Sunday, 18 November 2007

Waris Shah - Ishq Da Waaris (2006)

A spiritualistic story of a Sufi saint who finds inspiration in love, eclipsing into epic of Heer. Waris Shah delves sonorously into devotion in an exuberant manner, presenting a high voltage period drama.

Punjabi cinema has often been deemed as vulgar and clichéd, warranting only a layman status for its films which were accompanied by unendurable performances and tasteless storylines. However, post millennium; Punjabi films have undergone as stark a revamp as a Laurence Llewelyn Bowen boudoir, replacing the hoary with the contemporary. So when National Award winners Sai Productions announced their latest venture, Waris Shah, the first big budget period drama to originate from Punjabi cinema, expectations were mammoth.

Set in the Mughal era, the story unfolds with the emperor Aurangzeb lamenting a ban on music which he believes distracts one from God, a prohibition which hallowed saint Makhdoom chooses to ignore thus being sentenced to death. Before his early demise, he instructs his disciple Waris Shah (Gurdas Maan) to travel to Malka, a village where the ban has not yet been placed and an arena which he believes will inspire Waris to write his poetic tale, Heer.

Waris soon finds his muse in the form of Bhagpari (Juhi Chawla) and the two form a sinless love which serves as the backdrop for Waris Shah’s writings. As pigeon messengers, poetry and melodic tunes of flutes all come together to decorate the lovers rendezvous, a jealous and lustful Saabo (Divya Dutta) vies for a piece of Waris’ heart, only to be rejected by his upholding morals.

As the woman scorned Saabo vows revenge and instigates suspicions amongst the villagers that Waris and Bhagpari share an illicit relationship and upon Bhagpari’s espousal to another, seeks yet again to find acceptance from her infatuation. With love turned into the bitterness of lime, the three are left caught in a web of murder, misery and mediation.

Waris Shah should be applauded for bringing about one of the most positive changes in Punjabi cinema; it goes against the grain of every cliché and brings about an innovative and high quality experience which not only looks sleek but also carries a soul. Thankfully, the audience is saved from nonsensical subplots, forced comedy and commercial gimmicks but instead director Manoj Punj stays faithful to his story and delivers the finest of his career.

Performances are of a dizzyingly high caliber with Maan taking the forefront for his sincere portrayal of the famous poet Waris Shah. Maan brings about believability in a figure that is otherwise quite enigmatical to history and breathes every breath of Waris Shah as though it was his own. Unfeasible to imagine any other in his role, it is his ability to project the nuances of the character in a subdued manner, sans melodrama which works. As Maan is already an accomplished singer, it comes naturally to him to project the singing lyrics of Waris Shah’s poetic brilliance and together with his meticulous image of smoky eyes and sonnet tresses; Waris Shah is reborn on screen.

Juhi Chawla, after a career that spans twenty years, still holds the screen presence and grace of a leading lady and her performance demands an extreme likeability. Be it her allusive eyes or infectious smile, Chawla bestows the character of Bhagpari with all of the knowledge of a seasoned veteran.

Divya Dutta in a role that merges into the grey spectrum is a revelation. She manages to create a fine line between the fiery Saabo and the susceptible woman and thus walks away with the meatier female character.

A film with a legendary singer as its lead promises timeless music and together with Jaidev Kumar, Maan creates a spellbinding composition. The film is ornamented with emblematic verses of Waris Shah’s Heer verses throughout, also serving as much of the dialogue which is a treat for those in want of rich palaver. “Ve Kabootra” proves to be one of the most soulful gems of the noughties whilst “Kas Shama Aaj Tere Li” oozes with the haunting vocals of Kavita Krishnamurty. The songs serve to only move the story ahead and with a film that is central to the arts, the music comes as a welcomed gift.

The painstaking attempt to recreate the 18th century era is prominent in each and every frame and cinematographer R A Krishna has left no stone unturned to transport the audience into a medieval world.

Credit must be given to Manjeet Maan for the costumes of the film which were meticulously researched in various museums to depict the timescale aptly. The colors of the film work in such a way that they entice the viewer into a world of finery and murshidabadi silks which is beautifully backed by an irreproachable script.

There have been countless love stories which have graced the silver screen, greeting the audience with melodrama and cringe worthy dialogues. Yet Waris Shah goes beyond its indulgently seeped chimerical tale and ignites itself with a finer flame of spiritualism and mankind’s devotion to his ardor. This is what makes Waris Shah anything but a mundane love epic.

Waris Shah is an exemplary film not only for Punjabi cinema but for cinema across the world. Not once does it compromise itself but delivers a captivating and endearing story in an immortal mien. Late Manoj Punj never lived on to see the critical acclaim the film received when it garnered a National award but he shall surely be remembered for his pinnacle that is Waris Shah.

A masterpiece of understatement, brimming with emotion and spirit that can only be classified as poetry in motion.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Saawariya (2007)

If ever there were to be a cinematic ode to poetry and the fine lines of a painter’s canvas, then Saawariya is surely the epitome of timeless beauty that exudes from the artists mind. Set over four nights, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s romantic escapade tells the tale of two individuals, intoxicated with amour and faerie-like dreams.

Returning after the critically acclaimed Black and the magnum opus Devdas, in what was touted as one of 2007’s most anticipated films, Bhansali launches Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, both children of major Hindi film actors. Although, the film has not lived up to the hype and has been heavily critiqued for its dissident style, Saawariya comes as a breath of fresh air when categorized with the usual melodramatic love stories that many fresh faces are launched with.

