ARCHIVES - INDIAN CINEMA
International Film Festival Of India 2002: Remarkable portraits
TAKE A look at this. Two people. One lives in the midst of a crowd, and yet feels completely isolated. The other is perched on a lonely, uninhabited island, but still strives for an existence devoid of human interferences.
The first appears in T.V. Chandran's latest, exceptionally gripping celluloid work, ``Dany." The second is Girish Kasaravalli's protagonist in ``Dweepa."
These were perhaps two of the most inspiring pieces of work that were showcased at the Indian Panorama of the International Film Festival of India in New Delhi(October 2002). Yet, they were not given the pride of place. They were not part of the prestigious Asian competition. Sad.
Sadder, neither of them was even considered as the official Indian entry for possible inclusion in the 2003 Oscar race.
Recognition and rewards have so often not gone to the right men, but the truth is Chandran and Kasaravalli have given us some wonderful cinema. Moving, melodramatic in some places, but largely restrained and unexaggerated.
Chandran's ``Dany'' is a pleasure to watch, and Mammootty gives a brilliant performance. Entirely believable and convincing. There are two lows, though. Mammootty as Dany has very little support from other members of the cast, and in one of the final scenes, Chandran unnecessarily introduces a drunken brawl in a bar, where Dany meets his old friend. One wishes that the director had thought of something more creative or original than this.
``Dweepa'' (Island) is a little too long, a typical Kasaravalli weakness, and his heroine, Soundarya, is too painted up to look the part of an innocent tribal, but his imagery is almost mesmerising. The lushness of the island and the flow of the water evoke a strange awe in us as we grapple with Nature's might and anger. The gentle patter of rain soon loses its mellifluous melody when it transforms into an ominous torrent. The placid river no longer sounds like a happy gurgle when it rises and gushes ahead to maroon three souls unwilling to desert their island of a home. But it is in these moments of fear and fury that we learn to respect and admire the bounties around us.
For Chandran's Dany, life's little pleasure, however, lies not in such ethereal surroundings. There are no picture postcards to excite him, no flow of water to soothe his troubled life. What does is his saxophone in a life that is bereft of human love. An orphan since his boyhood days, Dany feels that Clara will fill this void. She does not, and when he marries again, this time Margaret, the relationship is doomed from the word go.
It does go to Chandran's credit that even in such a tale of suffering and solitude he manages to steer his movie away from the iceberg of moroseness. It is certainly not dark.
And how does he do it? Humour. Chandran's sense of a good laugh is amazing, and one watched with almost magnetic interest images that did not particularly speak of joy or pleasure. It was indeed a refreshing piece of celluloid. The secret is treatment, and Chandran's is great.
``The treatment is something that occurred to me recently," Chandran said during a chat in New Delhi. ``But the idea of a man like Dany has been with me for almost 20 years. I used to know a man in Trivandrum/Tiruvananthapuram, who lived by playing the guitar at funerals. He was a fascinating human being. There were and are others like him, not educated in the formal sense of the term, but who get by singing in English, having picked up a few words in that language..."
Probably, ``Dany" was long due. Most of Chandran's cinema has centred on women — ``Hemavin Kathalargal" (Hema's Lovers), ``Aliceinte Anweshanam" (The Search For Alice), ``Mangamma" and ``Susanna," directed between 1985 and 2002. ``Dany" is man-movie.
``But `Susanna' is not just about a woman, it is about one who lives on the fringes of society. `Dany' is an extension of this concept. All of us live for very brief moments in our lives in a space where we are just we. In that space, we are not film-makers or journalists or fathers or uncles...There are times, when we wake up at night and just think of ourselves as ourselves as humans with no tags like names or relationships. This reverie is broken when we see someone around us or somebody calls us. But Dany lived in that kind of space, always."
There is a scene in ``Dany'' that splendidly visualises this: a child looks at dead Dany and asks one of the characters who he is. The reply hits us. ``He is Dany. Daniel Thomas." Stop. The man's ties go no further.
But, for Kasaravalli's Nagi the battle is not against seclusion. Rather, it is a fight to preserve precisely this, her own little kingdom, an island that has to be evacuated because the flow of a river has been checked by a dam. As the water rises menacingly, Nagi's emotions wax and wane in a strange psychological play of love and even sex.
Kasaravalli said that his work had three layers: the drama of Nature, the socio-political satire and the purely interpersonal relationships. The first two serve as the backdrop for the subtle attractions and aversions that bind four people: Nagi, her husband, her father-in-law and a young male relative, Krishna, whose presence in her household pushes pulses to race in anger and angst.
Kasaravalli frames these passions in a mutely appealing mode. ``Even though Nagi asks Krishna to leave the island, cut off on all sides by swirling waters, she tells him not to take the boat, the only means of travel. Here is a strong implication of her feeling for Krishna that her husband senses and rues: `even if the water will not drown me, Krishna surely will,' '' Kasaravalli explains.
How does Nagi react? One has to look between the frames to try and find an answer. Kasaravalli helps us with a cue. ``Nagi is like water. Her feelings are momentary: she is neither burdened with the past, nor attracted to the future. She is concerned with the present, to make it as beautiful as possible. Ask her not to talk to Krishna. She will overcome that in no time. Dam a river, the water will overflow and find its own way out of the fetters, as my picture shows." Kasaravalli's message is not to be missed.
Admittedly, it is fiercely pro-Nature and all that is natural. But beyond this, what he wants to convey is a call to make the present joyous and meaningful. Drop the baggage of the past. Do not be unduly bogged down by the uncertainties of the future. Live for the day. And, celebrate it.
(This story/review appeared in The Hindu dated November 8 2002)