Betrayed by time-pass cinema

Dec 27, 2005 Subhash K. Jha

Gosh, I'm thoroughly confused about the movies in the past weeks.

They came in a sweeping swamp of genres, styles, moods and tempo - from the metro-centric "Home Delivery" to the salacious "Neal 'N' Nikki", from the Bangkok-bang-bang "Ek Ajnabee" to the bluffer's guide "Bluffmaster" to the earthy "Kalyug".

"At least when Superman wears his underwear on top he doesn't forget to put on his clothes underneath," I told my friend referring to the girl, played by Tanisha Mukerji, in "Neal 'N' Nikki".

Honestly, I thought I had suddenly become hopelessly out of step with the films being made nowadays. I had a major problem connecting with at least a dozen films in recent months. Among them Vivek Agnihotri's "Chocolate", Suparn Verma's "Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena" and Antara Mali's "Mr Ya Ms."

The worst blow was "Neal 'N' Nikki". Director Arjun Sablok is a friend. I had seen his first film, "Na Tum Jano Na Hum", in 2002. In the year when one of Indian cinema's best films ever - Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Devdas" - was released, Sablok's miniature work of art stood out for its quiet elegance and gentle old-world charm.

Fast-forward to 2005. Sablok churned out a salacious flick. Strangely enough, he claims "Neal 'N' Nikki" is closer to his personality. Even the quiet gentle Rohan Sippy claims, "Bluffmaster", is more him than his first film, the elegiac and romantic "Kuch Naa Kaho".

Let me get this straight. "Bluffmaster" and "Neal 'N' Nikki" are more reflective of their directors' personality than their gentle romantic debut efforts.

Or, are they actually saying, "Hey guys, this is what I think you want to see. So here it is... with the chef's compliments."

But wait! I don't think too many people want the new fancy meal. They would much rather have the old pickled spice-papad-chutney thali...

I agree completely with my friend Vishal Bhardwaj when he says the best and most reliable measure of a film's success is its story. If you come out of a film and you can't answer the very elementary question - 'What's it about?' - the film is in serious trouble.

I came out of "Neal 'N' Nikki" scratching my head, wondering what it was all about... Let me give it a shot... a guy who wants it and a girl who doesn't get it?

Is it meant to be a stylist's fantasy or a dress designer's nightmare? Or is it meant to reflect the changing face of Yash Raj Films?

Very frankly I felt cheated when I saw "Neal 'N' Nikki" because I've the greatest of respect for Yash Raj Films. I've grown up watching their films... gulped with "Daag", gasped at "Deewaar", sighed with "Kabhi Kabhi", chuckled at "Chandni" and swooned with "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge".

So what happened? What could've prompted Sablok to go from such a luscious level of classiness to time-pass cinema?

I haven't the foggiest idea. But it was tough coming to terms with his changed priorities. After he read my review I had to deal with his hurt. "You could've first told me how you felt about my film before writing about it. At least I'd have been warned."

But I felt too betrayed for niceties. Ditto my friend Sujoy Ghosh. After seeing the pancake-flat freaked-out panache of "Home Delivery", I can't believe he made "Jhankaar Beats" just a year ago.

What goes wrong with directors in their post-debut films? How do you explain the aridity of true inventiveness in the current crop of films by second-timers?

The exception is Mohit Suri who has grown considerably since that scene-by-scene, almost word-for-word, rip-off of Carl Franklin's "Out Of Time". Suri's "Kalyug" was original. Though it was about the world of pornography, there were no sleazy passages in the film... and, yes, the leading lady wore her lingerie under her clothes - like they used to do in civilised societies.

To me that was enough reason to kiss Mahesh Bhatt's hand. The man and I have never seen eye-to-eye about his shameless apery of every Hollywood film he could lay his hand on. But let's give the devil his due. "Kalyug" may not be a classic. When asked what it's about, I don't have to look around in unmitigated panic.

My first prediction for 2006: films with strong storylines - Bhardwaj's "Othello", Madhur Bhandarkar's "Corporate", Mani Shankar's "The Informer" (this one about a young government spy on the run is a stunner), Farhan Akhtar's "Don", J.P. Dutta's "Umrao Jaan" and Sanjay Bhansali's "Sanvariya" will be the outright winners.

Which is to say they won't be multiplex successes but single-theatre conquests. A lot of moviemakers in Mumbai seem to have forgotten that most Indians watch films in smaller towns where the popcorn doesn't supersede the value of the film. Not yet.

(Subhash K. Jha is a well-known film writer and critic. He can be contacted at Click the Movie button below for more info:
Ek Ajnabee


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