Tuesday, August 05, 2003

mr and mrs iyer {official website}

At long last, I finally managed to watch the whole film, and it's a great catharsis. This is the kind of film that Roja could have been had Mr Ratnam chosen to make an honest film instead of succumbing to the commercial trappings of songs and jingoism (NOTE: I have nothing about ARR's wonderful soundtrack for the film, I just have issues with mainstreamlining -- aah, patent-worthy word that -- the issue of communal and territorial terrorism). The background score and songs are composed by Ustad Zakir Hussain, and the film has several examples of great inserts, something that most mainstream background score composers in Bollywood (not sure about the rest of Indian cinema these days, sorry) fail to understand. The plaintive voice of Ustad Sultan Khan lends lament to the words of Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi. Konkona Sen Sharma lives up to 'being Aparna Sen's daughter' by wonderfully portraying an orthodox Iyer wife who has to unlearn and 'loosen up'. Rahul Bose, restrained and understated as ever, is perfect as Jehangir 'Raja' Chowdhury in this conflict of values and beliefs set against the backdrop of communal terrorism. The late Bhisham Sahni is at ease with his brief turn as an ill-fated Muslim on the bus. My favourite moments in the film will probably be: the scene in the canteen where Raja and Meenakshi ("it's spelt with a double 'e'") invent stories of their past for the benefit of some annoyingly inquizitive teenagers to keep up the illusion of being husband and wife (and especially for the music insert); the disturbing moments in the forest guesthouse where Meenakshi is overcome with shock at a wanton killing (intelligently left off-screen); the conversation on the train; the final moments when Raja meets the real Mr Iyer. The big plus for the film is that it never succumbs to the lure of the clichéd closure, and stays open. We don't know if Meenakshi and Raja will meet again. Some of us hope they will, some of us won't care. But Aparna Sen smartly leaves that open, giving us viewers the freedom to take away more from the film than we are used to with commercial mainstream tripe. One could cite the quartet of national awards that the film bagged as evidence that the National Awards Committee hasn't lost its taste for good cinema, but it's better to let the laurels slide by. Time alone should prove that this film was worth more than some of its contemporaries. And Santhanam deserves a special award for being a very addictive name for a baby (and kudos to the little starlet as well).

Other reviews: Love amid terrorism
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