Friday, February 04, 2005

Black & Shabd 


When we are getting our minds and sensibilities battered by films week after week, respite comes in the form of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black, which can be appreciated at so may levels – most of all aesthetic.

Taking inspiration from the story of Helen Keller and her tutor Anne Sullivan (made into an Oscar winning Miracle Worker), Bhansali turns the tutor into a male, thus giving the story an added element of romance.

Michelle McNally (Ayesha Kapur/Rani Mukerji) is blind, deaf and mute—her helplessness and frustration leads to violent animal like behaviour. Her father (Dhritiman Chatterjee) wants to send her to an institution, but her mother (Shernaz Patel) wants her to get a chance to live as normal a life as possible. A tutor Devraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan), alcoholic, rude and crotchety is brought in, and despite protests from the father, he takes the little girl under his wing and teacher her to communicate through touch and sign language.

When she grows up he fights to get her admitted to a regular college and backs her in her indomitable struggle to pass. As Michelle’s love from him takes on a romantic/sexual fervour, Sahai also starts suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and leaves her to cope on her own. Years later, she is confident and brave, while he is like a helpless child.

It’s a story of the human spirit, but it is ultimately depressing. Michelle may have learnt to express emotions in words on her Braille typewriter, but that still doesn’t allow her to experience sights and sounds herself; nor is Alzheimer’s ‘curable’. But Black is a film of moments that either make the heart soar (when the child says “ma”) or sink (when Sahai is chained to his bed like a beast).

Bhansali also goes a bit over the top with the melodrama (was the jealous sister necessary?) and the Gothic look of the McNally home (common sense would prevent people from leaving lit candles around with a blind child in the house), but little quibbles apart, it is a wonderful and fabulously shot (Ravi K. Chandran) film.

A large chunk of the credit for making the great moments come alive would go to Bhansali’s actors. Rani Mukherji is flawless, right from a waddling faltering gait to the myriad expressions flitting across her face. Amitabh Bachchan just never ceases to amaze—so finely tuned is his performance, whether it is as the rough and obstinate tutor or the doddering old man without a memory. These two should sweep all the awards next year.

The little girl, Ayesha Kapur, who plays Michelle as a child is also splendid. Shernaz Patel and Dhritiman Chatterjee as the parents bring sensitivity and dignity to their parts. In a small ill-defined role of the sister, Nandana Dev Sen does well too.

Even though there is a lot of dialogue in English, and the film is slow paced, we need not underestimate our mass audience. This is the first time ever one heard applause after a film at a public screening.


To begin with, one has serious problems with the portrayal of an award-winning writer, who lives in a palatial house in Goa, despite the failure of his second book (panned for being unreal, who expects fiction to be real?) and suffering from writer’s block for two years. If the writer is played by Sanjay Dutt, hanging around the house in a suit, and walking with a gangster’s gait, it’s worse.

Leena Yadav's debut film Shabd is gorgeous-looking (shot by Aseem Bajaj), but highly pretentious, very boring and completely sexist. The writer, Shaukat (who still works on a typewriter, talks and thinks in Hindi but writes in English) wants realism in his novel, but all he has been able to come up with is a name --Tamanna. How this character will behave and what she will do, he has no idea. His predicament is seen in music video like surreal visuals, with alphabets raining down over jerky black and white images.

When his beautifully-dressed but bimbettish wife Antara (Aishwarya Rai) mentions a new colleague in the college where she teaches, Shaukat tells her to “let go” so that he can observe her and get his story, though a love triangle seems such a cliché anyway. Why Antara is so repressed and needs silly Sardarji jokes to make her laugh is not explained, but Yash (Zayed Khan), the chirpy “photography professor” seems to loosen her up.

Antara is not just brainless but also spineless-- on her husband’s instructions, she does not tell Yash that she is married and leads him on. But when she is actually attracted to them, she is frightened. In this day and age, it is perfectly normal for a man and a woman to be friends, and also okay for a woman to have an affair, but writer-director Yadav does not even consider the possibility. If Antara was in a marriage that was joyless, one in which a couple married for seven years has never gone out dancing (in Goa!), where she feels duty bound to love her husband, why should she not want out of it?

What happens to Shaukat is marginally more interesting—he starts believing that he is controlling the destinies of his characters and tries to play God. When his plans go awry, he can’t take it—thus leading to a long and unsatisfactory denouement.

You watch this unconvincing tale unfold, feeling no sympathy for any character and getting not the least involved with the childish emotional con games going on.

Of the three, only Aishwarya Rai comes up with a half-way decent performance, and looks her best in recent times. Not enough incentive, however, to sit through this preposterous movie.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

eXTReMe Tracker