Saturday, September 02, 2006

Mangal Pandey , A Review, Sept 2005.

A recent bit of news item in the press states that the lead actors and makers of the Hindi film “Mangal Pandey” are being taken to court by two descendents of Mangal Pandey. Apparently the said descendents feel that the film is defamatory to the hero of the 1857 revolt.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Now, I’m just a lay viewer of movies. I have no agenda. I recently saw the film, a fortnight after its release, in the meantime having read a slew of reviews in the Indian press. Some seemed fair, many were anti and a few plain vicious (read Shobaa De’s review, Tehelka, Aug. 27).
A week later, some sequences from the film have stayed in my mind. I cannot think of any scene remotely defamatory to the real hero. In fact those featuring Heera and Mangal, have been handled with dignity and restraint. And it is obvious that Heera is just a prop to carry the story forward. Fact and fiction have of course been intertwined to provide a decent entertainer, not a great epic maybe, but definitely a watchable historical, a quiet and classy feel-good film.
Certain images linger - the opening battle sequence, the botched first attempt at hanging, all the action sequences, the Allah ballad refrain of the moving Baul singers (Kailash Kher’s rousing “Mangal Mangal”), most of the song sequences, the scene where you think Mangal is going to torch Gordon’s hand (he finally compares skin colour), the sufi song, the Mangal – sweeper confrontations (quietly funny), male bonding over Bhang (certainly not objectionable), the court scene, the penultimate scene in the hospital with Mangal and Gordon, the final hanging when Mangal gives the tiniest of smiles to Gordon before shouting Halla Bol. And yes, the transformation of Heera into a warrior.
Of course the film is not without flaws. In fact the movie seems to be a collection of exquisite scenes loosely strung together. Ketan Mehta’s effort and research show in this seventeen year labour of love, yet it does not move the viewer. I for one did not leave the theatre with a lump in my throat. However sections of the Chennai audience did clap and cheer through the 2½ hour afternoon.
Some of the contemptuous reviews in the press make me wonder if I’m too easily impressed. I don’t think so. Some people I’ve spoken to have liked the film to varying degrees, with one friend saying that she loved it. Its certainly a noble attempt at film-making when you compare it to the sex-comedies currently running in town. These are of course the big hits of the season. And what does it say for the average viewer that a no-brainer like “Mujhse Shaadi Karogi” celebrated a 50 week run? My 22 year old daughter and I tried to watch it on video. We simply could not sit through the whole film. It was brainless and boring.
So, a well – intentioned film starring a sensitive and cerebral actor gets the rap from the press public alike, while movies like “Maine Pyaar Kyun” and “No Entry” hit bull’s-eye. We get the cinema we deserve.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Book Review of Pankaj Mishra’s “Temptations of the West- How to be modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond. Published by Picador 2006.

When a reader starts quoting from portions of a book instead of remembered bits of movie dialogue, you can be sure that this reader loves this book. The reader is me, the book in question Pankaj Mishra’s latest travelogue cum memoir cum history cum philosophical tract cum political analysis.
This is not my first experience of a Pankaj Mishra book. A couple of years back I read his very first book, a hilarious account of his travels through small town India. The wryly titled “Butter Chicken in Ludhiana” brought back memories of my own small town (Jamshedpur, then Bihar) upbringing.
Uncannily enough this new book, his fourth, had the same effect right from the first paragraph. Read this: “I spent four months in Benares in the winter of 1988. I was twenty years old, with no clear idea of my future, or indeed much of anything else. After three idle, bookish years at a provincial university town, I had developed an aversion to the world of careers and jobs which, having no money, I was destined to join”
Lyrical writing, economy of language, evocative turn of phrase: “I read randomly, whatever I could find, and with the furious intensity of a small town boy to whom books are the sole means of communicating with, and understanding the larger world”. What more do you need?
How about dogged pursuit of subject, adequate research? Sample this: “The oldest among Kashmiris often claim that there is nothing new about their condition; that they have been slaves of foreign rulers since the sixteenth century when the Mughal emperor, Akbar, annexed Kashmir and appointed a local governor to rule the state”.
Then there is introspection, an attempt by the author to look at himself, a successful Indian writer and his place in the western world of books and reading: “I still felt myself on the margins writing about subjects that appeared remote from the preoccupations around me, the obsessions with food, sex, money, movies, celebrities that I saw reflected in the weekend papers in Britain”.
If like me you are sick of the Philistine nature of urban Indian media, save a few papers like The Hindu or Tehelka, this is the book for you.
You can travel with Mishra to places as far apart as Allahabad , Kashmir, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, all the way to lonely Tibet. You can read and try to understand what turns an ordinary God-fearing Muslim youth into a dreaded jihadi terrorist. Conversely there is also the attempt to understand the workings of the RSS. The book does not give all the answers; but it sure wakes up the middle-class reader’s complacency and may even question deep-rooted beliefs
And it is easy reading; there are portions that make one laugh out aloud: “In the reading room” (at BHU) “students of a distinctly criminal appearance smoked foul-smelling cigarettes and noisily played cards”.
Only one chapter disappointed me a bit- the short one on Bollywood. Assumptions are too facile and much of what is written seems dated information. Contrary to what Mishra says, Bollywood is making a few films using institutional finanace, proper scripts and new elements like synchronized sound. The chapter on Bollywood is poorly researched. I say this with authority of one who follows the media rigorously. I am not an insider, simply a lay reader who’s been noticing the positive changes Bollywood has wrought in itself.
However, leaving aside the world of Hindi Cinema, there is so much more to Mishra’s modern world. It is a book to be dipped into, savoured , read and reread. Read it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The E T Bollywood Special

