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Friday, January 29, 2010

In the name of LOVE: "Ābohomaan", "Dorian Gray", and "Ishqiya"

Love rocks!
Love sucks!
Love hurts!
Love kills!
Love debases!
Love eludes!
Love expires!
Love transpires!
Love transcends!

Yes, all the above outbursts are true.
And they couldn't have been truer for me, as these exclamations hold good right now in the consensus reached by my multiple egos after having watched three amazing films:
Ābohomaan [Bangla/ Director: Rituparno Ghosh/ 2010]
Dorian Gray [English/ Director: Oliver Parker/2009]
Ishqiya [Hindi/ Director: Abhishek Chaubey/2010]

The three films are not at all similar, nor do they demand any comparison. Yet, I just happened to see all three in the past week, and have liked them all, albeit in different ways. So, I cannot help talking about them, or rather gushing about them, being a cine-buff as well as a love-obsessed individual.
Is love over-rated? I often ask myself.
The answer is both 'yes' and 'no'. The reason for this dichotomy is the fact that love has strange ways of being perceived. The way it is perceived commonly, as evident in popular culture, is of course too shallow; thus, as a concept, love can be anything but profane and much-abused over time. However, in the purest sense, love is definitely fulfilling and demands to be sought for all the profound reasons.

One of my favorite contemporary directors, Rituparno Ghosh, has explored love, loss, betrayal, and despair beautifully in his recent offering called "Ābohomaan". It takes the eternal Pygmalion premise much ahead as the complex web of relationships interlocked in the backdrop of the creator-muse romance gets explored beautifully & subtly. It is perhaps the director's most mature screenplay till date.
The relationships are wonderfully handled by Ghosh to make the chamber-piece like offering, with multiple past-present dimensions and a complex tapestry of emotions, a treat for the lovers of meaningful cinema. The ensemble cast inludes Deepankar Dey, Mamata Shankar, Ananya Chatterjee, Jisshu Sengupta, Riya Sen, Sumanta Mukherjee, Saswati GuhaThakurta, Soma Chakraborty and Shobha Sen.

"Dorian Gray" is the latest film version of the classic tale by Oscar Wilde that deals with the gothic theme of disfigurement or corruption of soul in the wake of an unnatural pursuit of one's own superficial beauty, with which one is in love. In this latest reworking of that tale, the gothic atmosphere, the visuals, and the acting is flawless. Though the film isn't the best representation of the original content, I would recommend it for those who would find the novel somewhat inaccessible because of its complex layers or its hedonistic and Faustian undertones. Young Ben Barnes, famous for his portrayal of Prince Caspian in the Narnia films, is perfectly cast as Dorian. He is aptly supported by Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall, and Rachel Hurd-Wood. The lovelessness and the debauchery that plagues Dorian, and the lovelorn Basil, who is infatuated by Dorian's beauty and paints his portrait, is too poignant not to touch the viewer.

When I went to catch "Ishqiya" in the theater, I did so as much for Vishal Bharadwaj having written much of the screenplay, along with creating the musical scores that had captured my imagination already with repeated air-plays, as for the coming together of Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi, playing the lead roles. Set in the backdrop of eastern Uttar Pradesh, the film has a noirish romantic plot where individuals get entangled in a web of crime, suspense, passion, and deception. The songs, not only the original scores & the songs but also the eternal Bollywood lovesongs that are featured in the soundtrack, made me chuckle with glee. "Ishqiya" has a rustic feel that is rarely seen in popular films. The cinematography (by Mohana Krishna) and the character-dynamics kept me glued to the screen. I would have to say that the final denouement watered down the fantastic feel by some degrees, yet it is a must-watch film for the sheer thrill and the odd relish that one is undoubtedly rewarded with. Director Abhishek Chaubey deserves a pat in the back for his fine debut.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Clerk" - No popcorn fare this !!

When I went to see this latest Bangla film released at a nearby multiplex, I must confess that I wasn't much clued in on the buzz about it. The name, "Clerk", itself was a tad awkward for a Bangla film. I must confess that I even missed out on seeing the earlier film made by the director Subhadro Choudhury, "Prohor", though it has been screened many a time on television. All that drew me to the film was the innovatively designed poster (one of the best in recent times) which had Tollygunge's mightiest star, Prosenjit Chatterjee, in a bath-tub.... and only the first names of the key collaborators: the director, the aforementioned star, the director of cinematography (Sirsha Ray) - suggestive of the creative teamwork... really impressive!
The film caught me unawares.
I was pleasantly surprised.
I felt rewarded.
It has to be said at the onset that "Clerk" is not an easy film.
That's why I mentioned in the title of the post that it is not at all the kind of cinema that one can watch munching popcorn, reclining cosily in the slide-back chairs of the multiplex.
No, not at all!
In stead, it is the kind of film that makes us sit upright
and get rid of our slumber.
It challenges our sensibilities.
Yes, it challenged my faculties as a cinema junkie too!
How can I sum it up? Well, in just two words: Unapologetically indulgent.
Reminiscent of the cinema of Mani Kaul.
Yet, refreshingly original.
Prosenjit in the eponymous role is shorn of all excesses.
He is the loner who is seen brooding..
There are no song and dance routines to establish love, pain and loneliness.
Yet, we get a taste of all the awkwardness that grips him in the real world,
and we get an insider's view of him basking in an interplay of the real & the surreal.
We soak in the madness;
Biplab (played by Prosenjit) has a stereotypical clerk's job in an office that sees all the strains & the conflicts that are bypassed by him, there's labour unrest unfolding, and ultimately the downing of the shutters, yet he is ensconced in a world of his own.
We soak in the familiar routine that we see unfolding, with him, and about him.
He relishes the schizophrenic fantasy of engaging in telephonic conversations with the Bollywood heroines: Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Priyanka Chopra, Urmila Matondkar.... all typefying the male fantasy about the nubile damsel in the mainstream potboilers... the walls of his room plastered with their blow-ups, the umpteen burning candles casting an unearthly feel all night.
He is seemingly oblivious to the young girl who eyes him passionately, or the colleague in office who is a desperate widow.
We as audience are not given much scope to probe the protagonist's condition. The languid frames are just enough to involve us in his intense pleasurable moments, and then again we find ourselves distancing from him as we catch the neighbours' reactions to his non-conformity. There is an attempt to create a morbidly intoxicating routine about apparently trivial, yet symbolically significant details. Be it the drinking sessions at a sleazy bar, or a libidinous gentleman's purchases of Black Molly for his aquarium, or a housewife's attempts to figure out the truth behind the protagonist's midnight-stupor-linked obscure behaviour, and more.... we, as audience, are never given an opportunity to be judgmental.
There is a bit of a dramaturgy in two successive segments, first the protagonist fantasizing and then, in his fantasy, forging an illusory bond with Aishwarya Rai, the Miss World turned Bollywood heroine, and then the news of her betrothal becoming the most talked about thing all over, we find an upheaval of sorts as the protagonist's world comes crashing.

