Sunday, February 22, 2009

Delhi-6 - Afterthoughts

The crusade continues. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra continues providing insight on socio-political issues of India with Delhi-6. The movement started with Rang De Basanti continues with Delhi-6.

RDB brought to light the power of media and the power of the middle class. The 'candle marches' as a means of protest started gaining prominence. With Delhi-6, Rakeyesh comes up with another tool - a quaint old mirror. I wouldn't be surprised, if i read that there was a 'mirror march' to highlight solidarity and unity after a communal tension.

The film is full of symbolisms. First, the central character of the film - 'kaala bandar' is a symbol. 'Kaala bandar', which is nowhere shown in the movie, is described as the culprit of all communal problems. 'Kaala bandar' is that invisible, intangible element in each one of us that causes people to fight against people. . In the movie, by having Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) - disguised as 'kaala bandar' - shot which pacified the rioteers, Mehra proposes that killing the 'kaala bandar' in ourselves shall end the communal tension.

Masakali, a bird, is also used as a symbol. Madangopal (Om Puri) loves this bird so much that he has tied it up so that it cannot fly and be with him. Bittu (Sonam Kapoor), his daughter, wants to be independent - wants to make her own mark. She wants to be an 'Indian Idol'. But Madangopal, like any middle class indian father, wants to marry her off. Roshan, who was brought up in the US, finds this similar to Masakali's plight and suggests Bittu to snap the tie and fly away.

The role of media, which was shown in positive light in RDB, was shown to be negetive in D-6. From the starting of the movie, the news channels were creating hype about the invisible 'kaala bandar'. I was thinking, if the bandar was invisible, how could it be 'kaala'? Or for that matter, how could it be a bandar? The news channels were shown to be more interested in sensationalism rather than in plain 'news'.

I really loved the nomenclatures. First, the movie title. Mehra and company could have named this movie 'Chandani Chowk' instead of Delhi-6 as both meant the same. The former would have had more recall-value. Remember how cliched 'Chandani Chowk to China' (dekha hai kabhi tune aina) sounded? But, by choosing Delhi-6, Mehra announced that his movie was different. Also, the name given to Abhishek's character was apt. Roshan is both a Hindu as well as a Muslim name. It suited well given that his father was Hindu while his mother was Muslim.

Now, the plot. The plot was like a roller coaster. The focus of the film seamlessly changed from personal issues and personal lives to societal issues where the characters which were developed in the first half of the movie became ordinary members of the society in the second half. The movie started with Roshan and his grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) migrating to India. In the airport, Roshan hears news channels telecasting 'kaala bandar' news. Roshan smirks at it - hinting at how ridiculous he thought it was. Little did he (or the audience) know that he'd have to play that role! In Delhi, Roshan is introduced to the 'Indian' way of life - the warmth, the affection. The Delhi-6 neighborhood is show to be made of both the Hindus and the Muslims - both staying in harmony. I particularly liked the dialogue of the sweets-shop owner that only animals eat to satisfy hunger; humans eat to socialise. How true it was. I remeber eating-to-satisfy-hunger only after a fast - all other times i eat because it was time for it - or because i wanted to catch up with a friend. Till interval, the little details of a typical Delhi-6 life was shown. the corrupt police officer and his tyranny were well portrayed.

Post-interval, things change unexpectedly. A 'baba' professed that 'kaala bandar' was creating havoc because a nearby mosque was build after demolishing a temple. This created communal tension in the area. People, who had lived as friends and family for decades, became foes overnight. Around the same time, Bittu was planning to flee to participate in Indian Idol. Roshan, dressed up as 'kaala bandar' expresses love to bittu and gets caught by the masses - and eventually gets almost killed. There was a 'mad' fakir, who roams in the Delhi-6 area carrying a mirror. Gobar (Atul Kulkarni) said that the 'mad' fakir's madness had some substance - that there is God in each one of us, and not in temples/mosques.

There is one sequence which i liked a lot. Gobar was named so as he was claimed to be stupid. To justify this, he was always asked to choose between 2 one rupee coins and a ten rupees note. Gobar would, invariably, choose 2 one rupee coins. Towards the end of the movie he justifies saying that if he would have chosen 1 ten rupees note, he would have lost those many 2-rupees he had been getting. Amazing! Who would like to kill the golden eggs laying hen? Or is it what we call micro-economics which Mohammad Yunus used in his Grameen Bank venture?

The character of Jalebi (Divya Dutta) exposes the evils of untouchability - which still prevails in the capital of India 60+ years after the Independence. The double standards shown by inspector Ranvijay (Vijay Raaz) - where he 'touches' Jalebi in the darkness of the night but maintains untouchability in the daytime is contrasted with the help which Jalebi does by giving her hair strands to Gobar. Gobar, however, couldn't get above his 'tradition' and asks jalebi to throw them in his hands without touching him!

