Ghajini, Luck By Chance And Firaaq: 3 Mood Changers To Watch During Lockdown - Part 16

Looking for some 'pick me up' sort of cinema to instantly drive away Lockdown blues? We have these films for the rescue.

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Ghajini, Luck By Chance And Firaaq: 3 Mood Changers To Watch During Lockdown - Part 16
Ghajini(2008):  The cop’s anxiety is ours. By the  the time  we reach  interval we want to know  about the trauma  that changed  the  suave softspoken shy  Sanjay Singhania(Aamir Khan)  into  a killing machine.Aamir Khan’s  makeover in Ghajini  is complex. It’s not so much about  the muscles. It’s all  in  the mind. To play  this  character whose life  changes  overnight  from  a thirst for  love  to a   hunger  for vendetta, is an awesome  responsibility to  uphold for any  actor. Aamir plays the traumatized amnesiac  Singhania as a  an actor looking from the outside  at a character that has  detached itself from its own life. It’s  a performance  of splendid skill and subtlety in a film that doesn’t celebrate those  qualities.

Mercifully  this  ode to mayhem  is  not  a  showcase for Aamir’s  muscles  and  histrionic  hijinks. He reins in his  gusto  to  let the character’s  stunning switch  from roses to guns  acquire a  life  that  we haven’t perceived   such a stereotypical   character  achieve before.

Often  Aamir lets his  hugely-charming co-star Asin  take over  the  scenes. She’s  a  bit of  a  livewire, this fast-talking  scooter-riding  do-gooder  with a  penchant for  getting  into snarls.

And when  one snarl involving  a prostitution racket  for minor girls takes her to  the  doorstep and beyond ,   of  savage death we mourn for the passing of   innocence   and charm  as much as Sanjay Singhania.

These  are not pretty times that we are living through. Ghajini in some subverted way is indicative  of  our  traumatic times .  The brutal cocksureness with which  the  villain Ghajini(Pradeep Rawat) murders  Kalpana and  pounds  Sanjay Singhania’s  head  to  a memory mess, is  a telescopic  view of  what the  sociopath  can do to civil society.

No one  is safe from criminal attack . Not  even the super-elite   like Sanjay Singhania.

Ghajini  is not for  the  squeamish. The violence  is prolonged , sadistic and  often done with the elaborate  abundance and eyecatching élan of  a staged opera(Ravi Chandran’s camerawork glistens and bristles with optimum optical glory).

 And yet women in the audience seemed  to  love  the film.  Ghajini  is at heart  a  love story  of  a cocooned  tycoon who  discovers love  in a  working-class  environment.

Aamir Khan’s expressions  of  bewildermemt,  curiosity  pleasure and  acceptance in  Asin’s company  remind  you of a  baby that’s just  discovered mother-love.

That a film as violent  as  Ghajini  secretes such  tenderness at its heart,  is  a wonder that  never  ceases  in  the frenetic  narration. Director Murugadoss is not completely successful in taking the Tamilian  mood  of melodramatized mayhem  out of  the narrative. He nevertheless  succeeds  in  giving  a compelling spin  to  what would have otherwise been a routine vendetta saga.

Sequences such as  the one  in the  speeding train where Kalpana is  chased  down by goons  have an edge-of-the-seat  quality  that  elevates  the potboiler plot to a  level   that the revenge genre in Hindi  has sedom  achieved. 

The  climactic combat with the eponymous  villain  is  staged in  narrow dusty lanes and  bylanes where  the rubble and  waste material   becomes lethal weapons of attack and   stock-taking.

No doubt  Murugadoss is a master  of  violence. His eye for  pain and trauma are  unerring and  chilling.

A lot has been  said and written about Aamir Khan’s pumped-up physique. He’s wonderfully  primeval as  the  amenesiac animal  screaming  in  bloodcurdling isolation . But  the sinewy quality in Aamir’s  performance is  not traceable to his muscles.  It’s the way his heart  beats  for this unfortunate character who loses love memory and faith all in one  swoop, that makes Aamir’s  perforamance  a towering achievement.

I am  not  too   sure  if  the  muscled  look suits the actor. But his  remarkable  grip over  his  character’s graph  gives  the film its vaunted and vibrant  feel of poetry  beyond the  in-your-face savagery and  violence which would have otherwise become  unbearably  oppressive.

Asin  with her gamine-like dukaan of expressions  is the female  discovery  of  2008. When she  bows  out of  the plot, the   lights  goes out. And not just from Sanjay Singhania’s life.

Luck By Chance(2009): It is easy to fall in love with  every performance in this  intimate  yet generic insider’s look at  the workings of the entertainment  industry. But the  one  that   I carried home with me  was Sheeba Chadha . A marvel of  subtle writing  , Sheeba  plays a podgy  cunning  but  simple-hearted  producer’s  sister-in-law whose husband(Aly  Khan) is  carrying on with a struggling starlet  right under her naïve  eyes.

