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Children Of A Lesser God
  [ Fri, Feb 11, 2005 ]
Children Of A Lesser God
Rani Mukherjee in 'Black'

  • Sanjay Interview at broadband

    Mumbai, Feb 11 (IANS): Hindi films about the physically handicapped are as rare as monsoon showers in May. Before "Black" very few filmmakers in Bollywood have dared to depict the twilight territory.

    Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Black" is a passionate and powerful treatise on the world of a deaf and mute girl Michelle (Rani Mukherjee) and her glorious climb from darkness into light with the help of her mentor Amitabh Bachchan.

    Not too many films have dared to shed light on the world of the dark. In 1964, Rajshri Productions dared to kick off the formulistic shoes for a haunting film about friendship between two physically challenged people.

    The film, "Dosti", featuring two newcomers Sushil Kumar and Sudhir Kumar in the lead, turned out to be the surprise success of the decade.

    Recalls Bhansali: "'Dosti' was a very touching film. And what great songs composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and sung by Mohd Rafi. I feel the music added tremendously to the film's popular appeal. In 'Black' I couldn't have songs. My protagonist can't speak or hear. The music had to come from the soul."

    Such soul-searching was integral to Gulzar's "Koshish" in 1972.

    With the sole exception of "Khandaan" in 1965 where Sunil Dutt played a physically challenged character, Koshish was the only significant film on the life of those who are physically unequipped to be part of the real world.

    Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri gave award-winning performances as a deaf-and-mute couple finding happiness with each other.

    Recalls Jaya: "Koshish was a very important film. Gulzar bhai brought such a powerful resonance to the theme. Both Haribhai (Sanjeev Kumar) and I enjoyed inhabiting the world of silence. It was almost a therapeutic experience."

    After Koshish there was a virtual silence on the subject of the fringe people. Yes, there were dozens of films where the female protagonist went blind. But these were done mainly to romanticise and glamorise the female protagonist's tragic personality and create drama out of sightlessness.

    The one film in the interim that looked at the world of the sightless with a semblance of sensitivity was Sai Paranpye's sublime "Sparsh" where Naseeruddin Shah's studied performance as a blind man fooled audiences abroad into believing that he was really blind.

    Continued on next page...

  • The next film that took a serious look at the world of the physically handicapped was T. Rama Rao's "Naache Mayuri" in 1986.

    What made this film about a crippled danseuse's struggle to get back on her feet (a wooden leg and all) so special was the fact that the real-life victim Sudha Chandran played the role.

    Though the film drew parallels from the real-life deaf and mute Marlee Matlin's Oscar-winning performance in "Children Of A Lesser God", the melodramatic content in "Naache Mayuri" was much too high.

    Perhaps the most sensitive film on the physically challenged came in 1994. It was Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Khamoshi: The Musical". The theme of a deaf-mute couple Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas's vain attempts to keep their normal daughter in their embrace was intoned in vivid shades of love and compassion.

    Next came Hrithik Roshan tearing the screen apart with his interpretation of an autistic child-man's bonding with an alien in Rakesh Roshan's "Koi Mil Gaya".

    But "Black" goes beyond all these films.

    "Yes," concurs Bhansali. "I've undoubtedly stepped far deeper into the world of darkness in 'Black' than I did in Khamoshi.... so deep that I have discovered bright lights in those unlit recesses where the physically challenged people live.

    "My protagonist Michelle, played by Rani Mukherjee, doesn't represent darkness. She's the epitome of the triumphant human spirit, and an example for all of us who struggle in one way or another to give a face to our anguished yearnings and dreams."

    How far the film actually succeeds in capturing human hearts is a question that doesn't bother its creator. "To me it's enough that I've expressed my true feelings of those who aren't physically all there."

    Very few films have done that. "Black" dares to dream for the dark and disembodied soul of the child of a lesser god.

    "I disagree with that," Bhansali protests. "The physically challenged are not children of a lesser god. They're far more beautiful than the so-called normal people. They appreciate every shade of life, like my protagonist in 'Black'. She's a true-blue hero."