Cheeni Kum (2007): Cheeni Kum is probably the sauciest, sassiest, slickest, smoothest and most scrumptious romantic comedy you’ll see in the Hindi language in a long time. She’s in London for a holiday. He is a cantankerous sarcastic chef who can’t take a snub even when it’s served up on a platter. Menu rab da vaasta! Lolita, go eat your art out. Cheeni Kum makes you forget there’s a difference of 30 years between the girl and, ahem ahem, the boy. That’s the magic of pure acting. The magic of two of the finest actors at work as they create ebullient alchemy. On the menu in this mellow ode to love’s luminous largesse are an 85 -year old mom (Zohra Sehgal) living life king-sized, a 7-year old terminally-ill girl (Swini Khara, the most prized discovery of the year) who watches claims the chef as her very intimate friend and watches all the adult DVDs he gets her since she won’t get a chance to do so later. Then there’s the heroine’s Gandhian father who can’t stop reminding his damaad-to-be of his autumnal age. And last but certainly not the least in this feisty feast, there’s the churlish chef’s kitchen staff comprising some of the most sparkling cameo-actors you’ve seen.
Unarguably one of the finest directorial talents in this millennium, Balki just sweeps that age thing under the carpet. Yes, the dialogues make pointed barbed references to what it’s like for two such generation-challenged people to come together and laugh at each other’s foibles. It’s hard to decide in which capacity Balki scores higher marks… as director or dialogue writer. Caustic and crisp, mordant and modern, pithy and passionate….the words weave minty magic across this intelligent yet spontaneous comedy of romantic errors. Shakespeare meets Gulzar in this evocative and funny love story. The flavour of the exchanges between the wry surly chef in London and the serene Indian girl from Delhi who makes the cardinal mistake of criticizing the arrogant chef’s Hyderabadi biryani, is so distinctly pungent and peppery you wonder which came first in the writer-directors range of vision: the mix-matched couple or the words that they exchange to bring each other closer to that feeling which we sometimes call love, sometimes don’t even recognize it for what it is. Just like the dishes from the kitchen of the Indian restaurant where some of the satire unfurls, the brilliant banter between Bachchan and Tabu is light on top, cooked just right and served at ummmmmmmmmm temperature. In the first -half cinematographer P.C Sreeram captures an unexplored side of London.
As the relationship between the couple grows, you sense undercurrents of feisty defiant and mischievous feelings trickling out of the verbal banter that you until now thought existed only in the range of the unspoken. But then Mr Bachchan and Tabu are that kinds of actors. They imbue every encounter on the rain-slickened streets of London into an occasion to celebrate the life force. Not Paresh Rawail who as Mr Bachchan’s outraged father-in-law-to-be is surprisingly bland, but Zohra Sehgal as Mr Bachchan’s spunky mother and more especially, little Swini Khara as Mr Bachchan’s next-door neighbour who in her terminal illness provides the narrative with the gift of life….grab the lapels of your heart and sweep you into a world of love’s most satirical fears and foibles. There are moments in this quirky captivating and curvaceous cinema that touch the highest notes of drama without getting hysterical. What makes Cheeni Kum so unique? Is it the amazingly laidback chemistry between the lead pair? Is it the combination of satire and romance, mixed stirred and served up in a tall frothy glass? It is Balki’s word-spin that takes the romance into areas of absolutely seductive brightness? Is it the way London(mellow, supple, sensuous) and Delhi(heated grimy and spiced up) have been captured by Sreeram’s calmly articulate cinematography? Or is it Ilayaraja’s talcum-fresh melodies trickling emotions in austere motions? What makes Cheeni Kum so special despite a far-from-flawless second-half? Could it be just the magic between Amitabh Bachchan and Tabu who seem to look into each other’s eyes and souls with such warmth and affection you forget their age difference completely? Nah! It’s more. Cheeni Kum is a film where the words so match the thoughts and feelings of the characters that you forget someone else wrote the dialogues for the unlikely lovers.
Dharm (2007): To miss this movie on the true meaning of religion is a crime for any cineaste. How much poorer one would be if one allowed this penetrating masterpiece to pass by without a standing ovation! Debutante director Bhavna Talwar paints a map of the human heart in confident bold vibrant but gentle strokes. Varanasi, the city of holy dreams and unholy nightmares, and the clash between old-world values and new-world connivances has seldom been captured with such exquisite and tender splendour. Straddling this world of colossal pain and redemption as defined by the individual’s desires and emotions, is Pundit Debutante (Pankaj Kapoor), a potbellied, bare-torsoed symbol of religiosity who could easily have become a parody in lesser hands. The dramatic focus of the plot emerges when a baby is abandoned at the Priest’s residence triggering off what can only be called a conflict between religious compulsion and the individual conscience culminating in one of the most rousing and radical denouements on religious bigotry and communal prejudice put on screen since Man invented malevolence and cinema. The narrative is driven deftly forward by a powerful script (Vibha Singh) and an editing pattern that embraces austerity at a time of tremendous dramatic excesses in the plot.
What truly holds up this taut tale and rescues it from becoming perched on the ruinous precipice of polemical pirouette, is the debutante director’s vision. Bhavna Talwar’s vision encompasses both acute sensitivity and immense compassion. The pulls and pushes of an ancient religion that remains dynamic despite its dark decadence, emerge in scenes that are written not to impress us with drama but to underscore the spiritual underbelly of the plot, Brahminical arrogance meets a compassionate world-view in Bhavna Talwar’s extraordinary portrayal of humanism kinship and tolerance. The debutant director’s penetrating take on how grim is the grass in the land of the divine and the crass, wouldn’t have worked were it not for Pankaj Kapoor in the central role. As the head priest caught in a terrible dilemma that questions his entire ethos and commitment to society and religion, Kapoor ceases to be an actor once the camera switches on.
