Saturday, August 06, 2005

the visage of vapidity [march 19/20, 2005] {saturday, august 06, 2005: in the interest of denying the coincidence counter any laurels, I must remedy the oversight of not having tipped my hat to Zero's post about Shukla's upcoming third Aye Dil. I refer you to that post for more information on the same}
After floundering on his directorial venture Mudda, Saurabh Shukla returns with Chehra, a psychological drama that unfortunately notches up another case of "heart in the right place; implementation all awry" for Shukla. Which is really sad, because here's a wonderfully talented writer and actor, who makes it painfully obvious that he needs some crutches on the directing front. I still hold the flags of hope up, if only because his heart is so in the right place.

This is the story of meghaa joshii, a medical student whose mind is suffering from a serious case of internalized trauma. Trauma from a family history that involved an abusive father and a submissive mother who eventually tips over the brink. All this happens while we, as mainstream audiences, are treated to the obligatory love affair that blooms between meghaa and aakash. Thanks to some rather erratic behaviour and unfortunate coincidences, we now have meghaa reduced to a neurotic mess, married to cha.ndrakaa.nt diwaan, a rich dude in Dubai, who seems to be trying to get her bumped off.

If that seems like a lot to pack into one film, think again. It isn't. Yet Shukla seems bent on trying to please the peanut-chewing shell-popping benchwarmers in the cinema halls so he elicits the service of Anu Malik (chiefly, with a stray song here and there by other familiars) to provide for the mandatory interludes of naach and gaanaa. You have the song to introduce the heroine -- a raucous romp (also available in a Nikhil Chinappa-engineered remix) called chillaa ke featuring lassies dressed[sic] up Ms Spears and cavorting about. You know, the devil-may-care I'm-cool-and-hot song. There's vintage Anu Malik (vintage == see also zubaa.N Kaamosh hotii hai) in the just-afer-he-proposes-and-she-accepts kabhii Kaamosh baiThogii. There's the wife-seducing-husband-to-cheer-him-up combined with the wiggle-and-jiggle-by-the-pool with a dash of the cavorting-in-the-rain with wanna chill (yikes!). There's the club-song-intercut-with-people-finding-crucial-evidence-or-preparing-for-something-important number called tabaahii tabaahii featuring club crooning specialist Alisha Chinoy (all together now, tabaahii tabaahii). Tired rhythms (recycled low-sodium Kaadhalan) and a strange feeling that Alisha's trying to sound like Baba Sehgal at many points. And there's this dude doing the obligatory sound-like-Pancham bit. This one features some interesting subtitles too: when the myrtle spreads its fragrance the kilt shall begin to slide and the silky dance of my skirt .... Excuse me while I kiss the sky, people.

On the acting front, Saurabh Shukla lands an ace with Irrfan Khan to play the creepy diwaan. And buddy Rajat Kapoor pops in a cameo as the Professor of Psychiatry. Govind Namdeo and Navni Parihar score as meghaa's parents. It's the rest of this yucky roster that produces a stench that will rival any skunk's contribution to the atmosphere. We have the ineffectual Rajshri video girl Preeti Jhangiani as riinaa, aakaash's wife beginning the chorus of false notes. We have termite-laced Teak wood Dino Morea whose only merit on screen for his movies is his sincerity while running during chase sequences. That's it: most dedicated on-screen runner. And then we come to the cherry of goat droppings, Ms Bipasha Basu. I don't know if Shukla had a very risky experiment in acting planned, but I can only see broken pieces of test tubes and a lot of smoke emanating from the laboratory. Basu ain't got squat in terms of talent. This cock-eyed cockatoon is one among several lacklustre balls of soggy carpet lint that are polluting the moviescape of cinema. Perhaps Shukla was hoping to exploit some of the "hit" value of this DOA on-screen pair (and off-screen tabloid raw material) after that other rip-off Raaz exposed what lay beneath to us all (and fooled so many people into coughing up dear money to fill the coffers of Bhatt and Co.). Honestly, given the complex character that meghaa is, it's shocking to see Shukla choose someone like Ms Basu. The damage is overpowering. Nothing can save the film after a point, not even hope.

Yet, there are little nuggets that blew some wind in my sails. There's a nice cut from the flashback to the hospital where aakaash meets meghaa's mother (let's disregard that troublesome exposition bridging the cut, shall we?). There's this montage sequence in Dubai which includes a shot of a billboard with a tagline that reads "shoot what you love" (that alone is worth the price of attention). There's some merit in the use of slow motion for meghaa's fatal fall. This cuts to a montage of footage we have seen, except it's in reverse. And there's also a very believable chase sequence in the middle of the film (this is a bonus for those who haven't nodded off or blown up their surroundings in agony).

Background music, however, must never (attempt to) overpower the happenings in the foreground. Bad move, bad bad bad. And the denouement doesn't quite gell well.

On a trivial note: aakaash studied at Rebecca Harrison (where's this?) in Pune in 1999. At one point in the film, riinaa's searching for information on diwaan (gaffe: she searches for "chandernath") and there's an Internet Explorer window with a familiar URL in the address field: (on browsers in their default configuration, that takes you to the MSN page). Geek!

The film ends with the words "some love stories end like this" and there's closure with meghaa's voiceover coming back kaash zi.ndagii ek kitaab hotii; kaash panne palaTakar mai.n ise dobaaraa shuruu kar paatii ... kaash. Yes, kaash. If only ... Perhaps Shukla will strike gold the third time around. All hopes high. And please, stay away from stars and laminated pieces of driftwood.

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