Monday, May 02, 2005

black: oh, look at me, i'm so sensitive

[may 01, 2005] {official website}

Sanjay Leela Bhansali does it again. He puts together a sound technical team and blends together a set of soundly framed and lit images rich with meticulous set design. Almost every frame boasts its planning. He gets big stars (Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee) and actors (Dhritiman Chatterjee, Shernaz "Khandan" Patel) and newbies (Ayesha Kapur, Nandana Sen) into the mix and lo and behold, we have a long loud paean to cool disability that completely lacks a crucial element: a sense of narrative propriety and a coherent script. For a look-and-feel fetishist like Bhansali, the average length of a Bollywood potboiler offered a great window to indulge in his whims. This time he challenges himself by taking out two of the most important sales props for his talent with visuals: songs and time. While the former is a blessing, the latter seems to have thrown everyone involved into a frenzy. The film begins falling over itself from the word 'go' and almost beats the fastest performance on film (the Big B as Debraj Sahai) to the finish line. And that loss of counterpoint is only the first casualty. The subject offers great potential for design in the visual and aural scapes. Ravi K Chandran, along with the art direction and production design, pulls off a coup by hurling one beautiful frame after another at us. On the aural front, however, things are markedly different. The background score swells like a flood of Oscar-friendly tripe threatening our ears with a fate alike Michelle McNally. And everyone screams and shrieks like there's no tomorrow. The adjective 'subtle' never figured in any document detailing the requirements and design[sic] of this movie. The script chooses to mix a lot of English and Hindi into the dialogue. How Michelle McNally can comprehend both (see also: how can some of the scenes can randomly switch between the two at a whim?) is beyond all comprehension. For a film that seemed to focus on being tight and to-the-point, there's far too much exposition. As for the performances, I am not sure what to think. Shernaz Patel is earnest, Dhritiman Chatterjee flounders badly on numerous occasions, the Big B's reading of his part seemed very very wrong, Ayesha Kapur will get plaudits for her performance that only made me wish we could get on with it, Rani Mukherjee has guaranteed herself a few popular awards for a performance that enjoys less screen time and barely any structured approach. For a film about such an interesting subject, sensitivity is the one thing the performances lack. Everyone seems intent on breaking the sound barrier. And Bhansali, the evergreen visual fetishist, hurls one photographically resonant image after another at us (coming into full bloom with the Christmas party), and refuses to provide any foundation for all these embellishments. The background score and all the goings-on hit the hilt with their intent on making this less of a serious effort at telling a human story and more of a look-mainstream-cinema-can-be-serious slapdash effort.

The only moment I could relish was the small fragment when Mrs McNally thanks Debraj across a locked door for making a "fine lady" out of her daughter, and you can also catch the Big B's reflection in one of the glass panes in the door. Pity that the rest of film was so caught up in itself to notice its merit.

While everyone in Bollywood has been fellating Bhansali with hosannas, a few dissonant voices have been heard. There was Anurag Kashyap's diatribe (and I must confess: I honestly can't tell you what the key differences between external representations of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are, so I can't voice agreement on that aspect; besides, Kashyap's credibility, regretfully, takes a beating, because not a single movie he's made has managed to hit the marquee -- and that, unfortunately, is how his comments will be contextualized). Subhash K Jha came forward to slam Kashyap and even note the plight of Paanch and Black Friday and "pawed his own foxes" (personal pun on a French phrase) in the first two paragraphs itself. My thoughts agree best with what Sudhir Mishra had to say in an interview with Rediff:

What do I think about Black? I don't like hamming in films, and it's a film where everybody's hamming, including the cameraman. Everything is setup for effect-- 'look how sensitive I am.'

It's not really a film about the girl who's blind. It's like you make a film about a guy who's lame, then you take the crutches away, then you hit him on the head, and he falls and you point and say, 'look how he's suffering.' When everything is for effect, it becomes boring. As a filmmaker, you start predicting.

For me, it's a very manipulative film. It's always manipulating me to cry. It's asking for too much sympathy, and I don't have that much sympathy to give. It's like emotional blackmail all the time, and I find that very unattractive. Some people might really like it, but it's not for me.

I think (Sanjay Leela) Bhansali is a good filmmaker; he's a person who's trying to tell a story visually. So he is a guy to watch out for. Like when he told stories which are musical in a way, in a milieu that he knew, like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam-- it's a film that works where it is.

Why are we even talking about Black? Well, because we're reacting to the fact that they brought out ads saying this was the best film ever, and some critics said this was like Kieslowski. And since all of us somewhat like Kieslowski (laughs) and have grown up on Red and Dekalog, we feel its our duty to say, 'Hey, wait a minute.' And set the record straight.

What I hate now is that everybody's become a fascist. And dissent has gone out the window. It's not important whether I like Black or not, it is a personal opinion. Suddenly the whole 'how do you dare not like it?''s ridiculous. I mean, come on, if you don't like my film, do I say anything?

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