One  not-so-pleasant  afternoon  Sheeba barges into her husband’s van and sees  a red-nosed bleary-eyed  Konkona (who has just been told  she doesn’t get a role she has been waiting  all her career  for). Sheeba  senses  what’s going  on. But she quickly digresses her mind from  her husband’s  extra-marital affair.

The  industry  is filled  with  such  deliberately desensitized people who function within the  fickle and frighteningly  flamboyant film industry with  gut-wrenching self-delusion.

Luck By Chance, a truly out-of-the-box outstanding  work of subtle sly  satirical   and whispering art, is filled with people  whom you’re bound to have met   in the  fetid  corridors of  Bollywood.Or  the  Hindi film industry, as  the star-mother Dimple Kapadia  insists in  calling it.

Never before  has   the  film industry been perceived wth such intuitively internalized abundance. A subtle  splendour  galvanized  by  performances  that range from the credible to the incredible, takes the narrative  to pinnacles of  expressiveness.    The  performances help to ignite the characters into states of  subtle yet vivid shades.  The  ambitious mother-daughter  Dimple-Isha Sharwani  pair,  the  strugglers  , wannabes  and losers…oh yes,  every character  in  Luck By Chance  possesses a  luminously  lived-in  quality, bringing to   the  surface  feelings  thoughts and  images that  are normally  not  brought out on screen

Every player, parodic poignant  and pitched perfectly,   makes savage  fun of  the very  foibles that they  probably practice   with masterful manipulative hands   in real life. Zoya gets into the star-space without a  moment’s aggression her storytelling.  The  moments that define the relationships are  built stealthily. This is a world that every  person in the Mumbai film industry(for  Dimple Kapadia’s sake, let’s not call it Bollywood!) knows  first-hand. The debutante  director occupies  that space with unostentatious spirit, nurturing interludes  between  characters(the  two strugglers  Farhan-Konkona,  producer-wife Rishi-Juhi, ideologically-separated  co-actors Farhan-Arjun Mathur…) with the  cautious care  of  a mother who  wants to bring up her child with the right values without drawing  attention to  her  nurturing acumen.

This is  a work of tender  subtle care with  moments  whose immense  value strike you  after the  wonderfully conversational dialogues(Javed Akhtar at  his expressive best)  have  had their say.At   heart  Luck By Chance  is  a  story  of  one  man’s plunge into  the morass of compromise as  he  heads towards  his dreams.

Farhan Akhtar gets what  can only called another  chance to do the  histrionic dance. As he goes  from  wide-eyed  wannabe  to a morally  devalued creature , the narrative charts his  course with savage  humour. Farhan’s  scenes with the nakedly  adulatory star-daughter(Isha Srawani, playing dumb dead-on) are  designed   as a blend of  satirical erotica  and  ideological  annihilation.   Farhan  gets it right.
This  is a work that oozes outstanding  acting talent  from every nook  and corner. Whether it’s Aly Khan as a on-the-move  producer  or  Arjun Mathur as a struggling actor who would rather struggle in theatre than compromise, every character plays a person you’ve met   if you’ve  ever been  a part of  the Mumbai  film industry. Super stand-out performances  by Rishi Kapoor , Dimple Kapadia, Sheeba Chadha, Hrithik Roshan(as  a superstar  on   the skids)  and  of course Konkona Sensharma whose  best  performance this is.

On the  deficit side(yes even a  film of  such  a  high order must  face the  music) the  narrative with its inbuilt  jokes and references is too much a Bollywood’s insider’s job , largely inaccessible to  the common man who won’t know Ranbir Kapoor’s secretary’s name .And  couldn’t care less.

On  most levels Luck By Chance stands tall and luminous portraying  the  world  of  arclights  with a  synthesis  of style sympathy  and  substance that are the opposite of the synthetic  way  the synthetic world  of showbiz is generally  portrayed  in the  cinema.

What stays with your are the moments , like the  one  where the struggler-hero approaches the   once-glamorous star-mother at a  party and wins her over ….a moment that  builds  up into a muffled explosion of ambitious scheming  achieved  at a place where  the sound of  broken  hearts  is inaudible.

Firaaq(2008): Nearly flawless, almost pitched perfectly to show the trauma  of those who lose limbs, lives loves and faith in a communal carnage  Nandita Das’s directorial debut leaves you speechless. This is what  cinema  was always meant  be. But somewhere  in  its  checkered course from information to entertainment our movies  began to  feel like  vaudeville   entertainment meant more for diversion than intellectual stimulation.

Firaaq doesn’t aim  to  be  a  cerebral  treatise  on  communal ism.  Nor does it suffuse the  narrative with what one may call ‘intellectual masturbation’ for the sake  of  creating an aura of socio-political importance.

Non-judge metal and utterly  bereft  of   stylistic affectations Firaaq is  a graceful and glorious homage   to the human spirit. Much of its visual  power comes from Ravi Chandran’s   articulate  but  restrained camerawork,Sreekar Prasad’s  seamless but  trenchant  editing that leaves nothing(not even destiny) to chance, and  Gautam Sen’s artwork which  makes  the  city’s riot-torn colours emblematic of  the red anger and the blue despair felt by  the characters.

