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Subhash K Jha’s Lockdown Blues Continued

Subhash K Jha’s Lockdown Blues  Continued
Written by Subhash K . Jha

Tanu Weds Manu(2011): Look at what Jab We Met started and Band Baaja Baaraat  precipitated! It’s a virtual melee of weddings out there! The season of filmed—and filmy– shaadis replete with Punjabi songs,swirling ghagras and fragrant mogras,jostling mandaps and hectic rituals…Gee,Gurinder Chadha’s Bride & Prejudice never seemed less prejudiced.And who wants to wait for monsoon to enjoy Mira Nair’s wedding flick?

Not that Tanu’s gath-bandhan with Manu is a festive joy for all seasons. Sometimes director Anand Rai tries too hard to let the audience enter the portals of the festivity.Sometimes you just wish the narrative wouldn’t try so hard to whip up a celebration.You tend to get stifled by the bickerings and the bacchanalia. The constant flow of parties and repartees could have done with a more restrained script doctor.

   But somewhere down the line you do begin to care for this seemingly mismatched pair…He bespectactled,sober,repressed and Indian…She,aggressive,foul-mouthed loud and unputdownable….they are bound to clash and come together.The inevitable culminating clinch is not really something we hold our breath for. But yes Tanu and Manu’s banter is  fun while it lasts.

The camera(Chirantan Das) captures the excitement with a  fair amount of gusto.The verbal exchanges could have been less wedded to pedestrian ism. But then,we can’t really expect a wedding venue to have wisdom on its menu. The core couple remains blissfully besotted by one another’s conduct.We are not quite taken up by their courtship.And we can’t  help wondering what the marriage of these two unlikely people would be like. Stormy,yes?

   The turbulence is all skin-deep.The dark undertones,the agony of so many wedding invitees and their quirks being sardined into one cohesive can-do-no-wrong, never comes through.What shines through is the songs dances and gaiety.

Tanu Weds Manu captures the ebullience of  a shaadi with  reasonable earnestness and warmth. Much of these qualities flow from Madhavan’s performance.It oozes empathy.Having played far more in-your-face characters Madhavan blends into the spirit of  bak-bak with the pleasure of an actor who just wants to stop giving showy performances. Kangna Ranaut is all over the place with her seemingly improvised moves.She is a very distant(but far louder) echo of Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met. Deepak Dobriyal saddled with the job of making the friend’s part engaging reminds us again of what a wonderful actor he is.Too bad he is not considered hero material, although after watching Ranveer Singh you wonder what defines screen heroism.

   Finally we are looking at a film that seems way too taken up with the rituals to wonder why an arranged marriage is becoming an anachronism in today’s day and age.Tanu Weds Manu gets right the small-town excitement during the time of  a marriage .The rest is all a blur of hyper-activity.Mandap mayhem has never seemed more feisty.

I  Am(2010):  How and where does one begin to describe the infinite satisfaction of watching a film that emerges from the closet with some arresting and disturbing home-truths on what goes on when the lights are off ?Tiptoeing through the darkest corridors of the human heart director Onir in I Am comes up with four stories on the question of  individual, sexual and geo-political identity.

 There are no happy beginnings or endings for any of the four protagonists in I Am. Each one creates a universe of sublime sorrow spearheaded by an inability to …well,fit in.

 Squares among circles? So be it. Onir revels in creating damaged but empathetic worlds for his four heroes…No,these are super-heroes in their resilience and determination to tackle discrimination without succumbing to their internal injuries.

 When Afia in the first story, played by the luscious Nandita Das asks her buddy Juhi Chawla if she’d lend her brother for some serious sperm banking, Juhi(who we get to know in the next story is Megha reclaiming her heritage in Kashmir) walks away in disgust.We can’t. We don’t want to. Artificial insemination gets a cinematic treatment in the story as Nandita meets her sperm donor(Purab Kohli in a timid mode).As they speak gently into the night,a warm fertile relationship grows between them in the fertility clinic. No they don’t fall in love.Where is the space for that to creep in?

The punctuations in the first story are bolder more aggressive than the other three, as though Onir wanted to get all the ‘cinema’ in his film out of the way as early as possible.

