Friday, September 19, 2008

A Wednesday! : What a Makeover!!

"We are resilient by force, not by choice"

Do not read this post if you have not yet seen the movie, 'A Wednesday!'. I suggest you read this after you watch the movie. This suggestion is to spare you the thrill you deserve :).

I could make sense of the exclamation in the title after watching the movie! 'A Wednesday' simply not just another movie, another day! This is one of those movies which are pushing the envelope for the hindi film industry and not surprisingly, we see this is yet another UTV collaboration. UTV is indeed going great guns.

Neeraj Pandey's debut hits the bull's eye right away. Very well written to convey the basic premise, the movie also takes enough care not to get into the so-called 'class film' mode. It's background score, romanticization of the 'honest cop', the angry young man characterization (of Jimmy Shergill and Naseeruddin Shah), the 'patriotic musilm' - all those which worked for mainstream movies earlier are very well borrowed here and that connects this movie to the masses and make it work like magic.
The movie towards the end connects so well with the audience that they may actually feel they didnt get enough (or more). But then that is how this movie is shaped up, without compromise, in tone and in structure - no songs, no jingoism, no super-hero stuff. It is plain angst plotted well. The veterans Shah and Kher put in superb performances in their usual underplayed tone. Shah, especially makes me, at last, get over his 'sarfarosh' character with a completely different character here. It is difficult to imagine someone else filling his shoe here. It wouldnt have worked. The characters played by Jimmy Shergill and Aamir Basheer are very well cast too. Neeraj Pandey couldnt have asked for more. This is the debut of the year.
As suggested above, watching this movie with a clean slate would give you a thrill that you rarely got in recent past. The premise of the movie explodes right in your face towards the end, like a blitzkreig. An undercurrent of public emotion has been tapped to the fullest and the climactic scenes involving Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher takes the movie to another level after proceeding as a thriller for 90 minutes. I understand if the audience starts mouthing the dialogues even before Naseeruddin Shah does in the climax - they are in trance of the return of angry young man as a angry common man, only that he is older and more suave this time. But is he stupid as he claims to be?

Well, so the common man gets a makeover. From being the bespectacled, staid old man to the suave, articulate and unapolegetic one, he is the one the viewers clap for in the end. I guess even RK Laxman would approve.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mumbai Meri Jaan: Reflecting our times

'Daaru nahi peeyenge to inke andar spirit kahaase aayega… 'Mumbai spirit'!!'
The above line from Paresh Rawal's cop character is part of the undercurrent of sarcasm that runs all through Mumbai Meri Jaan, Nishikant Kamat's excellent follow-up to his brilliant directorial debut (Marathi) 'Dombvili Fast'. I know not a word of Marathi and still I was swayed by Dombvili Fast. Just like he did in his first film, Nishikant Kamat examines the psyche of regular citizens, living ordinary (non-Yashraj!) lives. It is just that this movie is set against the July 11th, 2006 bomb blasts in Mumbai and hence Mumbai forms the necessary backdrop. This movie is as good as the 2006 Oscar winner ‘Crash’. While ‘Crash’ was set up in the post 9/11 multi-cultural Los Angeles examining the xenophobia and bigotry involving whites, blacks, Persian, Latino, Korean and cop characters, Mumbai Meri Jaan does it in the Mumbai context. Just like ‘Crash’, this is raw and in-the-face, exploring the gray between black and white. It is hard-hitting when it shows the indifference and insensitiveness that are slowly getting rooted into people about others’ plights. This movie gives no messages, no discoveries, no solutions; Nishikant Kamat is just thinking aloud. The dialogue is crisp, tongue-in-cheek, infused with sarcastic, deadpan and wry humor with endless potshots at the print and television media, which the audience welcomes gleefully. This movie is neither about the maximum city nor its ‘spirit’ (I never quite understood what this is supposed to mean). There is no romanticized view of Mumbai as it would sound from the title. The movie focuses on the kind of people who make up the city and their daily struggles, their angst, social disconnect, sense of belonging and confusions. This is a social commentary on the different strata – a hot-shot corporate guy who in his love for the motherland overlooks the greener pastures of America before the blasts make him rethink, a young man from a Hindutva family consumed by suspicion of anything Muslim, a TV journo riding the ladder of success before she herself becomes a great ‘Saturday night story’ for her own channel, a ‘Madrasi’ tea-seller who drives the post-blasts phobic cops and crowds into frenzy as an act of revenge.