Curiously, the protagonist is named Biplab, which means 'revolution' in Bangla, and the film itself if not quite revolutionary is quite a milestone in the history of Bangla cinema, as never before has a director risked making an experimental film with the most commercially viable name in the lead. There are several distinctive moments, especially towards the end of the film, which I would not want to elaborate on, as I do not want to spoil the fun (for the lovers of serious cinema only) for those who chance upon my blogpost before watching the film, and these are a key to our understanding too. I would also like to say that the silent moments in the film speak brilliantly, the splendid cinematography heightening the effects. Hardly does one come across such brilliant moments that speak a thousand words without any of the on-screen characters speaking a word. My most favorite sequences are those which has Prosenjit twisting and contorting his face in front of the mirror, and the bath-tub sequence of course.
Let me thank the makers and those who backed this experimental film without bothering about general or mass acceptability. "Clerk" is not a film for all. It is absolutely a niche film, and may it just seek & find its viewers.
Apart from Sirsha Ray's amazing camerawork, the film also boasts of briiliant art design by Tanmoy Chakraborty, an apt background score by Raja Narayan Deb, and a credible act by the cast of the film (other than Prosenjit, who must derserve the highest praise for just being a part of such a film, one can find several lesser known names, like Runa Banerjee, Anindita Bose, Debabrato Chakraborty, Kalyan Gupta and several others). My best wishes for director Subhodro Choudhury, and producer Nitesh Sharma, under whose Bangla Talkies banner the film has been presented.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kolkata: Chilly Scenes

I had read some years back the book called 'Chilly Scenes of Winter' by Ann Beattie.
I still remember having stumbled upon the book one lazy summer afternoon, at the American Center Library, Kolkata.
It was not just discovering a popular classic. It was also a case of self-discovery for me.
It was an instance of serendipity.
The poignant tale made me cry, made my thoughts crystallize on a number of things.
The association was total.
And - of course -
Most of my readers are perhaps aware of the wonderful manner in which the book chronicles a year in a man's life after he loses his girlfriend.
And those who haven't read the book, must read it whenever they get a chance.
But the reason I started talking about the book in this post dedicated to Kolkata in winter, is that I would like it very much to see my favorite city - Kolkata - chronicled in contemporary literature (Bangla or English) in the wintry delights and/or pitfalls.
I am yet to come across such a piece of fiction (be it a novel or a short story) - if any of my readers can illuminate on the same, I'd remain grateful.
One of my friends had asked me to write about Kolkata's unique thrills in winter; let me confess that I am not much of a winter-lover so I think others can do more justice to that. However, I oblige by making a mention of just some of the delicacies and delights typical of Kolkata.

The chilly days & nights are just a few. Winter has a short stay in Kolkata. Though it nags and bothers distressingly at the fag end of the season. The chilly scene is enlivened by roadside dwellers and the bunch of homeless people who light up a bonfire with twigs, leaves and what not - unaware of the carcinogenic consequences, they even do not hesitate to burn rubber and plastics.
In my childhood, winter meant three wondrous things:
a mandatory visit to the zoo,
being treated to circus & magic shows, and maybe a film too, if my parents were in a mood to over-indulge,
and, last but not the least, the wintry food fare: ranging from the fresh seasonal vegetables & fruits, to the sweetmeats - notungurer rossogolla, sandesh, and paayesh.
Kolkata isn't as lucky as Delhi when one thinks of the relish of extensive & lavish delicacies from the eponymous Dehlvi cuisine; however, we are lucky enough to be spared the intense bite of the chilly winter that makes me dread Delhi in winter!
The circuses and zoos have become passé, what with the politically correct stand on the animals (can't lament on that too, if the animal rights issues are given a fair consideration) and the local sweetmeats have taken a backseat or are often lost in ignominy as the pizzas, pastries and other confections have gained our preferences.
Yet, winter makes us nostalgic.
And, the wintry blues rule.

Post Script: Today is the death anniversary of Job Charnock; without him there wouldn't have been the thriving city of Kolkata as we know it; Job Charnock died on this day in 1692. I dedicate this post to that servant and administrator of the English East India Company, traditionally regarded as the founder of Calcutta (Kolkata).