Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…The Sanjay saga, Trishala, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Antonioni, Naya Daur…

Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt moved millions when he conveyed Gandhian philosophy through extremely witty characters in “Munnabhai MBBS” and its sequel, “Laghe Raho Munnabhai” (Carry On Munnabhai). Another in the series, “Munnabhai Chale Amerika” (Munnabhai Goes to America), is being planned.

Sanjay Dutt
But if Dutt had hoped that his screen persona would help him escape a jail term for illegally possessing a deadly AK 56 assault rifle soon after the Mumbai 1993 bomb blasts and destroying it later, he was out of sync with current judicial thinking that makes no distinction between celebrity and commoner. (We saw that in the case of American millionaires Paris Hilton.)

On July 31, Dutt was sentenced to six years’ rigorous imprisonment, though mercifully under the less serious Arms Act and not the draconian Terrorist Act (TADA).

However, in a cinema crazy nation such as India, even judge Promode Kode who delivered the verdict sounded apologetic when he told a weeping, pleading Dutt that he had taken merely six years from the actor’s professional life. “Act till you are 100, and act like Gregory Peck in Mackenna’s Gold”, Kode almost gushed like a star-struck teenager.

Barring a Supreme Court reversal of the judgement, Dutt will spend nearly five years behind bars – he has already served 16 months during trial – causing enormous losses for his producers and terrible disappointment for fans.

Dutt’s producers fear that history is about to replay. In April 1993, when the actor was first incarcerated, eight films took a hit. While two were never completed, the rest opened after long delays and huge monetary upsets.

This time, a whopping Rs 70 crores are linked to Dutt’s fate: Sanjay Gupta’s “Alibaug” (Dutt shot for a week here), Sanjay Gadhvi’s “Kidnap” (40 per cent complete) and Abbas Mustan’s “Mr Fraud” (40 per cent shot) are tottering. Raj Kumar Hirani, who has planned the third “Munnabhai” movie, says that it impossible for anybody else to get into Dutt’s psyche and soul.

I hope that Dutt would have learnt his lesson. Even in 2002, his taped conversation with a gangster was produced in court, but Dutt was lucky not to have fallen into the net, because audiotapes are not admissible as evidence.

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By a strange quirk of fate, Sanjay Dutt shares his Arthur Road jail in Mumbai with the underworld don, Abu Salem, who reportedly gave the rifle to the star, and pushed him into peril and doom.

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New York based Dutt’s 19-year-old daughter, Trishala, has now vowed to join Bollywood to carry on her father’s great work. However, she is praying hard that he would soon walk free. Still in university, Trishala is Dutt’s pet, having lost her mother a long time ago.

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India’s only living auteur, Adoor Gopalakrishnan -- whose strength, like Satyajit Ray’s, lies in making films in his native Malayalam and on his home soil -- is just
Adoor on location at Allepey
about ready with his 10th work. Based on Jnanpith Award winning Malayalam writer, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s four short stories, Adoor’s “Four Women” promises to be an insightful study of the female psyche. Starring Geetu Mohandas (who portrays a virgin), Manju Pillai (as a housewife), Padmapriya (prostitute) and Nandita Das (spinster), “Four Women” is likely to have its world premier at the Toronto International Festival early September. The movie, divided into four chapters – Virgin, Housewife, etc -- will be followed by another work, also based on Thakazhi tales. Its principal photography is complete, and like “Four Women”, this was also shot in and around Kerala’s green, backwater-dotted Allepey, the place where the writer lived. And, not far from where Adoor himself grew up, which is Adoor.

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Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, who died one after the other recently, were part of the 1960s European masters. Only Jean-Luc Godard, the most modern of modernists, remains. For all their differences, Scandinavian Bergman and Italian Antonioni were staunch moralists. If Bergman was stern and austere, Antonioni was sensuous and aesthetic. I still remember Antonioni at the mid-1990s International Film Festival of India in Kolkata, where he went around the main screening venue in a wheel-chair. He had suffered a stroke, which affected his speech and left him paralysed. Yet, he made “Beyond the Clouds” (1995), a wonderful movie, moving, sensuous and romantic. It was co-directed by Wim Wenders, because the producers insisted on this, given the Italian master’s frail health. But Wenders proved to be more Antonioni than Antonioni himself, and “Beyond the Clouds” had the unmistakable stamp of the Italian director. His 1960 “The Adventure” considered to be his masterpiece, was booed at Cannes, an insult that ultimately translated into a badge of honour, when the leading cinema lights of the day, including Roberto Rossellini, released a statement in support of Antonioni. A great legend of iconoclastic filmmaking was born that day. (About Bergman, in my next column.)

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Tailpiece: “ Naya Daur” is now in colour, much like Mughal-e-Azam. First released 50 years ago, “Naya Daur” was one of B.R. Chopra’s timeless celluloid greats focussing on the rich and the poor. The hero, Dilip Kumar, had just fallen out with Madhubala, who was supposed to play heroine. In the last hour, Vyjanthimala was brought in, and “Naya Daur’ went on to create history. The scene where Dilip Kumar’s horse-drawn ‘tonga’ races a motorised bus is one of the movie’s highlights. Do not miss this, and, yes, the latest addition. The colour.

(Webposted August 1 2007)