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Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Labouring their life away... (Asha Jaoar Majhe, 2014)

Have you watched Singeetam Srinivasa Rao’s National Award winning 1987 film Pushpaka Vimana? In case you haven’t I suggest you do it pronto. It’s a sharp commentary on several social anomalies as well as human behaviour that is impeccably camouflaged as an uproarious comedy. Taking into account issues of unemployment, deceit, mistrust yet presenting the negatives with dark humour, the film is actually a reckoner of the real talent of actor Kamal Hassan. It’s hilarious yet thought-provoking.
A film sans any dialogue, the narrative uses facial expressions, body actions and a fabulous background score to tell the tale of a young graduate and his exploits. How he earns a freak chance to live a rich man’s life, tries to woo a young lady using the camouflage, evades a plot for heinous murder and eventually comes clean. Well, if not for anything, watch it for the thrills of a completely different genre of cinema. A category that captures a cine lover’s mind through deft story-telling using apt sound design and drama.
And, once you’d done so, add one more National Award-winning film to your watchlist. Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s 2014 creation, Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love), starring the immensely talented Ritwick Chakraborty and Basabdutta Chatterjee. It’s streaming on Amazon so you wouldn’t have to search high and low. It’s a short story so it won’t eat into your schedule as such. But watch it you must. Because, good cinema, something that’s few and far between in India must be taken into consideration and enjoyed. To ensure that the art showcased by the artist gets its due laurel…
The film though set in a very present Bengali milieu, could be a universal happening for any generation stuck under the clutches of depressing recession. The daily grind, the rigmarole could be placed perfectly in any set up. But what makes the story relatable to a Bengali is the Calcutta scape, the architecture, the conveyance and the canvas…
Forced to live a life they live because of the economic condition, the film chronicles a day of a nameless couple who work tirelessly to sustain themselves. Now, what could be so spectacularly different in this plot, you might think. Considering this is the life of most educated lower-middle class person who uses public transport to work after finishing the daily chores at home. There is nothing, absolutely nothing remarkable in his calendar to make things not drab. But then, that is exactly what the film strives to depict. The drab existence of a life that is listless, full of toil yet hardly devoid of turmoil. The seeming calm is superfluous. The rancour, loneliness and dejection are so ingrained in these lives that it almost is a vicious cycle…
What is the couple earning for? Money. Or the modes to live a decent, respectable life. But at what
cost? When they can’t enjoy each other’s company. The only time they meet amidst the woman’s day job in a bag factory and the husband’s night shift in a printing press, is when the husband gets back home in the morning. But then, minutes later, after the couple exchange an embrace and a smile, the wife is ready for her day of hustle. The man spends the rest of the day alone in the house, before he leaves for work. The wife returns to an empty home, spending the night on an empty bed. The communication is nil, barring the missed calls both give each other when it is time for them to wake each other up from slumber…
The constant question looming large is, “Is this a life?” Reality yes. A hard one. No wonder when they both meet for a fraction, the canvas shifts to a dreamy landscape where the couple finds few seconds of bliss. A world that probably they dream of but can never land in. Because they are stuck in this world where existence is a sheer struggle. Money is a necessity. Dreams and aspirations have already been sacrificed at its altar…
I won’t tell you more about the story because I want you to watch it… It could bore you because without the dialogues you’d really have to train your ears to catch the references of hope, of dejection, of burning out, of the rigmarole, of incompleteness, of struggle, of irony and of despair through the brilliant sound design. Even though there is squalor, this is a Calcutta we must familiarise with. Mahanagar Calcutta, where millions live a life of strife, struggle and crazy hard work. The decadence is depleting and hard reality hits you badly in the face… This is the vortex of recession that we are fast heading into…
While the two films are starkly dissimilar in execution, emotions, story line and method of approach, there is a telling similarity in the depression depicted. Unemployment and deceit rule in Pushpak
while the means to stay employed form the crux of Asha Jaoar Majhe… While the first approach is dark comedy and sarcasm, the second is subtle, real yet very straight… However, I’d give it to Anish John’s brilliant sound design in Sengupta’s film that elevates the experience notches above. This is the man who did magic in Trapped, starring Rajkumar Rao. And with every film I see that showcases his work, I become a bigger fan. I’ve known Anish ever since he was in school and I am so, so proud of him…
Several montages in the film are glaringly symptomatic of the rigmarole the couple is forced to go through. The pedalling of the cycle, the getting up and down the stairs and the loud groaning of the printing press that drowns every bit of the words spoken by the humans present in the frame. The water bubbles drying in the wok before the wife pours in the oil to start cooking is a telling sign of how the young couple’s life and dreams of spending time together is evaporating because of their daily struggle…
The film also however, shows mutual respect and love between the two. Both share household responsibilities. There is understanding and we see love, through the glances they exchange for a fleeting second. If only their love was able to conquer the abject strenuous circumstance they both find themselves in…

