Archive for November, 2006

So, the first two of the great Indian re-makes have hit the screen – Don and Umrao Jaan. As a student of cinema, I decided to watch both of them.

As advised by many, I decided to watch them for their own sake, and not as a re-make of a classic. This was easier with Umrao Jaan as compared with Don.

The new Umrao Jaan must be watched as an ordinary commercial Bollywood film. If one tries to watch it as either a period film or a great classic, then there would be room for a lot of criticism.

The film, as we know, tells the story of a courtesan in Lucknow of the nawaabs. The film sets the tone with grand sets and costumes, but little else. The cinematography rarely produces scenes of unforgettable beauty that are possible on sets created on such a spectacular scale. Even the dialogues lack the grace that belonged to that era. They are conventional, rarely beautiful.

As a commercial film, Umrao Jaan also drags a wee bit. The action only starts after the interval. And yet, inspite of having had half a film dedicated to it, you do not feel the famous Aishwariya-Abhishek chemistry.

In her inimitable style, Aishwariya Rai grabs another great role and fails to be it justice. She plays Umrao Jaan as a beautiful woman, unfulfilled in love who cries and cries. But, what about the interesting courtesan of many facets, who ensnared her admirers both with her beauty and her sharpness of mind? Or what of an experience of pain that is so deep that it transforms you? Or when does tragedy transcend into strength? We see none of this.

Of course, Shabana Azmi as always is outstanding. She is the only completely real thing about the film. Abhishek Bachchan and Sunil Shetty are also believable.

The technique used for narration is that of the sutradhaar or teller of the tale. But, in this role, Aishwariya Rai rarely brings the wisdom required to the tale or the deep sadness of a woman who has lost in love and now faces a lifetime of aloneness.

My favourite is the last shot of Aishwariya with tear rimmed eyes looking into the camera. I couldn’t help wondering if we were watching Umrao Jaan or Mother India.

Needless to say, the best parts of the film are in the trailer.

With Don, it is a little harder not to think of the original. This is especially because the script of the remake is constrained and shaped by the original. This is unfortunate because the original Don did not have a great script. But, it did have many unforgettable performances. There was Amitabh in a classic double role and Zeenat giving life to the classy and unconventional Roma.

The new Don is a more slickly told tale, and benefits from superior production values and international locales.

The modern interpretation also worked for me. But, as always, the ‘technology’ bit was poorly done. Why does Bollywood always make technology look unrealistic? Is it because they don’t completely understand it?

But, where the re-make gains ground on script, it loses ground on performance. I am not even trying to compare Shahrukh with Amitabh. But, the fact remains that he plays the two characters that are part of the ‘double role’ as if they are the same character. Anybody could tell you that this is bad acting.

Priyanka fails to bring Roma to life. She plays Roma as if it is just another role.

Finally, there is the introduction of the twist in the tale at the end. It is a good idea. But, I do feel that it could have been implemented better. There is no build up to the conclusion, and the film ends abruptly. The audience is left more incredulous than anything else.

So, all in all, I have a lot of mixed feelings about remakes. But, it must be said that Don is the better made film of the two.

The Departed

Posted: November 6, 2006 in Cinema
Tags: , ,

It’s been awhile since we saw the world of the Dons (as told by Hollywood) on our screens. And now, the Mafia is back with a bang with The Departed from Martin Scorsese. Yet, in my humble opinion, I thought the film was ‘good’, and at times ‘very good’. But, it was not ‘brilliant’.

I’d give this a 7.8 on a scale where Crash is 8.5.

The best parts about the film:
1. Another great performance from Jack Nicholson
2. One of the best performances that I have seen from Leonardo DiCaprio. (Yes, I think that his performance here was better than in The Aviator. But, to explain ‘why’ I’d need another blog).
3. A fast-paced plot that twists and turns like nothing that you have ever seen before.
4. It’s real.

The parts about the film that just don’t add up:
1.  The film lacks the finesse in scripting and editing that we see in a film like Crash. There, the film comes together at all the right points, even as at hurtles towards its startling conclusion. And I believe that this final touch could have made The Departed a brilliant film (and so I compare). Unfortunately, Scorsese does not completely pull it off.
2. The conclusion – Is the final scene an act of retribution or is it a cover up? It’s never completely clear. And the question does not linger on in an enigmatic haunting fashion. Instead, you are left with an irritating sense that the script writer did not do his job completely. And as that comes right at the end, it detracts from the brilliance of the past two hours. You just leave the theatre feeling slightly puzzled.

Of course, this nitpicking possibly stems from the fact that I expect very high standards from Martin Scorsese. Manoj saw the film, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I did too. Just that I thought it was ‘good’ (even ‘very good’), but not ‘brilliant’.