Monday, March 19, 2007

Water+ 2 


Deepa Mehta’s Water has been made for a Western audience, and for them this is the ‘reality’ of India—beauty and backwardness.

It is true that some widows in North India are still dumped by their families into miserable ashrams, but setting the film in the 1930s, allows the glossing over of the fact that in today’s India, not all widows are burnt at the husband’s pyre or thrown into ashrams in Benaras to fend for themselves; that even when the story of Water was set, there were strong reform movements happening in various parts of the country, which fought against child marriages, got Sati abolished and also encouraged widow remarriage.

Besides, Hindu society is not one monolithic structure where everyone adheres to the same beliefs and customs—but why bother to go into all that, when one quote from Manu can damn all Hindus -- The Laws of Manu: "A widow should be long-suffering until death, self-restrained and chaste".

Also, Indian audiences would immediately spot that the ‘fake’ Benaras is not remotely like the real thing. The plot of Water claimed by a writer from Bengal is also reminiscent of an old Hollywood melodrama in which a courtesan commits suicide when she finds that the man she love is the son of a client.

Nothing to do with Deepa Mehta’s considerable skills as a director (much better than her writing), but the way she has been going on and on about Hindu fundamentalists trying to stop the film and making it her film’s marketing point, is a bit much. Catholics picketed the theatres when The Last Temptation of Christ was released, they protested against The Passion of the Christ and Da Vinci Code, Jews objected to Life is Beautiful, but you don’t hear their makers breast-beating in every interview. A small group of fundamentalists disrupted her shooting, and they did not represent the country.

The visual beauty of the film (Giles Nuttgens) overshadows the story about widows in an ashram seen through the eyes of the latest entrant, an eight-year-old Chuiya (Sarala) who can’t even remember being married. The ashram is run by the gross Madhumati (Manorama), who sends the most beautiful inmate Kalyani (Lisa Ray) across the river to please rich men, so that the other women can survive.

Kalyani blandly obeys, till a handsome Brahmin law student Narayan (John Abraham) falls in love with her and wants to marry her. Impossible…even a fictional film about the tragedy of widows has to end in tragedy. Kalyani commits suicide (Lisa Ray walking into the Ganga as elegantly as a model for a soap ad), and what happens to Chuiya is too unbelievable to be true. The character who is most likeable and well rounded is Shakuntala (a superb Seema Biswas), who actually prevents the film from becoming drippy and a little too schematic.

The lead pair’s acting leaves much to be desired, and the film is worth watching because of its stunning look— even though the bleakness of the river bank in Sri Lanka where the film was shot, is a far cry from the noise, bustle, colour, and yes, squalor too, of Benaras.


It’s an earnest first effort—a film on the Indian prisoners of war left to languish in Pakistani prisons after the 1971 Bangladesh War.

Unfortunately, Amrit Sagar’s 1971 got beaten to the post by Milan Luthria’s bigger (though not better) star-studded Deewar: Let’s Bring Our Heroes Home. And in such a short span of time, how many escape-from-prison films can the audience take?

In 1971—fiction but based in fact—all Indian POWs in various Pak jails are suddenly transferred to a remote camp, where they are treated slightly better by their captors. The leader of the group Major Suraj Singh rightly surmises that something is up. An Indian army wife approached the Red Cross and the Pakistani human rights people to trace her husband, even though the government and army deny the presence of any POWs in the country. So the POWs have been made to ‘vanish’.

Major Suraj Singh and five loyal mates make an elaborate escape plan, hoping that if even one makes it across the border, they can expose the condition of their fellow prisoners.

The escape plan works, rather too easily, but it’s not all that easy to reach the border with the Pakistani army in hot pursuit, since they are worried that if the truth is out, there will be hell to pay. This threat of exposure is greatly overstated, since it was well known that there were Indian POWs across the border, and nobody did much about it.

There always is a slightly formulaic air to such films (see Stalag 17 and The Great Escape and you have seen them all), but Amrit Sagar has directed some scenes very powerfully and avoided the temptation of painting all Pakistanis as monsters. The actors are real faces, not stars, and that makes a big difference. All the six—Manoj Bajpai, Ravi Kishen, Manav Kaul, Kumud Mishra, Deepak Dobriyal and Chitaranjan Giri (as the sole ultra-patriotic Muslim) are excellent and keep up the spirit of the film. Some of the actors (mostly from the stage) who play Pakistanis are very good too.

Red: The Dark Side

The promos promise steamy sex, but in Red: The Dark Side, the passion is more thanda than a cold shower in winter. Our actors—particularly the talentless ones—think that showing skin and doing smooching scenes will net them a hit. It may work at publicity level, but then the film should deliver in other areas too.

Neel (Aftab Shivdasani) is pulled back from the brink of death when a heart donor is found for a transplant. He wants to thank the dead man’s wife, and falls for her Anahita (Celina Jaitley). After much heaving and panting on Dalmatian-print sheets, the smitten Neel is willing to commit murder for Anahita.

He does kill a junkie (Amin Haaji), and has a smirking cop (Sushant Singh) on his case. Amrita Arora plays Anahita’s friend, who was having an affair with her husband. You really don’t care who did what to whom and why.

Bhatt gives the film a dark, rainy, ‘arty’ look, which, frankly, in a film like this is a waste of the cinematographer and lab guys’ effort.

Aftab Shivdasani wears a frowny expression throughout and shows off his new muscles. Celina Jaitley and Amrita Arora are like Page 3 kittens who have wandered into a film, and paid more attention to their make-up and clothes than their acting. There were three people in the suburban multiplex—so that proves that sex doesn’t always sell.


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