Monday, October 02, 2006

Small is Beautiful

This has been an unusual year for the Hindi film industry. On the one hand we have BIG films – big banner, big names, big moolah: films like Fanaa, Krrish and KANK, which have been enormous commercial successes thanks almost entirely to their marketing muscle. These films were watchable – even enjoyable at times, but they cannot be counted by any stretch of imagination as the year's best when it comes to artistic or aesthetic expression.

On the flip side, there were many small films which were 'different', sometimes innovative, and quite superior in terms of content. They proved that big-bucks and technical finesse are not necessary ingredients for the recipe of a satisfying movie going experience for the audiences. They prove yet again that small can indeed be beautiful, so long as the emphasis is on good and strong content.

I saw three such 'small' films last week – Dor, Khosla Ka Ghosla, and Woh Lamhe. They were all very different from each other, but all three were well-written, well-executed and immensely appealing. Their appeal, however, was for different reasons, but they had one thing in common – a good script supported by neatly fleshed out characters.

The first thing that strikes you about Nagesh Kukunoor's Dor is the simplicity – be it in the form of its narrative structure or its well-etched characters. Actually it is quite a complex tale told in a remarkably simple and endearing manner. At the obvious level it is the story of two women from diverse backgrounds brought together by a queer stroke of fate. But through them the multi-layered texture of the tale unfolds itself. What makes the film truly remarkable is the honesty in Nagesh Kukunoor's direction and the performances of the lead actors. Ayesha Takia, as a young Rajasthani widow, is quite a revelation. Only, her refined and convent-educated dialogue delivery plays spoilsport with an otherwise polished performance. Gul Panag and Shreyas Talpade also do justice to their characters.

Next I come to Khosla Ka Ghosla, where realism meets farcical comedy in the style reminiscent of Hrishikesh Mukherji. It can be called the truly middle-class film of the post-Hrishikesh Mukherji era. It tackles a very real problem in a light-hearted way – somewhat akin to Kundan Shah's Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. The middle-class setting of a Punjabi family from Delhi's Karol Bagh is outstandingly realistic. The setting and the characters are so real that it doesn't seem like watching a film. The plot does progress on very filmi lines, but the milieu remains true to life all along. Another reason why it reminds one of the films of Hrishikesh Mukherji films is that all actors fit their characters to a 'T' and do a good job, but none of the performances tower above the film itself. That, in a way, is the strength of the film. Interestingly, the premise of Khosla Ka Ghosla, with its emphasis on tit for tat, is the very anti-thesis of the recent blockbuster Lage Raho Munnabhai that propagated Gandhian values.

Mohit Suri's Woh Lamhe is the biggest among the 'small' films I saw last week. It has a bigger budget, bigger canvas and bigger aspirations. But it still remains a small film – the entire budget of the film would not be more than remunerations of the lead actors of, say, a Fanaa or a KANK. Woh Lamhe is a sensitive and, at times, disturbing insight into the schizophrenic world of a film star. Based on 'moments' taken from the relationship between Mahesh Bhatt and Parveen Babi, the film is largely fictitious with actual incidents presented with a slightly different background. The maturity demonstrated by the director (25 year old Mohit Suri) in depicting the complex world of a schizophrenic person is worthy of applause. No doubt he has the support of strong, real characters and able performances, but it is very easy for a director to go over the top with material like this. Yet, he exercises restraint and lends a very strong emotional quotient to the film. Shiney Ahuja and Kangana Ranaut are first rate. For Kangana, this almost seems like an extension of her role in Gangster at first glance, but her character here is more complex and difficult. It is to her credit that she makes her character entirely believable and evokes sympathy with her plight from the audience. Woh Lamhe was also quite disturbing for me personally because it took me back many years when I had seen schizophrenia from close quarters…(read this)

Just last week, I was telling someone that we're almost nearing the end of this year, but I can't count beyond 4 or 5 while putting a list of 10 'good' Hindi films in 2006. After this week, my count has gone up by 3