Akshay Kumar Starrer Baby And Irrfan Khan’s Qissa: Two Entertaining Films To Drive Away Lockdown Blues- PART 38

Akshay Kumar starrer Baby, an edge-of-the-seat thriller with some international terrorism drama or Irrfan Khan featuring Qissa; presenting Part 38 of our lockdown blues-chasers

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Akshay Kumar Starrer Baby And Irrfan Khan’s Qissa: Two Entertaining Films To Drive Away Lockdown Blues- PART 38
Baby (2015): Don’t move!  The concept of the edge-of-the-seat thriller seems to have been invented for Neeraj Pandey’s enormously engaging take on international terrorism. It takes guts to make a film that calls a spade a spade...Or Pakistan the hub of terrorism in the Asian subcontinent. Neeraj Pandey who has already proved himself to be a riveting raconteur with A Wednesday and Special Chabbis go for the kill. This is his bravest and most epic effort yet. With Baby Pandey immediately and irreversibly joins the ranks of the finest contemporary filmmakers of our times. Even if –God forbid—Pandey were to make disappointing films after Baby he would still be remembered forever by posterity for giving Indian cinema one of its most solidly-constructed cat-and-mouse thrillers in living memory. Outwardly Baby with its theme of a bunch of brave hearts apprehending international terrorists at the risk of their own lives and their family’s wellbeing has nothing to offer that we haven’t seen in several films in the counter-terror genre before. What places Baby far above the routine thrillers is its refreshing lack of circumvention in the storytelling. Straightaway Pandey’s film takes us into the life of  the counter-terrorist Ajay (Akshay Kumar) grapples to locate a colleague who has been betrayed by one of their own and taken hostage by terrorists.

We have seen such agile dramatic situations in any number of Ajay Devgn, Sunny Deol and Akshay Kumar starrer's. Immediately, we sense the difference. In Baby, there is a palpable predilection for building unbearably suspenseful action sequences without losing the essential authenticity of the situation. All through the riveting drama, Ajay and his team (Tapsee Pannu, Rana Daggubati and other splendidly in-character actors who show up with him in different sections of the narrative)  push the envelope of counter-terrorism without toppling into the abyss of self-congratulation. No one has to tell us. We sense we are in the midst of a very important docu-drama on the violence of our times. A part of the film’s edifying mood of bridled energy comes from  Akshay Kumar’s screen presence. He is in control, powerful and effective without throwing his muscles around the screen to prove his heroic stature. One of the film’s most interesting sub-texts is its attitude to heroism and machismo. When we see the hero in Baby conquer the plunderers, we don’t see the routine posturing that screen heroism is always accompanied by. Ajay and his team are doing a job. They want to do it as well as any professional. The difference lies in the mortality level: this hero and his team could get killed at any time. And you know what? They don’t care!

I wish Akshay’s home life had been given a little more prominence. The film seems to eschew emotional bonding as a sign of weakness. Men like Ajay who have a country to save are best spared from the responsibilities of householders. “Bas, mar mat jaana (just don’t die on me,” Akshay’s screen wife(Madhurima Tuli)  tells him, as though he were her smart-phone that she’s compulsively attached to. Neeraj Pandey keeps the proceedings tightly wound, and yet we never feel the weight of the epic plot as it coils and recoils through a labyrinth of subverted idealism and crushed diabolism. The narrative is structured as a spiral of dread, doom and a kind of romantic hope of heroic redemption from the cesspool of terror-violence that grips the world. Though nothing in the film’s design suggests any conscious attempt to create a mood-specific thriller, the film keeps us spellbound from first frame to last. Yes, the airport climax where our heroes(standing ovation for them is in order) make their gateway from a middle-eastern country seems inspired by Ben Affleck’s Argo.No harm in that...Creativity is never self-generated.  In that sense, there is a disturbingly thin line between artistic creation and terror destruction.

Helming, navigating and controlling this bridled exposition on anarchy is Akshay Kumar with his career’s best performance. His interpretation of an unsung hero’s stubborn determination to rescue the world from chaos, is mature and restrained, even when pitched against veteran actors with a formidable history of one-upmanship. Baby immediately puts Akshay Kumar above all the other jaded superstars of Bollywood. Watch him in the dexterously designed sequence where he exchanges ideological barbs with a terrorist Taufeeq (Jamal Khan). Akshay is not playing this role for applause. Instinctively grasping the enormity of what is being said in the film about global unrest, Akshay pins down his character, constructs a sensible life for it that transcends the line of duty. Watch out for the solid supporting performances. Each actor even in the smallest of role knows he is part of a work that attempts to project the grim reality of our violence-ridden world without losing the inherent cinematic quality in the narration. In various sections of the film Danny Denzongpa, Sushant Singh, Tapsee Pannu (as a desi Lara Croft, she is a delight), K K Menon and Anupam Kher appear to excel without trying to. Rashid Raz as the rabble-rousing Pakistani radical leader with his eyeball-rolling act may seem over the top. But then whoever said religious fundamentalists were controlled in their emotions?

