Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kaminey 2009: twin paradoxes

Language:Hindi; Director: Vishal Bhardwaj; Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Shahid Kapur, Amole Gupte

I have nothing against Bollywood cinema except that I have rarely found it a brew to my taste, which goes for much of cinema, even the so canonised greats since life is fleeting and there are things to do and a movie consumes major  chunks of time. The first fault of a film is that it is a film. Sometimes it seems as if films have become a substitute for life, and life can only be lived second hand, and possibly the archangel Gabriel, or Yama the Lord of Hell, as the case may be, will ask only how many of Ebert's two volumes of great movies one has engorged in the earthly sojourn.

The earliest Hindi films I saw were around 1960 and they seemed each and every one of them of a searing intensity. Seeing a film was a landmark (once a year) event and one wondered and shed tears ,at least figurative ones. Ek hi Raasta (Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, Sunil Dutt) was one such in which Sunil Dutt, the head of a family, is murdered by being run over by a truck, and it gave me wakeful nights. Insaaniyat (starring Dilip Kumar, Devanand and the chimpanzee Zippy) was an adventure movie involving many edge-of seat events. Zippy had momentarily grabbed the glory from the ruling superstars of the day.  Never forgettable is Jagriti , a movie about youngsters,  including a crippled one called Shakti. It focusses on friendship, idealism and the love between a mother and her crippled son.

Around this period I saw Judgement at Nuremberg and Lawrence of Arabia (a film which Spielberg says inspired him to become a maker of films). The perspective changed completely specially LOA which was a kind of bolt of lightening and the initial imprint of the heaving desert sands has never been erased though of course nothing ever gets repeated. Then in my bachelor days in Hyderabad, days of biryani, beer and movies marked among others by Bridge on the River Kwai, Benegals unforgettable Ankur with its lilting musical score set against the Andhra countryside and Garam Hawa specially the quawalli Maula Salim Chishti. One cannot leave without a salute to Sholay. And Anand. And Namak Haraam (or was it Halaal). And,and, and....!

And since the last five years a continuing deluge of film embracing most of the "canonised" stuff now heading for satiation, because there are other equally interesing things to be done. Bollywood films have been seen  sparsely, usually as a matter of social compulsion, or curiosity and hope followed by a dissipated feeling. Recent ones: Taare Zamin Par, Black. One sequence I remember pleasantly is Gulshan Grover as Soprano the Gang Lord dancing with a globe an obvious imitation of Chaplin in Great Dictator in Tom Dick and Harry. One of the ways to enjoy a Hindi movie is to relish it for dumbness' sake as one might a Marx Brother's spoof like Ducksoup.

Having seen Maqbool and Omkara, and driven by a feeling of nostalgia for  Bollywood--for this is home, after all-- I allowed myself Kaminey, since people were saying good things about it. It was said to have a Tarantino touch.

Of the two twins(Shahid Kapur, who distinctly resembles Shahrukh Khan) one Lisps and the other Stammers . After the father's self inflicted demise on economic grounds the Lisper becomes a crooked horse race fixer and the Stammerer walks the straight and narrow path, on which he is fated to collide with Priyanka Chopra, the sister of Maharashtrian politician Bhope(  fleshed out by Aloke Gupte a match in uproarious loquacity to Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction or Brad Pitt and Waltz in Inglourious Basterds); the said Chopra pretends to stammer to lure Stammerer to the marriage bed( in the last scene, she delivers twins to round things off). In between there is a small matter of a guitar containing ten khokha worth of cocaine. A khokha in case you dont know is an Indian monetary unit signifying ten million rupees. A peti is a lesser unit meaning a paltry hundred thousand. This gives ample options to deliver gore of the required grade and dosage.

It was said that America loves her gangsters. India is fast to catch up. Maybe only a step behind. And Vishal B. does it with finesse and we forgive him many things using the Quarantino shield.

Chuck de Bollywood!

What is disturbing and what is authentic in the film is that this really is the way people think and feel in CE 2009. The values depicted in the negative characters hold more sway in our societies( be it any country) than the feeble goody meows which are anyhow allowed to prevail for forms sake. Society does work like that because that is the way we think it works.

The characters are caricatures and stereotypes. So perhaps are we, if cinema is a mirror. Or that's what we want to become and therefore are in the process of becoming. But art should be more than a passive mirror. It needs to shape and inspire. Else money and fame are the end-all. As the fox in Antichrist (2009) growls: "Chaos, increase."

My allergy for most Bollywood films has nothing to do with affinity for stuff from western shores--it is unwillingness to devote time, a chunk of my limited alloted span to the formulaic and second rate, whatever it's origin..


vivek said...

I remember watching Jagriti some years back. Surprising that it's not quoted very often. It seemed like an excellent film.

Literary Dreamer said...

S.M. Rana: But art should be more than a passive mirror. It needs to shape and inspire.

Or, to quote Faulkner, "The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

Being a mirror to society is great, but every once and a while a pleasant image must be reflected back, or society will stop looking in the mirror, and will only remember its flaws.

Ronak M Soni said...

I face the same problem with old Hindi movies; the people who watched them when they came out had nothing to compare them with and therefore have nothing to compare them with. So, I have no idea which are really good and which are horrible(ever tried watching the old 'Don', for example?).

The director is Vishal Bhardwaj, not Ghai.

I had a problem with this movie, that it was just tarantino with a new language and look(though a brilliant look).

Ronak M Soni said...

I meant '...and therefore have a distorted idea of how good they are.'

S. M. Rana said...

@Ronak M Soni
Ofcourse, Bhardwaj it is. Corrected and thanks. Ofcourse, there is incompatibility of yardsticks, and Bollywood has her own.