Monday, August 27, 2007

Eklavya: Movie Review

Watching a movie on television is not usually my idea of an ideal way to spend a Sunday evening. But yesterday, I plonked myself down in front of the TV while the Guy kindly made dinner. Eklavya was just starting. (Let me digress here to say how rare it is to catch a movie when it’s starting. There are so many movies which I love and have watched more than once on TV and never managed to catch the beginning of. Also, with my attention span for television, I have rarely watched entire movies on TV in the last few years.)

Going back to Eklavya. The opening scene gripped me. The Guy, on the other hand, found it predictable and refused to sit and watch with me, preferring virtual conquests in The Age of Empires to sitting by my side… but that’s another story.

The cinematography was magnificent. You feel the grandeur of the fort, the darkness of the story, the passage of time as clouds sweep past the building… I had a feeling of vertigo with one shot of the upper part of a building with clouds moving swiftly over it, creating an illusion of the building floating in mid-air.

The story was all right, maybe even good. It certainly makes you want to find out what happens next (and I, unlike the Guy did not think it was predictable. But then I’m more of a sucker for dramatic stories).

Boman Irani, as usual, was terrific. His was a complex character, grandiose and evil, yet seeming vulnerable and short-sighted at times. I don’t think anyone else could have played it so convincingly.

Jackie Shroff reminded me so much of his role in Mission Kashmir that it put me off his performance totally. But yet I cannot point out one thing he did wrong. I liked Jimmy Shergil in a different role for him, in contrast to the nice-guy roles he so convincingly portrays. He established himself as the cool bad guy very effectively in his limited screen time. Saif was good. Again, I feel he has played such roles before (Being Cyrus came to mind when his dark side came to the fore, and he has played the rich young heir – though not prince – in Parineeta), but there is no flaw I could find in his acting.

Amitabh Bachchan was – well, as good as he usually is. That is, I found nothing new here, again. He seems to show off a bit – but that seems the filmmaker’s vanity, not his.

I loved Sanjay Dutt’s portrayal of an untouchable who worked his way up to becoming the DSP of the local police – I loved the arrogance, the earthiness, and the triumph in the character.

I see I haven’t mentioned the women. Perhaps because they seemed peripheral, like the spectators of a drama that unfolds before them. Both Vidya Balan and Raima Sen were convincing in their roles. I liked Raima’s portrayal of a mentally disturbed young woman. Call me dense, but in the first scene it took me a few moments to realise she was not quite right in the head – which tells me that the acting was measured and subdued.

One scene I did not enjoy was Eklavya showing his skill by throwing his knife (or dagger or sword or whatever) blindfolded at a dove and cutting off the bells tied to it. For one, I thought the scene was melodramatic. Also, as an animal lover, it sickened me. The guy’s aim might be impeccable, but what if the bird turns in flight and comes right in the way of the blade? The whole thing seemed implausible. And then it suddenly cut to a flashback of Eklavya’s mother giving him the knife and making him promise to do his duty… I was as unconvinced as Eklavya when he wonders why he recalled it then. And Mita Vasisht seems wasted in her few-second appearance as Eklavya’s mother.

Perhaps the fact that I can find little to comment on the actors reveals how much of himself the filmmaker stamped on the movie. There was no false note, no unconvincing portrayal. There was a lot of evil, but I find evil more convincing than good, and grey more real than black or white.

Yet, when I watched it through to the end, the movie – though interesting and well-made – seemed to fall short of great. Yet I cannot point out what was missing. Perhaps the fact that I could not sympathise with any of the characters (except perhaps the DSP, but he is peripheral to the story), who seem caught in a time warp and warped (bad pun, I know) by the little world they live in. Or maybe in spite of my cynical assertion that evil is more convincing than good, I am a romantic at heart and want an all-out idealist hero.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Goodbye, My Friend

In you, after a long time, I found a friend.
With you I found fragments of girlhood I had lost.

I let go, for a moment, of my stoicism, my cynicism
I rediscovered that I like to giggle, to gossip, to be silly.

I, who am so rooted in reality,
experienced walking on air.

For a few short days, I had a girl friend again.
And now I have a sheet of paper on my wall to remember you by.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Happy Independence Day

I don't usually own up to patriotism. It seems so old-fashioned and déclassé. I resent the very premise that my country might be better than yours. I reject tradition and doubt the oft-extolled greatness of India - or at least the argument that its greatness in the past should make me any more proud to live in it now.

