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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Caught At Home? Must Watch Movies This Lockdown

Band Baaja Baraat(2010) Have you ever wondered what they mean when they talk about the chemistry between a screen pair? Watch this delightful ode to the Great Indian Wedding.It solves the mystery of chemistry for keeps. The super-accomplished Anushka Sharma and debutant,quite easily the discovery of the year, Ranveer Singh(is this really his first film?) whip up a wondrous camaraderie in scenes written with such skill and craft you really don’t see the labour that has gone into building this love-shove during the time of weddings-sheddings in the heart of Nayee Dilli.

Capital pleasure, anyone?

Band Baaja Baaraat(BBB) is an utterly joyous and enjoyable look-see at the world of Punjabi weddings in Delhi as seen through the eyes of two wedding planners,partners in business Shruti and Bittu who have sworn from Day 1 never to get involved with one another.

‘Pyar’(love) and ‘Vyapaar’(business) just don’t jell. The couple keeps telling one another this.But are the Gods listening? The skilfully-written superbly crafted rom-com takes the no-holds-barred pair’s relationship through a lavish labyrinth of shaadi shindings replete with Bhangra tracks(Salim-Suleiman) that provoke your heart and feet to jump up and dance.

Outwardly the film looks like Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding put into a maze of wedding festivities that seem to meander from one joyous jig to another until we come to a point where we ask in unison…now what?

With a smoothness of touch that shows the hand of a writer who knows his job thoroughly(full marks to the dialogue and screenwriter Habib Faizal) BBB changes the profile of Shruti-Buttu’s relationship midway. What remains unchanged is that sense of joie de vivre which comes to a film on that rare occasion when the writer and director know where they’re going and how to take the characters there without giving away the signposts to the audience.

Delhi , that city of bustling streets, speeding autorickshaws, restive bus stops, bottom pinchers and money filchers has never been more vibrant and alive in any other recent film. Aseem Mishra’s camera penetrates the heart of the Capital and the souls of its two unforgettable protagonists.

Unlike Yashraj Films’ Bunty and Babli some years ago, Bittu and Shruti are fooling no one except themselves.

“Tujhe saanp-seedhi ka khel bahut pasand hai na?” Bittu challenges Shruti towards the end.

Oh,the games people in love play with one another to ward off the inevitable embrace! This vibrant voluptuous ride through the kaleidoscope of weddings as the two wedding planners forget that there is a planner far more powerful than they to plan their destiny, is as engaging as it is caliber-defining for the rom-com in Hindi cinema.

What does one say about the two principal performers without tripping over with the excitement of being in the midst of remarkable talent?!With just three films Anushka Sharma has grown into one of the most watchable and eloquent contemporary actresses. To the role of the spirited Shruti Anushka adds the kind of spice that one associates with Kajol and Rani Mukherjee.In two key sequences with Ranveer Singh ( where she conceals her true feelings and much later lets them all out in a tumble of smirking hurt) Anushka blows the screen apart.

As for the film’s hero debutant Ranveer Singh sinks his teeth into Bittu’s part with a self-confidence that comes to actors after at least ten full-fledged films.And that too if they are gifted.Here’s new talent in a film industry dominated by jaded superstars. Ranveer’s spirited screen presence and quicks-silver comic timing makes the older stars look…well old, if not outdated. In the climax where he calls himself an ass for denying his feelings, Ranveer is a revelation.Go for this newcomer, producers. He will soon be booked for the next three years.

The supporting players are largely unexposed artistes. They add to that sense of feisty freshness that runs across the film.

Bravo , Yashraj for bringing such exceptional new talent to our cinema. Bravo , debutant director Maneesh Sharma for taking us through the organized chaos of traditional weddings in movements of pure pleasure and enjoyment that communicate themselves to the audience .

Hours after watching the film I’ve still not stopped smiling.

English Vinglish(2012): There are no villains in English Vinglish. Only imperfect human beings like you and I, who make that common error of taking loved ones for granted.

