A happy film on a child suffering from a rare genetical disorder which ages him four times faster than normal? You’ve got to be kidding! How does Balakrishnan manage it? It could have something to do with his deep but never burdensome understanding of the single-most critical mystery of existence…That you make of life what you want it to be.
Take the spirited Vidya(Balan). After her ambitious lover-boy Amol Atre(Abhishek Bachchan) refuses to accept their love -child she decides to move to Lucknow with her supremely supportive mother(Arundhati Nag) to go ahead and have her child.
But hang on. Unwed motherhood is not all that fate has in store for Vidya. The child is born with Progeria.And there begins the narrative’s nubile waltz of life and death, performed with a sumptuous élan that is at once spontaneous and manipulative.
Portions of the film like Auro’s introductory sequence at a school function where the upright politician who happens to be Auro’s secret father, gives the special boy a trophy, or the finale where Auro’s parents take the saat-pheras around his death bed ,smack of filmy connivance.
Balkrishnan smoothly and splendidly gets away with the contrivances . They fit rather aptly into the picture of a brief life lived in the glow of radiant happiness.In many ways Auro reminded me of Anand. In Hrishikesh Mukherje’s Anand, Rajesh Khanna enters into mildly troubled lives fills them with joie de vivre and vanishes into the oblivion of mortality.
Auro is a far more complicated act. Amitabh Bachchan has to transform into a rapidly-aging child , throw the manipulative(oops, that word again!) tantrums of an adolescent and yet not appear caricatural or grotesque. The actor manages all of this, and more, with a fluency that makes you want to grope for new superlatives.Mr Bachchan’s Auro act qualifies as one of the finest most nuanced and sharp performances ever in the history of the motion-picture.
It’s hard to define in words the warm knowledge of the inner workings of a 12-year old child who knows he’s dying that Mr Bachchan brings into this film.
Paa could be bereft if not orphaned without the Bachchan’s counter-domineering presence where he simply vanishes into Auro’s wrinkled body.From that credibly modulated voice to the sagging walk,he makes the child’s inner beauty mock his ugly exterior in almost a spiritual synthesis of soul and body.
Many he scenes featuring Auro with his school friends have been written with a tongue-in-cheek comprehension of the way the world of the school-going children works. The kids supporting the ailing but never failing Auro’s presence are bright and sympathetic without making a song and dance of the special presence in their midst.
What comes in the way of the narrative’s smooth progression from Auro’s life to heartbreaking death is the politics of the plot. That Auro’s dad happens to be a politician is a misfortune which the screenplay tries to transcend by making Amol Atre that contradiction in (the 5-year) term. An upright politician. Abhishek plays him sensitively, oh yes. But his uprightness when placed against Auro’s spontaneous mischief and wicked disdain for the sacred cows of life and living, appears hugely inadequate.
Besides fighting corrupt political forces Anmol also has to indulge in some heavyduty media-bashing, aired live on Doordrshan if you please. You impatiently wait for the narrative to return to Auro’s world of mom, grandmom and those little joys of being a privileged child. While Mr Bachchan’s Auro is the film’s backbone, Vidya Balan as his mother brings a rare and precious understanding to her tearless but troubled single-mother’s part. The women in Balakrishnan’s films are always enchanting in their eccentricity. In Paa whether it’s the little girl who chases Auro in the school or his bohemian grandmother at home, these women won’t take no for an answer from life.
The asymmetry of the world that Balkrishnan’s characters inhabit is richly complemented by the technical virtuosity and packaging.P.C Sreeram’s cinematography captures the greenery of the outdoors and the cosy comforts of the interiors with seamless visual correctness. Ilaiyaaraja’s melodies weave themselves into Auro’s tale tenderly.
Paa is a film that could have easily been weighed down by the supreme strength of its central once-in-an-eternity performance. Balakrishnan doesn’t let Auro’s tale become subservient to the incredibly skilled performance behind Auro.And that’s the miracle which we all must witness in Paa.
Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year(2009)
It is very important to understand what cinema means to you. Is it just a vehicle to indulge in mindless diversion? In that case Rocket Singh Salesman Of The Year is not your cup of tee-hee.
If cinema as a popular and predominant work of art is meant to make viewers reconsider the quality of their lives, then stop right here, take a deep breath and plunge into the mundane world of the Punjabi munda Harpreet Singh. Like Sid a month ago Ranbir Kapoor plays a somewhat aimless guy who’s just out of college wondering what to do next. That’s the moment when we jump into the lives of Sid and Harpreet, so similar in their soporific world-view and yet so diametrically different in their journey from premature jadedness to premature wisdom.
Shimit Amin’s earlier inspirational work Chak De was far more aggressive rabble-rousing and flag-waving in its aspirations. Rocket Singh… is a far more gentle tender and non-cynical work. Its opinion on contemporary corruption is tinged with warmth humour and a subtle regard for office politics seldom seen in our films.
