Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lootera: A Bollywood Miracle

I just saw Vikramaditya Motwane's Lootera this morning. This was one Sunday morning well spent :)
Partly based on O Henry's short story 'The Last Leaf', Vikram Motwane's Lootera is a poignant story about love, fate and sacrifice. While O Henry's story dwells on the idea of death and the affirmation of life, creating characters and a story foregrounded in Bengal at the end of the colonial era and feudalism was a narrative decision that displayed pure genius on the part of the film's writers. Scripted by  Bhavani Iyer and Motwane, Lootera recreates the mixture of aristocratic decay, nostalgia followed by the emergence of a new class and the proliferation of the popular that marked the years around the Independence. What the film excels at is not just  the portrayal of a beautiful love story but  also the invocation of an entire historical age in a few celluloid frames that do not take away from the theme.

Barun Chanda, a wealthy zamindar fails to see, even on the repeated counsels of his Majumdar, how the Government's Zamindar Act will strip him of his lands. He is further taken advantage of by Varun,(Singh) who poses as an archaeologist and robs him and leaves his daughter Pakhi (Sonakshi) in the lurch on the wedding day. In the second half, the film portrays Pakhi living out her days after the death of her father until fate brings Varun back to her. The ensuing story unfolds as the two lovers face each other and the law catches up with Varun.

 The first half of the film is as much about class differences as it about two robbers clandestinely  robbing a wealthy Zamindar.  The film itself opens to the pomp and gusto of Durga Puja followed by a drama during which the Majumdar advises the Zamindar to establish a trust with his money. The debate between the naive Zamindar and the practical Majumdar is taken up later in the film between  Pakhi and the Majumdar's daughter. But Pakhi also seems to live in the same oblivious haze as her father as she does not try to find out more. Her driving escapade sees her bullying the driver into taking the blame for the accident.
Even the 'archeologists' Dev and Varun make fun of the Zamindar with his English interjections like 'Of course.' At the same time, Dev and Varun have to deceive the Zamindar's labourers and find themselves trying to explain why they want to dig. 'We are digging because there is earth!'  tells Dev comically to the villagers squatting in front of him. While the Zamindar clings on to the remnants of colonialism through his English and his Western music, the very next scene has a Bollywood song playing on the radio. The juxtaposition of two Indias and two classes becomes strikingly clear with Dev's obsession with Dev Anand and the latest Bollywood films that represent the emergence of the popular and the middle class.

The Zamindar, a 'Romantic' product of the Bengali Renaissance, tells his daughter the story of the Bheel Raja who kept his life 'locked' in a pigeon. Although the Zamindar is afraid of his daughter's wheezing attacks and says that his life is 'locked' in her, it is eventually being robbed and betrayed by an imposter that kills him. Motwane skillfully weaves in this O Henry idea of investing life in an external object and negates it. Varun, who reciprocates Pakhi's feelings but cannot leave his old way of life because of his debt to his uncle, is forced to deceive Pakhi. 'You  have always lived opulently in these four walls. You cannot know what it is like to have a debt' he explains his actions to her. In the end, we suspect the love story is as much about circumstances as about ways of life and class differences. The villain in this story is not the unrelenting orthodox family that opposes the lovers but the law. The lovers are doomed to stay apart from the very start not because they come from different circumstances or classes but because the law can never overlook Varun's deeds. In that sense, the theme resonates with Les Miserables. The only thing that redeems Varun is his supreme sacrifice for Pakhi, making amends for her condition and giving her a reason to continue to live. This is certainly a most brilliant adaption in parts of O Henry's story.

 Sonakshi has matured from Dabbang's trophy wife into an actress skillfully capable of portraying feminine frivolousness as well as intense anguish and pain. Her futile attempts at writing in to the Dalhousie scenes speak for her ability to portray depth of emotion and it is a pity directors make more use of her 'traditional' face instead of these skills. Ranveer Singh's performance is commendable and is brilliantly supported by the inimitable Vikrant Massey who is already a small screen legend. From elements of Bhansali's celluloid master strokes, to Anurag Kashyap's insightful characterization and Dibakar Bannerjee's new-humanist style, this film has bits and pieces of all that comprises Bollywood today and yet stands in a league of its own which promises to be unmistakably Vikram Motwane. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Project READ

Surfacing after an eon and hoping that the incubation period has enhanced my creativity. Suddenly I find myself overwhelmed by the need to make my reading orderly. I have been struggling for some time now to create a proper reading list instead of randomly reading whatever piques my interest. With the eventual goal of pursuing a doctorate, my aim is first of all to find out what I am interested in. I know, this is something I ought to know by now. Yes, but this is an attempt to raze down all that I have in order to start from scratch in an orderly manner. So every week or fortnight, I will be updating my read list and foray in writers in today's world.
I think that it is simpler and more relevant for me to follow the writing that is happening in today's world at this moment instead of tracing masterpieces decade by decade and reading history. I've tried that and somehow I've lost interest. It seems to me that the kind of writing that is going on these days is a lot more fun and whatever is fun stays with you. When it comes to something like literature, the best of it is done and enjoyed without too much mental work. So now my job's to come up with realistic goals for the month. I am already onto Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of a Day, which is the last of my random reading although it would have inevitably found its way in my read list. After I am done with this book, plan to chart more writers for the coming months. Till then, good night!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ghanchakkar: Trying too hard

Director: Raj Kumar Gupta
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Vidya Balan, Rajesh Sharma, Namit Das

Raj Kumar Gupta, director of the critically acclaimed Aamir (2008) and No one Killed Jessica (2011) fails to stir the box office with his newest venture Ghanchakkar starring unlikely duo Emraan Hashmi and Vidya Balan. While the film is as much about marital problems as about a bank heist booty gone missing, the only thing that salvages an erratic script and half-baked characterization is the generous dose of black comedy along the lines of Jane Bhi Do Yaaron or Is Raat Ki Koi Subah Nahi.
Sanju (Hashmi) a reluctant robber agrees to pull off a bank heist with two rogues Pundit (Sharma) and Idris (Das) to please his fashion-obsessive, boisterous Punjabi wife Neetu (Vidya) who wants money to live a better life. After the robbery, the trio decides to lie low for three months and let Sanju hide the money. Things take a turn when Sanju loses his memory after an accident and cannot remember where he stashed the loot.
True to its name, the film tries to portray each character’s quirkiness from Neetu’s outrageous sense of fashion to Sanju’s somnolent memory loss and Pundit and Idris’ comic-evil personas. The film’s redemption lies in the way it elicits fun in the most unlikely situations. The robbers wear paper masks of Amitabh Bacchan, Dharmendra and Utpal Dutt to loot the bank, Idris and Sanju discuss TV models on the phone at a crucial moment in the plot; from Neetu’s cooking to phone-calls from Sanju’s mom and the vegetable man on the train, the domestic drama that ensues as Pundit and Das shift into Sanju’s house is a laugh riot at times and downright insipid at others.

With side-splitting performances from Rajesh Sharma and Namit Das, one wonders how much better the film would have fared had the gap between scripting and filming been effectively bridged. The first half is definitely tighter and racier while the film slumps in the second half and jolts to a halt with an abrupt ending.  Although the climax is intended to have the audience linger in the murky aura of black comedy, what remains is a sense of suspicion that in spite of strong lead performances and supporting roles, maybe the movie didn’t get its act right this time.