Friday, March 18, 2005

shabd: at no loss for words

[march 14, 2005/march 16, 2005]

the performances: In her directorial début Leena Yadav brings together a cast that offers to establish a new high value for the incompetence coefficient. The primary trio Sanjay Dutt, Aishwarya Rai and Zayed Khan compete for being the most prime ham on the block. Dutt's only skills only lay in the muscles department, and attempting the cerebral role of a writer consumed by his work and driven to insanity, he succeeds in defining a new threshold of pain for the audience. Rai continues to cover new milestones in looking pretty, laughing stupid, wearing ghastly attire, mouthing ridiculous lines of dialogue with the worst timing and most imbalanced accent and completely ignoring the attributes of the role in question. Zayed Khan achieves a new low and I predict that he will be one of the most successful stars in the coming years simply because he possesses all the attributes of being a star and none for being an actor of substance. And there's Kamini Khanna revising her patented act from the Dharma productions and as the puurNa\-viraam grand lady of prostitution in Julie for the role of Mrs. Kapadia The only creditable performances come from the supporting cast comprising Brijendra Kala as Ramaakaa.nt, the accomplished Sadia Siddiqui as Rajanii, and Lalit Parasher who deserved more screen time as the whacky Mr. Bhargav.
the story: Leena Yadav goes all out on her directorial début by handling writing and editing credits as well. From the looks of the film these two departments did not talk to each other. There's this irritating motif (and it's a heavy-motif) of letters cascading all over the screenscape (a tharraa-induced hangover from A Beautiful Mind) no doubt. I got the impression several times as the film plodded on that this would have been a nice starting point for an experimental play (Perhaps, it was even lifted from one?). Quite a few scenes fit better in that context than on screen (e.g. the pre-interval scene where A.ntaraa questions Shaukat's indifference and increasingly twisted view of fiction and reality; the first post-interval scene where the characters review their actions). The problem I had with the scene where A.ntaraa accuses Shaukat of living a convoluted world of fiction out of touch with reality is: this is a man who has written two books, one of which won the Booker prize; she's his wife; she should know him well enough to have seen this coming a long time ago; there is no progression from a regular writer's existence to this obsessed avataar in the film that can excuse the lack of any explanation for this showdown. Also, the nice touch of her referring to him as 'tum' instead of 'aap' is ruined by bad exposition.

unanswered questions: Don't women change from their working clothes to something more comfortable before they begin cooking? Why the hell is Sanjay Dutt dressed up in a suit while working on his novel? Is Velocity the club where sholo.n sii takes place? -- noticed a B B King poster on the walls ...

(mis)direction: Who thought that long (watch Sanjay Dutt's wristwatch carefully) lovemaking scene was erotic? A case of "all fart no sh**" IMHO. I kept thinking of a comment Kamal Hassan had made in an interview a long time ago about Hindi film songs ("like animals trying to discover sex"). The climactic sequence is a classic example of how things can go screaming to auteurial hell. It's a complete waste of time featuring people running towards each other, embraces in slow motion, and edit dissolves.

camera work: Jarring and obtrusive -- betraying a fetish for a faux-documentary-style approach.

sholay reference:tumhaaraa naam basa.ntii kyo.n nahii.n hai?

the music and songs: Vishal and Shekhar choose the Latin-American vibe for their songs, but I fail to see how that fits with the vision of the film (or was there never any intention of achieving a unity of visions?). Perhaps the choice of Goa for a bulk of the shooting had something to do with it ... As a stand-alone set, they represent a decent effort from this talented duo, but I'd recommend a dose of Buena Vista Social Club or one of Gilberto's CDs to set your perspective straight. And their efforts on the background score only give just cause to reiterate the golden rule of background scoring: never compete for foreground attention. Listen carefully and you can catch the cog from Allegro con fuoco from Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E minor (aka "From the New World").

the cornfields of dialogue: The dialogues department comes up with more shlocky lines in addition to providing a new example of a loathsome mix of Hindi and English. A few samples of the inanity that pervades the system follow: ha.Nsii ... kaisii? crystal-clear. jharane kii tarah(Shaukat); lekin kyaa ghar pahu.nchate hii dimaag see bhii ##exit## karavaa detii ho? (Yash); apanii a.ntaraa ko ek shabd banaa diyaa? (A.ntaraa's voiceover, providing us with the crux of the film -- as if we really cared at this point)

trends?: Should we consider the use of Sonu Nigam instead of Kumar Sanu to provide "he he he"s to the background to be a sign of progress?

trivia: Shaukat Vashisht wins the Booker Prize (see also: The Big B winning the Bookers Prize in Baghban) for a book called Mindscape. His critically panned follow-up novel is called And Time Stood Still. Interestingly, both books have the same cover design. And Walrus Publications has to be a reference to Penguin Books.

DVD quirks: Surely the subtitle ("why? 53 15") for "kyo.n" deserves mention. "Nobody understands the human mind better than Shaukat Vashisht" becomes "Nobody understands the human mind better than Shaukat wishes".

summary: The promise of the film lay in the attempts to present the process of creation, the process of a novelist working on the characters in his novel. What we get is hen-coop detritus that marks a fusion of bad acting, bad camerawork, bad editing and bad dialogue. And yes, a lot of wasteful yap-yap-yap. Since the final novel is going to be in English, why are all the proceedings in half-baked Hindi? Make a movie in English, people. You couldn't have captured the mainstream with this bucket of bull dung. Boring blabber-fest this. Rent My Dinner with André and then watch your brains blow up. In slow motion.

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