Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…My favourites of 2007

As we get into the New Year, I would like to look back on my favourites of 2007. Well, here they are.

I just loved Director Imtiaz Ali’s “When We Met”, which reminded me of Frank Capra’s 1943 Clark Gable-Claudette Colbert romance “It Happened One Night”. Ali’s work is as delightful, though his lead characters, unlike Capra’s, use train
Shahid and Kareena
stations and bogies to meet (yes, there is even a kissing scene here, something still rare in Indian cinema), part and meet again. It is a rail movie that can well fit into the genre of a road movie. Breezy and romantic in a 1960s sense, “Jab We Met” is entertaining to the hilt, without sliding into too many coincidences and exaggerations. It really is a film that could have been made when love was innocent, when men and women were true to the commitment they made to each other. While the movie makes little pretence of attracting the serious art cinema fans, it will undoubtedly catch the eye of those who would want to spend an evening at the cinema without having to put on their thinking caps. It is bound to race on the commercial track, much like its hero and heroine.

Aditya (Shahid Kapur) is a rich industrialist who suffers business losses and is jilted by his girlfriend. Heartbroken to the point of wanting to jump off a moving train he is stopped by Geet (Kareena Kapoor), another traveller. Vivacious Geet is all set to elope with her boyfriend, Anshuman (Tarun Arora), living in the northern Indian hill resort of Manali. Later, when Aditya gets off the train in a desolate station in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night, Geet runs after him to try and coax him back into the carriage. In the process, the train – which often forms the backdrop and a kind of cue for the characters to course correct their lives -- steams away, leaving both behind on the platform. Then begins a journey that takes the pair on a roller-coaster ride through India’s heartland. Geet’s non-stop chatter and zest for life irritate Aditya, but finally draw him out of his depressive mood. The plot weaves through Geet’s own heartbreak and disappointment, but we know how the story would eventually end. In any case, we would want it that way, though a surprise or two comes as a bonus.

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Feroz Abbas Khan’s “Gandhi My Father” tries hard to place son Harial on a lofty pedestal, but fails. At the end of the film, our sympathies clearly lie with Mahatma Gandhi, whose lifelong obsession with truth and righteousness earned him the respect of millions of people, including the colonising British, but could not stop alienating his son. The man became the Father of the Nation, but not of Harilal.

Though the father sometimes appears selfish in the cinema version, putting the interests of a nation before his son’s, Harilal never rises, either in our esteem or psyche, above Gandhi. Harilal’s frustration and disappointment at having to live in the elder man’s shadow translate into unlawful activities that include shady business deals and hitting the bottle. The movie’s attempt to show him as a victim of circumstance and parental neglect gets negated largely because Khan is unable to strike the right screen balance or time between the two men. Gandhi’s scenes are longer and are a stealer, Harilal’s pales in comparison. It is Gandhi’s shame and sorrow at having failed to shape Harilal into a good human being that we remember, not quite the wayward son’s despair and dilemma.

Narrated in a series of flashbacks, “Gandhi My Father” begins with a dying Harilal in a Bombay hospital saying, to the disbelief of those around him, that he is Gandhi’s son. The movie takes us to Gandhi’s days as barrister in the early 1900s South Africa, where racism forces him into a lifelong battle against injustice. His saintly qualities of forgiveness, honesty, fairplay and duty to humanity – that compel him to overlook his son’s desires and ambition to the point of denying him a splendid opportunity to study law in England -- have been captured in highly emotional scenes. Harilal’s diffidence and his marriage to Gulab are juxtaposed with Gandhi’s own marital life with Kasturba. She invariably sees her husband’s folly in his relationship with Harilal, but chooses not to go beyond mild protest. The film comes a full circle with an alcoholic, penniless Harilal’s death five months after Gandhi fell to an assassin’s bullet in January 1948.

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Bollywood mainstream actor Aamir Khan has produced, debut directed and acted in a radically different work, “Taare Zameen Par” (Star on the Ground, being the loose translation). Choosing a learning disability like dyslexia, he goes beyond this into the realm of India’s education system that encourages bookish cramming while pooh-poohing talent which may not conform to society’s definition of the term. Raking in Rs 150 million in the opening weekend with 425 prints across the country, the film is targeted at young audiences.

On the face of it, it is a straightforward story of eight-year-old Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary), a dyslexic boy shamed and shunned by the world because he cannot keep pace with his class. His parents, Mr Awasthi (Vipin Sharma) and Maya Awasthi (Tisca Chopra), are at first bewildered because their elder son, Yohaan (Sachet Engineer), is a genius, who always gets the first rank. Later, they get angry, particularly when Ishaan bunks school and gets his brother to forge a leave letter. That is when they decide to put him in a boarding school, where things get worse for Ishaan being away from the little support he got from his mother.

Ishaan soon gives up even what he loves doing best, playing with his pet fishes or painting or just daydreaming. He withdraws into a shell, refusing to smile or even to talk to anybody. It is then that a new arts teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Khan), enters the school, understands Ishaan’s problem and gradually gets him to reconnect with his surroundings. It is disappointing that the end is so predictable, but Khan manages to convey the boy’s ache and trauma with wonderful sensitivity, telling the story by imaginatively using animation and music. There is not single jarring note or unnecessary drawing.

Next week, some of my non-Bollywood favourites.

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Tailpiece: Saif Ali Khan says Kareena Kapoor is his true love. I remember him saying the same thing about his Italian girlfriend, Rosa, and earlier about his wife, Amrita Singh. And, after all the dust they kicked up, John Abraham and Bipasha Basu have decided that they are truly made for each other, and will now marry. I wish these men and women in public limelight keep their mouths shut, instead of making such fools of themselves by uttering words they do not mean at all. Come on guys, love is a sacred relationship, not to be tossed about in cans of empty syllables.

(Webposted January 2 2008)