Monday, January 14, 2008

Manichithrathazhu: The Unmaking of a Classic

I just had to watch 'Bhool Bhulaiyya', Priyadarshan's psychological take on the neo-classic 'Manichithrathazhu', even if only to criticize. In many ways, it is much more ghastly than 'Chandramukhi', for this movie at least had the excuse that it had to be tailored to suit the Rajni persona (and in the bargain, throw any semblance of logic out of the window. Can't imagine why this line of thought seems to have stuck with all Rajni directors. Wasn't Dalapathy good and entertaining cinema?). With 'Bhool Bhulaiyya', Priyan has no such excuses, since he fails to retain even a glimmer of the spirit of the original despite investing in scene-by-scene remake. This, despite him being part of the original's crew.

In both remakes - and at this stage, it seems prudent to remove Chandramukhi from the comparisons for the same 'excuse' mentioned above - subtlety seems to be a big no-no. Nuances from the original - which is one of the most important reasons why it is regarded as a classic by the current generation - are discarded with disdain. Instead, we have uniformly bad acting - even from the normally dependable Paresh Rawal and Rajpal Yadav, who really ought to take a break from the buffoonery they have been up to in their recent outings.

Consider this: in 'Manichithrathazhu', there is a strong hint that Nakul (Suresh Gopi) is a ne
glectful husband - sample the scene where Ganga asks Nakul to bed, and he excuses himself citing the excuse that he has work to attend to. In fact, the lovely Varuvanillarumee Vijanamam Ee Vazhiyil number strongly indicates that Nakul might even be impotent ( a fact that is only indicated at in the various remakes by Prabhu's nuanced performance). Thus there is a strong foundation laid for the possibility that Ganga is neglected, bored out of her wits, and thus particularly vulnerable and empathetic to the legend of Nagavalli. Instead, here we have Shiney Ahuja all the time grinning like an idiot, and happily nuzzling a rather plump Vidya Balan during an incoveniently placed duet.

And then, there are scenes where Amisha simpers (in that excruciatingly teeth-grating way that only she can) about the rat poison left oh-so conveniently in the kitchen - much like in the Tamil version, where we have 10 laborers literally groaning and moaning to carry the bed across the corridor. I am not sure w
hy the directors feel that Tamil and/or Hindi audiences need such dumbing-down - after all, these are the same audiences that made superhits of a 'Thevar Magan', a 'Lagaan' and a 'TZP'. Labels like 'hey, there's poison in the kitchen' and 'this bed, that the possessed heroine will later lift, is so darned heavy' are juvenile and overkill - perhaps expected of P.Vasu, who wouldn't recognize good cinema if it bit him on his plagiarizing ass, but certainly not of Priyan who has made a lot of good films in the past.

Obviously, neither Jyothika nor Vidya are a match for Shobhana, who delivers a career-defining, knockout performance in the original. Jyothika overacts, to much merriment, and resorts to inane grins, light on the eyes etc to at least frighten the kids. Vidya Balan tries hard, though she's obviously watched DVDs of 'Manichithrathazhu' one too many times (never more obvious than in the scene where you can tell she's just yearning to pick up that bed)! Shobhana's expressions in the crucial scenes are phenomenal - attributable to bad/strange acting on first watch even if you notice the change of expression, but bang-on upon subsequent viewing. The most famous scenes, of course, are the ones with the psychiatrist displaying the jewelery with a manic fervor, the one at the temple where the psychiatrist deliberately tries to aggravate her, and then the by-now-classic scene with the lifting of the bed. Shobhana, despite not doing much of consequence after Manichitrathazhu, is a treeat to watch in what must rank as one of the greatest performances in the history of Indian cinema.

The psychiatrist is the main commercial ingredient of the movie - he provides comic relief, and acts as the main catalyst. At the risk of sounding biased, I just cannot imagine anyone other than Mohanlal in this role. His antics, like the one where he shakes his leg incredulously to check the sound of the anklet is coming from his leg, or the where he gazes lecherously at the portrait of the dancer, have by now been mimicked successfully by both Rajni and Akshay; however, most of these gestures were improvised by Mohanlal on the sets (does somebody have the link to the interview where Fazil said this?). While Rajni's role is ... well, more or less a typical Rajni role, Akshya Kumar copies Mohanlal's expresssions, body language and posture completely. He does a pretty decent job, but the magic is clearly not there.

The music of Manichitrathazhu was very important too, since the the alternate persona was a dancer-singer clearly well-versed with music; she sang and danced at night, after all. The Pazhamthamizh pattu number (conveniently ditched in the remakes, as the timing of the song placement was slightly awry) was not just a song randomly inserted into a scene; it was clearly the the doctor trying to soothe the alternate persona by singing a song in the same raaga as that of the one that the dancer dances to at night (the doctor hears this earlier, and hence he knows the song, so that loophole is closed as well).

I can keep going on and on; the original was a movie where all loopholes were plugged, and had several nuances/hints placed, only to tie them all up toward the end. Only several watches of the movie help you understand all of this. With the remakes,its difficult to sit through the movie even once - wild dogs couldn't drag me to a second screening.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Indian Cinema '07 - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Restricted to Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam cinema, of course.


Irffan Khan in 'The Namesake': To carve out a memorable personality out of what seems to be a no-role at first glance is, by itself, a tremendous achievement. Ashok Ganguli is, at least on paper, an unobtrusive, gentle and quiet Bengali - not exactly an author-backed role. What Irffan Khan, hitherto known mostly for his venomous dialogue-spewing roles, puts into this role is tremendous dignity. And of course, he manages to completely out shadow Tabu in an author-backed role.

