Thursday, June 12, 2008

bas ek pal: a Shakespearean tragedy of domestic proportions

My experience watching this film benefited immensely from my not knowing too much about the film's plot besides the premise; if you think you'll be better off not knowing more as well, you have to walk away from what follows; key plot points are revealed in the course of this post

In My Brother Nikhil, Nikhil Kapoor was the subject of several flashbacks triggered by various characters talking to the camera standing in for an unseen interviewer. Nikhil Kapoor is dead when the film begins, and we only see the last few years of his life through flashbacks. Just like Charles Foster Kane. In Bas Ek Pal, Nikhil Kapoor fares marginally better: he still plays our ill-fated protagonist but we share his time of existence in the narrative. The nominal dead ringer isn't the only element that returns from Onir's first film. Sanjay Suri plays Nikhil in both films. Juhi Chawla, who played his elder sister in the first film, returns here as a character who might well have been his elder sister, given the allowance of a few plot points. She was Anamika in My Brother Nikhil, but here plays a former Miss India (art imitates life). She cedes the name to Urmila Matondkar in this film (There's a nice play on the name when she refuses to tell Nikhil her name).

The geographical heart of the film is a club called Anti-Clock, a name that means a lot in the film, for what transpires one night at the club sends ripples through the futures of a handful of lives: If only they could turn the clock back three years (2003, when a series of unfortunate events was set into motion) from the present (2006).

Onir ropes in a few more people into his drama of people doomed by fate, indecision and choices. We have more characters vying for our attention here and almost all of them get the requisite brush of grey; it's a pity, however, that Rehan Engineer's Steve gets very little screen time: he's more spoken of than seen and even though his character's arc plays out satisfactorily, I wouldn't have minded a little more insight into his life, something that added to the sum of the parts we gathered from conversations about him and the few scenes he has in the film. Every character is in search of love, and the search is confounded by ambition and indecision. Those driven enough to seek what they want seem destined to meet with failure just as those who can't muster the courage to take the big leap. Emasculation (jail time, being crippled in a wheelchair unable to consummate a relationship or surviving the death of a child, afflicted by drink and an aggressive sense of inferiority) meets confusion, thwarted goodwill and unfulfilled love. At one point in the film, a character tosses the line itane taras ke saath jiinaa mushakil ho jaayegaa to another; later on in the film another character tosses this character a line that's an echo and yet a distant cousin: itanii saarii nafrat lekar jiinaa mushkil ho jaayegaa. When the end credits roll, we are left with victims of Shakespearean tragedy and noir-ish doom.

Onir and writer/editor Irene Dhar Malik have gone to great lengths to imbue the characters with the complexity of real life. Nikhil's single-minded desire for Anamika, Anamika's uncertainty of her feelings of love tinged with pity and guilt, Rahul's guilt-driven existence compounded with the prospect of living the rest of his life in a wheelchair, Steve's helpless frustration manifesting in a violent irascible self that hurts those close to him.

In addition to the competent performances and the unyielding patient pace of the film, Onir tosses in small flourishes -- like the fish tank that's a rather obvious motif or the thukpa that Steve is cooking for dinner (clearly an artefact from Onir's years in Bhutan). One would also be amiss if one didn't note the wonderful work Onir elicits once again from the talented underused Vivek Phillip, in addition to a bonus song from Pritam and another from Mithoon Sharma (who has since gone on to more success). The songs remain mostly in the background, either in the diegesis (hai ishk ye kyaa (aa zaraa) is introduced in Anti-Clock as a song spun by the DJ with a prefatory "KK and Sunidhi rock 2003," tere pyaar me.n (bas ek pal) also ends up being a song in the club on Valentine's Day and zi.ndagii hosh me.n plays at another club) or in the narrative texture of the film (ashk bhii, dhiime dhiime) with tere bin bouncing from the background into the foreground to complement a tapestry of images in Nikhil's imagination.

There are moments when you wince at the occasional departures from the sobriety of the piece: Jimmy Shergill at Marine Drive (during dhiime dhiime, the video of which seems to violate the point-of-view of the person whose flashback it's placed within), the rather overtly showy framing for the scene between Ira and Rahul (bahut der se aaye tum merii zi.ndagii me.n). These quibbles aside, Onir's churned out a worthy successor to My Brother Nikhil.

Between the time I saw the film and actually managed to clean up a collection of thoughts about it, I had hoped to catch Pedro Almodóvar's Carne Trémula, a loose adaptation of Ruth Rendell's Live Flesh that is said to have been the "inspiration" for this film. Unfortunately, that has not happened. One hopes that the similarities are not damning enough to reduce all the praise above to dust.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.