My Name Is Khan(2010): He repairs almost anything, including irreparably damaged relationships . But this film is about damaged lives that need no repairing. My Name Is Khan is a flawless work, as perfect in content, tone and treatment as any film can get. The ‘message’ of humanism doesn’t come across in long pedantic speeches. The film’s longest monologue has our damaged but exceptionally coherent hero Rizwan telling a congregation of Black American church-goers about his dead son.
And if that moment moves us to tears because the emotions are neither manipulative nor flamboyant. It isn’t because Rizwan’s son Sameer perished in a racial attack. It isn’t even because Shah Rukh Khan delivers his life’s best performance in that moment of reckoning. Rizwan’s heartfelt rhetorics are not about changing the world with words. Born with a physical disability this is a man on the move. And boy, does he move!
In what is possibly the most touching testament on film to the spirit of world peace and humanism (lofty ideals to achieve in the massy-masala format but see how pitch-perfect Johar gets it) Rizwan takes off on a picaresque journey to meet the US President with a message that initially strikes us as being too naïve for reiteration.
But look closer. Some of life’s basic values have been lost in recent times. Writer Shibani Bathija’s seamless screenplay, arguably the best piece of writing since Rakeysh Mehra’s Rang De Basanti, recovers that long-lost message of loving your fellow human being unconditionally without getting trite around the edges. Sex and politics have nothing to do with it. It’s okay to hug your neighbour.
First and foremost My Name Is Khan is a wonderful story told with a flair and flourish that leave a lingering impact on the viewer. Almost every frame is composed with a mix of mind and heart creating an irresistible progression of moments so tender and forcible we’re simply swept away in the tides of the tale about a very special man who undertakes a very special journey.
My Names Is Khan opens with Rizwan boarding an American flight being frisked after a suspicious co-passenger hears him chanting religious passages. Before we begin to suspect this to be one more film on the persecution of the innocent Muslim, Karan Johar doing a smart and slick spin away from his trademark content and style, takes his hero on a journey that crosses several emotional,political and geographical borders before stopping with breathless integrity to say, life doesn’t go on, it changes colours and textures with the moral values that the individual chooses to confer on the life given to him.
Superbly scripted by Bathija with pithy outstanding dialogues by Niranjan Iyenger, the film is edited by Deepa Bhatia with just that much amount of time allotted to the character’s and their thought processes to make them appear warm humane and tangible without over-punctuating their presence.
Karan Johar, always a master of overstatement, for once holds back. The silences in My Name Is Khan often speak far more eloquently than the spoken words.The relationships that the inarticulate Rizwan forms during the course of his life from child to husband to father to a political individual are contoured with a luminous lack of laboriousness. Whether it’s young Rizwan (played sensitively by Tanay Cheda) and his mother (Zarina Wahab, memorable in her brief appearance) or much later, Rizvan and his step-son(brilliant young discovery Yuvaan Makar) the traditional relationships are done-up in striking but subtle shades. We look at every moment in the film(even the clumsily-done flood sequences) as special because they are part of vision that goes far beyond the realm of hop-in-hop-out entertainment.
The director swerves out of his comfort zone without the sound of screechy wheels. Karan Johar’s unconventional take on modern marital mores in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna faltered due to over-statement . In Khan he doesn’t try hard. The characters and their predicament as America gets increasingly suspicious and hostile about the Muslim presence, are portrayed with a lightness of touch that lights up almost every sequence.
Then there is Kajol to provide the kind of natural light to every frame that no amount of artificial light can supplement. As Rizwan’s Hindu wife Mandira with a smart intelligent son she has a distinctly secondary role to Shah Rukh Khan. She leaves a lasting impact as a divorcee and later an angry wife and grieving mother, as only Kajol can .
The scenes of courtship between Mandira and Rizwan work so beautifully because of the exceptional chemistry between the two actors. More than a strong political statement and moving message of peace, My Name Is Khan is a love story of a man who can’t express his love through words, only deeds. This is a film that Frank Capra would’ve made if he had lived long enough to see 9/11 happen.
The narration is carpeted with virtues, both invisible and visible. Ravi K Chandran’s cinematography captures the incandescent soul of the pure-hearted protagonist as effectively as the stubbornly unbroken spirit of unknown passersby on the streets of America.