Admit it. At some point in our lives we have all felt that if we don’t speak good English, we are not destined to be successful human beings. Imagine a housewife–beautiful, efficient, charming, supportive…imagine if she looks like…well, Sridevi and still feels she is being taken for granted just because she can’t speak fluent angrezi.

Shashi’s children find her embarrassing at times. Her husband openly cracks jokes about her accent and poor grasp of a language we should have thrown out with Tom Alter’s wig in Shatranj Ke Khiladi. Shashi’s husband thinks he’s just being urbane and witty. But it hurts. We see that hurt in Sridevi’s eyes each time she is slighted and snubbed by those whom she loves the most.

We know this world. We know this woman too. Gauri Shinde brings to the comfort of the familiar a feeling and flavour of wonderment, discovery and beauty.

English Vinglish is a fabulous fable of a woman’s self-actualization. Shabana Azmi used to do such films in the 1970s. The issues in those films about unfulfilled wives were largely socially-defined: infidelity, adultery, betrayal. The betrayal of the unforgettable woman in English Vinglish is far less dramatic and therefore much more profoundly deep-rooted. Shashi breaks up a little every time the three most important people on her life – her husband, daughter and son – crack up at her vernacular accent.

Then comes the chance for redemption. A 3-week vacation in the USA, a clandestine crash course in English and best of all, a chance to feel wanted and special when a fellow-classmate, a quietly striking French chef , gives Shashi the attention she doesn’t get from her husband.

This is the complete Middleclass Woman’s Fantasy.Go out on your own and find happiness. Debutante director Gauri Shinde wins over the audience at the story-level itself. And then as a bonus, she proves herself a master storyteller. The delicacy and grace with which Gauri Shinde builds Shashi’s life of half-fulfilled domesticity proves a master story-teller is at work here.

Sure, Shinde gets a tremendous boost from her cinematographer Laxman Utekar(who captures New York in its quiet mellow state of bustling grace), her music composer Amit Trivedi(whose music simply and fluently melts into the theme and storytelling) and editor Hemanti Sarkar(who cuts the footage the way Shashi would cut her vegetables, precisely, lovingly and without anxiety).

Finally it’s really the director’s call.

In what I rank as the best debut by a female director since Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringee Lane, Gauri Shinde imbues a majestic mellowness and an unostentatious glow to the story of Shashi’s coming-of-age saga. Shashi’s ennui is not the in-your-face tragic pathos of Madhabi Mukherjee in Satyajit Ray’s Charulata or Shabana Azmi in Kalpana Lajmi’s Ek Pal. No case-history of domestic torture is built for our heroine. And no, the husband (Adil Hussain, brilliant in a thankless role) is not a cad sneaking into another woman’s bed.

The unseen and unforeseen forces at work in Shashi’s saga are far more subtle and therefore much more powerfully potent. The narration doesn’t try to pin its resplendent protagonist’s life down to boomarked vignettes suggesting a violent need to be liberated from her domestic life. It’s all very ….ummmm…normal, routine, recognizable and familiar.

The miracle of watching English Vinglish confer such a supple and contoured shape to Shashi’s life is attributable to the director’s high-concept theme and treatment. Gauri Shinde abhors over-statement. You hardly ever see Shashi break down.And so when the awards fall into Sridevi’s lap at year-end the nomination clip won’t be the Woman Who Suffers Wracking Trauma stereotype.

Nope. This woman is far more special than the bored housewives who look for an alibi to burst into their own version of Kaaton se kheench key yeh aanchal tod ke bandhan bandi payal to justify their succulent bites into the forbidden fruit. Sridevi simply sinks into the Big Apple, biting off juicy mouthfuls of NY’s sobering cultural grace absorbing the cultural shock with a dignity that films about journeys tend to undervalue. Not this one. English Vinglish a delectable geographical and emotional journey undertaken with a refreshing absence of bravura and self-congratulation.

