Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General
----------------------


Pans & Tilts…The Namesake, Tabu, Aishwarya Rai, Shilpa Shetty…

I watched Mira Nair’s much-discussed, much anticipated “The Namesake”, and although my expectations were high as I walked into the cinema the other night (April 5 2007), I was not disappointed. Rather, I quite enjoyed the film. And in a while, I would say.

Nair perhaps draws on her own experiences as one who left India at 19 on a Harvard scholarship to pursue a life that must have been fraught with conflict of culture and clash of sizes. She was born in small-town Rourkela, and although she did live in New Delhi for some years, America must have come as something uniquely – and, possibly, frighteningly – different from her own country. And it is this feeling that finds the strongest echo in “The Namesake”. Admittedly, the movie is based on Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”, and some of its essence has been marvellously passed on from print to picture, thanks to Sooni Taraporevala. One such is Gogol’s (Kal Pen) frustrating dilemma over his name, chosen by his father Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan). Such clash of conflict and interest resonates throughout the film: when Gogol brings his American girlfriend, Maxine (Jacinda Barrett), to meet his parents or when the boy’s mother, Ashima (Tabu), finds as a newly wed bride, transported from Kolkata (Calcutta) to New York, her life being taken over by gadgets or when Ashoke sees his son slip away from a tradition he holds dear.

Yet, Ashoke and Ashima snuggle into the American dream with little discomfort, in the warmth and understanding of each other’s company. “The Namesake” effortlessly shows this transformation through hauntingly captivating images that flit from the dreary Kolkata train compartments of the late 1970s (when the story begins) to the pile of urban chaos on the city’s Howrah Bridge to the delightful little lanes dotted with rickshaws and vegetable vendors and finally to the snow-covered New York, its swanky apartments, and the suburbia. Nair has largely refrained from putting in shots of stereotypes, though there are a few: for instance, the Gangulis finding on their return home after an India vacation that their letter box has been mutilated with racist slogans, and their visit to the must-stop Taj Mahal, where, incidentally, Ashoke and Ashima profess their love in words for the first time in about three decades! An absolute tender moment in cinema, unsurpassed in its beauty.

Mira has undoubtedly framed a gorgeous movie that grips one’s attention in an undivided sort of way. And her casting appears impeccable, rather like a clean coup. Irfan and Tabu seem perfectly matched as the Ganguli couple, and they bring magic to the screen with great depth and feeling. Sober and subdued, they convey the classical Bengali culture almost flawlessly, he as the professorial “bhadralok” (gentleman) and she as the somewhat fiery Bengali woman with a passion for music. They are real intellectuals in many ways who understand when their son and daughter choose a different life. And they accept it with a graceful smile.

“The Namesake” is eminently watchable. Do not give it a miss.

***

Tabu has always caught my eye. Much more so in “The Namesake”. She is not one of those sophisticated, classy kinds. Rather, she is simple, friendly, and has no airs about her, a hallmark of a good professional. A niece of Shabana Azmi, Tabu entered Bollywood quietly without any bang and bash, unlike her elder sister, Farha. She stormed the Mumbai tinsel world, but could hardly hold on, given her temper and tantrum. Ultimately, she married Dara Singh’s son, and faded out of public view and memory. Tabu had far greater resilience. She debuted in a big production, Boney Kapoor’s “Prem”, pairing with Sanjay Kapoor. But “Prem” crashed. Tabu, however, was not to be defeated, and worked harder. It was as the “ruk ruk ruk girl” in “Vijaypath” that she came within the audience radar, and, more important, caught Gulzar’s fancy. It was his “Maachis” that took Tabu to dizzying heights, proving beyond doubt her on-screen potential. I hope Tabu will continue getting roles worthy of her. “The Namesake” is hopefully one of the many to come that will reveal Tabu’s many-faceted acting prowess.

***

Jag Mundhra’s “Provoked” has provoked criticism. The Southall Black Sisters who helped Kiranjit Ahluwalia – on whose story “Provoked” is based -- win her freedom pointed out to a few legal inaccuracies in the film. Mundhra says that he has taken no such liberty. Yes, maybe, he has resorted to one artistic licence: roping in Aishwaraya Rai to play Kiranjit. This was to make “Provoked” marketable. Well, that may have been so. But a pretty face does not sell a picture. And, in my opinion – which I mentioned in my last column – the movie’s one major flaw is Mundhra’s miscasting. Ms Rai is so beautiful, and so lovely to look at that she fails to evoke the sorrow and sympathy that the real Kiran drew to win over the British judiciary and the public.

***

Aishwarya may not be overtly bothered by all this, for she is now deliriously happy. After all her wedding is not far away, the date being April 20. Abhishek will exchange the marriage vows in an outfit designed by Sharbari Datta, the well known revivalist menswear designer in Kolkata. It was Ash's mother, Brinda Rai's wish that the Bachchan men wear clothes by Datta, India's 'only woman designer' who dresses up 'only men' in traditional attires. We are still waiting to find out what Ash will adorn.

