Thursday, February 19, 2004

satta: the power of opportunity, a descent into mediocrity

Madhur Bhandarkar showed promise with the starkness of Chandni Bar. For his second venture, he decides to tackle the milieu of politics. As with Chandni Bar, the twists and turns are not earth-shattering examples of Murphy's Law. Bhandarkar changes the way he does things in this film, though. The problem is: a lot of these changes don't work. I am sure making this film was easier than making Chandni Bar. At least, money-wise. The problems start with the screenplay and the dialogue. The good moments, the ones that work in the film, are in constant danger of being overshadowed by two things: (a) Bhandarkar's flair for underplaying events (b) the bad moments (surprising, eh?). Bhandarkar seemed fair with (a) when he gave us Chandni Bar. The upbeat moments in the film never ended up being mushy or trite and helped buoy the generally down-spiralling path of the narrative. In this film, Bhandarkar takes sides. The moments are badly mixed together giving the film an uneasy unevenness. Not one event measures up to its intended potential. The only one that works a bit, partly because I was hoping Bhandarkar would follow it throught, is when Anuradha gives her husband a kick in his nuts. Everything else gets bogged down by things you would expect to see in a mainstream Bollywood production: bad dialogue (can't we get a break from the Hindi_dialogue_followed_by_the_English_translation pattern please? We can understand both languages just fine -- at least the way you use them -- and so can the frigging characters!). Some other interesting bits: Anuradha is the daughter of separated parents, and her father is only mentioned and never seen. And it is clear that she is very close to her mother. This adds to the woman-oriented bent of this film (something that Bhandarkar retained from his last film). And to his credit, Bhandarkar refrains from using any on-screen lip-synching for any of the songs. Unlike Chandni Bar, this film has its own soundtrack, and all the songs play in the background. Unfortunately, I had to resort to the FF button. Raju Singh's songs weren't too bad (the same goes for his background score as well), but there wasn't much happening on the narrative front. Triviamongers will note cameos by Viveck Vaswani (as a person called Vaswani!), Anant Mahadevan and Suchitra Pillai. Atul Kulkarni returns to play Yashwant Varde, and renders one of the few convincing performances in the film. The others come from Sri Vallabh Vyas and Govind Namdeo. Manoj Joshi as the honest Inspector Pawar comes through only in his first scene. His next scene has him tending towards a Shreeram Lagoo imitation. This is anathema! And before I move to the two key problems of the film, I must note the visible editing colour mismatch when Anuradha is discussing the question of contesting elections with her mother and her friend Neelu (Pillai).

And now, key problem one. The upbeat trite ending. It's one thing to move away from an ending as unsettling as the one in Chandni Bar, but to swing all the way over the spectrum to the other end is a major faux pas. Since there are no surprises in any of the events, a little subtlety would have helped. However, Bhandarkar merits a towel shower just for the yucky climax.

And finally, key problem two. Why in the name of all things sensible, did Bhandarkar choose (a) a beautiful yet untalented ill-at-ease and ineffective Raveena Tandon to play his protagonist? Was it the ill-deserved National Award? Bhandarkar is not an actor's director. Which means he had better play safe when choosing actors. And his big gamble with Raveena fails to pay off. Her Hindi is unnatural, and I don't understand the refusal to sound cosmopolitan. And why does she deliver her lines with a punctuation after each word? Gives me the impression that she needed to use the powder room every time she delivered a
take. As if this wasn't bad enough, we get a brand new face[sic] called Sameer Adhikari playing the man who drags her into politics. This guy cannot act. He can't even speak well -- Hindi or otherwise. If such traits were part of his character, being natural would not have helped him. He would still need to act to make sure I got the right impression. With two uneasy key players hogging screen time, Satta leaves me unhappy. Unhappy for Madhur Bhandarkar. He seems to be moving into the big league now. And that means we have to wait for some other debutante to remind us of what makes a film effective.

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