Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General
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Pans & Tilts…Bollywood exotica, Water, Khan in soup, Nishabd

Bollywood is the new exotica in the West. The Mumbai magic that grew out “Maya Nagari” or the City of Magic as the metropolis was endearingly termed (as opposed to the City of Joy that Kolkata was labelled) in the early years of India’s
Liz and Arun
Independence became synonymous with the film industry there. The movie business, which relocated from Lahore to Mumbai after the 1947 Partition, gave the country’s cinema a fresh impetus. Men like Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt fired by Gandhian idealism, Nehruvian socialism and patriotic zeal made memorable films. That Bollywood evolved (some would say degenerated) into a largely song-and-dance affair is another story. But this tale has two sides. Even if Mumbai makes eminently forgettable movies or mostly, their popularity is unquestionable. They are sought after the world over for their ability to transport a viewer to a completely make-believe existence.

The ongoing Elizabeth Hurley-Arun Nayar wedding in Mumbai and Jodhpur is an excellent example of Bollywood’s appeal. During their earlier trip to India to finalise their marriage plans, British beauty Elizabeth and Indian businessman Arun made a film on themselves, replete with songs and dances. Arun grew a beard and wore Indian costumes, and Elizabeth draped herself in gorgeous saris. The couple danced seductive numbers with Mumbai as the backdrop. Interestingly, they had planned the movie as a joke, but later decided that it would be a better alternative to boring toasts and speeches. The film, made in about a month’s time and with a cast and crew of 100 people, was screened for the couple’s guests soon after their British marriage in Gloucestershire, near London.

I suppose Elizabeth got to play a dream role in the movie. But I will not be surprised if some Indian producer thinks of roping in the pair for a film. Maybe, they can call it “Sunrise Boulevard”.

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Come March 9, Deepa Mehta’s dream will come true. Her “Water”, based on the tragic lives of Varanasi widows, will open in Indian theatres. Deepa had to shoot her movie in Sri Lanka in great secrecy and with a different title (Full Moon) five years after she, her cast and crew had been driven out of the holy city by Hindu fundamentalists, who said that “Water” would depict a bad image of India. The real reason was something else: I am told that a political activist in Varanasi wanted to distribute the film. When Deepa refused, he got his “sena” together to threaten Deepa, burn effigies of her and destroy the movie set. Let us hope that “Water” would have a smooth flow, at least now, and that politicians would not find another excuse to stop its screening.

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Now King Khan is in the Samajwadi’s cauldron of steaming soup! Shahrukh Khan is alleged to have abused the party strongman, Amar Singh, at a recent film function. One is told that Khan jocularly called Singh “darinda” or “fiend”, and this irked his supporters, who crowded outside the star’s bungalow shouting slogans. When will our politicians stop policing morals, interfering in the arts, curbing the freedom of expression and start doing what they have been elected to do: run the nation. In an India, where nearly 300 million people go to bed hungry every night, where basic education, health care, housing and clean drinking water are still hard to find, politicians have no business to get into areas that people can themselves manage and splendidly.

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When I came out of Ram Gopal Varma’s Amitabh Bachchan-Jiah Khan starrer, “Nishabd” (now playing in India), I heard a young man quip “mothers will no longer trust their young daughters with uncles”. The movie, set in the lush landscape of Kerala’s Munnar hill station (though I do not understand why a blue filter has been consistently used to give a bluish tinge to the images), has certainly been inspired by Vladimir Nobokov’s 1955 novel, “Lolita”. But unlike the fiction and the two films that were adapted from it in 1962 and 1997, “Nishabd” is not about a general sexual attraction of an aging male for young teenage girls. Varma talks about a 60-year-old man’s onetime fling with 16-year-old lass. Unfortunately, the movie does not work at any level. Characterisations appear incomplete. We are never convincingly told why Jiah falls for Amitabh on the screen, although there is a vague reference to the absence of a father figure in her life. And, is Bachchan so unhappy in his marriage that he risks a sexual romp with one who is as old as his daughter, and that too at his own house with his wife and daughter in attendance? What is more, he coolly confesses his affair to his wife. I cannot understand how a man his age can have such uncontrollable physical urge, which drives him silly! Finally, Varma’s plan to titillate audiences with the Jiah skin show falls somewhere between sensuousness and vulgarity. The needle is more towards the latter, though. Often, Jiah in skimpy costumes and sitting with legs apart seems like a tart, not quite an innocent nymphet who can get your heart aflutter. Both Nasser and Revathy have been completely wasted in supporting roles, and Big B’s performance appears so laboured. He looks positively tired. Relax, Mr Bachchan. You do not have to keep facing the camera every day of the year. It is time we got something to savour from you.

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Tailpiece: Vidya Balan needs another good role. After “Parineeta”, I have not seen her in a part that I can treasure. Two of her recent films, “Guru” and “Salaam-E-Ishq” did little justice to her talent. Now shooting for Priyadarshan’s “Bhool Bhulaiya” in Rajasthan, Vidya is again letting herself be typecast. This is a comedy like “Laghe Raho Munnabhai”. Earlier, she did two weepy roles in “Guru” and “Salaam-E-Ishq”. We have seen many good actors vanish from the radar only because they kept choosing the wrong script. Hope Vidya will not make that mistake.

(Webposted March 7 2007)