Archive for April, 2007

Dor

Posted: April 7, 2007 in Cinema
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I’ve spoken of admiration for Nagesh Kukanoor before, and this long weekend I got to see the film that he released that last year – Dor. I have been curious about this film since last year, especially when Rediff selected it as their film of 2006. Could any other film make it to being the best film of the year, when it was a year that had a masterpiece like Lage Raho Munnabhai?

When I finally watched Dor, I was not disappointed. It would still not be my film of 2006. But, it is a very good film.

Spoiler – don’t read if you want to watch the film without any idea of the story
The film is the story of two very different women whose lives are intertwined by a single moment. They grow to become friends, but in the distance looms a final confrontation that must happen.

More thoughts – general analysis
The story is told with the simplicity and lilting beauty that we saw in Iqbal. The camera seems to slowly fall in love with India’s physical and cultural landscape, and takes the audience on the journey. This approach is similar to the work of Satyajit Ray, where the harshest moments hold a lilting beauty. To this, Kukanoor also brings an element of awareness of India’s complex diversity.

The editing also brings together the intertwining of their lives with extreme skill and carries the audience along till the film’s moment of confrontation.

This is Ayesha Takia’s best performance to date. She will always look back at Dor with great pride, when she looks back at her portfolio of work.

There is a freshness about everything in this film from the landscape and Ayesha Takia’s performance to the incidents that make up the fabric of this film. Kukanoor makes a bold attempt to abandon the use of cliches and melodrama that make much of Hindi cinema seem similar. It is truly an Indian film told with an international vocabulary.

My only criticism is that the dramatic turnaround and certain incidents at the end of the film are not adequately supported by the story up to that point. This is a shortcoming that we have seen in other Kukanoor films as well…especially Hyderabad Blues. He holds the scenes exceedingly well, but loses control in the penultimate scene.

Further, Ayesha Takia delights you throughout the film. But, she fails in what was potentially the strongest scene of the film – the confrontation between the two central characters. For some reason, this pivotal scene does not have the dramatic intensity that is required.

It is only for this reason that I place this film that could have been Kukanoor’s finest work behind his other work like Rockford and Iqbal.

But, Nagesh Kukanoor must still be commended for this film that celebrates life. So, while I won’t say that Dor is a brilliant film, it is definitely a very good film (often bordering on brilliant) that is worth a watch.

Miss Inayat

Posted: April 5, 2007 in Life and Living

The subject of this blog has been on my mind for a week. But, I never got down to writing about it. Mainly because I did not have the time and the energy to devote to it. But, today is a self-imposed holiday, and I find myself thinking once again about Miss Inayat.

I was getting ready for work last week, when Ayesha messaged me. As I opened message with the premonition that it was bad news, I read that Miss Inayat had died. It had possibly been a heart attack.

The first feeling that I was aware of was shock. I had never thought of the possibility that she too was mortal. Then, there was sadness.

Miss Inayat had been the Principal of Kimmins High School in Panchgani for as long as most Kimmites in my generation can remember. Kimmins is the school where I spent eight years of my life, the school of my growing years.

I can still see the outlines of her face as if they never left me. A smallish sturdy figure with hair that had always been worn gray and short. I had also never seen her without her spectacles. And for some reason she always reminded of a bulldog – perhaps it was her ferocious tenacity that would not be stopped.

My first memory of fear is associated with the sentence “Miss Inayat is coming”. And miraculously, a buzzing classroom would take on the tones of hushed silence or unruly girls would fall into a queue.

In later school life, we learned to listen with special dread for her footsteps around the time of mark reading. And our idea of ultimate misery was a trip to Miss Inayat’s office for an admonishment for some act of wrongdoing.

I was scared of nothing. But, I was scared of her. So it was for many Kimminites. It was not for nothing that she was known as the ‘Tigress of Panchgani’.

Incident after incident only seemed to increase the deep dread that she always managed to invoke.

It was Miss Inayat who came inspecting our dormitories and presided over our school functions. And if we did not meet her high standards, a fall from grace was guaranteed.

It was Miss Inayat who I ran from when I was caught attempting to pluck raw mangoes from the big tree behind my dormitory (Pearsall at that time).

It was only Miss Inayat who could punish or even cane the senior girls who we held in awe.

It was Miss Inayat who presided over the assembly, pulled up the girls who were guilty of serious wrongdoing at this very public forum and chastised those of us who had been awarded order marks (bad points).

It was Miss Inayat who caught me for bursting crackers during Diwali in Lower Garden (you could only do this on the Netball Court on Bonfire Night).

It was Inayat who had the power to suspend me. In instances where the crime was grievous, but not extreme enough to demand suspension, she could cane you or force a spoon of the terrible tasting kuneel down your throat. And I had experienced both.

And in the episode that frightened me the most, it was Miss Inayat who caught some of us girls in Mrs Khan’s room. As students were not allowed to visit teachers, we were convinced that our days in school were over. (But, that did not happen. As the crime was only deemed to be serious enough to invite a caning.)

In adult life, I trace my wariness of all figures of authority back to this period. I only overcame this to a certain extent in college at Jyoti Nivas, when some of my lecturers also became my lifelong friends.