A section of viewers may just perceive Rocket Singh… as a stubbornly niche film on the politics of computer hardware. This is as shallow a reading of Shimit’s cinema as looking at Chak De as a ‘hockey film’ or Paa as a paean to progeria.Some viewers habituated to being spoon-fed large helpings of elemental emotions by filmmakers who think masala is what makes entertainment palatable, may find Shimit Amin’s approach to the protagonist Harpreet Singh’s tale almost arrogant in its selfregard and disdain for the qualities that make socially-purposeful cinema engaging to the man in the backseat..
Outwardly Amin and his brilliant writer JaideepSahni(whose words move effortlessly from stinging social comment to conversational candour) don’t seem to care whether the audience joins them in their scathing often frustrating sometimes humorous and mildly touching search for a centre to Rocket Singh’s life.
But make no mistake. This film really cares about the environment of indolent debauchery that has crept into the working-class lifestyle. The office details are so dead-on in recreating the deceptively dynamism of an office-going entourage , you wonder if Ranbir and his writer and director spent quality time in a slothful hierarchy-motivated office.
Ranbir’s journey from professional disgrace to personal and public redemption echoes Shah Rukh Khan’s voyage from the damned to the extolled in Chak De. Except that Ranbir’s playing field for pitched battle of the conscience is more in his mind and soul than a topographical reality.
As the protagonist gathers together his dignity to pursue a path of, ha ha, honesty integrity and idealism in his business transactions, we witness what can be termed the intimate portrait of an detoxicated working-class hero. Ranbir brings to his part a whole lot of earnestness and heart. His natural and utterly contagious exuberance so much on display in his last two films Wake Up Sid and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani is effortlessly curbed here.What we see on screen is a Sardarji not quite like any our movies have shown so far.
Harpreet who later becomes Rocket Singh in his entrepreneurship(why? because his colleagues throw paper rockets at him!!!) doesn’t become a larger-than-life turbaned figure of aggressive sales-pitch. Gentle to the point of being non-conspicuous Ranbir plays the loser who turns the zero on his life’s calling-card to his own advantage with the kind of unspoken wisdom that actors acquire after decades of experience, if at all.
Rocket Singh depends on Ranbir’s vast reserves of credible charm and his native skills to play a man without moving out of character to even visit the loo.
The supporting cast of Mukesh Bhatt as the office peon, P Santoshi as the lazy porn-addicted colleague , Gauhar Khan as the commodified office receptionist and Naveen Kushik as the crucial link in Harpreet’s work place, boost Ranbir’s central presence with their ingrained sense of belonging to the world Shimit and Sahni have created.
Rocket Singh works on many levels beyond Ranbir’s astonishing performance. It is a momentous piece of cinema for its writing and its supreme indifference to the dynamics of conventional storytelling
“Like what we say? Please be our guest,” is this astounding film’s underlying context. Jaideep Sahni’s words are often so laconic they make their point without our being conscious of their importance to the given context of working-class inertia.
While urging the sexy office receptionist to join him in his audacious entrepreneurship Harpreet warns Gauhar Khan, “Otherwise I’ll remain the joker Sardarji and you the item girl.”
The film’s main conflict is finally between Harpreet Singh and his unscrupulous boss played by the aptly over-the-top Manish Choudhary. The film’s two finest sequences are written as muted acidic confrontations between Ranbir and Choudhary. The final encounter in a supermarket where the boss surrenders unconditionally to Harpreet’s integrity is the trickiest part of the narration. It could easily have lumbered into the land of the maudlin.
Rocket Singh like its uncompromising protagonist, stands tall despite its flaws. For one, on the surface it has a uni-focussed sameness to its narration, as though the story was being told in one breath without the raconteur getting breathless, and never mind if the audience is restless. The lack of drama in a situation simmering with emotional dips and curves gets the audience fidgety and uncomfortable. But soon we realize the absence of expendable energy is the narrative’s primary virtue.
You can’t miss the writer and director’s concern for a growing middleclass that worships wealth and success at the cost of more valuable assets. You can’t miss the gentle persuasion applied to the theme. Most of all you can’t miss Ranbir Kapoor as the understated Sardarji riding his cherry-red scooter gifted by his Dadajee(Prem Chopra in a sterling change of image) cringing at the redlight when a swanky mo’bike rides up alongside.Usski vehicle meri vehicle se badi zaroor hai. But by God, Ranbir’s zero-value loser’s rise from shame to name is a journey we’d any day undertake even on a cherry-red scooter.
“Just imagine if Lata Mangeshkar’s father had told her she can’t sing or Sachin Tendulkar was forbidden from playing cricket. Where would they be?” Aamir Khan’s elementary wisdom runs across this extraordinarily thoughtful treatise on our breached education system, with the dulcet directness of a Lata melody , and the irreproachable triumph of Tendulkar’s sixer.