Much of Shashi’s inner power comes from Sridevi owning the role. This actress simply vanishes into her character living every breath of Shashi’s voyage from laddoo-making to self-actualization. The journey is so excitng for us the audience because we feel a new world of experiences unravel for Shashi even as she savours the newness of it all. When she watches an Elizabeth Taylor classic with her new friends in her English class we see what Vidya Balan couldn’t in The Dirty Picture. A woman who echoes the state of grace that she sees on screen.

Sridevi is the film’s backbone. To her good fortune, and ours, the film is supported by a uniformly impeccable cast. Hardly ever in recent times have I seen so many wonderful performers in one film who don’t seem to ‘perform’ at all. Whether it’s Shashi’s immediate family, or her sister’s family in the US, and her class-mates at the coaching institute(quite a bit of splendour in the class)…every character stays with us. Every person populating the plot is vididly sketched.

Finally of course this is Sridevi’s film. In the past she has given outstanding performances in awful films like Nagina and Judaai. Here her inviolable virtuosity and exceptional grace get brilliant support from every department of the film.Specially memorable are her scenes with her French co-star Mehdi Nebbou who is so splendidly supportive, we forget what a major star he is in France. Each time the two get passionate and emotional about one another they speak in their native tongues,certain that their words would not impede the meaning of their thought expression.

Words, this beautiful work of unassuming art tells us, are redundant. More so, when the embodiment of silent eloquence Sridevi needs to express her inner thoughts. She never allows her character to look like a victim. That is the real triumph of English Vinglish.

Sublime subtle seductive and thoroughly engaging English Vinglish is in some ways, a life-changing experience. It turns around the male gaze, making patriarchal tyranny seem like an acceptable tradition that we never thought we needed to break.With oodles of persuasive charm, the director breaks down the bastion of male pride with a film that generations will look back on with affection.As for the incandescent Sridevi, was she really away for 16 years?She makes the contemporary actresses, even the coolest ones, look like jokes with her flawless interpretation of a woman who seeks only respect because love, she already has.

Flaws? Yes one. Amitabh Bachchan’s cameo overstays its welcome. Actually Gauri Shinde plays the Big B the best possible compliment in the opening credits : “100 Years Of Indian cinema…70 Years Of Amitabh Bachchan.”

To that we can add, a good 40 years of Sridevi. If you watch only two films every year make sure you see English Vinglish…twice!

No One Killed Jessica(2011): Justice will be drunk. For a while the murderer Manish Bhardwaj(Mohammed Zeshan Ayyub, looking like a cat that got the cream on its head while aiming for the mouth) is allowed to go scot-free. How did this monstrous travesty of justice happen in this celebrated real-life case?

This, as they say, can happen only in India. Apna Bharat Mahaan. And one says this without irony after watching in rapt attention Rajkumar(Aamir) Gupta’s stupendous take on a headline that ripped across the lives of the rich and powerful and the exceedingly pretentious elite of Delhi.

No One Killed Jessica straightaway takes us into the world of Jessica’s sister Sabrina Lal. The phone rings in the dead of the night to announce that Sabrina’s ebullient sister has hurt himself. “Go get her treated.She’s always hurting himself,” Sabrina mumbles in her sleep.

The hurt, this time, is far deeper than expected. Wounds too deep to be repaired open up in our socio-political and legal system as Sabrina’s case becomes a cause celebre…once again! In re-creating the heinous crime from 1999 and the woeful attempts to suppress evidence to save the life of a bigda raeeszada, director Rajkumar Gupta is dead-on accurate. The mood of justice-smothered prevails from Frame 1. Cinematographer Anay Goswami swoops down on Delhi(the sutradhar of the plot, so to speak) to capture the mood of sweat grime and crime. Amit Trivedi’s wry resonant rippling sinewy music casts a zingy spell over the goings-on.Trivedi infact invests a 2011 feel to the happenings in 1999 without subverting the periodicity.

Aarti Bajaj edits the footage with an austerity that gives us barely a chance to grieve for Sabrina and her distraught parents.We don’t miss the mother’s glazed eyes,though . The pace is relentless, perhaps a little bit too much so. Why the paranoid persistence about creating a breathless pace? We weren’t going away anywhere, Mr Gupta.

