Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General
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Pans & Tilts…Provoked, Shekhar Kapur, The Namesake, Veyil…

Director Jag Mundhra has often been associated with B-grade cinema. Films such as “Private Moments”, “Monsoon”, “Tainted Love”, “Sexual Malice”, “Tropical Heat”, “The Other Woman” and “Vishkanya”, bordered on the pornographic. But in 2000, he made “Bawandar”, a pleasing departure from his otherwise eminently forgettable repertoire.

In the just-opened “Provoked”, he has done even better, although I disagree with his choice of Aishwarya Rai, who plays Kiranjit Ahluwalia. By now everybody must know the story: of a rural Punjabi woman who marries an Indian Londoner in the late 1970s only to be beaten, raped and humiliated. In the end, after a torturous decade, she sets her husband on fire and kills him. Kiranjit was convicted of murder in 1989, but freed in 1992 after a landmark British judgment that redefined “provocation” in the case of battered women.

Unfortunately, Aishwarya is too glamorous, too beautiful to portray the real Kiranjit, who was quite plain to look at. And, Ash walks through the whole movie with just about a single expression, reaffirming my belief that she is not a good actress, at least not as yet. In fact, Mundhra must learn to rise above using pretty faces to tell his sometimes profound tales of sorrow and suffering. “Provoked” is one such case, and maybe, he would have been better off hiring somebody like Tabu or even Nandita Das to play Kiranjit. In fact, Nandita -- who plays one of the Southall Black Sisters, an organisation that campaigned for Kiranjit, even managing to rope in the Queen’s Counsel for defence – sparkles in her small, but eye-catching role. I quite liked the earnestness with which Nandita enacts the part.

Apart from the miscast of Aishwarya, I wonder why Mundhra had to change his protagonist’s costume from Indian wear to Western clothes to imply a transformation in attitude. Kiranjit had great inner strength, and such superficiality as change of wardrobe hardly does justice to the character.

The Southall Black Sisters lambasted the film for being “riddled with factual and legal inaccuracies”. One of the Sisters said that Mundhra should have “risen to the challenge of reflecting real life better”. The most severe criticism pertains to the uni-dimensional characterisation of Kiranjit’s husband, Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews): he is shown as an alcoholic.

Admittedly, reality can be so darn interesting, but we cannot cringe a director’s right to take artistic liberties, at least up to a point. Where Mundhra stepped beyond this was in his selection of Aishwarya.

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Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who lives in London with two of her sons, has reportedly said that Aishwarya Rai must now speak about domestic violence. Kiranjit was obviously alluding to Salman Khan, who is supposed to have brutalised Ash. She was seen on her movie sets with bruises and twisted arms when she was courting Salman. The actual abuse never happened in public, but there was one incident that took place in full view of a film crew. Ash was shooting for Shah Rukh Khan’s “Chalte Chalte”, when Salman appeared there and asked her to go out with him. When she refused, Salman damaged her car and created such a scene with Shah Rukh that he was forced to replace Ash with Rani Mukherjee. Later, Ash broke up with Salman, but never spoke about the “violence” she suffered. Now, I suppose, she must.

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Another relationship that has gone sour is the one between Shekhar Kapur and Suchitra Krishnamurthy. The lady is pulling all stops to ensure that daughter Kaveri stays with her, not her father. Accusing Shekhar of having an affair with Preity Zinta, Suchitra is bent on separating the daughter and the father. And, Shekhar’s reported romance comes in handy to swing her case. I thought Suchitra would have greater maturity. I have seen some of my European friends dealing admirably with their children after a divorce or separation. One is a photographer, who works out of Brussels. She never tires of consulting her former husband on anything that remotely concerns their son. The other is a journalist, who works for a leading news agency in Paris. He and his former girlfriend (I think they never married) happily share the responsibility of bringing up their son. I have never seen these two couples quarrel over or bicker about their children. I wonder why Suchitra and Shekhar must be so immature to let Kaveri be affected by their rows.

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Mira Nair’s latest, “The Namesake” is doing well, I am told. It opens in some parts of India this week. I have not yet seen the movie, because I happen to be living in that part of the country that can be called the “shadow region”. I am curious to see how Nair has tackled “culture and clash” in a film she said had got under her skin. In fact, she divides cinema into two categories: that which gets under one’s skin, and that which does not. “The Namesake” clearly belongs to the first. Let us see if it does get under MY skin. But the movie’s scoring point is its excellent cast. Both Irfan Khan and Tabu are great performers, controlled and sober. Mira could not have asked for more.

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Tailpiece: The Tamils are euphoric. The Cannes International Film Festival – which will celebrate its 60 year this May along with India’s 60th anniversary of Independence – has selected the Tamil movie, “Veyil”, as part of its Cinema of the World section. Directed by Vasantha Balan, the film is set in a small town close to Chennai. But without sounding like a wet blanket, I must set the record straight here. The Cinema of the World is not really an important part of the Festival on the French Riviera. So “Veyil” is not all sun and shine.

(Webposted April 4 2007)