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” 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)