Tuesday, March 24, 2009



Nandita Das makes an excellent debut with Firaaq – it is assured and heart-felt filmmaking. Considering the volatile subject matter, it is also remarkably subtle.

The film is set a little after the Gujarat genocide—and there are her characters going through those horrible times, coping in their own way. A submissive housewife (Deepti Naval) appalled at the complicity of her husband (Paresh Rawal) and his brother in the crimes, punishes herself.

There is a Muslim musician (Naseeruddin Shah), who is shielded from the trauma by his servant (Raghuvir Yadav). A young couple (Shahana Goswani-Nowaz) return to their home and find it burnt down; she suspects her best friend (Amruta Subhash) of having done it.

A couple that had an inter-religious marriage (Sanjay Suri-Tisca Chopra) plan to move out of Gujarat. A group of Muslim boys plan revenge and a child (Mohammad Samad) with terror on his face wanders around like a voice of conscience.

However, since the film comes so many years after the horror, these points have been made, the debates of the kind that take place in the film’s upper class drawing room have been exhausted, and what remains, perhaps is a shell of clichés and confused responses that strive to be secular and politically correct.

The way Gujarat is now is more interesting and complex – how the law enforcers, politicians and common people can put it all behind and become, much to everyone’s skepticism a rapidly developing state—and in such a circumstance, what residual emotions spring up. There is no debate about what happened then— words can’t describe the atrocity— so what one sees in the film seems like the anger and shame Das, as a civilized person, has carried with her over the years. And as an audience, one can say, that instead of stating the obvious, one is more interested in a mature filmmakers going below the surface, bringing out hidden or forgotten aspects.

Firaaq is still a brave film, a cry of anguish, and a cautionary note for the future. She has got superb performances from her ensemble cast – there’s Deepti Naval and her tormented eyes, and some whose names one doesn’t know (like the food cart man, who casually says what a lot of people probably only thought); even South star Nasser in a two scene cameo sears the screen.


It seems a bit odd—a guy in his thirties, who lives in London, owns a restaurant and drives Mercedes, is a total innocent when it comes to matters sexual.

Parvati Balagopalan’s Straight, takes a brave shot at a comedy about a guy who is so unlucky with women that he begins to worry that he is gay. Just that it is hardly funny, and not very edifying when some of scenes involve Vinay Pathak taking his shirt off.

It has been said before and it can be said again, Pathak is a fine actor, but when he is miscast and also shoved into every frame of the film, he isn’t all that watchable. And here his buffoonery tends to get out of hand, so instead of feeling sorry for poor virginal Pinu Patel, you feel exasperated.

His well-meaning aunt (Ketki Dave), uncle (Rasik Dave) and cousin (Sid Makkar) try to get him married, but Pinu is invariably left high and dry at the mandap. So he goes back to running his restaurant called Gaylord, and is seriously alarmed when the ‘Lord’ is dimmed, because he has started fantasizing about his new cook Kamlesh (Anuj Chaudhary), instead of his new rather over-eager cashier Renu (Gul Panag).

In London, where nobody would give a damn if he experimented any which way, Pinu looks goggle eyed or peers, anxiously at himself under his blanket, and generally behaves as if he had cancer in its third stage.

The good thing about the film is that it is not politically incorrect, does not portray gays as ‘pansy’ stereotypes (though there a moment when Pinu literally imagines himself as a pansy, as in the flower).

Anuj Chaudhary as a chef and aspiring stand up comedian, and Sid Makkar as the agony uncle cousin are the only two who don’t overact, and Gul Panag doesn’t act at all, merely looks excited at the sight of Pinu Patel.

Baraah Aana

Raja Menon’s film comes from the same school of thought as Aravind Adiga’s Booker-winning book The White Tiger, and maybe, to some extent, Slumdog Millionaire.

What they all say is that poverty in India is so dehumanizing, that any means are okay to get out of it—even crime.

Shukla (Naseeruddin Shah), a driver, Yadav (Vijay Raaz), a watchman and Aman (Anuj Mathur), a waiter live in the slums, and are, expectedly, always short of money. To top their misery, the silent Shukla’s employer is nasty and accuses him of everything from theft to body odour. Yadav can’t get anyone to lend him money when his son falls ill in the village. Aman’s problem is relatively trivial, he wants to impress a foreigner (Violante Placido) in the hope that she will marry him. He also has a slum woman (Tannishtha Chatterji) making eyes at him, and demanding to be taken to a movie in a multiplex.

Yadav inadvertently commits a crime that leaves him with a windfall, so he cajoles the other two to join in and make a ‘business’ of it. Menon wants the audience to sympathise with these characters, as if there could be any justification for targeting innocent people. The film goes by the simplistic calculation that all rich people are mean-spirited creeps anyway, so the poor should rob them.

That apart, the film is slow, repetitive and maybe has just some interesting bits in the general air of tedium it generates—plus the wildly disparate acting skills of the actors, so that Naseeruddin Shah’s silence is eloquent and Vijay Raaz’s garrulousness grates. Maybe not worth the exorbitant rates of a multiplex ticket. The film’s ads describe it as a comedy… with Amir Khan’s endorsement. Maybe some people are amused when their pockets are picked!

Aloo Chaat

What kind of wimp would not have the courage to own up to his parents that he loves a girl from another community, and then go on to deceive them?

The precedent, as a character in Robby Grewal’s loud sit-com style film says, has been set by Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

Nikhil (Aftab Shivdasani), coming back from the US, is pushed into marriage mode by his demented Delhi family—father (Kulbhusban Kharbanda), mother, grandmother and uncle making enough of a racket to wake up the next planet.

He confides in another uncle, a Hakim Tarachand (Manoj Pahwa), who suggests that if he brings a white girl as his intended and gets her to misbehave, his parents will actually be happy to accept a Muslim daughter-in-law.

They hunt out an American living in India (Linda Arsenio), who for some unexplained reason (large sum of money?) agrees to debase herself and her country, so that Aamna (Sharif) can be brought in by the back door.

Americans have no morals, they marry and divorce at whim, they smoke, drink, wear skimpy clothes and sunbathe on terraces in bikinis (the girl is shown a video or Purab Aur Paschim to get the idea— the stereotypes remain decades later); while ‘good’ girls wear voluminous dupattas, take permission to go out and cook instant meals. This is racism in reverse also sexist and old fashioned—it’s just not funny. And between the whole noisy bunch, not one decent performance.


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