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

All Pomp and no Show... Padmaavat in my nutshell...

How many of you have watched Mirch Masala? A Ketan Mehta drama set against the arid Rann where the protagonist, Sonbai, becomes the subject of lust for the lecherous Subedar, who is essentially a Company appointed stooge. While he leaves no stone unturned to get his kill, the director makes the tale even more riveting showcasing why exactly the women of the village back Sonbai up, bolstered by their own sense of honour and pride. Eventually they fight back the villain in their own way, while the men of the village, who would rather have their women cloistered in their homes under the ghunghat than be forthcoming with their opinions, stand and watch.
The film is a stark depiction of the societal situation in the village, the patriarchal mindset and the state of women. Even if I do not delve on these, the film aught to be celebrated just for the superlative screenplay, mindblowing cinematography and of course the performances. Smita Patil oozes sex appeal that is rustic yet feisty, Naseeruddin Shah epitomises deviousness and Suresh Oberoi, though absolutely hateful, looks the authoritative man of the house to the tee.
Films cannot and should not be compared. Especially when the milieu in which they are made is different. But as I watched Padmaavat this evening I couldn’t help remembering the aforementioned film. Because even though the class depicted in the current one is monarchy, the topography and demography dealt with is somewhat similar to the former. There is a blaring reference to the mirchi throwing scene that is so lauded in the intellectual corridors of cinema. The villain’s urgency to get his catch is etched in the eyes of Ranveer Singh. But still Padmavat is no Mirch Masala. It didn’t stay with me.
Here’s why. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, known for his yen for larger-than-life canvases, miscast his male lead. With that diminutive frame Shahid Kapoor cannot pull off a Maharawal Ratan Singh. He is short, very short (and looks even more so beside the tall Deepika) and extremely lean. Rajput men are known for their height, broad shoulders and robust appearance. No matter how much the camera shines on his slick abs, those shoulders are not wide enough to do justice to the fabulous attire Rimple and Harpreet Narula gave him. He pales in comparison to the thumping personality and gait of Ranveer. I’m also wondering why he walks around with fairly one expression plastered on his face: BLANK. When he is romancing he’s blank, when he’s strategizing he’s blank and when he’s imprisoned, he’s blank. His character is unidimensional (why didn't he interact with his first wife in the entire length of the film?) What happened to the 'real' Shahid Kapoor. The actor who floored with his effortless act in Kaminey and his spellbinding art in Haider. Don’t tell me he only reserves his best for Vishal Bhardwaj…

I’m not much of a Deepika Padukone fan. Yes, she is pretty and that’s about it. She looks lovely but I kept thinking of the ethereal Aishwariya in Jodhaa Akbar. Her dialogue delivery is so stunted and jaded. Her chemistry with Shahid is bland and cold. This time somehow the director thought that the unibrow and the tears would salvage the situation. No, they don’t. I’d prefer an enigmatic Sonbai any day.
The cinematography also is a bit restricting (Bhansali has mostly used dull grey tones, last seen in his Harry Potteresque Saawariya). While it might be a conscious decision to keep the mood dark and dreary in sync with the foreboding nature of the plot, I wanted my eyes to be blown over by the length and breadth of what I witnessed on the screen. Heavily borrowed from Troy (mainly the last duel and the thousand ships image), even the war scenes were abrupt, giving no room for panoramic action sequences. While the sound design is spot on, the want of horizontal frames makes the architecture look constricted. I missed the expanse of Hum Dil Chuke Sanam. I kept asking for explanations that would justify the decisions of the king and the queen. The plot demands that. Like when he says Rajputs honour dignity and the word given with their life, there should have been little instances and nuggets to bolster that. Small snippets that would balance the heavy words. Maybe then all the heavy breathing in the lengthy drama would not sound lofty. One needs to support the heart with the lungs, right?
While the film is a chain of actions and reactions, I'm still wondering why the royal priest was prying into the private chambers of the royal couple? The script doesn't account for that even for a second... 

