Friday, January 23, 2009

SM and Raaz2 

Slumdog Millionaire

India has a way of accepting second hand from the West, what was our own to begin with. Like yoga, herbal medicine or curry.

Slumdog Millionaire, with its multiple wins and Oscar nominations, just re-packages Ram Gopal Verma and Mahesh Bhatt.. Raj Kapoor and KA Abbas too if we were to go back further, and gives the waiting world a Bollywood film done Angrez style.. the film equivalent of power yoga or pizza with tandoori toppings.

One is not arguing for or against the portrayal of India as a brutal, squalid country— it’s the director’s prerogative what he wants to see and show—and if he sees only filth and evil, it’s his vision.

As a story, there is nothing in it that the Indian audience has not seen before, but it is to Boyle’s credit, that he t ells the same old story with great flair, a breathtaking pace and impeccable production values, set to AR Rahman’s exhilarating score.

Just taking the idea from Vikas Swarup’s modern-day fairy tale of a novel Q & A and bleaching all the colour and goodness out of it, Boyle tells the relentlessly dark tale of a tea boy in a call centre, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) whose traumatic experience as a child gives him the answers to all the questions asked in a quiz show. The condescending host (Anil Kapoor) is annoyed enough to get Jamal tortured by the cops (Irrfan Khan-Saurabh Shukla).

In the book, the boy was an orphan, here he gets a mother, a brother and a religion—adding a needless communal angle, as his mother is killed in a riot, so he knows that Lord Ram carries a bow and arrow in his right hand!

Jamal, his street smart brother Salim and Latika, a girl they befriend, go through all kinds of awful adventures—like almost being blinded (another child is in a scene that makes the flesh crawl) by a Fagin like beggar mafia leader (Ankur Vikal), and Latika ending up in a brothel.

As Salim (Madhur Mittal) becomes a gangster, Jamal spends his life looking for Latika (Freida Pinto), finally finding her captive in the home of a gangster (Mahesh Manjrekar), where his own brother has sent her.

He participates in the quiz show to reach out to Latika, and the climax is pure Bollywood— emotion, action, sacrifice, redemption and true love dancing at the railway station (to the Oscar nominated Jai Ho).

Boyle does treat the unsavoury material (at one point little Jamal jumps into a puddle of poo to be able to get Amitabh Bachchan’s autograph—a scene that would make anyone nauseous) with humour and unflinching affection, and never lets the narrative pause long enough for his characters or the audience to catch their breath. The performances, particularly by the kids are wonderful, there is an exuberance and vitality to the film that is admirable, but the West’s over-enthusiastic response to Slumdog Millionaire is baffling. Maybe as others (notably Mr Bachchan and the person who sued because of the insulting title) have pointed out, this is perhaps the picture of India the world wants to see, and hence the honours for this very well made but hardly extraordinary film.

Raaz: The Mystery Continues

Like most recent horror films like Phoonk and 1920, Mohit Suri’s Raaz: The Mystery Continues faithfully follows set horror film conventions, but gives some more thought to the plot — maybe inspired by Stigmata, making an uneasy combination with Ganashatru (based on Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People) and of course, elements of The Exorcist.

Nandita (Kangana Ranaut), a model starts showing signs of mysterious attacks by spirits, which irritates her boyfriend Yash (Adhyayan Suman), who hosts a TV show called Andhvishwas, exposing supernatural phenomena as hoaxes and superstition. Nandita is also stalked by a haunted-looking painter Prithvi (Emraan Hashmi), who paints the unpleasant incidents before they occur to her, and can’t figure out the connection.

Two other people have died with the same kind of wounds that show up on Nandita’s body, and the same message written on the wall by their corpses. The secret lies in a hill town called Kalindi where a big religious festival takes place, so Nandita and Prithvi go there to investigate.

The setting up of the suspense fine-- there are some truly spooky scenes, and Suri resists using horror stock in trades like loud, jarring music or black cats and crows; once it’s time for the unraveling of the mystery, that he gets into a inextricable maze of overwritten scenes.. not to give away anything, but Jackie Shroff appears at some point in Heath Ledger like clown make-up.

The reason for why Nandita was being attacked is as odd as the wild bull attack in the middle of nowhere; and the film goes on for far too long than is good for a horror film and there are boring bits in between.

Kangana Ranaut – not looking her best—has to look terrified and emit piercing screams once in a while, which she does adequately. Emraan Hashmi is fine as the freaky painter, but Adhyayan Suman needs a lot of improvement. The songs are already on top of the charts, so no shortfall in that department.

The problem is that films like this tend to-- unfairly -- mock people who don’t believe in the paranormal. The better attitude would perhaps be, to each his own, just tell your story without coming down so hard on rationalism.


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