Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Valentine's Day

Teen daughter: What did you and Dad do for Valentine’s Day, when you were engaged?
Me: Nothing, there was no Valentine’s Day then. (Meaning, there was no hype in India those days)
Teen son: Er---you were around before St. Valentine?
This is the same boy who once (as a four year old) asked me if there were dinosaurs around when I was a kid!
I feel sixty-five million years old!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Some Questions

Is it necessary to be in a constant state of angst to be a “good writer”?
Can a happy-go-lucky person write meaningful literature?(Wasn’t P G Wodehouse an easygoing type?)
Can good writing be about ordinary everyday events, frustrations and small desires?
Can a novel be enjoyable without the backdrop of some earth-shaking event?
Can a book be published without the writer having a burning desire for such an outcome? Rather than a mild feeling of ”It would be nice if this were published.”?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Rang de Basanti: Aamir, you owe me 75 bucks

Now that it’s been a week since RDB was released I can safely write about it. I saw it the other day at a multiplex. Each ticket costs Rs 150. (And we were a family of five!). I mention this, because in an informal session with members of the public on NDTV, Aamir Khan and his fellow actors stated (jokingly, of course) that “if you don’t like the movie, I’ll return your money!” So, I’d like my Rs 75 back please, because I liked only the first half. Actually it is not so much liking the first half as strongly disliking the second half.

Everyone knows by now, that the movie is about five young men who are drifting in life, and they find a mission in clearing the name of a friend who dies in a MIG-21 crash and is blamed for it, whereas the actual culprits are the dealers and politicians who buy substandard parts for the aircraft. Wonderful theme.

Music: Beautiful(ARR after all!) Especially the track that accompanies their mobike racing, was pure adrenaline pumping. Lyrics: sparkling, refreshingly out of the ordinary.

Aamir Khan is not the sole hero. All of them are heroes, not sidekicks. The treatment is very today, no ‘dialogues’, no dramebaazi. The hero doesn’t fell ten men with a single blow. On the contrary, he gets thrown out of the ring in a village wrestling match by an eight foot tall wrestler (well he looked eight feet tall!). Aamir has worked on a Punjabi accent, not forgetting the choice Punjabi cuss words! After passing out of Delhi University, his character DJ still remains a simple son of a dhaba owner. The latter being Kirron Kher, playing yet again the loud Punjabi with ease(remember Hum Tum?). Before that it was the feisty Bengali in Devdas. I would like to see an understated, subtle performance by her some time. Her character is typical ”Jewish mother” bent upon feeding everybody until they are ready to explode.
In choosing Waheeda Rehman to play the mother of the young pilot, the filmmaker has made things easy for himself---Waheeda brings grace and dignity to the role just by being herself. She shows iron strength at the funeral, but when her son’s trunk full of his possessions is brought home, she almost collapses. Nice touch, that.
Anupam Kher and Om Puri are wasted in their roles as fathers of two of the boys. No opportunity for their immense talent.
The alternating between the present and the sepia past was interesting---that technique is a personal favourite, so I may be biased.

Aamir is vulnerable. One night he confesses to Sue that he sticks around in college even five years after passing out, because here he is “somebody”. He has some “aukaat”. But in the outside world, he would be a nobody. Now, though that shows him in a human light, it has the makings of a loser.

And that’s what they all are---losers. It was soooo disappointing, the way they dealt with the problem. It was downright dangerous, all the more so because the protagonists are not supermen, they are ordinary people. Somehow, in a regular Bollywood film, when the hero does a back somersault from the ground onto a balcony, takes on all comers single-handedly and then kills all the baddies, the killings are taken with a pinch of salt, just like the stunts are. But here, because the heroes, the conversations, the situations are so real, the “solution” might be taken as possible too. And then they turn around and say, “We are not terrorists”. Of course they are! Our run of the mill terrorists also call themselves freedom fighters. That doesn’t change the fact that they kill.

DJ and co. in RDB differ from terrorists in that they don’t kill innocent people. But that’s about all. It cannot be a justification. The very fact that they easily resorted to slaying, shows how weak they were. Did they explore other avenues? Did they try a sting operation? Did Karan try to tap his dad’s phone and record the dubious arms deals? They had a movie camera at their disposal, for heavens sake! Did they try to garner support for the dead Madhavan by getting testimonials from his senior officers? They could have made a secret tape, then taken over a TV station and telecast it. That would have taken care of the drama element. When they take over the radio station, their college friend is on air, but we were told earlier he was on the graveyard shift—midnight to 6 a.m. So how did they get so many listeners? OK, maybe some owls were listening and woke up the larks, and by then it was early morning.

They say, “Join the IAS, IPS, and reform the system,” but why don’t they do so themselves? Because they have not really studied in college (a fact they are very proud of!) It needs brains and a lot of hard work to join these elite services, which they are not willing to put in. Also, it symbolizes the instant gratification that seems to be the order of the day---they cannot invest time in finding a solution, hence—gun down the cause of trouble.
There is a thread of weak moral fibre running through the characters. The impression one is left with at the end is that acting in Sue’s documentary made them believe they were our revolutionaries reincarnated, and could repeat those actions and no questions asked. Especially when Soha repeats her lines from the documentary, “Kill them.”

Where is the angst they are supposedly feeling? They just state that the state of the country is horrible. Have they tried looking for jobs and failed? Have they stood in lines endlessly? No, they refuse to leave the cocoon of the campus---they are putting off entering the real world. Contrast with the controlled anger and frustration of Sunny Deol and his friends in “Arjun”. There was the added humiliation of realizing that one has been used as a pawn in the politicians’ game. Something similar happens to Atul Kulkarni’s character in RDB, but it is not taken forward.
By all means, make them martyrs to keep the historic parallel, but after they do something intelligent and right, not after they kill two people in cold blood!

Yet---whimsical montages---when General Dyer’s image is replaced by the Defence Minister’s, and Madhavan is being shot at—he walks towards the guns, puzzled, saying, “Hey you are ruining my sexy bomber jacket!” Aslam, the gentle pacifist, who cannot conjure up hate at will, like his brother urges him to. Upset, he pushes open the door of his room—and emerges on the other side, as Ashfaqullah Khan, spouting poetic dialogues.

Looks department: Aamir Khan needs a facelift, if he wants to continue playing a 26 year old. And watch those close-ups: I could see white stubble! Madhavan needs to lose weight; he’s looking too chubby---so also in the TV program “Deal ya no deal”.

Promising: The actors who played Aslam,(so handsome---can we look forward to a nice romantic movie? And a sparkling comedy?) and Karan. The latter has potential which his baby face belies---he could even cultivate an underlying menace.

Common thread running through Lagaan, Mangal Pandey and RDB: One sympathetic Britisher at least. Also, underlining Hindu-Muslim unity.

Summing up:A brilliant idea derailed midway.