Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Jal" Does Not Hold Water!

Alert:This write-up contains some spoilers.

Excellent cinematography is surely an asset for a feature film, but it cannot be the film's unique selling point. The makers of "Jal" seem to think otherwise. Their offering is a visual extravaganza, capturing the Rann of Kutch in all its arid glory, while faltering in many other crucial departments. It is hard to put this film in any genre. It gives the impression of being an arty, experimental film. It is anything but that! In spite of having been woven around a fresh, untapped idea, it has ended up being a potpourri of several elements. Greed, deceit, enmity, selfishness, despair, violence, love, lust, humour, music, name it, and you will find it in the story. The cause of the migratory flamingos is thrown in for good measure too.

The village where most of the action takes place is a mere patch of few ramshackle huts in the middle of nowhere. The inhabitants (all men in dusty off-white and all women covered from head to toe in black cloaks) seem to be doing nothing for a living. They are always outdoors, in groups, practising community living. Where do they do their morning ablutions, where do they get their food from in this barren, uninhabited land are questions best not asked. Instead, see how beautiful the women are in their exquisite ethnic jewellery with designer tattoos on their face, neck and arms. Men too look dashing in their co-ordinated Kutchi outfits. Wait, there is more eye candy. The gori ornithologist (Saidah Jules), saviour of the dying flamingos. She roams around the desert in sleeveless tops and shorts, providing the much needed colour and glamour in the monotonous landscape.

In this setting lives Bakka, our hero whose claim to fame is his extra-ordinary ability to locate water in the sandy expanse around him. The moment he finds a spot, he starts digging. Why fellow villagers don't help him is a mystery. Then there is a comparatively more prosperous dushman gaon, a love triangle involving Bakka, Kesar and Kajri, some good guys, some bad guys, flamingos, drilling machines, camels and water. You get the drift, don't you?

Talking about the actors, Tannishtha Chatterji as Kajri, the spurned lover is very impressive. Wish she had more to do. Kirti Kulhari as Kesar, the belle from the dushman gaon is attractive and adequate. Purab Kohli as Bakka is so swathed under a large turban or long, curly locks of hair that it is difficult to read his expression most of the time. And then there are the accents. It is obvious that not enough work was done on them. Else how does one explain Mukul Dev as Puniya speaking with a Haryanvi accent?

With a taut screenplay and better editing, the story would have been more effective. At times, the plot seems to lose focus and go haywire. What captivates you are the stunning landscapes and the strains of Shubha Mudgal's magical voice in the background. The skies, the clouds, the sun, the sands and the scattered salt glistening like snow look breathtaking.

Singer Sonu Nigam and percussionist Bickram Ghosh have tried their hand at composing for the first time here. They have come up with an interesting mix of Indian and international sounds with a stress on the use of percussion.

This also happens to be director Girish Malik's debut venture. He has shown the courage to come up with an unusual subject. If we take some of the stumbling blocks in this film as teething trouble, maybe we can hope for a better fare from him the next time. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Queens Of The Silver Screen

It is very easy to see that both "English Vinglish" (my take on it here) and "Queen", released about 17 months apart, are stories of an individual's coming-of-age. Both the films not only did well, but they also managed to strike a chord with the viewers. The fact that protagonists in them happen to be charming, lovable, family-oriented women adds to their appeal.

One is set in Pune, the other in Rajouri Garden, Delhi. One features a docile, duty-bound homemaker who is a loving wife, doting mother of two and a caring daughter-in-law. The other portrays an obedient young woman living a sheltered life with her over-protective family. When circumstances throw them out of their insulated existence (to foreign shores, in both cases), they discover a side of themselves that they didn't know existed. They become new, improved versions of their old selves.

One marked the comeback of yesteryear star Sridevi with a big bang, while the other catapulted young Kangana Ranaut to new heights. Both films are obviously women-centric where men are made to take a back seat. If Shashi in "English Vinglish" rediscovers herself during a trip to the USA, Rani in "Queen" learns to believe in herself while she is finding her feet in Paris and Amsterdam.

Both the stories have been told well and so one can connect with them easily. Interestingly, food makes a delightful appearance in the two films. Shashi is not only a good cook, but she also supplies high quality sweets and snacks at weddings. Rani is the daughter of a prosperous sweet shop owner, loves cooking and takes lessons in the culinary art in Home Science classes in her college.  Elaborate shots of food --both Indian and Continental--make for lovely visuals in both the films.

With so many similarities, what made "Queen" click with the audiences that had appreciated "English Vinglish" earlier? Perhaps the dissimilarities between them worked in its favour? The age of the protagonist, her marital status, circumstances and the kind of things she is exposed to during her journey are markedly different in both the films. While the older leading lady stays within the comfortable environs of her sister's house and comes across mostly "feel good" situations, her younger counterpart faces the rough and tumble of life in an alien atmosphere almost single-handedly. Perhaps the difference in settings and their treatment is the key!

Maybe there is room for a third story where the metamorphosis takes place in India itself! It sure will be interesting to see that. But before that, it is time to stop this rambling!