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