Motorola also did a good job in advertising and branding it's products especially E8. This, unlike most in-film advertisements didn't hinder the pace of the movie rather aided it. However, this ad came in too late as it's almost a year since the E8 released in the market. Better late than never - only if it makes business sense!

The music of the movie is brilliant. The short songs doesn't stall the pace of the movie. As an album, it has a romantic song, a bhajan, a qawali, a high-beats song, a marriage song! A R Rehman proves once again that he is truly world-class. The lyrics by Prasoon Joshi are very relevant and show that good poetry can still be found in bollywood songs.

This film belongs to the same genre which Mehra started with RDB - starts with personal lives of ordinary Indians which becomes part of addressing a socio-politcal issue. If people call it a formula, so be it. In that case every movie can be put into a formula! Now, i want to see Aks. I want to see what Mehra did in his first movie. Also, I am looking forward to what Mehra would (or could?) come up with next. I cannot compare it with RDB - being an urban youth, i could connect well with RDB. But Delhi-6 is equally good. It's better than any movie i saw in recent times. It's a movie one can only experience!

PS: I delayed writing this review. I was worried if i can praise this movie enough as no praise is enough for it. It's so easy to criticize and so damn difficult to praise.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Waiting for the Mahatma

Who doesn’t know the role of Mahatma Gandhi in the independence movements? Who doesn’t know how scared the British Raj was of this ‘half naked fakir’? But little do people know about his enormous influence on the masses. Little do people know about the hundreds of people who made the movements.

Waiting for the Mahatma is set in the backdrop of the freedom struggle of Indian independence – from Quit India Movement to after Independence. The 256 page story can be said in less than 256 words – Sriram sees Bharati when she visits Malgudi with Gandhiji and falls in love with her – He joins Gandhiji and the freedom movement to be with her and impress her – In that course he comes in contact with other freedom fighters and kind of follows Netaji for some time – Bharati and Sriram are jailed – Sriram is freed post independence – As Bharati had insisted, Sriram asks for Bharati’s hand from Gandhiji. Gandhiji accepts their decision to marry. But what is missing in the above outline is the impact of freedom struggle on ordinary freedom fighters whose names couldn’t find place in the history books – whose portraits couldn’t make it to the museums – whose heroic stories couldn’t live longer than them. Waiting for the Mahatma describes the life of such freedom fighters and the contemporary socio-political situation in amazing details.

Bharati’s character is an epitome of a devotee of Gandhiji. Her life had nothing apart from her Bapu. Wish of her bapu was a command for her. The fact that she went to jail as a political prisoner and then post independence went around the dangerous riot stricken areas following Gandhiji testifies to the blind faith Bharati had in Mahatma. The character of Bharati is an indication of the charisma of Gandhiji and his influence on his followers. Sriram’s character is like a person next door. The only aim he had was to ‘get’ Bharati - the aim of his freedom struggle was not to free India. Neither he is too idealistic nor too realistic. Jagadish’s character represents the unknown freedom fighters whose ideology changes with time – sometimes following Gandhiji and sometimes Netaji – His leading a very ordinary life post independence goes to say that not all who fought for the nation became ministers in the new government or heroes in local areas – they, post independence, became like any other person. One wonders, then, what motivated them to play their life out for the nation? Sriram, at least, had Bharati to play for.

As the quest of Sriram meandered from pre-independence to post independence, the reader gets a feel of the society. The fact that Sriram’s grandmother was not allowed to enter the village after she was found alive at her cremation pyre hints not only at the superstition the people indulged in but also the lack of doctors who could distinguish between life and death. Sriram’s tenure in the jail hinted at the horrors of the jail and how one gets used to worst of conditions. Sriram’s interaction with the hotel waiter after his release from jail post independence threw light on the problems ordinary people were facing due to the nascent, inexperienced government. However, the riot sequence when Sriram was travelling to Delhi brought out, very subtly, the horrors of Hindu-Muslim riots on the pretext of formation of Pakistan.

The best sequence, according to me, was the last sequence. It was really poignant. Mahatma Gandhi gave consent to Sriram and Bharati for their marriage. He even agrees to do the ‘kanyadan’ himself the very next morning. But, while going for the daily prayer, he told Bharati that he somhow feels that he cannot make it to the wedding and tells them that the wedding should take place the next morning no matter what. He then enters the prayer hall. Bharati and Sriram also joins the prayer. A man briskly walks past the crowd towards the dais. He pushes Bharati. Sriram, realizing the duty of a husband, rebukes the man back. The man doesn’t give him a heed and walks on. In no time, he is in front of the dais and in no time Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated.

The title of the book is apt. In the whole story Sriram is waiting for Bharati who in turn is waiting for Mahatma’s consent. The conversation between the characters in the book sounded too artificial to me. Those were the only time when the lost pace. The book can make a good bed time read if one is used to it. It can also help if one wants to start bed time reading :)

- Cheers!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire - Review

Slumdog Millionaire (SM) is nothing great. It just showcases the poverty of India to the western world. Something – they look out for from a movie based in India. This is what I had read/heard about SM. According to a great blogger it was a big disappointment Thanks to the ministers of AP I don’t really think so. I was late for the movie by some 20 mins due to traffic jam. Ah! Traffic jam seems to be one of the few excuses which, only on the face value, gets ready buyers. At least, I never bought it until I was stuck in a traffic signal for some 15 mins as some ministers were passing by on the other side of the road. Are you thinking why I thanked the ministers?