Rizwan, we are told, is petrified of the yellow colour. The offending colour recurs with just a hint of insistence. Rizwan wears shocking pink because he hears Mandira’s buddy(Navneet Nishan) say it suits her. He proposes marriage and sex(in that order) at the most inopportune moments. He suggests Mandira have her dinner when she’s traumatized by grief. He wears his dead son’s shoes as he takes off to meet the President. Rizwan moves by his clock. But his tale is timeless.
Shah Rukh Khan doesn’t PLAY Rizwan. He becomes one with the character’s subconscious, portraying the man and his spirit with strokes of an invisible paint brush until what we see is what we cannot forget. Undoubtedly this is Shah Rukh’s best performance ever.
This is no ordinary hero. And My Name Is Khan is no ordinary film. Long after the wary-of-physical-touch Rizwan has finally shaken hands with President Obama, long after the heat and dust of racial and communal hatred has settled down, the core of humanism that the film secretes stays with you. Yes, we finally know what they mean by a feel good film.
Love Sex Aur Dokha(2008): There is no love in any quickly-digestible packages, little on-screen sex, and a whole lot of dhokha in Dibakar Banerjee third and most tricky film…Tricky, because the characters are constantly talking and living their lives on camera. We see them as they are, stripped of all vanity ,ridiculously self-serving but still capable of bouts of guilt and caring.
Love Sex Aur Dhokha is a mirror-image ,and more, of a world that has made up its mind to sell its heart and most of its soul to the camera . There are three stories in the film rolled together less by design than chance. Unlike other episodic films this one doesn’t flirt with finesse. Instead Banerjee fornicates with ferocious realism born out of a desperate generation’s craving to make a place in a society that recognizes you for your financial rather than emotional or intellectual prosperity.
The first story entitled Superhit Pyar hits you in the solar-plexus when the father of the rich girl Shruti(Shruti) and her newly-married husband Rahul(Anshuman Jha) are taken to a desolate highway and hacked to pieces. This, after we see Rahul the director making a film with Shruti in the lead that looks like a Bhojpuri version of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Love does just hurt,it hacks.
Nothing that has come before prepares us for the savagery of the dying moments. Banerjee’s narrative is relentless in its pursuit of a cinematic language that comes closest to the unalloyed colloquialisms of every- day life. These are characters you’ve probably seen melt in the melee of the humdrum. Nikos Andritsakis’ cinematography picks out these characters from their allotted anonymity to place them in positions that are always compromising, sometimes poignant and funny but brutally honest. It couldn’t have been easy for the cinematographer to deliberately distort the images on screen as per the camera-recordings of the characters. Imperfection in this case, is a given. Distortion a demand of destiny.
The spoofy spirit of the pre-climactic segment of the first story Superhit Pyar shifts gears in the second story Paap Ki Dukaan where a desperate social climber ironically named Adarsh(Raj Kumar Yadav) lures an innocent salesgirl in a supermarket Rashmi(Neha Chauhan) into the backroom for some MMS sex.
Significantly the man who wants to make money out of on-camera sex, is half in love with the clueless girl, and is tempted to switch off the camera when he finally gets to the sex.
But the conscience can go to hell. It will find plenty of company there. The third and by far the most well-rounded and incisive story Badnaam Shohrat finally throws forward a conscientious protagonist. The growing fondness between the closet-idealist of a journalist Prabhat(Amit Sial) and the miserably unhappy item girl Naina(Arya Devdutta) is a savage indictment of ‘news’ as we see it today on television.Go take a bite of this sound byte. The grotesquely caricatural pop singer Loki Local(Herry Tengri) in the third story is a savagely satirical symptom of a sick society looking for instant gratification.
It isn’t as if every moment in this tightly packed sardine-can of excitable emotions is savage, brutal and aggressive. The sensitive moments just creep up on the creepy moments nourishing bathing and mollifying the savage exterior of a world gone ruthlessly and desperately selfish and immoral.
Dibakar Banerjee creates a digital world resorting to desperate measures. His characters are ordinary people extraordinarily challenged by the sheer obligation of day-to-day living. While these characters—social ‘mess’-fits symptomatic of a new materialistic ‘muddle’ class—record all their moves and action on self-operated cameras(shaky, hazy, lazy and sometime crazy but always a window to their souls) the director records their stories without overt cinematic interventions.
This is where the film’s main problems props up. The director's vision is so unified to the way the characters see themselves that a section of the audience may feel it’s watching a hugely self-indulgent work that wants to keep the ‘cinema’ out of the cinema.
