Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Take foot, insert slowly in mouth

Watched Iqbal yesterday. As I am fond of saying, I live in hope. And this time, it was justified. Eating crow, eating crow. Will refrain from doing full-length analysis of said film, but suffice it to say is eminently watchable in feel-good, pulling-at-heartstrings kind of way. Heck, I always knew Nagesh had it in him ;)

And please refrain from pointing out that that's the most shamelessly barefaced turnaround of the century.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi

This post was brought on by one of the comments to my previous post about Nagesh Kukunoor. Sinfully Pinstripe (and one day you'll explain to me the significance of that intriguing blog handle) said, "I almost physically assaulted my roommate when he said that the only recent neo-hindi movie he could compare Hazaaron with in terms of quality was Teen Deewarein." It was also brought on by the fact that I finally watched Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi this weekend, after being exhorted to do to so by friends for four months. I watched it on a VCD with scratchy sound, in a cacaphonic drawing room that had, among other things, a noisy dog. I watched enthralled, engrossed and haven't stopped thinking about it ever since.

I would want to physically assault anybody who compared Hazaaron with Teen Deewarein, too, Pinstripe. Teen Deewarein – well, you just feel like saying 'poor guy, at least he tried'. The raw passion of Hazaaron is something you take away with you – it sticks on you the way a passionate kiss does long after it's over. No PhD on the frustrated angst of the Naxalite movement, the JP movement, the fear and the paranoia of the Emergency could have done a more thorough job of explaining what it actually meant to live in those times. What it meant to be young in those times. I didn't, and I have had a very apolitical youth, but the film has a way of getting under your skin, of making you restless and frustrated and just a bit more aware of your world.

Then, hardly ever have I come across a film title that so magnificently captures its essence. A thousand desires – the impossible desires of youth and that youthful arrogance that there is nothing in the world as important as them.

The film traces the lives of three students from Delhi University (and it felt strange to be back in the Hindu College corridors and hostel lawns – I kept expecting to see friends popping up into the screen) from 1969 to 1976. Siddharth is an idealistic young man born into a privileged background (money and idealism weren't as completely irreconcilable back then, it seems), Vikram an ambitious small-town, middle-class boy with a Gandhian father, and the third is Geeta, the girl they both love – a sophisticated Stephanian Tam Bram with foreign education behind her.

The way the movie unhurriedly, subtly yet thoroughly goes into the backgrounds of these characters – their families, beliefs, motivations and antecedents – is in itself a treat to watch. Settings are recreated with such complete attention to detail that you can almost smell the breakfast coffee in Geeta's house – though the scene is less than a minute long. Yet, there is none of that fake sophistication in terms of set design one finds in many recent films – that maniacal wish to make everything look picture perfect. When Siddharth and Geeta make love on the floor of what looks like a college laboratory, there is none of that orchestrated, almost choreographed love-making one has come to expect from movies. It is as clumsy as these moments almost always are – but it unambiguously and beautifully conveys desperation and urgency.

Then there are the host of minor characters you keep wishing the director had explored more extensively – so full of potential are they. As fellow blogger Fool on the Hill said in his post on Hazaaron, these characters with their typical (though not clichéd or overused) regional idiosyncrasies recreate the environment perfectly. The police officer looking for Naxalites hiding inside the village school, the old man in the hospital bed next to Siddharth’s, the college friend who backs out of the village project at the last minute, Siddharth’s father the retired judge, Vikram’s father the Congressman. Also, as a friend pointed out, the treatment is not heavy handed or overtly sombre – there’s a wry, self-effacing, very Bihari, humour that alleviates the seriousness throughout the film.

And beyond the politics of the time, the love story. How each one of the protagonists realises their desire in the end, though in ways they had never dreamt of. And the music – ah the music. Bawra mann haunts me day and night –those of you who haven’t heard it yet, please do so at the earliest. The lyrics are simple and poignant and so beautifully poetic.