Anyway, when I entered the already settled theatre, Jamaal, had won Rs 16k. The next question was – “Who was the singer of Darashan Do Ghanashyam?” The depiction of the journey Jamaal had taken to answer this question was nothing but heart rending. I had only heard of the beggar gangs – never having experienced/seen it. The way the kids were made blind, gave the viewers a sneak peek into the world they had never imagined to be so crude – the dialogue of Salim that they scoop out the eyes with spoon reveals the agony. The winner, however, was the logic which Jamaal used to come to the answer. It takes much more than formal education to come to the conclusion that blinded beggars singing Darashan Do Ghanashyam pointed to Surdas. Even after watching the tragic scoop-out-eyes episode, my guess was Mira Bai! However, here there are two major assumptions made – Jamaal knew that Surdas was a blind poet and so did Mamam.

Salim’s dialogue – “The man with the Colt 45 says shut up” obviously rings out loud in Jamal’s mind when he was asked the question on the inventor of the first revolver. Even, the setup of the call center where he worked as a chaiwala whispered the location of Cambridge Circle.

The questions, however, were used as media to narrate the story of Jamaal and his mundane journey which may not sound mundane to most of us. The beggar gang racket, prostitution, gang war in the underworld were all touched upon while Jamaal walked his way to the hot seat. The thrill created in the movie was much more than most self-proclaimed thrillers.

Having really enjoyed the movie, I was curious to watch the starting 20 mins of the movie which I missed thanks to the minister’s travel. The first question on Amitabh Bachchan actually asked question on the standard of living of people in the financial capital of the fastest growing democracy. Though, I think, that the dip-in-shit sequence may not be “required”, but that brought out the intensity of the fan following of a crazy BigB fan. It’s not uncommon for people to write letters to the “stars” with their blood which, however, gets delivered (if at all it gets) to god-knows-what address or if one is lucky, to the servants/PAs of the “star”. Taking a dip in the shit in the spur-of-the-moment is what the innocent Jamaal, for whom BigB is the only God, the only way to get to his deity. Why on earth is this made an issue? Maybe, this has to do with our power of observation cup-shaped-curve. Our grasping power is the maximum in the beginning, goes down in the middle and goes up again at the end. I guess, a few eminent writers were not able to get out of the dip-in-shit sequence to truely appreciate the movie. I am just trying to guess as I thankfully (or ruefully?) didn’t have to see the dip-in-shit as the first sequence.

The communal riot sequence was also treated well despite the short time it was allotted. The fact, that by the night even Latika (Hindu by name) was left orphan along with Jamaal (Muslim by name) reminded me that the movie is based on Q&A by Vikas Swarup – a diplomat! Not only that, isn’t it so with any riot? People from all sections/religions die.

The acting of all the actors was great. The kids, however, stole the show – the credit of which goes as much to the kids as much to the director. Irrfan khan’s role didn’t have much scope for him to act. Looks like Irrfan is favourite of the Western Film makers. He is spotted on almost any western movie based on India. Ankur Vikal who plays the bad guy, Mamam, did a fantastic job. The music of the movie (by A. R. Rehman) blends very well with the flow of the story and adds to the subject. Anil Kapoor’s role was a bit negative. Even, his pronunciations were not okay - remember the way he pronounced millionaire as mill-i-naire! Also, the fact that he took the initiative to call the police was a bit filmy. This could have well been done by the producers of the show who, actually, need to fish out the money.

I had liked the first season of KBC a lot. I remember how the streets would get silent at 9 pm. Slumdog brings back the same enchantment of KBC only adding to it the thrill of living the life of Jamaal.

A so-called management guru claims that Slumdog Millionaire sucks. Another great blogger brushes the movie off as yet another indian-shit-showing-western-movie. The Biggest B says the movie is portraying the under belly of India . Personally I don’t know if Slumdog deserved a Golden Globe. Neither do I know the criteria for getting a Golden Globe. As an ordinary viewer, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The thrill, the subtle pointers to the societal problem of India, the way the story was told, the meandering path the story took from its journey from the mountain to the sea make it a good movie to watch. Let's, for the time being, forget the nationality of the director/producer. Let's forget that this film is made for western audience and that it is only meant to showcase the dirtier side of India. Let's, for one time, watch this film with a neutral mind and without the pride in our prejudices. I am sure, you'll enjoy the movie - Oscar or no oscar, Gloden Globe or no Golden Globe. There are tons of great work being done across the globe - most of which don't make it to the silver screen. Given all that, watch SM just as a movie; and you may well end up grabbing an original copy of it for your collection.

- Cheers!

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