Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Indian Casablanca, Dada Benegal, Adoor’s Four Women, Chak De! India, Vivek-Salman feud…

Oscar winning 1940s Hollywood classic “Casablanca” will soon pop out the cans in an Indian avatar, titled “Ezham Mudra” (The Seventh Seal). Director Rajeev
Mandira Bedi...Here is looking at you, kid
Nath will swap Rick’s Café Americain for Dev’s Inn, a restaurant not in the Moroccan desert, but on the beaches of God’s Own Country, Kerala. If helmer Michael Curtiz used the notes of a piano to evoke romance between Rick and Ilsa in wartime Paris and Vichy-controlled Casablanca, Nath will draw on the bloody Sri Lankan civil strife to create melody and mood for his version of three little people. Dashing Humphrey Bogart will be reborn as Suresh Gopi, a popular Malayalam film star, and ravishing Ingrid Bergman will transform into Bollywood’s sexy siren Mandira Bedi.

Gopi, essaying diplomat-turned-restaurateur Dev, not a rebel fighter-mellowed-salon-keeper settling in Casablanca for its waters, will woo Bedi with “Here’s looking at you, kid”, a line immortalised in the chronicles of cinema. With a song on his lips and beat on his toes -- and perhaps a tabla master replacing pianist Sam -- Dev will stir up memories of Rick and his rings of smoke. He may also get to frolic with Bedi on the waves to the lilting tune of “As Time Goes By”.

Nath will be a pioneer at this remake of sorts. Several earlier attempts, including a request to Francois Truffaut who refused, were in vain. Interestingly, “Ezham Mudra” will use the Sri Lankan war that has left 70,000 people dead since 1983 to give a contemporary feel. And Nath’s Victor Laszlo will be a Tamil revolutionary fleeing into India. The movie will go on the floors in September and premier early next year at Casablanca, where once Bogart and Bergman discovered Paris all over again.

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Shyam Benegal has now the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, Indian cinema’s highest honour. This comes to him after 43 years and 60 films. One of the pioneers of India’s New Wave, Benegal made fascinating movies, such as “Ankur”, “Nishant”, “Manthan” and “Bhumika” in the 1970s. My favourite remains “Bhumika”, where the late Smita Patil played the flamboyant and unconventional life of the 1940s Marathi actress, Hansa Wadkar. Though Smita was a wonderful performer, it was Benegal – much like Guru Dutt who made Waheeda Rehman – who moulded her into a great piece of art. Now at 72, Benegal continues to wave his magic wand to create meaningful cinema, and is one of the few helmers in our country to keep alive a healthy celluloid tradition.

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India’s only living auteur Adoor Gopalakrishnan still swims and survives in a sea of big-budget films, aggressively promoted by Bollywood bucks and bigwigs. His latest feature, “Naalu Pennungal” (Four Women), tenth in 35 years, proves his unwavering commitment to meaningful cinema that began with his first, “Swayamvaram” (One’s Own Choice), in 1972. A keen eye for detail, a remarkable feel for authenticity and an undying love for each of his characters have helped Adoor, as he is popularly known, create celluloid excellence. His “Naalu Pennungal” in Malayalam – to be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September -- is divided into four chapters, each dealing with a different problem women face. These stories take place in 1940s Kerala, but are relevant even today, for the Indian woman, especially in the village, still has to grapple with social prejudices and impediments. What gives the movie an even greater impulsion are the strong performances that Adoor has been able to draw from his actors, turning them into eminently believable characters. In perhaps her best attempt ever, Nandita Das as Kamakashi infuses the anguish of a woman left by the wayside. Her face conveys pain and helplessness, and we walk out of the auditorium feeling tremendous sympathy for the Das character. Padma Priya transits with consummate ease from a brash streetwalker to one seeking stability, even if it is within a live-in relationship. If Geetu Mohandas brings dignity to Kumari stoically bearing the mortification of marital rejection, Manju Pillai gives nuances to the frustration of being childless. Freezing all this has been Adoor’s new cinematographer, M. J. Radhakrishnan, who replaces the director’s old hand, Mankada Ravi Varma. He had been an integral part of the Adoor oeuvre. Isaac Thomas’ music complements Adoor’s directorial vitality without being distractively intrusive.

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While the hockey film “Chak De! India” has been running to packed houses in India, it failed to score a goal at the lucrative North American box-office. In fact, its scanty 1,000 take in three days could push the movie’s lead player, Shah Rukh Khan into all-time hall of shame. Even in the United Kingdom, the film has reportedly done disappointing business. The reason, as I guess, could be the strong patriotic flavour of “Chak De! India”: No Pakistani or Bangladeshi would perhaps like to see it, and North America and Britain have a large number of people from these two regions. So, the movie’s tone and flavour of ‘mera Bharat mahan” has not gone well with India’s neighbours.

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Tailpiece: Once Vivek Oberoi took away Aishwarya Rai from Salman Khan. Khan has not forgiven Oberoi for that. At the recent Rajiv Gandhi Awards in Mumbai, Vivek weaved into his dance performance an apology for Salman that was obvious to everybody in the auditorium. But Khan remained unmoved, and did not even applaud when the number ended. Love also creates the bitterest of enemies, I would presume.

(Webposted August 15 2007)