Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts...Gandhi My Father, National Awards, Monica Bedi, Bergman...

Feroz Abbas Khan’s “Gandhi My Father”, which opened on August 3, rolls into virgin ground by placing son Harilal on a pedestal. A lofty idea, indeed, but a trifle hard to translate it into film. Gandhi was a phenomenon, and it would need another phenomenon to eclipse him. So despite Khan’s best efforts, the son fails to emerge from the dark and forbidding clouds. Gandhi may not have been an ideal parent – or even a great husband – but he played perfect Father to the Nation.

Akshaye Khanna as Harilal
Though the father often appears selfish in the cinema version, putting the interests of the nation before his son’s, Harilal never rises, 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
gandhi-3.jpg
Bhumika Chawla
Harilal in a Mumbai 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 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 falls to an assassin’s bullet in January 1948.

The movie’s highpoint is performance. It is incredible how a flashy Bollywood star like Akshaye Khanna has been tamed into a mellow and shy Harilal. This is probably his best role till date. Equally amazing is the way Darshan Jariwala, known for his comic, theatre parts, has been moulded into an imposing, controlled Gandhi. The women have little to do, but Bhumika Chawla as Harilal’s wife, Gulab, injects a spark into her character that cannot be easily missed.

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The National Film Awards for 2005 have been just announced, a clear delay of two years. A member on the jury moved court alleging that the prizes were “fixed”. The petition was dismissed by the Delhi High Court a few days ago. Without passing my judgement on the jury’s choices – because I feel they are highly subjective depending on the mood and mind of the panellists – I firmly believe that there is much to be desired as far as selection of members goes. I have written several times that the Directorate of Film Festivals, which is in charge of the National Awards, must rope in big names. Often the Directorate fails here, because it waits, either by design or compulsion, till the eleventh hour to send its invitations. Most people refuse, because of their prior commitments. I remember the Directorate asking me to serve on the National Jury virtually hours before the screenings were to begin in New Delhi. And I was not even living in New Delhi! The result of such royal bungling is so damn predictable: the jury includes people not qualified to be there, and they can be somebody’s bored wife or even a politician. Now for god’s sake, what do they know about cinema! Sadly the National Awards continue to be a scandal.

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Bollywood’s flirtation with the underworld and the unlawful is no less of a disgrace. Sanjay Dutt, who has been jailed for six years for possessing and later destroying an AK 56 assault rifle, continued to be associated with gangsters long after his earlier 16-month incarceration ended in 1994. In 2001, an audiotape of his conversation with a don surfaced. The actor escaped because audiotapes are not admissible as evidence in court. Bollywood hunk Salman Khan may also spend time in jail if the August 24 verdict on poaching blackbuck in Rajasthan goes against him. And now Monica Bedi, Abu Salem’s girlfriend, is all set to act in a Bollywood movie. She just walked free after being acquitted in a fake passport case. Salem is the principal accused in the 1993 Mumbai bomb explosions, and is also said to have supplied the gun to Dutt. But Monica says she has nothing to do with Abu. Not any more, and has become a good girl. Bollywood stands innocent at least on this count.

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The death of Ingmar Bergman was, to the point of sounding clichéd, a great loss to cinema. He was 89, and was living all by himself on the Island of Faro, off the Baltic coast of Sweden. Bergman used his own bleak life, with its divorces and unfulfilled relationships, as ideas, themes and plots for his films. Pain and suffering were often the hallmark of his cinema. He often tormented his viewers with guilt and the evils of religion. In his movies, the world is a place where faith is tenuous; communication, elusive; and self-knowledge, illusory at best, Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times Magazine in a 1983 profile of the director. “God is either silent or malevolent; men and women are creatures and prisoners of their desires.” Bergman moved from the comic romp of lovers in “Smiles of a Summer Night” in 1955 to the Crusader’s death-haunted search for God in “The Seventh Seal” in 1957; from the harrowing portrayal of fatal illness in “Cries and Whispers” in 1972 to the alternately humorous and horrifying depiction of family life a decade later in “Fanny and Alexander.”

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Tailpiece: Abhishek Bachchan will not act in Apoorva Lakhia’s “Mission Istanbul”. The reason: Vivek Oberoi is also in the film, and the two actors avoid each other these days. Well, well. One is the husband, and the other the former boyfriend of Aishwarya Rai. I call this womanpower.

(Webposted August 8 2007)