22 September, 2013

The Lunchbox: Simply Delicious

There is magic in cinema, undeniably so. Everyone who goes to the movies knows this and experiences it. The most common item on the wish list of every individual sometime or the other has been the ‘want and ability’ to be invisible yet present in the lives of other people and watch them go about their motions. There is power in this simple voyeurism. We are treated to one such. Ritesh Batra, the director here takes us on a magical ride of watching three separate souls going about their lives at the mere price of a ticket. It is money well worth spent and how.

The Lunchbox is a simple tale very well told. As we remove the lid, with the separate tiers and compartments the tale opens out in its many layers and nuances. It’s a sensual movie, strictly not in the commonly understood meaning of the word, but in the manner in which it embraces your every sense.  It heightens the sensations, inadvertently tickles your funny bone and engages cerebrally with a feel last seen in the 70’s when Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and the two Basu's were making their movies. We have in Ritesh Batra , a genuine claimant to the large vacant spot left by these unassuming giants of middle cinema.

It is a Bombay story, a story of lives in constant motion. The lifeline of this city is effectively captured in two systems that transport men and material to their places of work and home. The local trains of Mumbai and the system of the dabbawala’s (the lunchbox couriers). The dabbawaala system is a widely known case study in Harvard University for its six sigma efficiency of a network of largely semi-literate people. They were feted by the Prince of Wales and invited for the Royal Wedding of his son. But that’s by the by, as one lunchbox sent by a young housewife in suburban Malad, Ila ( Nimrat Kaur ) falls outside this bell curve of efficiency and lands on the table of Saajan Fernandes (Irfaan Khan); a curmudgeonly claims clerk in some government department on the verge of retirement. And then unfolds a story of charming proportions. This honest mistake is perpetuated by the similar external wrappings of the box and a lonely housewife’s lovingly cooked food gets gobbled up clean by the widower subsisting on mass catered canteen fare. Both realize their mistake but persist in this culinary adventure and find comradeship. It highlights the plight of the lonely in large populated cities that are hungry for the simple things in life, a kind word, a shoulder, a person to talk to, to be understood and understand. Into this milieu steps in a third character Shaikh ( Nawazuddin Siddiqui) as an understudy to Saajan to take over after he retires. He is the pesky, sticky colleague who unnecessarily gets personal and familiar till one gets to know his story. It’s a tale of Ila & Saajan who unburden their inner thoughts to each other through notes in a dabba. The tale is also of Shaikh, an orphan making his way alone in his worklife; In his own way he too is hungry for acceptance and a camaraderie that he looks for from Saajan. In all of this the people seek and hope for happiness, in a crowded city where the closest can be very far and by a quirk of fate find that a mistake can actually turn out and make things come out right.

The performances are excellent. Irfaan is a superlative actor and can stand up to be counted in the pantheon of India’s finest. His eyes express in a manner best articulated by the Marathi poet Kavi Grace in these lines 
“Shabdatun Artha Umagava (From the word emerges a meaning)
Arthaatun Shabda Vagalata” (And then the meaning does not require the very word it emerged from)
He says it all and without many words too.

Nimrat Kaur is a find for cinema, her face is very familiar from the various commercials and stage shows she has done. As a performer she comes into the film honed, intelligent, beautiful and bringing to the character of Ila a rare honesty, integrity and balance that is a fitting footage share with an actor of the caliber of Irfaan. It’s no mean achievement for a first film. 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is totally believable, and like a chameleon fits into every part he accepts colouring it with shades making Shaikh an important element of this story. A lesser actor would not have done. The other notable performance is of Bharati Acharekar, an actor who is not seen on screen we only hear her voice. It is through the crisp homilies, suggestions and interactions with Nimrat that she visually fleshes out her part and it’s a masterful angle in the script. Lilette Dubey comes in a part that could well have been edited out and really adds nothing to the interplay of the others; even the children around Irfaans house convey a lot more. About the technicians, the Food Designer who has created the Lunchboxes visually deserves a pat, even without Irfaan the food looks delicious onscreen to cause a rumble in my stomach. Niharika Khans apparel design is spot on and the dabbawala’s who were to be the primary subject of Ritesh’s documentary, become the system through which he conveys this tale. Yet as the promos said it is not a story of love (that was marketing), it is a story of communication, unlikely friendship and finding a confidante with whom you resonate.

