Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Saif sickness, Dev Anand, Kate Winslet…

Indians and knee-jerk reactions are synonymous. Saif Ali Khan’s suspected heart attack has got Bollywood into a state of nervous shock. Everybody wants to
Saif Ali Khan
cutdown on cigarette smoking, and mind you, these include those who opposed the Indian Health Ministry’s directive that banned smoking on screen. I certainly welcomed this rule, because I know the enormous influence cinema has on growing children. They look upon their film heroes and heroines as demi-gods who can do no wrong. Studies conducted in several countries have established this beyond doubt. So, for instance, when Rajnikant or Shahrukh Khan lights a fag, it is blindly aped, particularly by teenagers and young adults. Often, this habit is formed early in life, and stays till the end.

Besides, smoking is still seen as a style statement in India: men think it is macho to have a cigarette playing between their lips, and women appear to equate concepts like freedom and confidence with the smoke they blow out. Even today, women consider smoking as an expression of equality among the sexes. That little roll of tobacco pushes them into believing that they are as good as men, if not better. If you want to trade a false sense of independence and superiority for something as precious as good health, then go ahead. It is your life, in the final analysis.

Few understand – or want to -- that the fag is literally a poison stick that leads to cancer and heart diseases, and cuts down your life span. Every cigarette reduces your life by five minutes.

Once, that great Hollywood icon, Humphrey Bogart, literally smoked to death. He died of lung cancer. We have, in India, people like Saif, Shahrukh Khan and Sushmita Sen among many other celebrities who are virtual slaves of the fag. I still remember Sushmita as a 19-year-old teen puffing away merrily in a New Delhi hotel room. She was all flushed then with the excitement of having just won a world beauty crown. “Please do not tell anybody that you saw me with a cigarette”, she pleaded. I did not. But, over the years, I suppose she began to care less about her image, and smoked in public. Now, with a baby to bring up, she has realised that her habit can harm both. I am told that she is trying to quit smoking. Hope the others follow and make this world a slightly better place to live.

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Dev Anand does not smoke. I am not sure whether he ever did. Smoking cuts down appetite and energy, and looking at Dev’s life – brimming with vibrancy – one can safely conclude that the cigarette has had no role to play. At 84, he is a bundle of energy that will shame those in their fifties. Dev’s feeling of well-being has also to do with his ability to think positive, refrain from bad-mouthing anyone (I have never heard him to do this) and look at every failure as one more pillar of success, as yet another sign to push ahead. Dev’s list of flops would have drowned any other actor, but, well, he is all set to make his next celluloid work (“Chargesheet”) and release his autobiography, “Romancing Life” on his 84th birthday on September 26. He is not saying much about the book, except to titillate our curiosity with some hot teasers. But, I am sure that the man who gave us such memorable movies as “Tere Mere Sapne” (based on A.J. Cronin’s “The Citadel”), “Guide” (on R.K. Narayan’s work), “Jewel Thief”, and earlier, “Tere Ghar Ke Samne”, “Hum Dono”, Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai”, “Taxi Driver’ and “CID” would have written a gripping account of his life and times. Yes, he penned it himself and in long hand, proof enough to dispel any thought of ghost writing.

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Kate Winslet (we all know her after her famous role in “Titanic”) is running for the Best Actress Oscar as the adulterous wife in Todd Field’s superb film adaptation of the novel by Tom Perrotta. Called “Little Children”, it uses as its canvas a playground and a swimming pool to paint the story of a small-town American community, which suffers from all the human fallibilities. When pretty young mothers assemble on the ground, they gossip and bitch about Sarah (Kate) when she forgets to bring a snack for her daughter. Out there to study the behaviour of suburban women, Sarah herself is not suburban having been to a graduate school, and she finds curious pleasure in taunting the women by kissing a stranger, a home-dad, Brad (Patrick Wilson), who visits the playground with his son. The kiss soon leads to leisurely afternoons in bed when Sarah and Brad entangle themselves in passionate love, which both seem not to get from their respective spouses. Brad’s wife is a busy career woman, a trifle disappointed with her husband who is never able to clear his Bar examination. Sarah’s husband is a self-conceited sales executive who finds masturbating to Internet pornography more exciting than his flesh and blood wife. Field introduces a third element in his story, a paedophile who injects the dramatic element, a counterpoint to Brad-Sarah’s sorrow tinged in guilt and dilemma. Kate is a fine actress, who portrays the misery of doomed love with wonderful restraint. Pride, concern and desire are finely etched in the character she plays. However, the Oscar may not go to her: the odds are stacked in favour of Helen Mirren in “The Queen”.

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With Deepa Mehta’s “Water” – a story of forgotten widows in Varanasi – up for an Oscar in the Foreign Language Category, Indians are shouting from the rooftops that this is an Indian movie. It is not. Produced with Canadian money and made by a Canadian director, (who may be Indian born), “Water” entered the race as a Canadian film. The fact that it deals with an Indian subject and has Indian actors does in no way make it an Indian movie. And, we have no right to claim it as ours: we drove Mehta and her tonsured actresses (Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das) out of Varanasi in 2000, when “Water” was all set to roll. It took her five years to get her camera clicking again. “Water” was finally made in Sri Lanka in 2005.

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Tailpiece: Despite this entire bad image that India generates, people are still crazy about all things Indian. Spanish actress Penelope Cruz (with a Best Actress Oscar nod for “Volver”) has said that she is keen on working with King Khan. "I am a great fan of Indian cinema and I would love to work with Shah Rukh Khan," she said. Also, Penelope has just now acquired the rights of a book, “Passion India” by Javier Moro. This will be filmed in English, and Penelope will play flamenco dancer Anita Delgado who scandalised people in the early 1900s when she agreed to marry Maharaja Jagatjit Singh Bahadur and settle in Punjab. Penelope’s India connection is getting stronger by the day.

(Webposted February 23 2007)