Chak De! India (2007): First things first. Chak De is an outright winner. A triumph of the spirit. And of craftsmanship. While director Shimit (Ab Tak Chappan) Amin has crafted a film with immense staying power, and exception integrity and gusto, the thought-process behind the endearing endeavour harks back to a series of well-crafted Hollywood films about the team spirit, the low-spirited stream and the burnt-out disgraced and exiled coach who motivates the team and galvanizes his own dormant spirit into a wide-alert status. Dig in. It’s all there. And yet writer Jaideep Sahni takes the expected tale to heights great expectations with an endearing tone of expression. Shimit Amin turns the triumph-of-spirit formula inside-out. While narrating a fairly predictable story of a down-and-out all-girls hockey team’s journey into global triumph, the director brings into play a kind of abiding charisma that’s born out of a sincere passion for a neglected sport and that even more-neglected spirit of collective aspirations.
To call Chak De the Lagaan of the hockey field would be rather facile and foolish, and akin to calling Attenborough’s Gandhi the Schindler’s List of the Gandhian era. A certain fleet of formulism runs across all films about seeming losers who triumph on the field against all cynicism. But beyond that elementary reading there ticks a substantial art of gold in this tale of molten motivations. The question of the Indian Muslim’s identity in the face of an often-suspicious majority surfaces early in the clenched narration, as Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is accused of selling out a crucial game of hockey to Pakistan. Uh-oh, you tell yourself, not one of that harangue-helmed polemic- possessed pulpit-preening exercises in bleeding -hearts cinema! Shimit and his writer Jaideep don’t let you down. Every grim layer of ‘message’ is toned down and polished up to highlight and accentuate the cinematic quality without losing out on the sheer relevance of the moment and its after-shocks. The ragged bunch of girls from all over the country gather under one umbrella to give the cynics a run for their money. You watch them with a distant curiosity which soon merges into a keen interest in their progress report. The game never looks contrived. And the green-room chat is filled with punctuations of immense mirth. Happily, the film never lapses into a verbose rendering of the awakening conscience.
The dialogues are quite often the stuff bumper stickers are made of. “There’s room for only one goonda in this team, and that’s me,” the snarling coach tells the team bully Bindiya Naik (played with instinctive strength by Shilpa Shukla). The drama emanates in a rush of warm feelings from the interactive tensions between pairs from the team, for instance, the vain Marathi player Preeti Sabarwal (Sagarika Ghatge) and the diminutive Mirchi from Harayana Komal Chautala (Chitrashi Rawat)…or for that matter the flavourful frisson between the ostracized Kabir and the hockey federation which collectively sneers at his aspirations for the all-girls hockey team. Of course, you know it’s all going to come together in a magnificent whoosh of athletic splendour at the end. Still, you are completely hooked…enraptured and in total empathy with the girls as they head for Melbourne to bring back the gold medal for a neglected game. By the time the girls get into bordered white saris, you are smiling protectively at these children from the third world. Idealistic and dreamy? You bet! Isn’t that what cinema was always meant to be?
Chak De takes us back to the joyous days of watching movies where the heroes began by being unfairly cut down to size and then progressed to being warriors of the dark light fighting their way out of the negativity that surrounds their dreams. Several sequences stand out for their glorious grip over the grammar of cinema. The sequence at Macdonald’s where the hockey team beats up a gang of eve-teasers is so deliciously fulfilling, you want to applaud the writer and director for manoeuvring the gender war into an urbane recreational zone without trivializing the larger issues involved. In terms of the tight but unobtrusive technique applied to Shimit Amin’s redolent narration, Chak De qualifies as one of the finest sports-based dramas in living memory, on a par with the poignant sportsmanship of Chariots Of Fire, if only there was the theme music to match the other film. The editing is never cruel to the sportive spirit. We get to watch the girls playing hockey for as long as required without being subjected to redundant visual hammering. Finally, though, the film is a triumph for Shah Rukh Khan. Stripped of the lover-boy image, unadorned by the romantic props that have given his super starry image that supple longevity and power, Shah Rukh stares straight into his character Kabir’s conscience and isn’t afraid to mirror some uncomfortable home truths about how we treat our minorities, be it the Muslim Indian, the publicly active woman(watch the arrogant cricket player smirk at his hockey-playing fiancee’s dreams) or just the female gender trying to be on a par with the opposite sex. The power-driven images of gender equation, cultural dominance and athletic discrimination come, not from a bravura need to make an issue-based film but from the far more basic need to tell a story that had to be told. The girls on the team remain with you after their on-field victory because there’s a far larger victory navigating their karma to a final hurrah. Beyond the tale of the triumph of the spirit, there lies the triumph of the spirit of cinema. After a point, it doesn’t matter whether the girls are playing hockey. It’s not the sport. It’s the spirit that shines through in every glistening frame of this tale that needed to be told before hockey became as obsolete as films about people who play to redeem their souls.
Image Source:- IMDb, youtube/yrf/arunakumarst/mzaalo
Image Source:- IMDb, youtube/yrf/arunakumarst/mzaalo