Monday, August 18, 2008

DARK KNIGHT: Got the load of Heath Ledger!

“Wait ’til they get a load of me” - Jack Nicholson’s Joker in “Batman” - 1989

Wow, so those bags of money shown in the movie's opening bank heist scene, elaborately shot on IMAX, are nothing compared with the worldwide box-office haul "Dark Knight" will take from theaters. Mounted on a $185 mn budget, Warner’s Dark Knight already collected well over $470 mn in US alone. Writer-director Christopher Nolan is undoubtedly the White Knight for Warner. However, Heath Ledger contributed to some of the box-office pull for this somber-themed Batman sequel, pre release with his premature death and post release with his fleshed-out performance. Such is his mark on the movie that the first image Dark Knight vividly recalls from my memory is a shot of Ledger’s Joker with the pasty white face, sloppy, garish red lipstick and greasy, stringy green hair leaning out the window of a Gotham City police car with his hair streaming in the wind. He looks like a happy wet dog shaking off the wetness in the sun.

In the movie, Heath Ledger's psycho Joker says as much "I'm a dog chasing cars, I wouldn't know what to do with one of them if I caught it." He further tells Christian Bale's caped crusader "I don't want to kill you,". "You complete me!" This is the essence and USP of the very labyrinthine Dark Knight. Its not just about the customary victory of good over evil, but the actual war that needs to be fought to earn that victory. It is about the actual cost of that victory. The evil here is not driven by worldly ambitions, criminal motivations but is driven maniacally by the sheer desire to counter the good embodied by Batman. The Joker sees his existence as the necessary antithesis for the vigilante and his righteousness. The Batman protects order, the joker wants chaos. As Joker says, the Batman has rules to adhere to as a custodian of order. And so he provokes the Batman to cross the line with his devious, diabolical plots and creates moral complications for him. He is out to prove that nobility won't hold in a world of disorder and chaos.

But did we not see this villainy before? And so what is the big deal? The deal is that this is the superhero genre, which it itself has some constraints in story telling, given its vast ardent fan base which is pre-conditioned on action and adventure. For instance, Batman has been part of American pop culture for almost 70 years and he cant be shown without the customary big fights, chases, explosions and the over-scaled action extravaganza and be accepted by his devout fans. So Dark Knight provides all of these, in fact most of them shot grandly in the IMAX format. If it just stopped there, it would have been yet another pop-culture throwaway. But it ventures the extra mile and focuses on the thin red line separating the Batman and the Joker in their pursuit of each other and the cost of Batman pursuing justice without turning it into an exercise of his vengeance. This is best exemplified in the scene where Batman beats up the Joker in the police cell. That moment, Joker just won.
Although it does not quite answer, 'The Dark Knight' ponders well on what it takes for a superhero to not turn into a beast when he fights a beast. And that in itself is a great achievement considering that the villain here is not a super-villain with none of those fancy gadgets Batman has. The Joker is very much a mortal, complete with a knife instead of a gun! (Many must have completely overlooked this fact that to start with, the Joker-Batman war was not one between equals. Thanks to Ledger’s performance and the excellent author-backing his role got).

So, how did Dark Knight manage all this allegorical and psychological musings within the parameters of this genre? How could it do all the philosophical examination of why we need superheroes, and what do they mean? Well, I can think of two reasons. Firstly, the movie went longer, at 150 minutes. Secondly, it helped that this is the second in the series and that meant that the screenwriters could spend lesser time on character development and exposition and more time on the anatomy of Batman-Joker warfare.

Dark Knight is good conceptualization and imagination. This is further abetted by very good writing, casting, acting, and direction. This may very well be the pinnacle of this genre. It would be hard to imagine anything greater in conceptual scale, considering the limiting parameters of this genre. The aftertaste is definitely that of the Joker which may well, in all probability, fetch a posthumous Oscar for Ledger. Joker’s languid body language and slow cadence of speech reflects that of a pitiless psychopath who fears neither pain nor death. He revels in chaos and bloody anarchy. The slithery tongue and the sucking and the sloshing sound it makes, the occasional jerking of his body, all point to his own metal realm and its febrile madness. Or was Ledger fighting his own demons before his suicide!? I wonder if Ledger knew, while doing all this, that this would be one of his last movies. Such is the intensity he generates which we cant escape from, long after the credits roll down.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A sequel to Singh is Kingg!?

Talking straight: Akshay lights up the screen in an otherwise unbearable movie.

Singh is Kingg is a fantastic idea wasted. A simpleton sardar Happy Singh in all his earnestness, goes to Australia to bring back Lucky Singh, an underworld don, to his village. Lucky was native of Happy’s own village and everyone in the village thinks Lucky bought bad name to their village and community by becoming a don. So, Happy ventures down-under for the pride of his village and to alleviate the suffering of Lucky’s parents. Now, with so many Sardarji jokes abound about how they go about things, we could very well imagine the fun this idea could have generated, especially when you have a very good performance in the bumpkin Sardar role (What else could we ask when the start playing lead role could groove well when the inevitable song routine comes and fight great in the action sequences?). Alas, this is not be, courtesy, POOR writing and indifferent direction. All that was expected was ludicrous adventures of a sardarji in phorenland. And what we get to see is ludicrous film-making! A potential Munnabhai kind of plot has been lost. I yawned though the film and I guess so did many.

But what works for the film is Akshay Kumar (well, let me remind I am no actor’s fan or anti-fan). He plays very well as Happy Singh, the village idiot, who though is very well-meaning, inadvertently and inevitably makes a mash of things around. Akshay is the reason I feel this film has wasted this very good idea. If not for him, I wouldn’t have seen an idea in the first place! So disoriented and pointless is the writing and film-making.

Akshay is the saving grace, and perhaps the match-point of this film. What with the openings the film got and the good run it promises at the box office. Firstly, the accidental publicity (Manmohan Singh winning the confidence emotion) to the title ‘Singh I Kingg’ helped the film and so did Akshay’s great promos. Now, despite flawed script, non-existent screenplay and poor production values, Akshay may sustain some of the extraordinary openings the film got with his entertaining screen presence. Especially, the kids may like this and that may bring in the families. It is this highly possible success that makes me wonder whether Akshay will reprise this role in a sequel! This idea has got such a potential and the name 'Singh is Kingg' itself could be made into such a brand that any success now could trigger the next business opportunity for Akshay and the producers. With some good writing thrown in, Akshay could very well come back with a Lage Raho Happy Singh kind of film. And then no one would complain, and nor will I yawn.