I love the idiom of cinema the way it is panning out with newer voices emerging telling tales that though rooted in India can be understood by a global film viewer with ease. Zoya Akhtar, Farhaan Akhtar, Kiran Rao, and now Ritesh Batra are directors who are world citizens and great storytellers. The variety of the 70’s is coming back into Hindi Cinema and augurs exciting times ahead. 

08 September, 2013

Shuddh Desi Romance : The Lilt of the Hinterland Hormonica

YRF : The Prelude

Yash Chopra in the decades of the 90’s and 2000’s majestically flew Bollywood to the ski slopes of the Alps ; introducing us the viewer to snow, the tulip’s, daffodils of Switzerland and then smoothly merging them with the mustard fields of Punjab. So much so that he was honoured with the Swiss Ambassadors award of promoting that country through his films. Then the software boom happened and Indians were stomping all around the world, going everywhere and seeing it all. Losing that novelty today the Yash Raj Films (YRF) banner has turned its attention to the Indian hinterland with a vengeance. The director Maneesh Sharma has been appointed their official tour guide to this mythical, mysterious place with its different language and evolving aspirations.

Present Day :  SDR, Purely a Film Review 

So here we find ourselves in Jaipur and straight away jump into the lives of three young souls that randomly collide with each other making the substance of the screenplay. There is also a fourth character, an elderly Rishi Kapoor ( competent as always ) representing the pragmatic voice of the experienced generation; an older India coming to terms with the newer one, doling out homilies in a quirky manner that only he can. Raghuram Sitaram or Raghu is a registered tour guide ( Sushant Singh Rajput, absolutely watchable) who also plays a part-time baraati in the wedding business of Rishi Kapoor.

On his way to getting married to Tara ( debutante, Vani Kapoor , very dishy and poised ) he meets a beautiful, saucy smoking Gayatri ( Parineeti Chopra, very comely and sparkling ) and falls in love ( tezzwala attraction ) and runs away from his own marriage. After this the movie is only a collection of scenarios, long introspections and abject confusion. The characterizations of Raghu, Gayatri and Tara are so exasperating, simplistic and silly that after a point the crammed up charm starts to grate. Now whether he gets the girl or not and if he does then which girl ? The viewer has reached a point where he would scream whatever the f**k happens, who gives a shit... 

Is it a bad film, the answer has to be, No. Is it watchable, yes again. Here is a serious attempt to capture the hypocrisy of the Indian society and its view of love, commitment, sexuality, womanhood and marriage through the voice and eyes of the youth. This voice today is crying out for expression and is in its own forcefully urgent manner claiming its space in the consciousness of Urban & Semi-Urban metropolises of India.

Maneesh Sharma has achieved the absolute impossible, he has made a film out of a brilliantly weaved screenplay that has no coherent story or characterization to back it up. 

It is a visual film. The camera loves its three young protagonists and the colourful locales of Rajasthan without a doubt. The camera sensuously caresses the young curves of Gayatri & Vani and captures the confused, immature charming Raghu and his commitment-phobia wonderfully well. But the character is wimpy and despite his good looks he doesn't elicit empathy. Hence the extremely verbose players manage to just skim a surface without diving any deeper. Music in Hindi cinema is an important ingredient for its success and the songs are hummable, energetic,  yet they look better in the promos than in the movie. Sachin & Jigar have done their job well but the integration was the director’s cut, he quite doesn't get it like he did in his first outing with Band Bajaa Baraat. We get a sense of flitting in and out of that first film BBB what with the marriage arrangers, the catering and the entire ensemble around it.

A good director and a solid production house can trip up despite having good ingredients in actors and technicians. Maneesh the only thing to do now is jump up quickly, shake off the dust and start a new project. This time do focus on a story idea first and believe me everything else will fall correctly into place. My promise to you, I shall come and watch your next effort too with some hope and expectations that you have learned something from the faux’pas from this time around. 

So finally what are we left with? Only raging hormones? Well, yes.
“Armaan khuley hai, Ziddi bulbuley hai”
a phrase in a song purely ( Shuddh )  encapsulates the essence of this Desi Romance.