What is refreshing about Kamat's works is his originality of thought. The way he handles the track involving Kay Kay is excellent. The usual Hindu-Muslim 'we-they' syndrome is subtly handled. In this age of Islam-phobia, a character suspecting Muslims is not necessarily that of a fundamentalist (of other religions). And Kay Kay’s character reflected this reality quite well. In fact I know of atleast one guy (one of my friends, a Hindu) who in his adolescence was a staunch right-winger, high on RSS. Now, after 10 years, he is an atheist! Adolescence is the age when we easy to get swayed by these divisive and hate politics. Age brings in some mellowness as reality dawns in and introspections remove the hate and suspicions planted in the mind. Kay Kay’s character was one such, entangled in hate politics (one scene shows the atmosphere at his home – his family elder preaching a school kid about Akhand Bharat). He always sees a conspiracy theory involving Muslims. He says 'Yeh log sirf Mohammed Rafi ko sunenge, Kishore Kumar kabhi nahi sunenge' when he hears a patriotic song out of a radio while moving through a Muslim-dominated alley. He goes on to get a Swastik Tee to wear his heart on his shoulder, literally. This track is funny, thought-provoking at the same time. Other story tracks are equally good and engrossing.

All characters have their story-tracks running parallely, unrelated to each other and still we would be able relate all the stories to each other on a psychological level when all of them find their hope and redemption from their inner devils towards the end.
I will not spoil the fun and stimulation any thinking individual can get viewing this film. So I will stop here. With the best of casting, writing and performances, undoubtedly, this is one of the best movies for me. If there is one film that reflects our times as they are, it is this movie, Mumbai Meri Jaan. And I think Nishikant Kamat, with his unfailing thought, will only get better next time.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Musharaff: The General in his labyrinth

“Politics is a soldier’s curse” - Napolean

General Musharaff now fell ignominiously from grace and power after a chain of events triggered when his attempts to fire judges and quash political opponents' rights backfired. His disdain for democratic norms and civilian politicians does him in. He cuts a backroom deal for a face-saving exit from office. Too bad, he was nowhere near becoming the Kamal Ataturk of Pakistan (which he professed to be when he packed Nawazmia to Saudi) when he beat this retreat.

“I have confronted death and defied it several times in the past because destiny and fate have always smiled on me.”

"Considered purely in military terms, the Kargil operations were a landmark in the history of the Pakistani army."

"I would like to state emphatically that whatever movement has taken place so far in the direction of finding a solution to Kashmir is due considerably to the Kargil conflict,"

"...I was talking to my military secretary, Major General Nadeem Taj, seated to my right, when I heard a loud, though muffled, thud behind us. As my car became airborne I immediately realized what was happening-I was staring terrorism in the face. I thought ruefully that while leaders of other countries only visit scenes of carnage later or see it on a television screen; I was personally in the midst of it. Not only that-I was the target. But unlike most leaders, I am also a soldier, Chief of the army staff and supreme commander of my country's armed forces."
The self-congratulatory tone is all there above to see. All the PR general Pervez Musharaff has been maintaining could very well be Shah Rukh Khan's envy. All those vivid TV images where he tries sounding an earnest general with sugar-coated belligerence immediately spring to my mind.

So who was Musharaff? Was he a Muhajir with his prejudices about Hindu India? Was he a vengeful General reeling under the Kargil debacle after Nawaz Shariff unconditionally withdrew the troops? Was he a wannabe Kamal Ataturk? Was he a trustful ally in the war of terror? Or was he simply a product of the circumstances of war between ISI and Pakistan army during Nawaz Shariff's regime? Too complex are the queries, the General is in his endless labyrinth, it is just that he is no Simón Bolívar nor are we talking any magical realism here.
A commando at heart, he always displayed a taste for military adventurism. It is easy to take him as a sabre-rattling war-monger. In 1999 in Lahore, he boycotted Vajpayee visit. A few months later, he engineered Kargil adventure. In 2001 in Agra he pulled up a media coup, using the summit to gain some respect to his military rule in international community instead of actually making any headway regarding Kashmir or other issues. The Vajpayee government smarted under the debacle for a while. With all this expertise, the present situation must have been quite a retreat for the General.

After playing a wonderful double game with US on taliban and terrorism, his luck seems to have at last run out. Uncle Sam gave up on him but must have just chipped in with enough support to stop Nawazmia from vengefully packing off the General to Saudi.

