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Pankaj Kapoor’s 5 Finest Movies

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Pankaj Kapoor's 5 Finest Movies

My favourite  film critic Roger Ebert wrote this   about one  of  American cinema’s luminaries: “The Japanese name some of their artists Living Treasures. Sidney Lumet is one of ours. He has made more great pictures than most directors have made pictures, and found time to make some clunkers on the side.”  Pankaj  Kapoor too has made many mistakes, like  Raam Jaane  and Matru Ke Bijli  Ka Mandola(no relation to Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety). And his  stab at direction in Mausam  was  an unmitigated  creative  and  commercial disaster.But when Pankaj is  brilliant he is  incomparable. Try for these  for sighs.

1.     Ek Doctor Ki Maut(1990): Be warned: Pankaj Kapoor(PK)’s  finest  performance as  a brilliant doctor struggling against red-tapism and  cynicism is contained in a dreadfully boring  film. It takes  herculean  skills to make  such an interesting story  so dull and lifeless.  But Bengali  director Tapan Sinha  managed  the  miracle. Directors  should not make films in a language they don’t understand. Tapan Sinha’s Hindi films Zindagi Zindagi and Ek Doctor Ki Maut  are proof it. This one survived solely on  the  basis of PK’s National award winning performance. As  Dr  Dipankar Roy, the actor imparted a life  so  lived  into the character  it felt like  a documentary.Shabana  Azmi as his supportive wife was  also  excellent.  Decades  later the pair came together in Vishal  Bhardawaj’s awful Matru Ke Bijli Ka Mandola to remind us of  how  good they were together  in their earlier  film.At a time when civilization is gripped by a pandemic this gritty story of a doctor  struggling to establish the  genuineness  of his vaccination against leprosy has acquired a  renewed relevance.

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2.     Kamla Ki Maut(1989):  A  woman dies, and the whole neighbourhood goes into an introspective tizzy. This atypical Basu Chatterjee  film was a scathing  exploration  of  middleclass  morality.  PK was  brilliant as a study  of middleclass mores. PK played Sudhakar an over-sexed  whitecollar charlatan who develops a sexual relationship with a string of women, one  of them played  by  Supriya Pathak who later became  PK’s wife. This  is a fearless performance filled with moral suppression and raging  hormones.

3.     Maqbool(2004): Playing Tabu’s aging unforgiving  husband   Pankaj Kapur as  Jahnagir  Khan is a revelation. His expressions of steely revenge melt into displays of utter compassion for his enchanting wife. Kapur corroborates Bollywood’s myopic disregard for its truly outstanding performers. Maqbool transports us to a threshold of pain and redemption hitherto unknown to Hindi cinema. Because this is Shakespeare’s Macbeth trans-located to Mumbai’s underworld, and because Bharadwaj has selected a dream cast to portray his nightmarish world of crime and retribution, Maqbool takes its emotional content to new heights.

4.     Dharm(2007): Pundit Chaturvedi is  a potbellied, bare-torsoed symbol of religiosity who could easily have become a parody in lesser hands. The debutant director’s penetrating take on  how  grim  is  the grass in  the land of the divine and  the crass, wouldn’t  have worked were it not for Pankaj Kapoor in the central role.  As  the head priest caught in a terrible dilemma  that questions his entire ethos and commitment  to  society and religion, Kapoor ceases to be an actor  once the camera switches on. Let’s stand up and applaud the actor  for this reformist mellow drama. Dharm could’ve been screechy, preachy and jarringly sanctimonious. Instead, it affords us a look into the soul of a wounded civilization thanks  to PK’s  pungent powerful  performance.It is an old fashioned typewritten transcribed screenplay ,reminiscent in many ways of Yash Chopra’s four-decade old “Dharmputra”, written in words that are meant to reach into the remotest corners of the stoniest modern hearts.

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5.     Happi(2010):  This  is a film that will go down in history as  India’s only genuine tribute to the genius  of Charlie Chaplin. Doing the homage,never an  impersonation, the  great Pankaj Kapoor immerses himself in the  character  of the capricious  naïve pure-hearted  Happi , a chawl dweller who is the brunt of ridicule in  an  Iranian  club where he  sings and does stand-up comedy to eke   out a living.He is fairly ridiculous. But happy when humoured.The sequences in the smoky  club find  Pankaj Kapoor at the peak of puckishness.That’s where Happi comes alive.As  socio-cultural changes overpower Happi’s life,  he looks around in utter bewilderment at a world he no longer knows. It is a heartbreaking situation to be in.  Pankaj Kapoor  constructs a Chaplineque pathos  in  Mumbai’s bustling chawls where callousness is a way of life. If you can’t cope, you perish. Or  otherwise  you become the Joker.More than a portrait of  a rapidly mutating metropolitan  environment  Happi shows us how cruel  human beings can be to someone  who is not   uncorrupted enough to understand when he is being mocked. The  sequence where  the club gets Happi  drunk and watches him perform a silly dance is  heartbreaking. Pankaj Kapoor’s Happi  is what Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker becomes when left to be annihilated  by his own desolation.

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