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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