***

Tailpiece: Shilpa Shetty is winning all the way. After the Big Brother victory and her appointment with the Queen of England, Shilpa has just signed a grand Bollywood musical, yet to be titled, but which will be staged this September. The play will travel to other parts of Europe, America and Australia."Though it will be Bollywood in spirit, it will completely cater to western sensibilities. It's a hugely ambitious musical and I'm very excited," Shilpa added.

(Webposted April 6 2007)


Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
Contact Me
Home Page
Site Search
© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

----------------------


Pans & Tilts…The Namesake, Tabu, A waxed Khan, Domesticated Ash, Shilpa’s many roles…

Mira Nair’s “The Namesake” opens today (March 23 2007) in some Indian cities. Not in all, because, I am told, there are not enough prints. At a star-studded premiere in Mumbai on March 21, the Bachchans and the film’s lead actress, Tabu, among others were in attendance.

The Namesake

“The Namesake” is based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, which traces the doubts and dilemmas of an Indian Bengali family settled in the U.S. Irfan Khan and Tabu, both actors of reputed calibre, play husband and wife in a movie that has Mira’s personal touch. Obviously so. For, Mira is an immigrant, and she once told me that there were occasions when she felt a sense of “rootlessness”.

Mira was born in a middleclass Punjabi family in Rourkela. She studied sociology in Delhi University before leaving for Harvard on a scholarship. After making four documentaries (one on the lives of Mumbai’s cabaret strippers), she directed “Salaam Bombay” in 1988, which won the Camera d’ Or Prize at Cannes, and was also nominated for an Oscar as one of the five foreign movies. Today, “Salaam Bombay”, on the city’s street children, is considered a classic, and a must read in film study courses.

Mira made other movies, and among my favourites are “Mississippi Masala” in 1991 (about an Indian family thrown out of Uganda by Idi Amin) and “Monsoon Wedding” in 2001 (about a chaotic wedding in Delhi). This movie clinched the top Golden Lion Award in Venice, and deservedly so. It was a gripping piece of work, and Mira took a very bold stand in it. Not many Indian directors have had the courage to work with a screenplay, where an important character is thrown out of an Indian marriage when he is accused of child rape.

I have not yet seen “The Namesake”, but am looking forward to watching it soon, as much as I am keenly awaiting Mira’s other works in the pipeline, such as “Shantaram”, with Johnny Depp in the lead.

***

Tabu who plays Ashima in “The Namesake” is supposed to have done a fine job, even though, as she herself said, “I am neither an immigrant nor a mother”. Ashima lands in America after an arranged marriage to an engineer (Irfan Khan), and struggles when her life is filled with loneliness and is completely taken over by gadgets. To a question whether she could identify with any aspect of the film, Tabu said: “I suppose parts of Ashima could be me - her inner strength, her resolve, her ‘Indianness’ is something I identify with.”

***

For Shah Rukh Khan, it is celluloid after wax. London’s Madame Tussauds – that museum where life-like figures continue to amaze the world – will now produce a 50-minute documentary on the Bollywood star. Titled, “The Making of Another King Khan”, this work will chronicle his life right from his childhood days to his struggle as a newcomer in the industry to his super success. Juhi Chawla, Karan Johar, Aziz Mirza and some others will be part of this biopic. The documentary, which will be premiered soon, will be followed by the unveiling of King Khan’s wax statue, which will give company to that of Aishwarya Rai and Amitabh Bachchan.

***

When Mr Bachchan Senior said that his future daughter-in-law was “extremely domesticated”, I imagined that Ash would step off a movie set, remove her grease paint and begin rolling “garam phulkas”. Well, it seems that I was mistaken, or maybe Amitabh read too much into Miss Rai’s demure looks. She is not quitting cinema, and has been signing films rather freely. Ram Gopal Varma says he is going ahead with “Sarkar 2” starring Ash, and so is Tarun Mansukhani with his yet untitled movie. Ash has said “yes” to Shridhar Raghavan’s “Happy Birthday” with John Abraham. I dare say that cinema is one hell of an addiction, and it probably needs a mighty detox to wean one away from the rustle of satin and silk, the thrill of being in the limelight, and the feeling of being chased and wanted. What a heady mix. Can we blame Ash?

***

Tailpiece: Once the late Tamil superstar, Sivaji Ganesh, donned nine roles in a movie. The late Sanjeev Kumar copied that in a Bollywood film. Now, dear Shilpa Shetty is trying to better that record. And, that too in real life. First, she performed in B-grade cinema. Second, she played Miss Tragedy Queen by jailing herself in Big Brother Celebrity House and getting racially abused. Third, she won millions by acting the poor lost soul, suffering silly. Fourth, she met British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Parliament. Fifth, she shook hands with the Queen of England herself. Sixth, she is playing up to the gallery of animal lovers. She has posed in an ad for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is being released in West Asia. This shows Shilpa, dressed in a figure-hugging bodysuit, crouched in a small cage with a look of despair on her face to illustrate the misery of animals confined to circuses. With three more parts to go, your guess is as good as mine as to what Shilpa will do next. Maybe, after talking for the animals, she might take up the cause of battered women, malnourished children and, who knows, the state of the world itself.

(Webposted March 23 2007)