Saturday, December 31, 2005

apian tree: all buzz no sting [september 25, 2005]

All in all it's just another brick in the wall
-- [Another Brick in the Wall Part II/Pink Floyd]

The third act of Pradeep Sarkar's directorial début Parineeta prefixes the inevitable climax of reunion, forgiveness, and a return to happy festive times with an appalling sequence where the vacillating clueless Shekhar (National Award Winner Saif Ali Khan) is egged on by his friend (played by Ninaad Kamath -- that I can't remember his name might well serve as a sign of how well the script dealt with character development) and progressively by every blessed member in attendance (it's Shekhar destined-to-be-aborted wedding). to.D do shekhar becomes the clarion call of the moment and several plunges and appliances (including a bird bath) later, there's a rift in the wall big enough to let Shekhar pass through to the other side where Girish (Sanjay Dutt) is waiting to hand Lolita (Vidya Balan) over for the final union of two lives separated by misunderstanding and anger. This is not what Edsger W. Dijkstra had in mind.

This scene epitomises the film for me. You have to be seriously out of the pocket to pen a screen adaptation of a novel to end thus. I haven't read Sarat Chandra's original, but I find it really hard to believe that he would conjure a denouement like this. Or even present us with such a bland palette of characters. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sarkar (former assistant to Chopra) and their associates clearly took the source novel and extracted a superficially basic version of the narrative, a few feathers for each character's plumage, piled on the Bollywood spice mix (songs, cameos by famous stars of yore -- Rekha looks positively hideous in the Louis Armstrong rip-off kaisii pahelii hai and doesn't quite register as a good on-screen match for Sunidhi Chauhan's voice, high drama) along with a strong technical department handling art and production design (lots of points to score here, because this is a period film, after all). The result is something that would appeal to people whose senses have been numbed by the ribald funny bone tickler wannabes, pilfered FX-loaded action trash and star vehicles embellished with NRI-friendly packaging. After all, they're looking for relief of any kind, and this film provides it (although arguably the melodrama veers close to the point where having a box of tissues handy would be useful). And the filmmakers get handsomely rewarded for this. When Anthony Lane reviewed The Remains of the Day (from period filmmaking pashas Merchant/Ivory) he noted how the butler Stevens (Hopkins) stood for qualities we had come to expect from Ivory's work -- fodder for recommendations in life, but lousy guidelines to the art of cinema. He also noted the secret of Ivory's films: they have no style; no real signature. What they do have, in abundance, is an accumulation of good taste masquerading as style; needless to say, it is more reliable than style, shorn of embarassing tics and obsessive longueurs. No wonder that the audience for these movies, almost butlerish in loyalty, keeps on coming back for more. Somehow, it ominously makes sense in the context of Chopra/Sarkar's effort. And it's only an uncomfortable portend should they choose to turn this path into a road.

Moitra's soundtrack needed a better engineering job to begin with and in the context of the film serves the age-old purpose of musical relief. Chitra taking over from Swanand Kirkire (that single sequence in the night as the song begins is perhaps the best visual in the whole film) is one of the worst things to hit your ears and memories of Sridevi combined with the ennui that has already set in with the ongoing proceedings can only force you to reach out for some painkillers or a Magnum.

No one on the acting roster passes beyond muster. Despite doing little else other than looking beautiful and tossing a few pouts, uncomfortable smiles and silences, and looking sufficiently caught in the throes of passion during the Shekhar/Lolita consummation scene (family-friendly porn again with a lot of sniffing) debutante Vidya Balan can rest assured that she'll get a lot more offers thanks to the box office success of the film. And anyone who casts Sanjay Dutt in the hopes of extracting some acting needs a lobotomy. Not that these characters are difficult to play. A few scenes, some songs, some clichéd lines, and high-decibel emotions. Regular stuff really.

[Un]fortunately, the experience of watching this film cannot compare to Joe Queenan's Merchant/Ivory marathon [The Remains of the Dazed in Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler].

It looks like a great time to be an "actor" in Bollywood. You don't need to put in any extra effort in the acting department; just ride the wave, and hope you film clicks. Quality has nothing to do with it. Just pray that you're the relief audiences are looking for from the usual fare. As for Vidhu Vinod Chopra and his big mouth, I can only offer a silent prayer that he lives up to the promise he showed with Sazaye Maut, Khamosh and most of Parinda some day. Meanwhile, it's time to get some insurance for the sequel to Munna Bhai MBBS.

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