In fact, they carry the essence of the story in them. Sad, even tragic, but ultimately hopeful.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Not again!

Nagesh Kukunoor has directed a film. Again. Much as one would want him to go back to being an environmental engineer or whatever he was before he started this unfortunate tryst with movie-making, the man perseveres.

This time, it’s a film called Iqbal, said to be about a deaf and dumb (ok, verbally challenged) village boy who wants to join the Indian cricket team and is trained by a character portrayed by Naseeruddin Shah, who for some inexplicable reason seems to like Nagesh K and the films he makes. He acted in Teen Deewarein before this.

I don’t know what Iqbal will be like; I only have the power to pre-judge it by the other Kukunoor films fate has consistently thrown my way. I saw Hyderabad Blues when I was in first year of college – and along with Bombay Boys, it had seemed, that time, like a breath of fresh air. Yet, there was a nagging feeling somewhere that something was not quite right. I was not in raptures over it, as I was over the infinitely better Bombay Boys. And a second viewing a year later told me why: it was such a shoddy film! I mean, it is all very well to have snappy dialogue in a few scenes, zoom in on a few typical characters of middle class India (eg the pallu-dropping aunt) and talk about NRI angst. But whatever happened to acting, and what about a good script, and some decent production values? Ok, so it was made on a shoestring budget, but is that a good enough excuse for turning out a film that could have been made better just by raising the standards of the few things you don’t need money to: screenplay, dialogue, acting? The dialogue, for instance, though effective in parts, was in general very trite – especially in the scenes that were not meant to be funny. And the standards of acting were lower than those of C-grade Bollywood skin flicks. (An aside here: Nagesh’s partner, professionally, is this charming woman called Elahe Hiptoolah, who likes to remain behind the scenes but is probably forced to do cameos in his films time and again. She has more acting talent in her little finger than most of the other cast he assembles for his amateurish ensemble movies. A genuinely under-used actress, for I haven’t seen her in any other films.)

Ok, but the film still had a breezy snappiness about it that washed down not so badly. Then came Bollywood Calling, again a film that had moments of genuine funniness but the deplorable tendency to sink into complete bathos. I mean, what was all that stuff about that firang guys having stomach cancer and all all about? Sheeesh!

In Teen Deewarein, Kukunoor was clearly out of his depth. And it would have been a better film if he had not made Jackie Shroff’s character spout terrible poetry and had refrained from acting in it himself.

But the worst film Kukunoor has made, till date, is the sequel to Hyderabad Blues. Those who have been unfortunate enough to watch it will know what I am talking about when I say there can be no worse film. It was a travesty of everything film-making has ever stood for, believe me. It had no script, no depth, no genuine insight into marriage (which it was supposedly about), no good acting to redeem it (again, the great director couldn’t stay away from the greasepaint) and was the most unintentionally funny film I have ever seen. Even the unintentional funny moments became a bit tedious after some time, it was that bad.

Now, what amazes me in all this is, how has this man who has consistently churned out bad cinema manage to sustain his credibility not only as a well-known film-maker, but as a ‘serious’ film-maker who is ‘committed to cinema’ and grandiose stuff like that? How does he get people to take him seriously, after making one amateurish film after the other? When it must be apparent to all that ALL his films have that feel of school skits hurriedly put together for a moral science class?

Listen to him go about the underdog in an interview (http://www.indiafm.com/news/2005/08/09/5604/) about his latest film: ““I’ve watched a number of sports-based movies in U.S. (sic) and most of them revolved around underdogs. By an uncanny coincidence, I would be rooting for the underdog in the film, you want him/her to succeed at the end of the day. That’s the essence of IQBAL as well.” What erudition! What insight! What an uncanny coincidence that ninety per cent of us also find ourselves rooting for the underdog ninety per cent of the time!