Yet, my heart skips a beat whenever I hear the Jana Gana Mana sung. I have dearly wished, these last couple of years, to have a tricolour to unfurl in my balcony or hang in my living room, to be put aside carefully for next year when the day ends. Sadly, I have not obtained one. My fault for not trying hard enough, doubtlessly, and for not remembering early enough before the holiday - yet it makes me wonder why we don't have them selling at every store, at the swanky malls, at the modern superstores. All you see are the horrible plastic versions selling at traffic intersections: none of those full-sized, sedate khadi ones. We had one of those in my parents' home. We used to bring it out religiously every Independence and Republic Day morning, unfurl it in our garden or balcony - a family ritual as strictly followed as my mom baking a cake on our birthdays. I remember standing in front of our building and looking in pride at our balcony which was the only one with a flag fluttering conspicuously - and perhaps dangerously in a state where the ULFA inevitably declared a bandh on the day and violence sometimes disrupted celebrations.

My dad used to wake us up - if we were lazy enough to be still in bed - to watch the official ceremony on television. Later, he would make sure to hoist the flag at home before going out to attend the hoisting - or to do it himself - in a more public venue: he was a professor at a government college for most of the years of his career and a principal at another for the remaining few.

Is all this emotional legacy the reason why I want to put up a flag at home? It is uncharacteristic of me to want to display any traditional symbols: I tend to believe that what is, is inside you and outward manifestations are usually a sham. Yet, putting up a flag seems a blow against convention in a world where patriotism is unfashionable and boring.

I wonder if my mother will dust out the old flag again this year. I know my day will seem a little empty without singing Jana Gana Mana under the fluttering tricolour.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Blue Umbrella: Movie Review

My favourite filmmaker has disappointed me again. I went to see The Blue Umbrella hoping for more of his magic, but - while it was doubtless a good film - it fell short. Once again, while the cinematography was haunting, the story failed to grip me. I found it rather too slow for a children's movie, with none of the lightheartedness of Makdee. I haven't read Ruskin Bond's original story, so can't compare it with the movie, but in spite of a wonderful performance by Pankaj Kapur, the movie failed to touch me. The music was good, though not great, the songs seemed forced, the children looked silly dancing in perfect tandem, the make up on the little girl was glaring.

Given the woeful state of children's films in India, The Blue Umbrella, with all its flaws, is definitely welcome. But with my hero-worship of the director, not to mention my intense admiration of Ruskin Bond, I had expected more magic. Maybe not the perfection of Makdee, but - who am I fooling? I had expected another Makdee, just as I'd hoped for another Maqbool in Omkara. But the guy seems to have lost his touch.

Next time I want to watch a Vishal Bharadwaj movie, I'll sit home and watch a DVD of Maqbool or Makdee.

Friday, August 10, 2007

And the Award for Best Husband Goes to – the Guy!

You guessed it – this is one of those posts where I go all-out sentimental. So stop reading now if you can’t stand mush.

Today is the two-year anniversary of something special, of a phone call that resumed our friendship and lead to everything that followed. Which is the excuse I’m going to use to extol some of the Guy’s many excellent qualities. Top that off with the fact that he has been exhibiting his best behaviour lately. So I’m going to show him off unabashedly and make all you women jealous.

The Guy had been away for a month, for work purposes. And he brought me back a whole load of stuff, and – to our common surprise, all the clothes fit me perfectly. And I love each piece. Which also went to tell me how much thought and effort must have gone into all of that. From a guy who hates shopping. I still can’t get over the fact, and am in a glow of contentment all day whenever I’m wearing – as right now – one of those garments.

Living away from me also drove him to appreciate – not my cooking (which he appreciates vocally enough, with gentle prompting) so much as the fact that he can now cook. Given that all he could cook slightly over a year ago was upma (which is admittedly, delicious, and which, therefore, I have always left to him) and that when I would ask him to put the cooker on the gas he would place it carefully on the burner and neglect to turn the gas on, this was a big achievement. (And a testimony to my careful training(!)) So he impressed his colleagues by whipping up (reportedly) delicious meals. And he has been practising his new-found skills since he got back. I feel like purring like a contented cat. What more could a woman want?

And then, a few days ago, he surpassed himself. He was at home nursing a backache, and asked me to let him know when I would be home so he could get dinner ready. I did not comply, because after all, he was home to rest, not strain his back standing at the kitchen counter. So, after the initial disappointment of finding me home earlier than he expected, he unleashed a flurry of activity, and hustled me firmly out of the premises. And my Guy presented me with an elaborate candlelit dinner, delicious and carefully presented on our best crockery.

He has since been ignoring my nudging him to take a few months off from work and rest himself at home…