Set in those turbulent tension-filled  days right after   the  Godhra incident in  Gujarat Firaaq   depicts  the  loss of human faith and  the complete  absence of  the rules  of civilized conduct  in  the day-to-day workings of administration vis-à-vis  civilians. The  cinematic  language   caresses  the coarsest  human emotions without appearing improper  or  overdone.

Language in fact, is  an amazing tool of unhampered  eloquence in Firaaq. The characters in  the riot- torn  city speak  in  three languages  Hindi, English and Gujarati.They do so without design or  selfconscious purpose.

The  ‘outstanding’  words do not stand outside  the characters’ ambit of  everyday expression(sometime colloquial,  otherwise poetic).Even when the narrative pauses  to  debate  the  polemics of communal politics among the characters, we  the audience are one with the  pause. This  is excellence without the silent sound of applause. The  spoken words are   not designed for the camera  . They are  said  because they have to be expressed

Firaaq first and foremost    deserves the highest praise  for  the remarkably even-pitched writing by Nandita  Das and  Shuchi Kothari. No  character jumps out of  the screen in  trying to make  its presence felt.  The  people who live in  Nandita’s film are the people we know in one way or another.

And yet they are here,  special in a  very  unobtrusive way. The  narrative  episodes , written with  finesse and  passion, are  constructed  to accentuate  the post-communal  friction among people who till the other day were neighbours. There is a mixed-married Hindu-Muslim  couple.  Before the day  is done the husband(played  with silent  sincerity  by Sanjay Suri) has made peace with his environment and the fact that his name  is Sameer Sheikh, not Sameer Desai.

‘Sameer’  in the  context of the film’s volatile communal  statement  becomes a metaphor  for  the Hindu-Muslim divide which is now  a looming reality in middleclass lives. The tact and  grace with which Firaaq weaves through the   communal  tensions  of  unrelated characters  all joined  by  their collective fear of  a   communal backlash  are signs  of  a time when  cinema and society  at  large need to do  a serious   rethink  on their   responsibilities.

 Firaaq  throws  forward  an assortment  of   unrelated  characters zigzagging across a domain oof doomed conscientiousness.  Nandita Das’s  narrative doesn’t attempt to unravel the enigma of    a  disaster-borne  civilization.  It looks at  the  people, even the lowlest and scummiest of them(including Paresh Rawal who bravely plays a middleclass businessman who happily looted a Muslim  shop and shared  in his brother’s participative  glee in  a gangrape) with a kind of  reined-in  empathy that makes even the seeming perpetrators  look like victims.

 The  villains, if any, are the administrative  personnel shown to be running around  abetting the violence.  If this is a simplification  in  the storytelling   then it can’t be helped. Celluloid depictions of troubled times have  to  somewhere  find  tangible  figures  to  blame  for the  injustice.  Otherwise we would come away from a certifiable masterpiece like Firaaq  wondering if  there’s any sense  of justice left in  this chaotic world of selfserving brutality.

Das’ narrative is propelled forward  by powerful  characters   played by actors who not  only know their  job but also know how to make their  jobs   look  like anything but professional  hazard.

It  would be  criminal  to  pick on  performances . Deepti Naval(looking like a  ravaged guilt-ridden avatar  of  the nurturing foster-mom Sharmila  Tagore  in  Shakti  Samanta’s Amar  Prem), Paresh Rawal(as a trashy  unscrupulous  bourgeois  broker) and of course  the redoubtable Naseeruddin Shah ( as an aged classical singer caught in  a sublime time-warp ) deliver  performances that glisten with  glory and  sensitivity.

But there are dozens of other known and  unknown actors furnishing Das’ gripping drama with  an inner voice that screams in protest without raising voices.  The  interactive drama  bringing  together  people during crises never lapses into hysteria and  homelies.  The  beauty of   the drama of  the disinherited  is  never diluted  by  clinging on to the inherent drama  of any given situation.

Like life,  Nandita Das’s narrative moves on  with  confident steps creating   for itself  a  kind of  compelling  circumstance  when  crises are  a given,  compromise a  compulsion and  surrender to  fate  the only means to  survival.

 Haunting and  powerful  in  its depiction of  a time when humanity is frozen in anguish and terror  Firaaq draws  its tremendous strength  from  the screenplay and  characters which seem  to  observe life’s keenest and meanest blows without  flinching.

Here’s a film that must be  seen not because it tells a story that touches every life. But because it  touches  our lives with such persuasiveness without  resorting   to  overstatement.

 “Those boxes ready  to take us into another city…they are filled with my fear No point in going away because  the  fears won’t leave me, ”  confesses the Muslim  husband  to his Hindu  wife.

Something  like that happens to us while watching Firaaq. Many moments of  the  film cannot be packed away and left behind.  They will follow us  for as long as cinema has a meaning in  our lives.

Image source: IMDb, Wikipedia