Paa, Rocket Singh, 3 Idiots: 3 Mood Changers To Watch During Lockdown - Part 18

Drive your lockdown blues away watching these exceptional pieces of cinema - Paa, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year and 3 Idiots.

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Paa, Rocket Singh, 3 Idiots: 3 Mood Changers To Watch During Lockdown - Part 18
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.”

Get it?

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.

3 Idiots(2009)
“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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