Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Life in a Metro, Vivek Oberoi, Cannes…

Indian film directors are notorious for slipping up after their initial success. I do not know whether to attribute this to over-confidence or plain lethargy that sets in once the accolades come. Anurag Basu made two decent movies, “Murder” and “Gangster”. But his latest offering to the Bollywood basket, “Life in a Metro”, (opened in India in May 2007) while seemingly hinting at a deko at urban lifestyle, replete with mechanical emotions and rank superficiality, presents a collage of lifts. We see situations borrowed from Billy Wilder’s 1960 “The Apartment” and characters cloned from Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” (2000) and David Lean’s 1946 classic “Brief Encounter”. Mr Basu may explain this away by calling his patchwork “artistic inspiration”. Okay, so be it.

Irfan Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma in "Life in a Metro"
However, the collage itself is disappointing and reveals Basu’s lack of conviction or courage to push what he had started in the first place. “Life in a Metro” is filmed out of a script that can be summarised in a single word: affairs. Kay Kay Menon (still good, though he appears a trifle half-hearted in this role) presides over a Mumbai call centre, where ruthless ambition prevails. Employee Kangana Ranaut sleeps with Menon to travel business class and corner other out-of-turn perks. That she draws emotional sustenance from this relationship is apparent when she attempts suicide. Menon’s neglected wife, Shilpa Shetty, almost seduces theatre actor Shiney Ahuja, but chooses the moral high ground at the eleventh hour. Sharman Joshi, another call centre employee, gets ahead in the corporate ladder by letting Menon and others in the office use his flat for their sexual dalliances with women colleagues. It is in this den of vice that Konkona Sen Sharma flits in like an icon of virtue. She is 30, single and a virgin. What is more, she is not willing to give it up for any Romeo, and when she meets Irfan Khan, also desperate for a companion, they jell after the initial comic interactions. Irfan seems to be the only whiff of fresh air in Basu’s movie.

Also, “Life in a Metro” is too conventional for comfort. Menon returns to his wife. Joshi pairs up with his love, Kangana. Konkana finds Irfan after he chases her – in what is a ridiculously stupid scene – on horseback on Mumbai roads! Beyond all this is the romance between Nafisa Ali, a widow who lives in an old age home, and Dharmendra, who had once left her to find his fortune in the U.S. The couple look positively uncomfortable, and Basu appears to have completely lost his directorial touch here.

Here is my punch line: if you must watch this piece of thrash, take solace from the fact that the film has one great performer, the fourth Khan, undoubtedly miles ahead of the other three.

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Kangana has been quoted as saying that she has got into meditation to de-stress herself. I wonder whether her rough patch has anything to do with “Life in a Metro”, where she acts a pretty bimbette in an eminently forgettable role.

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And, prey, why did Konkona transform herself as Shruthi in “Life in a Metro”? She said that she would like to do diverse roles, and not like to be typecast. I do not know whether this young lady has that potential, but besides her mother, Aparna Sen’s “Mr and Mrs Iyer” and “15 Park Avenue”, Konkona has not given any notable performance. She clearly needs to do a rethink on the kind of choices she makes.

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Vivek Oberoi plays a gangster in “Shootout at Lokhandwala”, a movie by Apoorva Lakhia based on a real incident in Mumbai. As Maya Dolas, Oberoi, I am told, is exciting to watch. “I have put my heart into the film”, the actor says. Soon after he read the script, Vivek decided to do his own research about the dreaded gangster. He says, “As I learnt more and more about Maya, I wanted to know more. I went to places like Agripada and Dongri, which he frequented and spoke to people who knew him.” He adds, “I even spoke to murderers to understand their psyche. I talked to the cops who finally killed him. Strangely, if someone commits one or two murders, it’s looked at with disgust. But if he commits 30-40 murders, he gains respect. It is very weird.” Describing Maya, Vivek says, “he was exciting. He had an air of arrogance. But he loved the boys who worked under him and he loved his mother. He was an extremely courageous man. It was a huge challenge to get that kind of fearlessness in my body language,” he says with an obvious glint in his eye.

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Tailpiece: The 60th Cannes Film Festival unrolled on May 16, and in what appears to be a twin celebration with India’s 60th anniversary of its Independence, the Bollywood bigwigs are set to descend on the famous French Riviera with its sand and surf and sizzling scenes. I wonder how none of our Indian producers or directors has yet thought up of setting a movie there, bang in the middle of the Festival. For, Cannes apart from being the Queen of Festivals, is also cinema in every sense of the term. If one can watch some fascinating films there during the 12 days of the Festival, one can also experience sheer French culture with its great wines, exotic food, fabulous boutiques, eye-catching costumes and its bold and beautiful people. What a heady cocktail!

(Webposted May 16 2007)