No One Killed Jessica is a persuasive powerful and pungent docu-drama. The narrative is remarkably devoid of overt sentimentality. The let’s-get-on-with-the-job-of-nailing-the-bastards mood goes effectively with the investigative journalist Meera’s character.

As the Kargil-returned, cynical,horny chain-smoking foul-tongued bitch(her own description) Rani Mukherjee returns to the screen with a bravura performance. Looking like a million bucks and exuding a torrent of temperamental emotions Rani furnishes the fight for justice with an emphatic élan.Yup,she’s got what it takes.

Cleverly Sabrina Lal’s character is transformed into a mousy timid quivering virgin-working girl (which the real-life Sabrina is not). By portraying Sabrina as an anti-gregarious creature of the shadows, Gupta immediately and effectively creates a contrast between Sabrina and her deceased vivacious sister Jessica(Myra,sunny screen presence) and of course between Sabrina and Meera.

The contrasts are not killing.

This is an implosively crafted screenplay shot with deft unsentimental hands that avoid the over-emotional moments by simply getting on with the business of getting justice for the Lal family.

Indeed, No One Killed Jessica does full justice to Jessica’s memory. There are moments of great cinema strewn across the plot. Moments such as the one where Sabrina tells Meera she has no emotional freedom to do any of the normal things that girls her age do, or when the awkward untrained journalist struggles to tell Sabrina on camera that she can understand what the family is going through.And Sabrina retorts, “No you can’t. You don’t know.”

For us from the outside it’s very difficult to empathize with a family that has gone through a tragedy of such emphatic enormity. It’s even more difficult for a filmmaker to avoid seeming exploitative in recreating such a celebrated real-life tragedy. Rajkumar Gupta has managed to make a sensational motion picture without resorting to sensationalism.

Yes, the film could’ve been less ‘obvious’ about its dramatic conflicts. Very often you feel the main characters are doing exactly what you’d expect them to , given the ghastly situation.Whether that is a good or a bad thing cannot be easily determined. Just where the filmmaker’s integrity dissolves into his temptation to make the headline-driven plot cinematically inviting, is a debatable issue. But this film doesn’t allow us to doubt its intentions.

The performances are pitch-perfect…in Rani’s case, bitch-perfect. She makes the aggressive journalist Meera come alive in places like the conscience,that are not visible to the naked eye. like the conscience. Vidya Balan’s slouch, hesitant demeanour, soft-spoken speech patterns and a smothered pain and hurt make Sabrina Lal a character you empathize with because she isn’t screaming for your attention. She’s just doing what her conscience tells her. From the wanton adulterous saucy village wife in Ishqiya in January 2010 to the repressed anguished casualty of urban callousness in this film…what a range Vidya reveals!

The rest of the cast of virtual newcomers is outstanding.Rajesh Sharma as the conscientious cop(the only voice of reason in an establishment filled with treason!), Neil Bhoopalan as the primary witness (who turns hostile because in his words he was offered a bullet or a crore and he wanted neither) , Satyadeep Mishra as Rani’s quietly professional boss(Pranoy Roy knocking 30 years off) and of course Myra as Jessica…these are real people, not actors.

Cleverly No One Killed Jessica ends with Jessica posing pouting and blowing kisses into the camera. The poignancy of the provocative postures somehow reminded me of Jodie Foster in The Accused where the girl having fun is gang-raped in a bar.

Do we still punish women who dare to have a good time in a male bastion?

No One Killed Jessica fills you with hope on many levels.While you look ahead with enthusiasm for more such quality-conscious cinema in 2011,you also look into a further future where justice will be done and human life won’t be snuffed out for a drink. This is a tale that had to be told. It is told in an edgy,gritty warm and provocative tone. Take a bow,Rani(welcome back!), Vidya, Rajkumar Gupta and the absolutely enthralling supporting actors. No one seems to be acting. Artifice is not one of the film’s many qualities.

Thank God for small mercies.

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