Sunday, September 14, 2008

3 This Week 

The Last Lear

There comes a time in an actor’s career when he gets a role that his whole career seems to have led towards, and The Last Lear is that watershed in Amitabh Bachchan’s career. Only he could have played the part of a crotchety old Shakespearean actor, contemptuous of the world of films and modern life—balancing the theatricality of the character with an unmissable poignancy. And what a voice, what delivery and what an imposing presence. Problem is what is he going to do for an encore? Hope not silly ghosts and gangsters.

That said, Rituparno Ghosh’s film based on an Utpal Dutt play Aajker Shahjahan, has been updated but still can’t shake off its mothballs. For one, is the theatre vs film debate still on? The film within a film about an aging clown—not seen as much as discussed—sounds like it is an old, pretentious Bengali art film.

Still, 75-year-old Harry Mishra (Bachchan) a retired stage actor, now an alcoholic eccentric, interests you and you want to know how he adjusts to life and work outside his cocoon of a house overstuffed with furniture— but instead of more of that, you get three women sitting in his living room griping about men. Actress Shabnam (Preity Zinta), Harry’s companion Vandana (Shefali Shah) and his nurse Ivy (Divya Dutta) all have problems and while Harry languishes in a coma inside, they talk all night and bits and pieces of what happened to Harry emerge, as the world celebrates Diwali and elsewhere, the only film Harry starred in is being premiered.

The shooting of the film ended in tragedy and the director (Arjun Rampal) who had charmed Harry into acting in a film after a very long hiatus, is inexplicably apathetic.

Fine performances all round, but when Bachchan’s not in the frame, the film sags.


Okay, so Vikram Bhatt’s 1920 is a cross between The Exorcist and Bhool Bhulaiya, but those looking for a scare should not complain about being shortchanged.

As is obvious from the title, 1920 is a period film, shot in a grand and isolated English mansion, supposedly in Palampur. The period costumes, furniture, etc., may not be all that authentic, but that’s hardly the point here.

A prologue with a dead architect, establishes the presence of an evil spirit in this haveli, which for some reason, the unseen owner wants to tear down and convert into a hotel (in a desolate town with no habitation for miles around?). The latest architect comes with newly wed wife Lisa (Adah Sharma), for whom he has fought with his Rajput family and renounced his faith.

Seems a bit odd that such a huge house has just one servant, but the eeriness is turned on like a tap, and very soon strange things start happening, only to Lisa. A priest, father Thomas (Raj Zutshi) tries to help, but matters get worse.

There is a reason behind why Lisa is targeted and how she is connected to a portrait (Anjori Alagh) in a locked room in the house, and that takes up a longish flashback, going back to 1857.

It is inevitable that Arjun will regain his faith, and to get him to recite the Hanuman Chalisa again (he is seen praying and chanting when he is first introduced), there is a crackerjack climax, that allows one to forgive the slow pace and many other incongruities (like the year-long autumn and forever unraked leaves, and totally unwanted Rakhi Sawant item number) of the film.

Unfortunately, the standard of acting leaves much to be desired, though Adah Sharma has submitted to the hideous make up (very scary) and being tossed around with an admirable ease. Bhatt delivers the chills alright, though it is a pity that Indian horror filmmakers are not venturing beyond conventional plots about haunted havelis and spirit possession.

Ru Ba Ru

A first-time filmmaker, trying hard to get his dream across and failing, is pardonable. But why would a filmmaker want to make his debut with a copy of a soppy Hollywood film, make it worse, and that too with actors who are not so charismatic that they can hold an audience all by themselves? One of those unsolvable puzzles of Bollywood.

So Arjun Chandramohan Bali picks up a DVD of If Only (which any sensible person would have chucked into the bin on sight), casts Randeep Hooda and Shahana Goswami, takes them to Bangkok to shoot Ru Ba Ru and blows it. On paper, the idea of being able to relive a day, and repair the damage done, sounds wonderful, but on film (both the Hollywood and its copy), it is simply ‘déjà vu’ boring.

Nikhil (Hooda) and Tara (Goswami) live together, but after two years, the relationship is under a strain. He is busy with work, she nags incessantly, and after many bursts of petty squabbling, she dies in an accident.

The next morning, Nikhil (sleeping a bit too soundly for one who has just suffered trauma), wakes to find Tara by his side, and she is not a ghost. Due to some magical touch by a weird Punjabi speaking cabbie (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), Nikhil has been given a chance to right past mistakes.

The day starts as it was before, but with subtle changes, and Nikhil gives Tara the best day of her life—remembers their anniversary, takes her on a romantic trip, visits his estranged parents and lands up to applaud her rather stolid staging of Romeo and Juliet (in Hindustani! In Bangkok! And she has been working at it for two years? Bah!)

Takes some patience to sit through this one and watch the two stars (and many dud supporting actors) make a bigger mess of it, because they simply can’t get the emotions right. Hooda is not romantic hero material, and Goswami could have been told to cut out the toothy, wide-eyed, cutesy act.. and she was so good in Rock On.


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