Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Apartment+City of Gold+Bird Idol 


For his new film Apartment, Jag Mundhra chooses to ape a Hollywood film called Single White Female, that wasn’t even so great that someone would want to remake it. And then, he adds nothing to it, just telling a boring story in a boringly flat style.

Tanushree Dutta plays Preeti, an air hostess, who buys an apartment, but finds the monthly installments tough to handle. Her boyfriend Karan (Rohit Roy) offers to move in and share the expense. But Preeti is a suspicious type, and when she finds him in the flat with a woman – they are standing in the living room, having an innocuous conversation—she flies into a rage and throws him out.

She then advertises for a flat mate and gets a demure salwar-kameez clad Neha (Neetu Chandra), whose has already been seen getting into a train, arriving in Mumbai and getting a job. A glimpse of her madness has also been seen in the train, so you already know she’s trouble. No suspense there.

Neha turns out to be a model tenant, she cleans and cooks, calls Preeti “didi” and waits up for dinner everyday. In the next apartment is a poet called Tanha (Anupam Kher) and his pet cat. Except for a watchman, nobody else is seen in the large building! Even when there are gunshots in the landing. Odd!

Anyway, when Tanha brings about reconciliation between Preeti and Karan, Neha starts acting like a psycho. There isn’t much of a build-up, no spooky dread creeping up on the viewer as the nice small-town girl turns into a monster. And the best Neetu Chandra can do by way of acting and dilate her eyes. The others don’t even strain a muscle.

There is no comment expected or even offered, about life in Mumbai, that compels people to live such isolated lives and drives some of them to such desperate acts of possessiveness. Neha is given a back story and words like “bipolar disorder” thrown about, but it’s no go. He film is just not worth the effort of watching… wonder why people took the trouble of making it.

City of Gold

Central Mumbai today is a hub of high end malls and residential towers. According to the prologue of Mahesh Manjrekar’s film City of Gold (Lalbaug Parel in Marathi), real estate there costs Rs 70,000 per square foot.

However, till 1982, it was the centre of the textile trade, with several mills in the midst of chawls in which families of the workers lived. They had come to the city from outside, yet created in the heart of Mumbai a unique community with its own culture.

The Great Bombay (the city was then not Mumbai) Textile Strike was on 18 January 1982 by the mill workers of under trade union leader Datta Samant. Lakhs of mill workers, hoping for better wages and bonuses, struck work, but the show of strength ended in disaster. Most of the mills were locked out, the people lost their livelihood and over a period of time, the city forgot all about the vibrant community of hard-working people. The nexus between greedy mill owners and politicians as alleged, yet it took many more years for the area to lose its decrepit, defeated look and have a makeover. Today, when wealth can be generated there, who even thinks of the lives that were sacrificed to progress.

Manjrekar, basing his film on Jayant Pawar’s play Adaantar, however, reduces the complex, life and landscape-altering period into a simplistic film about one dysfunctional mill worker’s family and one mill-owning family of evil characters.

The story is narrated by Baba (Ankush Choudhary), a playwright, who feels he doesn’t belong to the noisy, constantly squabbling family, where the father (Shashank Shende) has been laid off work and the mother (Seema Biswas) tries to keep the family together.

The mill owner betrays the union, and the still optimistic workers are devastated. Some commit suicide, some return to their villages; the boys turn to crime and the girls to prostitution. Some of this did happen, but the film unfolds on a single loud, melodramatic pitch that is just never lowered into sensitivity or compassion.

One of Baba’s brothers, Naru (Karan Patel) becomes a gangster, the other Mohan (Vineet Kumar) gets involved in a betting scam, the sister Manju (Veena Jamkar), ditched by her Gujarati boyfriend, married a union leader (Sachin Khedekar) in a bitter arrangement of convenience.

What is really scary is the descent of some of the boys into barbarism, as they loot, extort and kill with glee. Naru’s stuttering buddy Speedbreaker (Siddharth Jadhav) starts his own faction of ragtag followers of gangsters. (Films like Satya and Vaastav have told this side of the story).

The most caricatured, however, are the mill workers and the politician, because they are easy to turn into heartless devils—people will believe the worst of them.

Amongst the generally noisy performances, Karan Patel’s controlled character of the doomed Naru stands out; also Sachin Khedekar as the crushed union leader. The subplot involving the neighbours (Satish Kaushik-Kashmera Shah) was unnecessary.

City of Gold is an important film, in that it reminds Mumbai of its past; but also a short-sighted one, that makes it characters exist in a void without a before-and-after history. A question that comes up is how a playwright is able to afford a flat in the building coming up where his father’s mill used to be?

Bird Idol

Indian animators have been doing backend work for foreign animation films, but Indian animation films have, by and large, confined themselves to mythological themes.

Jyotin Goel’s woefully under-promoted Bird Idol tries its hand at a new theme, which is a relief, though it will be a while before locally-made films can even compete on the same platform as those splashy Hollywood animation masterpieces.

Bird Idol is pure Bollywood—in a forest abode, two birds of different species are forbidden from falling in love, but two of them, with the help a Gujarati-accented hummingbird, escape to the city. Their mixed-breed son Hummi, would be Shahid Kapoor if he were human and his loyal lady love, probably Amrita Rao. Their look and mannerisms are carefully done.

Hummi is enamoured of human music and forms his own band to participate in a show called Bird Idol. The problem is that if he showed the crest in his head on TV, Dhamki, the vulture kingpin of the forest kingdom would send his killers after Hummi’s parents.

His music becomes popular, much to the annoyance of the show’s judges, one of whom, an Owl, bears a striking resemblance to a certain over-bejewelled music director with a Bengali accent.

The film is cute, cheeky and fun in most part. The plot could have been less clichéd—it might put off the target audience of vacationing kids—but the film does spring a pleasant surprise.


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