There were redeeming factors though. The costumes by Rimple and Harpreet. This couple has come of age. I say this because I have seen their work over the years. While Deepika’s and Shahid’s costumes were opulent and colourful, just as royals should be wearing, they poured their heart out for Khilji’s look. Dark colours that reflect the depraved and barbaric soul of the Sultan. Layers that project his intriguing personality. I don’t think it could have been better done.
Ghoomar is absolutely fantastic. It is rhythmic, folksy and picturised stunningly. Apart from that one, I don’t think the music is even worth applauding with some songs being completely redundant.
Ranveer does what Shahid could, but would not. He pulls you in with his eyes. His barbarism,
diabolic nature is mirrored in his eyes. The deep dark recesses of his treacherous heart seeps out from his piercing gaze. It’s mesmerising how this lad has grown. Though some of his physical outbursts were exaggerated, I could feel the rush of his passion towards the denouement. His win came through treachery and deceit because he wanted it so badly and he justifies it to the king. His disturbing ambition is too palpable. Like in the scene where he waits out on the barren land all through the night for Padmavati to step out of the walled city of Chittor. When she doesn’t he firms up his resolve to get what his heart desires for. Ranveer was symptomatic of passion. Passion for the woman, passion for the win and the passion to project his art like never before.

And while I watched Ranveer trying to save the drab insipid saga singlehandedly, I kept wondering when and where exactly in his career did Sanjay Leela Bhansali loose the plot…

Monday, 18 December 2017

Sonar Kella (1974)

Summer holidays would usually be bifurcated into when my father would pore over ICSE
Examination answer scripts and later when we would pack our bags for a vacation after he had submitted the mark sheets. Baba was the senior Mathematics teacher in Don Bosco School in Calcutta as well as the co-chief examiner of the ICSE Boards. So, during the first half of the holidays the whole house would be stuffed with cardboard boxes of scripts that would eventually decide the fate of youngsters who scribbled their knowledge of numbers on them. Or so, as we were made to believe in those gullible years by every teacher in that non-digitised world of ours!
Satyajit Ray's Feluda flick, Sonar Kella takes me back to one humid morning during summer recess when my father announced, "Let's just quickly finish today's quota and in the afternoon we will watch Sonar Kella!" My eyes lit up. I quickly made him a cup of tea (I was 15 then) and got him his specs. He sat down, brandished his red pen over the scripts, and started deciding the 'fates' of the helpless children. Intermittently, he asked me to cross check the calculations so that there were no errors later in the tally sheet. Sharp at 12 noon, he wrapped up, we both finished our ablutions, gobbled our lunch and sat down to watch the film. For the 16th time. Ignoring my mother's high-pitched, "God! How many times more..."

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Let them tell their own story (Lakhon Mein Ek, a web series)

