Wednesday, February 16, 2005

St Valentines Day!

Valentine's day for me, always has been one of the harder nuts to crack. It has continually been a source of mystery, confusion and apprehension. In short, it is an inexplicable blot on the foggy landscape of life. I am happy to announce that the The History Channel also happens to concur with me. They too, do not have a clue.

Let me put forth the facts before I begin foaming at my mouth. I love G. I have done so for the last 8 years that I have known her. I am thankful for all those clean pairs of socks which I have now -- a simple pleasure which somehow had eluded me before she decided to take charge. Saying that, I would also like to state that G. bays for my blood on Valentines Day. The 14th of February is the day G. turns into a lurking werewolf stalking my happy home all ready to ambush me with the dreaded question -- "So what have you planned for today ?" I have immediately proved myself to be the insensitive clod.

The pressure of being the flamboyant romantic does not really mix well with me. It is one of my major failings. I have commented on the relative merits of 10 different sarees with supremely feigned expertise, without batting an eyelid. I have dined on the most vague tasting preparations with the air of a gourmet and even came out with encouragement and extremely well measured, polygram defeating praise. However, to metamorphose from a clumsy nerd into the tango-with-rose-between-my-teeth smoothie is completely beyond me. Please do not misconstrue this as obdurateness. It is sheer ineptness. This very lack of skill is the single reason for being labeled the unsophisticated boor for at least this day of the year.

Coming back to the dreaded question -- "What have I planned ?". The honest answer for that would of course be "to lie low". Honesty being the best policy in the context of relationships however, is not an established fact. For I have tried it previously and it has not proved to be the best for me, to say the very least. Under such stressful conditions, there have been times when I have been able to come out with gems like "Its a surprise !" to bloopers like "Actually there are 3 bugs to fix -- one particularly vicious memory leak has been troubling me for long." Responses like the latter bring about swift retribution but the clever rejoinder like the former are the real harbingers of doom. When it comes to planning out something of the nature of a romantic episode, the mind flounders. I have already exhausted the usuals (Movie and dinner), very early in the life of the relationship and somehow I simply cannot conjure up anything better. So after a brain racking three hours I come up with... Movie and dinner ! One will have noticed that, after a brilliant promise of a surprise, a movie and a steak does not really bring the biscuit home. Now, not only am I insensitive, I am also boring. I should really take a lesson from what (insert any number of names here) are doing.

Any person moulded from the common clay (which I think I am) will inevitably collapse under such trying circumstances. So do I. Sometimes this nervous breakdown manifests itself as stolid silence, and at times as exasperated mumbling. I however have some advice to give to all like minded fellow humans. However sombre the ensuing situation might become, however hopeless life seems, avoid the three dreaded words -- "Lets go dancing".

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

BLACK -- Sanjay Leela Bhansali

I went and watched Black by Sanjay Leela Bhansali this weekend. It was a rather refreshing change from the usual Bollywood kitsch.

Start of Review

Has Bollywood finally arrived ? Have we finally been able to produce a movie that tells an universal, human story rather than an Indian story? In all honesty, all crossover (whatever that means) cinema that Bollywood has been able to produce has tried very hard to give the audience an Indian experience. The question is -- will Bollywood ever start producing movies with universal human appeal, transcending geography, lingual groups and race ? That I think is a very good question.

The beauty of Black is that it does not attempt to narrate a story -- what it tries to do is share an experience. The experience of two human beings each grappling with their own darknesses, with their own Black.

The movie shares the experiences of two human beings Michelle McNally(Rani Mukherjii) and Devraj Sahay(Amitabh Bacchan). Mr. Sahay, an alcoholic, retired and failed teacher for the deaf and blind and Michelle, his deaf and blind student. Michelle is the elder daughter of the McNally family an Anglo-Indian family living in a picture perfect Bhansali-esque Shimla. The story is spread over 40 years but the movie does not suggest the actual era or date of the happenings -- instead Bhansali decides to go for a colonial, baroque ambiance independent of the time axis. The story delves with Michelle trying to find the light in her black and Sahay finding meaning in a broken life and redemption for the guilt of seeing a sister being swallowed by the wrought iron gates of a mental asylum. The experience is narrated through the eyes of Michelle for whom a Bachelor�s Degree in Arts represents her emergence into the light and for Sahay, his redemption. What is breathtaking about the movie is the communication of the beauty in the world Michelle perceives which other normal people fail to see. Bhansali pits Michelle against Sarah, her younger, normal sibling who sees the world through normal eyes. Bhansali then goes on to compare both their interpretations of the world. Sarah somehow fails to see the beauty that surrounds us which Michelle does not fail to perceive.

The leitmotif of the story is Robert Frost�s ��Stopping by woods on a snowy evening�� which Bhansali literally introduces in the movie -- scribbled starkly in white over a black background in the scene which Sahay(Amitabh Bacchan) is introduced. The idea of going miles before getting any sleep is constantly reinforced in Michelle and Sahay�s attempts to overcome Michelle�s academic failures despite Michelle�s disabilities and Sahay�s Alzheimer�s Disease. At the end of the movie, the roles are reversed when Michelle finds a debilitated, broken down Sahay, devoid of any memories and thus starts another battle against the black which has now enveloped her former teacher's life.

In short, the movie is brilliant. The editing for the movie is perhaps one of the best I have seen. I have a feeling Bhansali has got himself a new bunch of editors after Devdas. The cinematography is again Sanjay Leela Bhansali -- fabulous as usual. The story for a change, is also great.

Now we return to the original question -- is Bollywood there ? The answer would for me be a yes and a no. A yes because Black does not waste talent trying to narrate the story of a hackneyed, unconvincing bharitiya-pativrata woman and nor does it horribly mutilate a literary classic so that Madhuri Dixit and Aishwariya Rai can have a song and dance number. Instead it speaks of a story of universal human courage and grit. The story of the Indomitable Human Being. That my is an universal story. A no because Bhansali has unnecessarily added dollops of melodrama to wrench those tears into your eyes which I think is the failing of the movie. Black is a happy story which speaks of the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. It does not need banal sentiments to make it a tear jerker. Some people would go on to say that Black has the chance to finally get that Oscar, but I am slightly sceptical. I think it is a trifle maudlin to make the cut. Let us all hope that I am wrong.

End of Review

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