Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Indian summer at Toronto, The Voyeurs, Chakde India…

It will be an Indian summer at Toronto. The early September Toronto International Film Festival will screen five Indian movies. Among them, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s “Four Women” (Naalu Pennungal) in Malayalam and Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s “The Voyeurs” (Ami, Yasin Arr Amar Madhubala) in Bengali will be part of the prestigious Masters Programme. Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s first feature in Ladakhi and Hindi, “Frozen”, will play in the Discovery Section. Rituparno Ghosh’s “The Last Lear” with the Lear himself (why Mr Bachchan, of course) and Santosh Sivan’s “Before The Rains” (with Nandita Das and Rahul Bose) will form rest of the Indian celluloid brigade.

Last week, I wrote about Adoor’s latest film. This week, I shall talk about Dasgupta’s work. Next week, I will pen my thoughts on “Frozen”.

Sivan cannot show me his movie for what sounds like a silly reason. He says the print is stuck at the Mumbai Customs! And “The Last Lear” is in its final stages of post-production. I hope I would get around watching it before it reels across the Atlantic. But before that, here are my comments on “The Voyeurs”.

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Buddhadeb Dasgupta is one of the last among India’s fast vanishing tribe of art filmmakers. He lives in Bengal, makes movies in Bengali and owes his debt to
Sameera Reddy
the region’s cinema greats, such as Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak and still living Mrinal Sen. While Dasgupta studiously avoids creating anything similar to Ray’s work, and steers clear of Ghatak’s sentiment, the younger director often has been accused of making his films overtly poetic. This is only natural, because Dasgupta is a renowned poet and to a lesser extent a novelist. The use of verse as a metaphor and the seemingly absurd make his movies distinct from many others, and highly suitable for art-house audiences. Dasgupta’s latest, “Ami Yasin Arr Amar Madhubala” (The Voyeurs) – to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival – may hold wider commercial prospects, appealing to viewers outside this discerning circuit, given the picture’s plot and its treatment.

The “Voyeurs” is a critique of the modern surveillance system that makes a mockery of individual privacy. At the very beginning, we are introduced to both the goodness and evil of the system. A hospital chief installs monitors to keep an eye on negligent nursing staff. Well, good, if they are for saving lives. But a little later, at a busy train terminus, a policeman gleefully watches on his screen a young couple smooching. Dasgupta pans across these scenes to take us to a young woman’s (Rekha, played by Sameera Reddy) room, whose window affords voyeuristic scope for men on a terrace across the street. This idea is developed into a close-up with sharper visuals when the woman’s neighbour, a strapping youth called Dilip, and his friend, Yasin, plant an “eye’ in her room for endless peep-shows on their little screen.

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“Chak De! India" grips you from the word go, and I do not understand why it has not done well in overseas territories. Maybe because, the movie has none of Bollywood’s trappings of song-and-dance and mushy romance. The film is even better than “Laagan”, and is an honest attempt to tell us all that is wrong with hockey as a sport in India. India’s national game, hockey, now languishes in the dumpyard with all its heroes gone, and the sport itself being treated like a poor, poor cousin of the more glamorous cricket and tennis.

Shah Rukh Khan is Kabir Khan, a disgraced hockey captain, whose patriotism is questioned when he loses a penalty corner in a India-Pakistan match. He is called a traitor and has to leave his family home with his mother. But seven years later, he returns as the coach of a women’s hockey team in a sullied atmosphere where the selectors are a bunch of male chauvinists and could not care less if the team makes it to the World Cup. Khan tackles this terrifying pessimism along with in-team barriers like language, economic status, swollen ego and lack of group spirit to get the players on their feet and their sticks cracking.

There are several situations that appear too coincidental for comfort, but director Shimit Amin does not yield to the temptation of pushing Khan into king-sized romance with one of the 16 hockey girls. Nor does Amin let himself be trapped by the Bollywood formula of overt emotionalism, and this is where “Chakde! India” scores many more runs, sorry goals, than “Laagan” did. In the ultimate analysis, Amin’s is a clean sports movie with admirable performances by Khan and the girls, all newcomers. A must watch.

Tailpiece: Now there is “Indi-Chini Bhai-Bhai” in cinema. Come January, Warner Brothers will shoot the first Indian film in China! India’s Nikhil Advani will helm, “Made In China”, an action comedy, where Bollywood hero Akshay Kumar, a lowly cook, is mistaken for a martial arts hero. Deepika Padukone will be his love interest. Warner Brothers plans to distribute the movie worldwide after the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

(Webposted August 22 2007)