How many of you have heard of Biswa Kalyan Rath? Or watched him perform on stage or on
For the uninitiated, Rath is a stand-up comedian who broke into the scene when he and fellow comedian Kanan Gill presented the ‘viral’ Pretentious Movie Reviews on YouTube. He then hosted his own shows, cracked the audience up at his gigs and so on and so forth.
I, myself, was unknown to this name till yesterday. Because I am not into stand-up comedy and moreover, entertainment for me is much more than what becomes ‘viral’.
But, somewhere, while watching Rath’s video clips just now, I realised I need to stay abreast of these remarkably talented young fellows. Not only was he funny, but that voice, gait, confidence and language play were traits that I haven’t seen in many youngsters of late. His self-deprecating jokes were sharp and sarcastic and I know where they come from. As Bengalis, we almost always passed snide remarks at the Oriya clan, not realising that they can be talented as hell as well. My interactions with local weavers of Odisha changed my perspective completely. And now Rath.
Anyway. I got introduced to Rath through Lakhon Mein Ek, a web-series he produced for Amazon that stars Ritvik Sahore. While ad clips familiarised me with the series a while back, yesterday I finally watched it. At 12 in the night, I pushed myself to complete the series at one go. Because, it was unputdownable. Compelling, realistic and dark to a large extent, the series revealed that sharp and sarcastic side of Rath that he often passes off with a laugh on stage.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Swami (1977)

As teenagers, we were brought up on a steady dose of classic Bengali literature. While Rabindranath
Tagore was a constant, my mother insisted we tick off a reading list comprising Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Bibhutibhushan Banerjee and Manik Bandopadhyay. During the interim between my graduation and masters, I voraciously read titles by all these literary greats. While each one bore a fascinating style, I found Sarat Chandra's works very easy to relate to. And understand. He was an everyman's writer portraying the plight of women in the society of the then Bengal. Interesting stories that you we heard about from our grandmas found place in his works as well. Woman were a pivotal point in his stories and often the plot revolved around the female protagonist. The ideals, conflicts and emotional quotient was so easy to relate to.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Shaque (1976)

I had watched Aruna Vikas's Shaque as a young teenager. Considering that I am blessed with a
remarkable memory, I didn't really forget the plot and the characters but when I watched it yesterday I realised that my reaction to the film had undergone quite some change. The first viewing was accompanied by my father's incessant appreciation of Utpal Dutt, who plays a unique role in the film. With his commentary I ended up believing that it is a perfect suspense thriller with able performances not only by Dutt but also by the protagonists Vinod Khanna and Shabana Azmi. Understandably this teenager's impression was a tad coloured.
This time the commentary was absent. Hence, I watched the film from top to toe and realised that while the plot is fantastic, the music is apt to build up the suspense, Utpal Dutt is cut out for the role of Maan Singh, it is Vinod Khanna and Shabana Azmi who fail to grasp my attention. Both are so inconsistent in the film, to the extent of
being disinterested. Vinod Khanna's acting skills I'm not too sure of, but I know Shabana can own the screen. Here she does not. Maybe that's why Shaque for me isn't the perfect suspense thriller...
Meena Joshi receives an curious letter from some Maan Singh, while her husband, Vinod Joshi is away for work. The letter alleges that Vinod had murdered Kale after stealing money from his office and put the blame on the innocent Subramanium. The author also alleges that the Joshis' sudden rise to riches was because of that stolen money and that Vinod is actually a scheming fellow who has planned the misdeed. Meena's halcyon world comes crashing down. While she refuses to believe what the letter says, she keeps questioning Vinod's sudden contact with so much money. Eventually Vinod finds out that Meena is suspecting him and though he tells her that he earned all the property through his dealings in the share market, Meena takes it all in with a pinch of salt.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Alaap (1977)

For a film that's primarily focussing on the clash of principles between an indignant father and a self-respecting son, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Alaap takes a winding route in building up the story. It's evenAbhimaan and Jurmana. In this film a good story is somewhere let down by the circuitous execution.
more strange because Mukherjee is at the helm of affairs here. But there is so much redundancy in the beginning before the actual plot unfolds, that you wonder whether this is the same director who knit solid tales like
Advocate Triloki Prasad is a widowed man who prides himself on the position he holds in society. He's rich, venerated and hence, doesn't mince words belittling the interest in music that his younger son, Alok, has. It's a very straight-jacketed thought process. If you have studied in college and earned degree, you give up all artistic pursuits and get down to brass tacks. A knack or a yen for the arts isn't really appreciated in Triloki Prasad's universe. He forces Alok to take serious interest in work, which entails going with Ashok, his elder brother, to the court and pick up the ropes in the industry of law.