Even though all this vitriol may give the impression that the man has slighted me personally in the course of my illustrious journalistic career, I actually liked him the one time I met and interviewed him. A bit too full of himself with a tendency to take himself too seriously, but a genuinely likeable fellow in all other ways. At that interview (just after Teen Deewarein was released), he had told me some really great-sounding ideas that were festering within him. One was about an Indian cook in London who falls in love with a white woman; another was about Indian immigrant workers in Florida orange fields. I sincerely hope he turns over these ideas to a more competent film-maker than himself – for he knows how to kill a good idea like no one else.

And with my kind of luck, Iqbal will turn out to be a great film and everybody will hate me for being so mean to Nagesh. Sigh! I live in hope.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

After the flood

Came all the news reports. And the inevitable stories of celebrities stranded without baths and cars and deprived of prized cabbages in back gardens. You had a picture of a dead baby killed in an unnecessary stampede being carried to the burial ground by its father, and next to it, Jaya Bachchan feeling thankful that she had a tall son whom the 'flood' in their house couldn't drown.

Next day, a newbie Bombay paper carried a full investigative report, with research worthy of a PM's state visit, on whether Ekta Kapoor's BMW 7 series had been damaged by water flooding her basement parking lot or not. They spoke to her, her brother, her colleagues, the garage mechanic, the garage owner, neighbours -- everybody. There were quotes that went something like 'a green BMW 7 that certainly looks like Ekta's did come in for repairs, so it must have been hers that got damaged' and Tushar Kapoor vehemently denying the allegation that their cars, THEIR CARS, could be vulnerable to something as trivial as 944 mm of rain.

I was reminded of the Delhi Times report that came in just after the Tsunami tut tutting about how Sandeep Chowta's back garden in Chennai was washed away.

Am scanning the papers for more such frustratingly hilarious items. Please report.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Meets and all

There was a bloggers’ meet in Bangalore. Last week. Wednesday. Have been putting off writing about it ever since. Not because there was nothing to write about or anything, but was in very lazy mood. Also, was enjoying attention received by Harry Potter post, so didn’t want to distract people from it with yet another scintillating post about the evening that was the Bangalore Boggers’ Meet Episode 1.

It was scheduled for 1900 hours Wednesday last. When I walked into the best Barista outlet in India on St Mark’s Road (no, the coffee is as predictable as ever but it’s in the huge ground floor hall of an ancient colonial building with old stone walls that used to house, I think, the Bible Society), there was a group of four boys (sorry, boys) sitting awkwardly on and around the sofa in the corner below the TV.

The weird thing was, when I had built a mental image of what the blogger’s meet might look like, that’s exactly where I’d placed the entire group in my mind. Which goes to show, I suppose, that velvet sofas are really good for stimulating conversation or how boring and predictable we are (I mean, why didn’t anybody think of plonking themselves on the Barista counter?) or some such sad truth. Anyway.

So the group was all there. Arka, who was the only person there whose appearance I was vaguely familiar with, and Mandar and Sanket and Sridhar. All they needed was a little bit of spark that was duly provided by me. Soon other people joined, such as Sunayana, Venks and Jayashree. Lot of stimulating conversation happened (velvet sofa contributed, am sure) – on variety of topics such as each others’ blogs, other people’s blogs, when next blog meet would be, Harry Potter… my memory begins to fade. Age, must be.

On the whole, not bad. We’ve even started a Bangalore bloggers’ Google group. The next meet was on Saturday, which I missed because of demanding friend from Delhi. Another meet scheduled for 15 August weekend, and am fervently hoping the date just happens to be convenient because of long weekend and all and has nothing to with patriotism etc. I mean, dedicated as I have become to all things blogging, I draw the line at sitting down and talking about the state of the nation and how the economy is doing and things like that. Can’t imagine anything more corny. *Shudder shudder.* (Am at heart deep social thinker and all, I’ll have you know, but prefer to keep my thoughts for deep PhD am doing on said subject.)

To make up for lack of social insight I might have provided, have offered to turn up in Tricolour sequined mini-dress. How’s that as mark of deep and unwavering patriotism?