What could have been avoided is the over-punctuated background score by Sunjoy Choudhary which tries to pound every scene to a pulp. If the narrative escapes from the assault on the soundtrack it’s because the timely plot gives us no room to crib over trespasses. There is so much to, and so little time....With Baby Neeraj Pandey has evolved as one of the most skilful storytellers of our times. His plot, a hotbed of international intrigue, takes us on an unforgettable journey across cultures countries and continents. Pandey gets immense support from his technicians. Sudeep Chatterjee shoots every nook of the locations as though it were the end of the world. There is a throbbing urgency to every sequence. The editing (Sree Narayan Singh) does away with punctuation marks to create a seamless world where danger lurks in every corner and only the brave are allowed to survive.  Neeraj Pandey whips up a storm of gripping action tempered with a refreshing twist of sobriety. Baby is one helluva rollercoaster ride. Miss it at your own risk.

Qissa (2015):  Qissa is a killer. All our lives we try to be what we are not. Some of us lie about our sexual orientation to ourselves and/or to others. Some pretend to be wiser/smarter/spunkier than we actually are. In one way or another, every life is layered in lies. Qissa is a film that strips through the layers of subterfuge that line lives lived on the edge. And, I do mean the edge. The Partition of India ripped the country into two halves. In the film, Irrfan playing the Sardar Umber Singh with majestic believability walks across the border with his family of a beautiful wife (Tisca Chopra, lovely in face and spirit) and three daughters. The fourth progeny is where the plot thickens. Obsessed with the idea of a male heir Umber invents a virtual life for his fourth born. She is no longer a daughter. She is Umber’s son Kanwar Singh who won’t play with dolls. But the dolls will continue to play with her, no matter how hard her delusional father tries to fortify the growing femininity of his daughter with aggressive clannish lies.

Director Anup Singh unfolds the bewildering and bizarre tale with an inevitability that simply dissolves all disbelief. In a society, culture and country that still favours the male child as the true inheritor of the family lineage, the message that Qissa conveys is both timely and timeless. Visceral images creating a haunting play of light and shade runs through this beautifully shot drama of the doomed. Gender ambiguity is only one of the many themes that run across the narrative, creating a cosmos of restless emotions which merge and collide as the characters become unsuspecting casualties of self-deception. The drama created in the screenplay (co-written by the director Anup Singh and Madhuja Mukherjee) is so primeval, it threatens to collapse under the weight of its own drama. The director balances out the incongruities inherent in the theme with a great deal of compelling drama and primeval passion.

You can’t help being swept away by the deceit drama and passion of Qissa. Singh’s cinematographer Sebastin Edschmid shoots Punjab as a hotbed of political cultural and emotional turmoil. Even when there are shots of tranquil fields, or idle passersby in the dusty hamlet (where to be or not to be is not an option, but a necessity), a sense of foreboding underlines every frame. Not surprisingly the last quarter of the narrative slips into a surreal mode, as Umber, now dead, returns to confront the son he never had. Finally, the film is about the ghost of a tormented guilt-ridden man trying to come to terms with the wrong done to a ‘son’ he never had and a daughter-in-law (Rasika Duggal, expressive and emotive) he should’ve never conned.

Irrfan’s shared screen-time with his gender-challenged daughter are structured as a subverted tribute to the filial bond that ties all mankind. Like destiny, Qissa moves in unexpected ways. The performances specially Irrfan’s lift the high drama to another level of articulation where the characters appear to be conversing with their destiny without Edschmid’s camera peering into their souls. More than 70 per cent of the film is shot in the night, as though the dark recesses in the characters’ souls were seeking a way to express themselves outwardly. Watch the play of darkness and light in the scenes with Shome and Duggal. They ignite the soul of the film and set the narrative on fire. Emphatically evocative are  the sequences where Tillotma Shome as Kanwar is locked away in her father’s crumbling ancestral home in Pakistan with ‘his’ bride Neeli. As they try to figure out a way from his gender imbroglio, a glowering state of doom and indignation gather around the film.

You know as well as the characters do that there is escape from the patriarchal arrogance that Irrfan’s character has unleashed on his family. In some endearing way the theme of patriarchal tyranny in Qissa reminded me of Shoaib Mansoor’s Pakistani film Bol. And though Tillotama Sharma’s gender challenged character never acquires the resilient tragic contours of  Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry she brings a very high dose of credibility and poignancy to her character, especially in her high dramatic sequence where her character stands naked in front of her father’s ghost asking him her true identity. Rasika Duggal as Shome’s reluctant bride is deeply moving. And Tisca Chopra as Irrfan’s devoted wife who can’t give her husband the one thing that makes his life worthwhile reminds us again of her staggering versatility.

But make no mistake. Qissa gets the largest measure of its strength and glory from Irrfan. He is so convincing as the delusional Sardar you never quite get down to hating him for what he does to his family and to his fourth born.

Like the ghost that follows the film’s gender-challenged protagonist Qissa will haunt you forever. It takes the patriarchal obsession with  the male heir to  a level of lucid expression where geopolitical dislocation and gender ambivalence are locked in a visceral embrace.

 There are elemental images in Qissa that will stay with you for as long as cinema exists Standing tall at the centre of this towering achievement, illuminating every corner  of director Anup Singh’s poignant parable  on perverse parenthood is Irrfan Khan. Would cinema of such fierce originality be possible without exceptional actors and technicians who  furnish hues and heft to the director’s unlabelled imagination? No. You can’t play a symphony of life without the orchestra.

Image Source: Imdb, moviecrow, youtube/t-series/cinemasofindia