The material binding the three stories is edited like a home video where the relevance of the characters depends on our off-camera familiarity with them. The people in Love Sex Aur Dhokha need no introduction or back-projection. They are who they are, without the participation of cinematic devices. Banerjee almost sneaks in on these people to violate their non-privatized lives.
The characters' personal spaces are already violated by self-deployed cameras. Dibakar Banerjee doesn’t act the voyeuristic director even when the girl in the supermarket is on the ground making love with the desperate guy who has spent all his time and effort to get her there.
Why is there no triumph in his love-making? Love Sex Aur Dhokha is not a film about celebrating the end of an individual’s right to privacy. It’s a rigorously recorded pseudo-documentary about people who have thrown all caution and discretion to the winds because they’ve no choice.
The film never belittles or sentimentalizes the characters’ lack of choices. While inventing a unique format of cinematic expression Dibakar Banerjee has not emotionally emasculated the characters. Even when they’re doing it for a camera their emotions are not out of our range of vision. In terms of technique this film gets as rough and jolting as any film can. The actors look like reality-show rejects making a last-bid attempt to prove their worth.They got the point.This is a film that has no-reference point. Except the people we see all around us.
Udaan(2010): Udaan is a ballsy debut by Vikramaditya Motwane who once assisted the angst-laden Sanjay Leela Bhansali and then his angst-cousin Anurag Kashyap. You can see the lasting impression of both the senior creators in the way Motwane designs the uneasy and violent relationship between the 17-year old Rohan(Rajat Barmecha) and his tyrannical father (Ronit Roy) who’s almost villainous in his despotism.
When Udaan is not busy trying to be a regular nudge-nudge-wink-wink coming-of-age film (Billy Elliot-goes-to-Jamshedpur) it gives us some great moments of cinema , done in shades that leave the camera lens far behind to romance the very core of middle class life(no doubt corroded and outdated) in the soporific ‘steel town’.
The film starts with a mildly amusing boys-disastrous-night-out-from-boarding- school sequence and then quickly gets down to the serious business of telling us that Rohan’s father has not met his son for eight years. Why? We never really get to know each other. And this remains the otherwise-exemplary work’s one biggest flaw. Though played with energetic antipathy by Ronit Roy, the father’s unreasonable autocracy makes the man appear as no more than a subtle caricature of lousy parenting.
The delicate moments emerge in the tale of self-realization through Rohan’s inner moral churning and of course through the young actor Rajat Barmecha’s instinctive understanding of his character’s turmoil. Barmecha’s expressions of anguish, rage, helplessness and finally retaliation and protest are so smoothly conveyed, you almost feel he is playing a character he knows first-hand.
Barmecha gives the narrative a compelling consistency. Director Motwane does the rest. His eye for visual and emotional detail is never over-punctuated. A certain delicacy even when tackling a subject as thorny as the father-child domestic violence, runs through the narrative, rendering the characterizations and their motivations not only lucid but eminently palatable and engaging.
It’s interesting to see how Motwane employs the traditional misunderstood-protagonist-against-a-heartless-word formula to the coming-of-age saga. Barmecha’s poet-hero is a clever subverted carryover of Guru Dutt in Pyasa.
In Pyasa Dutt stood up to an insensitive world. Here it is the boorish father who won’t let his son be a poet. This rare and precious film about straitjacketed claustrophobic middle class values derives its strength from the unpunctuated uncluttered dramatic force that emerges from the main relationships.
By the time Rohan walks out on his loutish father with his little step brother we are no longer looking at Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan’s uneasy father-son rapport in Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti. We are on to something far more disturbing and contemporary.
Each time the despotic father in Udaan raises a hand to toast terror he raises uncomfortable questions on child abuse and its parameters within the Great Indian Middleclass Family.
In Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anupama the disgruntled father Tarun Bose would not look at his traumatized daughter Sharmila Tagore because he lost his beloved wife during childbirth.
In Udaan the father holds the son culpable for crimes that we can only decode in the detailed episodes showing the son’s rebellious streak. If God lies in the details, so does the devil.
Image source: IMDb
They say the best things in life are free! India’s favourite music channels 9XM, 9X Jalwa, 9X Jhakaas & 9X Tashan are available Free-To-Air. Make a request for these channels from your Cable, DTH or HITS operator.