The Economic Times dated Sunday 13 August had a guest editor: Filmmaker Karan Johar. Besides being an acclaimed producer-director of Hindi films, Mr.Johar is also known to be an outspoken supporter, friend, confidant, soul-mate etc. of Shahrukh Khan,the Hindi film world’s leading superstar. As I read through this particular issue of ET,I realized how closely and in tandem, the diverse worlds of films and business journalism, managed to work, benefiting each other. If any interested party manages to catch the issue on the net, fine, happy reading. For those otherwise busy/ unbothered, here’s a peek into the KJo edited ET.
Page one: A sampler of Karan’s long interview with Shahrukh; the piece is called, interestingly, foreplay. For a moment I had a feeling I was reading Cosmopolitan. Anyway, here’s the first question from Karan:2.7bn people in the world know Tom Cruise. 3.2bn people in the world know Shah Rukh Khan. Flattered, or do you think you are beyond comparison?
SRK gave a long and confusing reply to the effect that yes he was flattered, but Tom Cruise probably did more business.
Page13 had the full text of the interview. There were some good, sensible, sensitive questions and some , uh, weird ones. A few were as follows: ‘ Fifteen or sixteen years ago, when you came to Mumbai, did you think that one day, you would not be able to walk the streets of France, Germany or Poland just like today?’ SRK replied sensibly and quite wittily: Some years ago I used to shoot in Switzerland—only the cows recognized me, but now when I go to Germany and walk out of my house, I’m surrounded by 10-15 Germans.
Now here come the more amazing questions: ‘Does the loss of your crown, your throne of King Khan scare you at all? Being called a living legend—doesn’t that scare you?’
Well, besides all this there was talk about their latest film KANK. At one point SRK made this observation: ‘If you ask me, creatively, it is a great film made by perhaps one of the greatest directors of our country.’
Page1 also had more film–based items: a lead story on films still in main being a family business; the Bollywood power list according to a survey commissioned by ET, news about an international film on Buddha. Next, page2 had an interesting interview with photographer Sheena Sippy .[daughter of Sholay director Ramesh Sippy].Sheena has recently come out with a coffee-table book about the Hindi film world. The four photos that accompany the article make me want to have a dekko at the tome entitled Lights,Camera,Masala. Incidentally the book is priced at Rs 1995.
Regular Economic news on pages3,4,and 14.
Page5 had an Archie comic strip that also starred Karan Johar; funny.Also on this page was the full story about the ET commissioned survey.137 respondents from nine Indian cities,all in 20 to 40 age group were surveyed and thus was presented the latest Bollywood Power List:Amitabh Bachchan, SRK, Aishwarya Rai ,Rani Mukherjee,Lata Mangeshkar, Hritik Roshan, Aamir Khan, Karan Johar,AR Rehman,Yash Chopra—in that order. Fourteen more names followed,but there was no mention of supposedly popular names like Sonu Nigam, Saif Ali Khan, Asha Bhonsle and the like.
Page6 saw Karan in serious, soul- searching mode. Samples: ‘I’m a lonely man’.Page7 to 12 featured Bollywood money talk, Karan’s all-time fav movie list[good one featuring gems like Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulaam], sports films, Shammi Kapoor the earliest net surfer, synchronized sound and its increasing usage, film memorablia collection—all in all a pretty good collection of articles ,good change from the usual round of bulls, bears and business.
My final impression of this special collector’s issue was that it was a bit like a decent Hindi film—entertaining overall, irritating in parts.