Indeed by now Aamir has hit so many sixers in his career we can only wonder what this maestro of marketing intends to do next. For sure 3 Idiots is yet another vehicle to showcase Aamir’s sparkling ability to be part of a cinema that creates a colloquial yet classy language of deeply-throughtprovoking punctuations syntaxes and exclamations.
3 Idiots is first and foremost a tremendously entertaining piece of cinema. The boys-will-have-fun atmosphere on an engineering campus is shot with the devious humour and warmth of a joke that has not lost its punch even after years of re-telling.
Some things never change in a straitjacketed society like ours. And really, when Hirani with enormous help from his co-writer Abhijat Joshi,sets down to criticize the glaring anomalies in our education system we are compelled to wonder for a few seconds—and just for that bit of cynical time-freeze—if flogging the sacred cows of our institutionalised system of governance in cinema is not just an excuse to pull out all stops and let the young heroes have all the fun that their more disciplined counterparts in schedule-driven colleges deny themselves.
The British rock bank Pink Floyd said it first. “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control/no dark sarcasm in the classroom/teacher leave those kids alone.”
So if Raj Kumar Hirani wants those ‘kids’ to be left alone where does our education system go?Into a free-wheeling zone of self-chosen vocation for every child? But then not every child is a Mangeshkar, Tendulkar, Khan or even Farhan Qureshi(Madhavan) from this film who craves to be a photographer but ends up living his father’s dream at an engineering institution.
The thought processes underlining the film’s super-vibrant but calm surface are never allowed to seep out and bubble to the exterior of the narrative. If at heart 3 Idiots is a serious indictment of our education system at the surface it’s a character-driven film played out at an observant and opulent but always-feisty octave. The sounds of protest against the curbs checks and downers in our education reach out to us in a cascade of crisply- written lines spoken by characters who have lived out the nightmare that precedes that long journey into the realization of our dreams.
At times the narrative is savagely funny. Note the sequence where Rancho and his girl take the critically ill old man to the hospital on a scooter. Hirani has always seen humour of mortality.He has a potent style of storytelling, a mix of street wisdom and cinematic sensitivities that come together in a noiseless tango of social comment and entertainment. The director is strangely shy of displaying emotions. So he counters the melodrama of his third hero Raju Rastongi(Sharma Joshi)’s life with a black-and-white 1960s’ self-mocking background music.Ironically Hirani’s unconventional hero Rancho(Aamir Khan) often goes the other way and sheds manly tears for colleagues friends and tormented young citizens of modern India who are crippled by a despotic disregard for their natural creativity.
Aamir Khan undertakes his character’s journey through the paradoxical labyrinth of ambition-driven education system(incidentally the loopholes in our education was also the theme of Aamir’s Taare Zameen par and Hirani’s Munnabhai MBBS ) with a gut-level understanding of what pains today’s average 20-something.
Aamir’s transformation into a 22-year old collegian is so complete and so non-impersonified you end up wondering if he has been lying about being 40-plus in real life! Like most Aamir starrers 3 Idiots too is predominantly his vehicle. Most of the funniest lines and inspiring situations in the script come from Aamir. And boy, does he play the boy-man with restrained relish!
Sharman Joshi as the poor middleclass boy driven to near-suicide by his parents’ ambitions gets two meaty sequences. He chews on them with careful sensitivity leaving a lasting impression. Madhavan as the third ‘idiot’ expresses his smothered dreams through a series of half-expressed thoughts and a fear of unhappiness that reach his eyes without transit.
Kareena Kapoor as the girl engaged to the tycoon with a penchant for putting a price tag on all his gifts, brings a dollop of sunshine and feminine grace to an otherwise masculine tale.She is so spunky and spontaneous you wish there was room for more of her. There’s even less of Mona Singh who’s again a spirited free soul.
The two ladies are fortunately part of the climax where our three heroes deliver Kareena’s sister(Mona Singh)’s baby on the office table … A clear indication that even an all-boys tale has no qualms about embracing maternal responsibilities if the situation arises.
But did 3 Idiots really need a manufactured child-delivered-in-crisis climax?Did it need those endless toilet-and-bum jokes? Couldn’t Boman Irani(doing a variation on his Dean’s part from Hirani’s Munnabhai MBBS) and the new actor Omi Vaidya (who plays the stuffy Silencer) have been delineated less hammily?
It’s not that 3 Idiots is a flawless work of art. But it is a vital , inspiring and and life-revising work of contemporary art with some heart imbued into every part.In a country where students are driven to suicide by their impossible curriculum 3 Idiots provides hope. Maybe cinema can’t save lives. But cinema sure as hell can make you feel life is worth living. 3 Idiots does just that, and much more. The director takes the definition of entertainment into directions of social comment without assuming that he knows best.Here’s V Shantaram happily and effortlessly jogging into Manmohan Desai’s territory.
Image source: IMDb
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