Saturday, June 07, 2008

Aamir+ SR 


If someone drove off with your luggage from the airport, wouldn’t your first instinct be to yell for the cops? If you were in deep trouble, wouldn’t you try to get help, from friends, relatives, if not the police? If someone wants to force you to commit a crime, would he make you play ‘treasure-hunt’ all day, or get to business quick and cut risk of exposure?

If you discount the implausibility of the plot—and you do, for most commercial films, right? —then Raj Kumar Gupta’s debut film Aamir is a terrific watch. Unfortunately, it isn’t original— it bears too close a resemblance to Philippino film Cavite (which had similarities to Nick of Time and Phone Booth) to be coincidental—but Gupta’s control of the medium is still masterful.

Aamir Ali (Rajeev Khandelwal), a doctor returning from London, puts up with the insolence of the customs officer with remarkable patience. The minute he steps out of the airport his nightmare begins.

A cell phone is tossed to him by two sinister men on a mobike, a voice tells him to take a cab and come to Dongri (a Muslim-area in South Mumbai), and that his whole family has been kidnapped and will be killed if he won’t obey.

Aamir is made to go on a mad chase through the slums and ghettos of the area, presumably because the caller (Gajraj Rao) wants the privileged doctor to see how poor Muslims live, and feel the anger and urge to fight “them.” Eerily, the film captures an ordinary day in the life of the caller— including his playing with a cute child.

Aamir’s complete passivity is odd, as is his not taking off his suit jacket and tie in Mumbai’s heat; at a few points in the film it looks as if Aamir will attempt to fight back, but this is not about unreal herogiri, it’s about an ordinary man’s extraordinary heroism.

Apart from Khandelwal’s superb performance, the other hero of the film is cinematographer Alphonse Roy, who realistic work (a lot of handheld and hidden camera shots) gives the viewer goose bumps --a scene in a filthy toilet makes you hold your breath, as if you were there yourself. The actors all look like they were picked from the real locations. The editing and music are near-perfect too.

Gupta worked with Anurag Kashyap earlier and the similarity in style is discernable, but the newcomer has all the makings of a fine director. If only he can come up with an original script the next time.

Sarkar Raj

There is a section of the audience that wants to see stars, is not particularly demanding, is happy if the ticket money is not totally wasted. For them Sarkar Raj is an okay watch.

But those who want slightly more intelligent entertainment, those who would like to see a director of Ram Gopal Varma’s seniority and experience grow out of his boyish preoccupation with power and violence; those who are socially and politically aware, those who can see below the surface—they will be hugely disappointed by Sarkar Raj.

In Sarkar, Varma had already made a hero of a man this film also describes as “neta ke bhes mein gunda.” Only a particularly juvenile person would want to admire a leader who has absolutely no moral compass. If he can kill, he has to suffer death too, why should we care if one of his equally ruthless adversaries does to him, what he does to others, because he “thinks it is right”?

To this Godfather- like confederation of thugs, Varma tries to bring in the issue of a “do sau hazaar crore” power plant, and let two sides take the battle to the streets, without bothering to take an informed stand on it or doing the bare minimum of research.

The power-suited Anita (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and her slimy flunky Hassan Qazi (Govind Namdeo) approach Subhash Nagre aka Sarkar to help them set up a power plant in rural Maharastra. It means displacing 40,000 people, but Nagre Jr., Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan) is in favour of it, because it will help Maharashtra progress. Sarkar’s mentor Raosaheb (Dilip Prabhawalkar) seems to give it a nod, but his own grandson Somji (Rajesh Shringarpure) opposes it on the grounds that the villagers will lose their land and the electricity will be for the cities.

Varma does not even pause to debate the issue, he just lets Shankar be in the right, and turns him into a visionary, who is willing to “ignore short-term loss for long-term gain,” and has absolutely no profit motive. The man who killed his own brother did not get where he did by being a woolly-headed idealist.

The villains set against him are a set of clowns—a nutty-looking minister, a singing industrialist and Anita’s father, who abruptly shifts the power plant to Gujarat, as if these multi-billon projects are a board game of Monopoly.

There is bloodshed on both sides, and when the conspiracy is revealed, it is laughably simplistic. But there’s a Sarkar Part 3 on the way, going by the ending.

Varma’s politics may be half-baked, but he does give his films a distinctive look, even it means shooting hideous close-ups and having faces bleached out by strong light from the windows. Performances? Amitabh Bachchan—smooth like vintage wine; Abhishek Bachchan with one grim, unsmiling, ‘frowny’ look; Aishwarya can’t do much with her weakling character. The “Govinda Govinda” and “Sam Dam Dand Bhed” chants in the background, make the film sound like a Balaji serial.

Whatever the fate of this film may be, Varma badly needs to reinvent himself.


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