Pankaj Kapur in 'The Blue Umbrella': To say that Nandkishor is one of this great actor's worthiest performances should be testimonial enough, for its been no ordinary career. Traversing the path of cunning / wily to sympathetic over the course of 3 hours is not something that many actors can even dream of. Pankaj makes it look oh-so remarkably simple.

Priyamani in 'Paruthi Veeran': A knockout performance by an actor nobody had rated very highly - hell, not even thought of as meriting attention. As the feisty, fiery Muthazhagu, she simply sets the screen alight. The scenes where she stubbornly refuses to shed so much as one tear as her father thrashes her, and of course the shocker of a climax are her best scenes; but her whole obstinate demeanor, though a tad reminiscent of Abhirami from 'Virumandi', had me very, very impressed.

Jeeva in 'Katrathu Thamizh': The protagonists of Kathrathu Thamizh', and to a lesser extent, the one of 'Veyil' too are losers. Both of them have been beat by life, and the failure of their lives stare at them in the face. While Pasupathy in 'Veyil' is completely defeated and wallows in self-pity, Jeeva unravels and becomes mentally unhinged. Though I do not completely agree with the film, Jeeva has turned in a truly remarkable performance, further strengthening the belief that he is one of the most talented young actors around.

Aditya Shrivastava in 'Black Friday': Contrary to most reviews, I thought this performance was miles ahead of Kay Kay's in the movie (which has my vote for movie of the year). As Badshah Khan simmered with frustration, rage, resentment and finally hopelessness, I quite forgot that this was a performance. A comeback of sorts, after 'Satya'.

Kareena Kapoor in 'Jab We Met': Kareena's been trying comedic roles for quite sometime now. In fact, going by the likes of 'Khushi' and 'Mujhse Dosti Karoge', she'd been trying a bit too hard. She finally gets the balance just right. As the loud, self-obsessed Geet, she's a scream, and is also a perfect foil to Shahid, who tries hard to look quiet and dignified.

SRK in 'Chak De India': It is easy to dismiss this performance as 'for once, he just underplayed, yaar!'. Yes, he did, and to great effect too. SRK was every inch Kabir Khan, the haughty but patriotic hockey coach who wanted to live his dream through his team. Unlike some of our other superstars, SRK proves that his acting chops have not deserted him yet, nowhere more than in the scene where his eyes mist up in the climax.

Darsheel Zafary in 'TZP': He literally carries the film on his shoulders. Consider what a more obnoxious child actor, like Master Raju of yesteryear, could have done to this film.

Sarika in 'Parzania': This is a performance that hits you in the gut - all the more, since you don't expect it of her. They should have given her both the National Awards - the male and female versions !

Vinay Pathak in 'Bheja Fry' & 'Aaja Nachley': The discovery of the year, even if he did not go around dropping his towel. Remarkable comedic skills, a chameleon-like ability to switch personalities, and an endearing screen presence - this rotunded, cherubic actor has already displayed more skill than many 'heroes' have in a lifetime.

Anurag Kashyap, Lal Jose, Balaji Sakthivel & Aamir Khan: For 'Black Friday', 'Arabikatha', 'Kalloori' and 'Taare Zameen Par' respectively.


Gautham Menon: I was horrified and insulted by 'Pachaikili...'. Is this the best this promising director could make of the promising 'Derailed' by James Seigel? He's gone down a few notches in my estimate.

Mohanlal: In 1992, Mohanlal's filmography read 'Sadayam', 'Kamaladalom', 'Aham', 'Rajashilpi', 'Adwaitham', 'Suryagayathri' and 'Vietnam Colony'. In 2007, it reads 'Chotta Mumbai', 'Hallo', 'Alibhai', 'Rock N Roll', 'Flash' and the sole grace, 'Pardesi'. Add to this the excreable 'RGV Ki Aag', and a controversial interview, and you have the writing on the wall: the humiliation of one of the greatest actors the Indian screen has ever seen.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra & Sanjay Leela Bhansali: Like guru, like protege. Trust the duo to hype up their films, deliver pretentious crap, and then howl at 'stupid audiences & critics' for not being 'intelligent enough'. VVC needs to shut up and hand over the directorial baton to Raju Hirani, while Bhansali needs to lose all this baggage of being a 'sensitive' director, lose chamchas like a certain Mr.Jha, and start afresh (not plagiarizing would be a definite start).

Yashraj Films: All glamor and no content makes the Chopra a bad boy. As always, SRK rescues them with 'Chak De', but barely.

Konkona Sen: For proving that even she can act badly. Don't believe me? Watch 'Aaja Nachley'.

Lohithadas: For that monstrosity called 'Chakkaramuthu'. Its unfathomable how a writer who gave us the likes of 'Thaniyavarthanom' and 'Kireedom' could fall to such levels of mediocrity, nay ineptitude.

Priyadarsan: The Mallu readers already know why!


Preity Zinta:
All that collagen injections are showing. The perky gal from 'Dil Se' has been replaced by the irritating, collagen-sustained, pouting creature in 'Jhoon Barabar Jhoom'. Lara Dutta, with that delicious French accent, showed her a thing or three about comedic timing.

Nisha Kothari: As I'd suggested elsewhere, she should migrate to 'Malluwood' and give poor old Shakeela a run for her money.

Ram Gopal Verma:
'RGV Ki Aag' alone would have helped RGV make the bottom of the heap. He also gave us 'Go' and 'Darling'.

I regret to say that I have not watched a lot of (supposedly) good films like 'Ore Kadal', 'Pardesi' etc. I daresay, if I'd watched these (and other) films, my list might have been altered.