Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Ta Ra Rum Pum, Cannes’ offering, star power, Rakhi Sawant…

I have noticed a pattern in Indian cinema. The greater the publicity for a film the greater, it appears, is also the disappointment. Two recent examples are “Nishabd” and “Eklavya”, both Amitabh Bachchan starrers. Both sank without, so to say, a trace, despite all the hullabaloo. The run-up for these movies was noisy, and the pre-release publicity was enormous.

Ta Ra Rum Pum
This has been the same case with Siddharth Anand’s “Ta Ra Rum Pum” (opened April 2007). Coming from the stable of Yash Raj, the buz was that this film would be interesting. Added to this was the good cast: everybody expects decent performances from actors such as Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukerji. I dare say they were fine, but were immensely handicapped by a weak and in-original script.

Saif is a race champ, who falls in love in with Rani, gets married to her, and has two kids, a dog and a palatial mansion in Manhattan. But his winning streak ends when he is pushed off the race track by an evil British bloke, who is not even punished for playing foul. There are other howlers in the plot: a 25-victory race driver finds himself on the streets with no bank balance, no medical insurance, no guts to win a race and not even the means to get another job. Absolutely unbelievable.

What is even more ridiculous, “Ta Ra Rum Pum”, borrows heavily from the classic Italian work, “Life is Beautiful”, not just the theme, but even situations.

In the end, Anand’s film looks like some pop drama that depends on Rani’s sexy costumes (she is most often seen in short leg-revealing skirts and body hugging tops) and New York locations to push the movie. Even the car races are not exciting enough. Yash Raj, are you listening.

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If we make this kind of cinema, we have no business to complain that we do not make it to prestigious international film festivals, such as Cannes. Shaji N. Karun’s “Swaham” (My Own) was the last Indian movie to have made it to the festival’s top Competition slot. That was a decade and three years ago, in 1994. We have had since then films like “Murali Nair’s “Arimpara” and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Devdas”, in categories such as “Special Screenings” and “A Certain Regard”. But these have also been a while ago.

However, Cannes, which celebrates its 60th edition along with India’s six decades of Independence, will have special a multi-movie section on the country. Some of the entries here are Mani Ratnam’s “Guru” (Hindi), “Dosar” (Bengali), “Saira” (Malayalam) and “Missed Call” (English/Hindi). But remember, this slot is what is described as “outside Cannes Film Festival’s official section”.

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Let us take a quick look at what Cannes (beginning May 16 2007) has to offer. Wong Kar Wai’s “My Blueberry Nights” will open this Queen of Movie Festivals, which will showcase the work of 13 directors who have never before vied for the top Golden Palm Award. There are 22 films in Competition.

Some of the regulars in this slot are the Coen Brothers with “No Country for Old Men”, Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof”.

Steven Soderbergh is back on the Croisette with his much-anticipated star-powered "Ocean's Thirteen" (Warner Bros.), and Michael Moore returns with his expectedly controversial health care documentary "Sicko" (Weinstein Co.). David Fincher's "Zodiac," previously tipped to be the closing movie, will also cross the Atlantic to compete for the Festival’s top prize.

While the American faces in official selections are known, the Festival’s Artistic Director, Thierry Fremaux, and his team have opted for Gallic filmmakers never before seen In Competition, including Catherine Breillat for "Une Vieille Maitresse" and Christophe Honore for "Les Chansons d'Amour."

Asian movies are a noticeable minority In Competition this year, with only Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine" and Naomi Kawase's "Mogari no Mori" making the cut.

Eastern Europe filmmakers find themselves firmly in the spotlight with two Russian movies in the running from helmers Andrey Zvyagintsev and Alexander Sokourov in addition to offerings from Hungarian, Romanian and Serbian directors.

Bela Tarr's "The Man from London," Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and Cannes regular Emir Kusturica with "Promise Me This" are all set to unspool this year.

Turkish-German helmer Fatih Akin's "Yasamin Kiyisinda" and Raphael Nadjari's "Tehelim," an Israeli production, will also be part of Cannes Competition.

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Some years ago, I went to the Ramoji Film City to watch Shyam Benegal shoot “Hari Bhari”. A few days into the shoot, I was troubled by a nagging doubt. Who was the director? Often, it seemed to me that Shabana Azmi, who had a role in the movie, was in charge, with Benegal looking on as a passive bystander. Such a picture is not quite uncommon in Indian cinema today with the star towering over the helmer. If my sources are to be believed, “Lagaan” had a defacto director in Aamir Khan. Often Kamal Hassan prevails over his directors, and Rajnikanth is not different either. Indian actors have this overriding desire to get behind the camera. They are no longer happy singing, dancing or fighting. Some are even turning producers, because they know these are the men who control not only stars, but helmers as well. The eternal beauty, Sushmita Sen, is producing a movie on Rani Laxmibhai, where she plays the lead! Looks like three-in-one. Milind Soman is set to make “Phir Zindagi”. Model-turned-actor Arjun Rampal has just produced his first film, “I See You”. Of course, he plays hero. Aamir Khan is financing “Taare Zameen Par” and “Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na”. Finally, Ajay Devgan is directing his first work, “Main Tum Aur Hum”. With good directors fast disappearing, stars have begun to rule the sets and call the shots. The result is narcissism, with the actor not letting the camera turn away from him!

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Tailpiece: Now actress Rakhi Sawant is in trouble, this time for posing with a Buddha statue in a bathtub. A Buddhist group has filed a police case in Amaravathi, Maharashtra. Earlier, actor Richard Gere, a Buddhist, was charged with obscene behaviour for kissing Shilpa Shetty. Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan are also in the dock for kissing on “Dhoom 2”. Strangely, even while celebrities are facing the wrath of India’s Rightwing moral brigade, ordinary mortals are having a whale of time: Couples can be seen writhing on the lawns of Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial, and young people often get brazenly intimate in cinemas and discos. Perhaps, the moral police feels it gets better exposure “capturing” stars.

(Webposted May 2 2007)