Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004



Cinema In General


Pans & Tilts…Venice, Khoya Khoya Chand, Apna Asmaan, Aag…

I am just back from a great film festival at Venice. The oldest in the world that first played in 1932, opening with “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, the cinema event
Lust, Caution
was conceived by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini curiously to promote tourism. The festival had its fits and starts and stops, but has survived into its 75th year, though it has obviously had only 64 editions. This summer, the Venice Film Festival, held on the picturesque island of Lido, off Shakespearean Venice, put together one of the best packages in a decade.

Ang Lee, whose “Lust, Caution” in Mandarin won the top Golden Lion, was being honoured for the second time in three years: in 2005, his gay, cowboy movie, “Brokeback Mountain”, clinched the Golden Lion.

“Lust, Caution” is a spy thriller set in World War II Shanghai and Hong Kong. A group of Chinese students plans to assassinate a corrupt Chinese politician during the then Japanese occupation, and a girl decoy is sent to worm her way into his heart. She loses her own with tragic consequences.

The film has explicit sex, and there have been reports that it was real and not simulated. However, despite this, “Lust, Caution” will screen in China. Moving with times, I suppose, is the wisest thing to do, and Beijing knows that it if disallows exhibition, people would in any case watch it on DVDs!


Here are a few more from the Venice selection. Brian De Palma’s “Redacted” (which fetched him a Silver Lion for Best Direction) takes up cudgels along with Michael Moore’s damnation of the Iraq war. Palma says that U.S. has not learnt its lessons from the Vietnam war, and he bases his partly fictionalised account on the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl by occupying American soldiers. Some real footage has been cleverly used to make the movie seem more like a documentary. Which then appears shockingly powerful.

Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Ellah” is also on Iraq, but is pure fiction. A retired American military policeman investigates his recently-returned-from-Iraq soldier son’s disappearance, and finds uncomfortable truths and a friend in a woman detective. Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron play these parts with aplomb.

Joe Wright’s “Atonement”, which opened the festival, is a dark piece set in the Britain of 1935 that talks about a teen writer whose romantic crush, jealousy and imagination ruin the lives of her sister and her lover, the housekeeper’s son. Wright’s movie has a subtext that cannot be missed: the class prejudice of those times that push the English nobility to be cruel and unfair.

Next week, I shall talk about a few more of my favourites at Lido.


Indian director Sudhir Mishra is going on a Roman Holiday with his film, “Khoya Khoya Chand”, which draws its inspiration and plot from Bollywood’s Golden Age of the 1950s and the 1960s. His movie will be part of the Second Rome Film Festival, October 18 to 27. The helmer known for his art-commercial combo is planning his next venture, “Devdas”. Do not get mislead by the title, for Mishra’s work will be an adaptation of Hamlet, and his Roman sojourn will perhaps get him a little more close to Shakespeare’s fancies, Italy being one.


Kaushik Roy’s “Apna Asmaan” disappointed me. The performances were not up to the mark. Shobana seemed uncomfortable lisping Hindi dialogues, and was wasted in the role. Even Irfan Khan appeared a trifle below his normal, high benchmark. Dhruv Piyush Panjnani, who is both an autistic teenager and a prodigy in the film, is good, though in a plot that failed to move me. Roy has based his work on his own autistic son, and emphasises the futility of parental pressure and fancy expectations. In “Apna Asmaan”, the parents (essayed by Shobana and Khan) seek the help of a medical quack to turn their son from a slow-learning autistic child to a brilliant mathematician. But in the bargain, the boy loses his memory, forgets his parents and is reduced to a self-seeking, cruel being, ready to murder his father. The narrative is full of howlers, and unbelievable situations, punctuated by intrusive musical score. In the end, the movie’s message – let children enjoy their childhood without undue compulsion from ambitious parents – seems misty, with the script paying little attention to details.


Tailpiece: Ram Gopal Varma’s “Aag” has been the expected disaster. Not only has it been ripped apart by critics, but also it has had low opening collections. Varma was overtly ambitious to have even tried adapting the 1975 cult “Sholay”. To me what is even more significant is Amitabh Bachchan’s failure in the film. He has got a bountiful of brickbats, and that makes it two in a row. His “The Last Lear” (directed by Bengal’s Rituparno Ghosh), which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, has also come under severe flak. It has not gone down well with international critics there.

(Webposted September 11 2007)