Sunday, October 05, 2008

Drona - An Interesting Idea Gone Awry

"You're special", young Aditya's foster father tells him when he is bogged down by his Harry Pottersque existence at the Dursley's…sorry, his uncle's/ foster father's house.

The opening reels of Goldie Behl's Drona are so unabashedly close to J K Rowling's magical creation, that you expect something magical to unfold in the subsequent reels. You wait with bated breath for the protagonist to discover how and why he is special, somewhat akin to Harry Potter's realization (the opening exposition in the form of Amar Chitra Katha like comic book sketches pretty much lays down the 'why' of it, but you really want to know the 'how').You wait. And you wait. But the director is in no hurry to oblige.

That is the main problem with Drona. It is too ponderous for a film of this genre. A fantasy works when the inevitable conflict between good and evil unfolds at a pace that keeps you glued to the screen with anticipation. Unfortunately, in Drona while the protagonist and the antagonist are established early-on in the film, the conflict between them unfolds at a leisurely pace through uninspiring monologues and equally uninspiring sequences. I was so bored after a while that I didn't care if the universe could be saved from the evil designs of the buffoon-like asur incarnate.

It is obvious that Goldie Behl believed in the concept. Taking cues from Hindu mythology, he creates a story that sounds compelling enough. At least on paper. It has all the elements of a fantasy. It is a traditional good vs. evil story with loads of magic and the supernatural, and, what's important, it is internally consistent. Where he fails – and miserably at that – is to execute that on celluloid. I strongly suspect that the Drona comic book will be much more satisfying than the film.

Once the rich tapestry of details was all laid down on paper, the writers apparently could not figure out how to translate that into an equally compelling screenplay. From the point where Drona realizes what he must do to save the world, the sequence of events unfolds at a painfully laborious pace. This results in a completely lack of emotional connect with the characters. The writing team probably felt that a mother-son track (played by real life mother and son) would lend the necessary emotional core to the film. But Jaya Bachchan's shockingly flat portrayal of the mother takes away the emotional appeal of this track. When Riz Raizada (the buffoon-like antagonist, played by Kay Kay Menon) transforms her into a stone statue, there is no visible difference in the expressions – that's how expressionless Jaya Bachchan is in the film.

It is not only the screenplay, the director's visual translation also leaves a lot to be desired. Even though the plot had many elements from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, what was the need to even borrow visual elements from the films, especially the LoTR trilogy. Riz's Army is exactly like Sauron's Ringwraiths, the monstrous attacker at the city of Raazpur is a curious mix of Uruk Hai and Haradrim, the white wizard from LoTR makes an appearance here (even his staff is borrowed totally from LoTR)….there are many such examples here. What takes the cake is the composition of the shot when Jaya Bachchan shows Drona's costume and the sword case to Abhishek. It is almost an exact replica of the scene in LoTR when Aragorn first sees the Shards of Narsil at Rivendell. Later on, even the way Abhishek holds the sword is straight from LoTR. Maybe, Goldie Behl saw it as a homage, but to me it seems like lack of originality.

What worked for me in this otherwise disappointing film was the conceptualization of the character of Drona. He is not a typical super-hero. He is more of a brooding character upon whom greatness has been thrust. For many, a super-hero who doesn't kick butt can be a major flaw in this film, but I loved the fact that Drona was more human than heroic. And this aspect of this character sets the stage for another interesting character - that of Sonia, played by Priyanka Chopra. Despite being given the most irritating lines to mouth in the form of "Babuji kehte the....", Sonia's character is more heroic than the hero himself.

Visually speaking, the film is quite a treat to watch. The special effects might not be the best of class, but they are fairly well-done in places. And the visuals of the desert are absolutely arresting. The train sequence in the middle of the desert is the highlight of the film, as is the scene where Riz captures Sonia on a ship.

Alas, a miserly sprinkling of interesting characterization and visual richness alone cannot make a fantasy work!