Some folks in India think Musharaff was even-handed on Kashmir and other issues. Nothing could be farther from truth. Mere rhetoric does not mean flexibility. After all he is the same person who was responsible for the attack on India in Kargil.

Musharraf had only laid sweet-cover on complex issues. He bans Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and other groups but does not arrest those guys. He simply lets them go and regroup under a new banner. That is just one aspect of how he 'handled terror with an iron-fist'.
One more instance is from 2003 confidence building measures (CBMs). India presented some 12 concrete proposals like opening up travel between the Srinagar - Muzzafarabad and treatment of 20 children with heart-ailments on its own cost every year (This was after the successful operation on Baby Noor). These were proposals in good faith.

Ofcourse, Musharaff resisted the first proposal by insisting on involving UN. He then reciprocated with his own CBMs and they are - Pakistan would offer one hundred scholarships for Kashmiri students to study in professional institutions provide treatment for disabled Kashmir’s and assist widows and victims of rape in Indian held Kashmir through international human rights organizations! Wow, that was the General in his right skin, in his true elements.

Then, why was National Security Adviser (NSA) M.K. Narayanan mourning the General's exit? He argues that it is easier to deal with the General than any other 'civilian ruler'. And ofcourse he believes his exit would create a vacuum. This could be true but just because it has relatively been peaceful in Kashmir for couple of years doesn't mean Musharaff contributed to that peace in any way. He was too preoccupied in tackling Pakistan's own internal terrorism especially that linked to taliban, that he couldn’t open another front with India in Kashmir. After all, he was the one who not just engineered the Kargil adventure but publicly glorified it. How could he otherwise just sit silently?
However, this thinking on part of NSA and his ilk only betrays an escapist attitude of Indian establishment. They just want Musharaff to stay simply because he is under too much pressure to deliver on the Afghan front for the US and so he would not be able focus on Pakistan's obsession Kashmir. They assume that US being his main support (in absence of legitimate democratic mandate back home), the General, despite all his chicanery, can not antagonize them. So he would stay focused in at least pretending as if he is fighting terror. Turning on the heat in Kashmir would be too visible and would damage his anti-terror posture.

The Indian establishment must have thought about getting some sleep during this 'silent' period. How I wish they just did that at least instead of raking up the Amarnath issue and making a near-normal situation go bad. Having Musharaff for some more time would have may be given some more peaceful time but would not have helped make progress on any thorny issues between India and Pakistan. Musharaff refused to learn politics and defied pragmatism and so he wouldnt have been of any usefulness. Instead of just sleeping over issues and being escapist, the Indian government should very well look ahead courageously for solutions, as it did in case of the Nuclear Agreement with NSG, IAEA and the US.
So instead of waiting for the Pakistan's feudal political ethos, immature democracy, the ISI-army tussle throw up another general, India should go ahead and do the hard business, even if it is with the Mr. ten percent now in place. Politics and pragmatism when pursued unrelentingly eventually would lead us to the right solution.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Ashta Chamma: The importance of being Mahesh!

"..I've now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest."
- Jack aka Ernest John in Oscar Wilde's 'The importance of being Ernest'.

More than a 100 years after Oscar Wilde penned his famous play ‘The importance of being Ernest’, Mohanakrishna Indraganti comes up with an adaptation of the same, and how! A gem of a movie with perfect writing and casting, it keeps us so engaged from credits-to-credits that I actually find it hard to believe that the play set in Victorian age can be adapted any better. The main credit goes to Mohanakrishna for successfully making this story native with a masterstroke – using the name of Mahesh, the filmstar. Mohanakrishna‘s Telugu dialogues with the wordplay fit in so perfectly with the mood of this light-hearted movie. After a long time, we actually get to hear actors speaking Telugu and not just sounding that way! This movie is yet another example what good casting can do. Some of scenes featuring lead actress Colors Swathi were simply excellent. The two male leads put in excellent timing and it shows that they didn’t make it to movies just because they are someone’s sons!
The movie taps on Maheshmania successfully and that is where Mohanakrishna showed his knack into popular psyche. And despite all good writing and faithful adaptation Mohanakrishna produced, this movie wouldn’t have turned up so well if not for this knack. After all, the name Mahesh makes the story our own, adds liveliness, an extra zing and gives the movie good promotion(Otherwise the name Ernest has no baggage in the original play, it’s just that Gwendolen, whose part Swathi plays here, likes that name very fondly). So Mahesh Babu inadvertently introduces ‘The importance of being Ernest’ into mainstream Telugu homes.
Welcome Oscar Wilde.