Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Lunchbox: A Feast Sans Dessert !

Warning: Contains spoilers.

These days, a film's life is very short. By that measure, "The Lunchbox" has already been around for some time (more than a week), and a lot has been written and discussed about it by now. I saw the film, relished most of it, but there were some things that left a slightly sour taste.

No doubt, it is a sweet, simple story told very well. Mumbai comes alive on the screen just as it is: crowded, always on the move, and busy. In spite of being chock-a-block with people, each and every resident of this metropolis is an island within herself or himself...lonely, secluded, caught in the rhythmic cycle of life in a big city.

When a wrongly delivered lunchbox becomes the link between two strangers, it allows both of them to share their feelings, their memories, their insecurities and their fears in an uninhibited manner. They look forward to reading the handwritten notes in it with hope, anticipation and longing. The multi-tiered container becomes a symbol of friendship that brightens up their otherwise drab lives. In the course of this friendship, they get a chance to introspect, find courage and discover the other side of their persona that they didn't know existed.

Irrfan Khan's portrayal of Saajan (wonder if anyone has that for a first name!) Fernandes, an irritable, unfriendly and dour widower is brilliant. His life revolves around the heaps of files on his office desk, his daily commute in overflowing trains, and his smoking break in the balcony every evening while looking yearningly at a neighbour's dining room full of people.

Nimrat Kaur as Ila, the middle class homemaker is very natural when she moves around her cramped place cooking, cleaning and tending to her daughter. She dishes out sumptuous delicacies day after day hoping to win her indifferent husband's attention. What gives her a break in between these repetitive chores is her interaction through the window with her unseen neighbour, a spunky Bharati Achrekar as Deshpande Aunty, who manages to leave a mark only with her distinctive voice.

But who takes the cake among the three lead actors is the affable Shaikh, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He brings a smile to your lips with his street smartness, his never say die attitude and his exuberant optimism. He is funny without adopting any unnatural mannerisms, without any exaggerated gestures and without any loudness. In fact, he is as close to the Mumbaikar in spirit as one can get.

Lillete Dubey has a small role, but her character looks over the top considering the subtle tone of the whole film. The suggestion that Ila's husband might be having an affair is so subtle that you doubt its veracity. And the end? Well, I think after watching a film through its entire length, one deserves to see the story being brought to a proper end. An ambiguous end could be taken as the writer/director's inability to bring his/her tale to a conclusion. To me, the film seemed like a feast served without dessert.

Monday, September 23, 2013

"Anumati": The Permission

I stumbled upon a Marathi film "Anumati" (2013) on the telly the other day. I liked what I saw. 

Ratnakar (Vikram Gokhale) is a retired school teacher, a romantic at heart; a poet. His wife Madhu (Neena Kulkarni) is the force that has been steering their family, leaving Ratnakar to dream, read and write. Both their children--a son and a daughter--are married, and busy with their own families. The elderly couple live in a small house in picturesque Shrivardhan, a town by the beach along the Konkan coast.

We come to know all this in bits and pieces, through flashbacks. The film opens when the comatose Madhu is lying in a Mumbai hospital, her distraught husband by her side. She has suffered a brain haemorrhage, and is being kept on life support systems. Each additional day at the hospital costs money and they have already exhausted their modest savings in the last few days. The doctors are fuelling the family's hopes in their characteristic measured words.

Ratnakar is hopeful, his son is not. He is under pressure from his son to sign the "Do not resuscitate" form, but he cannot bring himself to authorize an act that might end Madhu's life. He turns to his daughter and his brother for help. He is ready to sell his house in Shrivardhan. He just wants the hospital to try for a few more days, hoping that Madhu would recover.The story underlines the ugly commercial aspect of hospitals today: exploiting people emotionally in order to run their business.

Vikram Gokhale is a veteran who delivers a powerful performance, expressing the pain, desperation and helplessness of Ratnakar with finesse. His small interactions with his daughter, daughter-in-law, brother and son are enough to tell us what kind of relationships they share with each other. And though the story is centred around a patient on a hospital bed, we are not confined to that small room. Ratnakar's efforts to raise money take us to different places, allowing us snippets from the lives of his extended family; and treating us to some wonderful shots of Konkan in the rain. The cinematographer is Govind Nihalani!

Ratnakar's childhood friend Ambu (Reema) brings a lot of energy with her entry into the story. Her scenes with Ratnakar are warm, positive and definitely feel-good.

It is a sensitive subject, handled extremely well by director Gajendra Ahire. He has written the screenplay, dialogue and composed music too. Kishore Kadam, Subodh Bhave, Sai Tamhankar and Neha Pendse are all very good in their supporting roles. It is a touching story of love, told very simply. No wonder then that it has won wide critical acclaim, and that Vikram Gokhale has bagged the National Film Award for Best Actor.