Thursday, January 15, 2004

pinjar: skeletal in complexity {see also: music review}

Chandraprakash Dwivedi comes to mainstream Bollywood cinema with strong credentials having brought us Chanakya. And he selects Amrita Pritam's novel which takes us through the the years before, during and after the partition of India. Urmila Matondkar plays Puuro, our protagonist as it were: thanks to the smouldering rage of a long-standing feud between a Hindu family and a Muslim family, she is abducted by Rashid, played by Manoj Bajpai, shortly before her marriage to Ramchandra (very very noticeable symbolism there!), played by Sanjay Suri. What follows is a fairly engaging narrative hampered only by the perfunctory handling of the interesting religious ambiguities and complexities and a refusal to treat the Hindu-Muslim divide with anything more courageous than kid gloves. After the credits (which already hint at the epic hopes of the film) and an opening voiceover by Gulzar (a big plus!), the film succumbs to the classic Bollywood pattern of too much happiness and song-and-dance. Admittedly, there is a point to all this. After all we have a wedding, nay two weddings, on our hands. But the Chopra-Johar-Barjatya-Bhansali consortium and their worthy[sic] filmmaking ancestors have inundated my senses with enough oye-bhangra that I had no choice but to hit the FF button for maar u.Daarii, and shaavaa nii shaavaa. Charakhaa chalaatii maa.N didn't work for me either. And despite his claims at having used a large orchestra (see also: Dil To Pagal Hai), Uttam Singh's background score opens up as a Hollywood-epic-wannabe flood of banshee orchestration that adds to the mess of the first half an hour or so (not counting the lengths of those songs!). My favourites didn't all suffer though. Dardaa maaryaa worked for the most part, except for some lip synch issues for the cameos by Kiran Kumar and Sunil Singh (remember Maachis?) (Incidentally, I thought I saw Kiran Kumar again near the end during the Lahore sequence as "Kartar Singh" ...). Watanaa we was ruined the moment Suri began singing on-screen. Haath chuuTe worked for the most part, although its reuse during the Lahore sequence was unwanted and clichéd. The good thing about Uttam Singh's background score is that it manages to stabilise into minimalism for the mid-section before asserting its bombast. Pity. Thankfully, waaris shaah nuu, running over the end credits, scores on-screen as well (although I suspect there was no one in the cinema hall at this point).

Despite all these rants though, there's hope. The film, although long, is quite watchable, although it probably had more potential as a TV miniseries. Urmila deserves credit for making all her non-mainstream and mainstream-roles-with-more-meat-than-cleavage moves. There was an unfortunately painful portion of the film where her ghaaT roots showed and I thought I was watching her play Asha Bhosle (shudder!) in a biopic. And although she manages to carry the film through, it still seemed to belong to Bajpai, in the smaller role as Rashid. This is an actor (is anyone even watching or listening??) who deserves more recognition and more complex roles. I wish RGV would get him back in the fold and give him a chance to let loose (although I don't mind RGV's attempts at getting stars to act!).

On that note, one must note the rather thankless role that Seema Biswas is seen in (its narrative importance notwithstanding). Priyanshu Chatterjee needs more work to emote. Sandali Sinha and Ishaa Koppikar add little to the film, and add some painful moments (The words I can't dance come to mind!). Pratima Kazmi does her best with the short role (but went to conquer more in WBHHP2). That said, the film was also a good way for me to improve my Hindi vocabulary. Something none of the mainstream movies these days can boast of (as if they'd care to).

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