Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Salman Khan, Frozen, Shilpa Shetty, Aag, Made in China…

Suddenly the world appears to hate celebrities, more so film stars. Millionaire actress Paris Hilton went to jail. American television star Nicole Richie and American movie actress Lindsay Lohan were incarcerated as well for driving under the influence of drugs and liquor.

Indian courts have taken the cue and begun using the hammer of celebrity justice. We saw Sanjay Dutt imprisoned, despite media and political pressure on the sentencing judge to be lenient with an actor who has reportedly reformed.

Now it is the turn of Bollywood Bad Boy, Salman Khan, whose mental and physical abuse of his former girlfriend, Aishwarya Rai, is well known. Later, he drank and ran his fancy car over sleeping pavement dwellers in Mumbai. But what finally got him was the humble blackbuck. He killed one in Rajasthan, a State whose Bishnoi community worships this deer. He is now in a Jodhpur prison.

But somehow men like Dutt and Khan manage to get around the longest of long arms of law. Dutt is out on bail, enjoying the luxuries of wealth he has amassed. Khan will probably escape as well. We must partly blame the Indian media for this, because it often salivates at the sight of celebrities, giving them larger than life spaces and playing their advocate. A leading English daily led with the Salman story last week! Now for my comment. Even if I sound harsh, I would like to say that both these men are guilty of major crimes and must serve time in jail. Period.

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Here is another entry to the Toronto Film Festival starting early September. Shivaji Chandrabhushan’s first feature, “Frozen”, paints in black and white the stark landscape of sparsely populated Ladakh. He studies this community of simple folks through the curious, often irreverent eyes of Lasya, a bubbly teenage girl essayed by Gauri. In fact, the story of “Frozen” is the story of Gauri as she grows up watching a subtle evolution around her, and Chomo, her little brother she imagines to be alive, is her sounding board.

Extremely arty and hence with little chance of opening in regular commercial cinemas, the movie most likely will be confined to festival screens. Chandrabhushan’s attempt to give his work a slight commercial edge by letting the camera play on Lasya, resplendent in rich Ladakhi costumes, does not quite work.

Lasya lives on barren terrain, complete with snow and leafless trees suggesting cold hostility, and she grows up seeing her old father, Karma (Danny Denzongpa), losing a battle with modern existence. At the local market, his handmade jams can no longer compete with factory-produced food. The enormous debts he owes scheming moneylenders (who shamelessly suggest writing off the loans in exchange for a night with Lasya) push him to the brink of soulless mountain crevices. And when the Indian army sets base close to his home, it seems like the end of the road, especially when the commanders want him to move out. Lasya is caught in this endless, irreversible conflict, but manages to skate on thin ice, bluntly refusing irresponsible sexual propositions from Romeo (Shakeel Khan) and splendidly adapting herself to the rapidly changing scenario. “Frozen” works all right, though, at a somewhat naïve level. Its locales and restrained treatment add essence to the film.

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Shilpa Shetty walked inside the Celebrity Big Brother House seven months ago, provoked racial ire, made millions of pounds, met the Queen of England and came away. But if she had hoped for Bollywood stardom, it did not happen. Not yet. However a positive fallout of the Shilpa incident has been the decision to axe the Celebrity Big Brother show. Britain’s Channel 4, which organises the annual event, said Shilpa’s awful experience had deterred celebrities from participating in the programme. Thank you Shilpa for ending something as beastly as Big Brother.

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“Ram Gopal Varma Ki Sholay” is now called “…Aag”. Amitabh Bachchan fulfils his dream to essay Gabbar Singh, immortalised in the 1975 “Sholay” by Amjad Khan. Bachchan will be Babban, but if the actor has the faintest hope of recreating the enigma of the Gabbar character, he better forget it. There could only be one Gabbar Singh, and one Amjad Khan. “Sholay”, which was a turning point in Indian cinema, proved to be a virtual cult. I daresay the movie made history largely because of Khan’s unforgettable performance and Sanjeev Kumar’s impressive presence. Can the Big B match the original? Will the latest version manage to beat or even equal the 1975 work?

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Tailpiece: Warner Brothers’ first Bollywood movie, “Made in China”, will start shoot in Beijing and Shanghai this January. Helmed by Nikhil Advani, it stars Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone. The film is packed with martial arts adventure, and the two are now being coached in a relatively unknown form called Wushu, idolised by the likes of Jackie Chan. Somebody commented that the long schedule of six months in China could provoke Akshay’s girlfriend, Twinkle, to jump over the Great Wall! Well, maybe she is learning another kind of martial arts, hi-shu, for the coming feat.

(Webposted August 27 2007)