For the second story I Am Megha, Onir takes his compelling drama of the damned to Kashmir.The location is treacherously pretty.Mani Ratnam’s Dil se re dil se.The dreaded ‘m’ word stalks the streets with unrelenting impunity. Here under the shadow of militancy two dignified women, one a Kashmiri Pundit and the other a local Muslim,interact with restrained annoyance.They are upset and angry. But they won’t colour the ambience with their prejudices.

Thanks to the two actresses Juhi Chawla and Manisha Koirala who play out the Ingmar Bergmanesque drama in the deceptive tranquility of the Valley I Am Megha comes to life as a chamber-piece set in the outdoors.And if that sounds like a contradiction in terms then stick around. Onir specializes in interpreting the beauty of the world outside as a counterpoint to the squalidity that is secreted in places not visible to the human eye.

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 The third story I Am Abhimanyu on child abuse is understandably a portrait of acute complexities brought to a virile fruition by the director’s determined evasion of any self-pity in the abused child’s character. Rather, Abhimanyu(Sanjay Suri) grows up as quite a manipulator , not sure of his sexual preferences but sure that he’d milk the ambivalence of his tortured past for all that it’s worth.

Amazingly Onir goes through the three phases in Abhimanyu’s life ,as the abused child going on to  a manipulative adolescent and thence to whining adulthood,in just about 15-20 minutes of playing-time.Portable epic, indeed! This story also has the most intriguing array of actors, from Suri as the grownup permanently-wounded Abhimanyu to Zain Salam as the adolescent Abhimanyu to Anurag Kashyap as the sexual molestor ,to Shernaz Patel as the mother in denial and Radhika Apte as Suri’s bohemian sounding-board who knows she may not be able to have sex with the man she so openly loves because of his tortured past.Whose locks is it anyway?

The sexual candour of this episode makes for remarkable viewing.Onir desists from making any judgement on those who scar the wounded.And really, who are we to wonder what lies beneath the surface of the simmering sexual politics of that overrated universe known as domesticity?

 The rawest most guttural and devastating story is saved for the last. I Am Omar is a story straight out of every gay person’s favourite nightmare.While making out in a car with his newly acquired toyboy Omar(Arjun Mathur) Jai(Rahul Bose) is accosted by a vulgar homophobic cop.

 Here we must pause to note that Abhimanyu Singh as the cop on the bawdy beat comes up with the most bludgeoning performance in the film. His filthy language and his even filthier intentions towards the cowering gay man are brought out by the actor with a ferocity and clarity that provide an entirely new definition to credible characterization.

 This story is shot with the quivering conviction of  a crime reporter with a video camera who has suddenly chanced on a scene of atrocity that far exceeds his call of duty. The enormity of  the crime is represented in the beads of sweat that appear on the  victim of the police atrocity’s brow. Rahul Bose is full of righteous damnation.

The stench of fear and discrimination is the strongest in the last story, almost as if Onir wants to leave us with a  feeling of foreboding and guilty.

 This,says I Am, can happen to anyone who doesn’t conform.The isolation of the unorthodox is palpable in every precious breath that the four-storeyed tale takes. The quartet of stories are backed by the most wonderful team of actors and  technicians all working towards building an enchanting edifice of power and sex, lust and longing, loss and strands of redemption. These are not “happy” stories. How can they be? When the people in them are so intrinsically unhappy? The challenge for Onir is to make his tortured characters acclimatized to their pain and suffering without making them look like resigned victims.

You can’t really find a film that has more to say about sexual politics in the desolation of  the suburbia.If you’ve ever lived in the metropolis you are sure to have run into one or the other of these characters.

 I Am brims over with the indignation of discrimination. But there is no room for hysteria or melodrama in the storytelling. Though all four stories are shot by one cameraman Arvind Kannabiran,each one conveys its own mood texture and urgency.Though all are joined at the hip each story has its own unique rhythm There are no empty symbolic gestures of reconciliation and pacification in this world of disaffected derelicts. The emptied-out world of the four protagonists is filled with the noises of smothered pain.Each protagonist carries his burden of guilty and grief to the last.

 There is no getting away from the despair. But there is no sense of pessimism in the telling of the stories. That’s the beauty of this little gem of a film. You get affected. But you don’t lose hope.At the end of the tunnel there is  a beam of light.You can’t miss it.

