worth living for, kept speaking blasphemously into my ears and tried to stop me from becoming one with Nature. The rebel within me raised his ugly head again and refused to agree to this arbitrary handling of the criminal by the Ultimate Judge. However, the rebel had not much time on his hands……

My watch showed 07:00.