But, strangely enough when she died, most Kimminites (including myself) spoke of her with gratitude and a sprinkling of affection. I would not say that Miss Inayat was a noble teacher. But, if Miss Inayat (for all her faults) had a passion and a mission, it was Kimmins, and she set high standards for her school. The drive to ensure that her school was the best that it could be, encouraged us to be the best that we could be.

Among the memories that I have of Kimmins are outstanding competitions in the academic arena and on the sports field. Dramatics, Elocution, Debates, Sports, Choir/Music, Dance… I’ve never seen it done the way it was done in Kimmins. And she built an institution that had a strong tradition in these areas.

When she was made to leave, later generations would claim that the school no longer had the same high standards that she had been committed to.

Miss Inayat had her prejudices, and as in everything she pursued these with passion. Her favourites were always treated as a breed apart. But, woe betide those who she did not like. I was never a favourite. But, I find that I am not without gratitude.

It was in Kimmins, under her stewardship, that I was first recognised as a good student. I never forgot that.

It was in Kimmins, under her stewardship, that I first discovered the confidence to take part in sports. I never forgot that.

It in Kimmins, under her stewardship, that I first discovered that I was a dancer. I never forgot that.

It was in Kimmins, under her stewardship, that I first discovered that I was a good writer and orator. I never forgot that.

It was in Kimmins that I discovered who I was and came to believe in that. And so, in later life the rest of the world could never shake me.

Thank you Kimmins. Thank you Miss Inayat. I’m not sure whether you intended it, but I owe a lot to you

I’ve been curious about The Namesake ever since I heard that Mira Nair was working on the film. I’ve always watched out for her films since the days she got my attention with Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala. She disappointed me with Kamasutra and Vanity Fair was okay… But, she more than made up for that with Monsoon Wedding.

So a couple of hours after I watched The Namesake, here are some thoughts on the film:
1. This film will have a greater impact on you if the immigrant experience is integral to the story of your life or your world. If you are an Indian who has never been an immigrant to another country, the film will still affect you, but probably not as deeply.
2. It’s an intense second half. So, watch the film till the last scene before you make up mind 🙂
3. Mira Nair tries to tell the story of two generations in two hour. To her credit, she does make a believable film. But, it is not perfect.
4. There are glaring glitches in technique – especially in the aging of the actors. Tabu does not look like a young Indian bride in her early twneties. She looks a lot older. Similarly, in a scene where Kal Penn is supposed to play a boy in high school, you notice his graying hair.
5. There is abundant use of cliche. For example, India as a land of poverty and the Taj Mahal.
6. Inspite of points 2-5, there are moments in the film that are strikingly real.
7. Powerful performances from Irfan Khan and Tabu make the film linger on even after you have left the theatre. In fact, people rave about Tabu in the film. But, Irfan Khan was even better.
8. There were also moments in the film where I felt tears coming to my eyes. I guess in my one year in the UK, I have had a brush with the immigrant experience.

In conclusion, I would sum it up by saying that The Namesake is a good film. Not brilliant – but good, even very good. And there are moments from the film that stay with you long after you leave the theatre. And if you follow the work of Mira Nair, you must see this film.

I also left the theatre feeling very curious about the book. After all, that should be the ideal format to explore the story of two generations and the experiences of two lifetimes coming full circle.

Have you heard a lot of film reviews that said that you’ve got to watch The last King of Scotland because of a great performance from Forest Whitaker??? It’s true… Here’s an inspired performance that reminds of you of the old days when you still had talented actors who could carry a film on their shoulders.

Forest Whitaker does not act the part of Idi Amin. He is Idi Amin. You feel this especially in the last moments of the film, which closes with a few shots of the real Idi Amin. This serves to reiterate what you have known all throughout the film – Forest Whitaker deserved his Oscar.

I went into the theatre hall curious about this film. Forest Whitaker (for The last King of Scotland) had piped Leonardo DiCaprio (for The Departed) to the post at different film awards. I thought that it was impossible for anyone to beat Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in The Departed (this is of course with regard to the year 2006). But, when I watched the film I saw that I was wrong. Leonardo DiCaprio does play an extremely complex character in The Departed. But, Forest Whitaker plays a greater role.

He successfully brings to life a character who is sometimes good, sometimes bad and at other times mad. But, even in his vilest moment, Idi Amin as played by Forest Whitaker is always human. This is difficult to achieve unless you have the openness of mind to view human character in all its different strains, and then the depth required of an actor to execute that vision.

There are many of us believe that people are not completely bad or good. But, it is more difficult to live that out for your audience.

It was always going to be a tough decision. But even had Leonardo de Caprio been nominated for The Departed (and not Blood Diamond at the Oscars), Forest Whitaker deserved to win.

Manoj has watched more of Forest Whitaker than I have, and he says that he has come out with many great performances in the past and the Oscar was long due. So, whether you just like good cinema or search for greatness in films, Whitaker obviously has depth to his performance that appeals to different kinds of audiences.

And so, it is for all these reasons that I recommend Forest Whitaker and The last King of Scotland.