Shor In The  City(2010): I saw the future of Hindi cinema. And it’s got a  name. Shor In The City. They say Mumbai never goes to sleep.Catching the restless on-the-edge mood of  a city and its people who refuse to fall off that edge of the hurling local train that takes thousands of destinies every day to their work and then back home,Shor throws forward the kind of seductive  cinema that makes you think about the quality of life we all lead, irrespective of the city that we occupy, or rather, the city that occupies us.

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 Mumbai, in co-directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK’s scheme of things, is that giant monster that consumes everything that moves. The characters are all casualties of that traffic-jam freedom that comes to a commuter stranded in the middle of a  highway in a car with nowhere to go and nothing to do with time than to spend it in idle retrospection(with or without music playing in the background).

The mood of this tense clenched and thoroughly gripping humane thriller is so spiritedly Mumbai-centric you applaud the director’s vision after the last shot of the work swishes by. The rapid movements of images of extreme emotional crises and the ensuing violence, are so skillfully put forward you don’t feel you are being manipulated into staying riveted to the screen.You flow with the frenzied pace of a people whose lives are out of control.

 Shor In The City pins you down to its brilliant screenplay from the first frame when we see the three waylaid youngsters Tusshar,Nikhil Diwedi and Pitobash negotiate the crowded streets of  Mumbai in search of prey. The characters work both as predators and as victims. They feel the gun gives them the right of way when in fact the traffic snarl of life has got them by their balls.

There are three protagonists with their ‘Mumbai’ stories to tell. Sawan (Sundeep Kishan) wants to play national-level cricket. Tilak(Tusshar) wants to give up a life of crime to focus on reading and housekeeping(in that order).But the most interesting strand in the lucid lineup of conflicted characters is the NRI Abhay(Sendhil Ramamurthy) whose dreams of setting up his own business in the city are turned into a  nightmare by goons who muscle into his work- place and  life with menacing insidiousness.

 The interaction between the NRI and the goons is chilling to the core.So real because they are sound so  unrehearsed. Abhay’s lapse into a life that he had probably left behind, is charted in a zigzag of  humour and irony.

 The pace is so relentless,we don’t even get a chance to applaud the even narration that defines these jagged lives as they hurl towards a karma that we are not allowed to guess. The co-directors  succeed in remaining many steps ahead of the audience.The masterly editing(Ashmith Kunder) and the moody earthy cinematography(Tushar Kanti Ray) aids the director in building a conflagration of compelling montages that add up to a climax that doesn’t quite add-up…and rightly so. There are no neat conclusions to these lives that are stuck in their desperate bid to escape their karma.

 Karma, the theme song tells you, is a bitch. Watching the people who move through their designated anguish with such furious fluency,you have to agree with the opinion that destiny deals a bitchy blow to most working-class people in the cities.

  Shor In The City is a work suffused in an inspiring glory.The characterization is so precise and the dialogues so perfectly attuned to the minds and hearts of the characters you wonder which came first. The people in the film. Or the film itself.

I have not seen a film so filled with credible performances in a while. Even the smallest cameo is done by the perfect face and personality.Whom do we single out without doing injustice to the rest?But yes, Tusshar as the bad-boy finding salvation in books and wife gives an interesting spin  to his character.This is a far cry from his over-the-top Golmaal escapades. Nikhil Diwedi and newcomer Pitobash as Tusshar’s accomplices are entirely in tune with their characters blending so well with the milieu you are sure no one gave any of these actors a second glance on the streets of Mumbai where the script often ventures out.

Sundeep Kishan as the boy who wants to play cricket and get married brings a certain simplicity to the tangled goings-on. You could say he’s the voice of innocence in the  cacophony of selfserving diabolism. Among the female characters Radhika Apte as Tusshar’s simple but strong wife reminded me of Tabu in Viraasat.

There are stand-out cameos by Amit Mistry(as a street goonda who specializes in organizing dharnas), Zakir Hussain(as an extortionist) and  several other actors who bleed a brilliance into the plot for just fleeting moments before vanishing into the crowds of Mumbai.

 Yes, the city has been savage and inviting before in the cinema of Raj Kumar Santoshi and Ram Gopal Varma. But never so funny. There’s a moment when a little boy whose foot Tusshar thinks has been blown away by a mistimed bomb,stands and dances in the Ganpati visarjan.

 That moment defines the cutting edge of the humour in Shor In The City. If Mumbai is troubled by violence and greed it survives so splendidly because it never takes its problems  to heart.

 Don’t miss this outstanding ode to   the city of dreams, goons, guns and glory.

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