An unknown kingdom where winding alleyways and tropical waters merge together to create a surrealistic marriage of reality and fantasy brings Raj Ranbir (Ranbir Kapoor) a wandering musician to it’s doorstep. With only the musical notes of his fingertips as his pennies, he manages to find shelter with an unorthodox elderly lady Lillian (Zohra Segal) who finds solace in his enthralling kinesics. Simultaneously, he befriends Gulabjee (Rani Mukherji) a brazen prostitute who sees Ranbir as man who is able to touch her soul rather than her body.

Whilst strumming the strings of his musical aptitude, Ranbir encounters a weeping figure, clad in a black shawl upon a bridge, reluctant to reveal even her name, let alone her face. However, just like the magic he weaves with his guitar, Ranbir strikes a chord with the mystical figure, Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) and over a course of four nights he becomes besotted with her.

Mysteries are not necessarily miracles, and Ranbir soon learns this when Sakina reveals her past, leaving the two on a path which is strewn with more thorns than rose petals…

Bhansali, the maestro that he is, surely knows how to transport the viewer into the vision inside his mind and with Saawariya, he is sure to keep our gaze fixated on the two most important people of this story, Ranbir and Sonam, packing them into every frame thus compelling the audience into their world. Whilst many have written off the film for its slow pace and unexplainable ambience, those who are willing to let their imagination fill in the gaps will surely lap up the ambiguous approach of Bhansali’s storytelling.

Ranbir Kapoor is a complete revelation and makes his debut at a time when a fresh male face is desperately needed upon the Hindi screen. At times, his mannerisms are reminiscent of Shammi Kapoor and one wonders whether this was purposely modeled for the character of the story or whether it purely is a natural inheritance. Looking suave is just one aspect of being upon the big screen but Kapoor manages to radiate an extreme raw talent which can only gleam brighter the more it is polished. Note the scene where Sonam refuses to speak to Zohra Segal on the telephone and the manner in which he flits easily from happy-go-lucky charmer to confused confidant; it surely raises mammoth expectations for his future performances.

Sonam Kapoor as the mysterious childlike girl, intoxicated in love illuminates the screen with her timeless beauty and delivers a competent performance. However, seen as her role is at times not clearly defined and the character itself is engulfed in mystery for most of the story, there is a lack of a definite impact when it comes down to her acting abilities resulting in Ranbir walking away with most of the accolades.

Rani Mukherji as the tart with a heart is extremely vibrant and exotic in her spattered appearances during the film. She captures the nuances of the character perfectly and pulls off the brash image with an underlying vulnerability, a performance which will surely slot itself amongst more of her reputable work.

To add relief to the intense proceedings, Zohra Segal comes as a waft of sweet air and is immensely likeable.

Monty Sharma, who had previously provided a spine tingling background score for Black, this time laces Saawariya with mellifluous ballads, their depth only augmented by regal sets and infectious choreography. Whilst, “Jab Se Tere Naina” provides enough reason for the female audience to salivate whilst ogling at a towel clad Ranbir, “Chabeela” brings out the seductress in Mukherji who makes full usage of the moment to glimmer and packs in enough thumkas to send a thumri into spiraling frenzy. Criminally, the soulful “Jaan-e-Jaan” is edited to only its chorus line, disappointing those who wish to see the lyrical content of this gem transcended upon screen.

Visually, the film views just like an oil painting, swamped in blues and greens throughout and it is the director’s artistic ability to speak volumes through the look of the film which makes for essential viewing. Whilst the color blue traditionally connotes a feeling of despondency, it also works in Saawariya to promote the serenity and infinity of the progressing love story, much like the sky and the sea. Green is dabbled throughout the story and is more prominent in those scenes where the character of Gulabjee appears; hence representing her jealousy for the love that Ranbir nurtures for Sakina, yet green also signifies growth, the growth of the relationships between the principal characters which grow just like the greens of a meadow. Ironically, Bhansali is able to speak so much just with the look of his film which adds an artistic dimension to an otherwise simple story.

Although it can be deemed as presenting itself in a Marchen manner, Saawariya actually hides dark undertones under its glistening exterior, with destitute prostitutes and traduced mothers all simmering under the froth of the fairy tale concoction. Just like the traditional pass the parcel party game, when each layer is peeled away, Saawariya becomes more exciting and appears just as intricate as a Persian carpet.

Saawariya is a romantic epic, transcending time allowing the director to engulf the viewer in a Boulevard of broken dreams. A must for those who wish to view art nouveau in its grandest form upon celluloid.

Om Shanti Om (2007)

Farah Khan, director of Main Hoon Na, presents her next innings at the box office with Om Shanti Om, a homage to the 70’s era of Hindi cinema complete with all the frills and frivolity of new age cinema.

Bollywood. A term which is widely used to describe the Hindi film industry and Om Shanti Om packs in everything that is remotely “Bollywood” looking, sounding and moving to create the ultimate masala potboiler. An inane story which replaces bashful with boastful, magnifying everything to present an in-your face entertainer.

Rewind to the beehive, flared pants, flower print 70’s and a harlequin Om (Shahrukh Khan) explodes onto the screen, gyrating and pouting in full glory, desperate to land a role as a lead hero whilst working as a junior artist.

Om spends most of his time talking to the hoardings of hot sensation, “dreamy girl” Shanti (Deepkia Padukone) a lead actress who Om is bewitched with but it is not until Om saves her from the burning sets of a film studio, that she gives him a flicker of her eyelashes and the two form a bond.

A bond which Om mistakes to be love but in reality is only friendship as Shanti is secretly married to the lecherous Mukesh (Arjun Rampal) a money driven film producer who is planning his next blockbuster “Om Shanti Om”. Mukesh wishes to keep the marriage a secret until the completion of the film but a pregnant Shanti demands he announces their truth to the world much to his dismay.

In his rage, Mukesh mercilessly kills Shanti unaware that Om is witness to the whole incident. Whilst Om desperately tries to play the hero yet again to save his love, Shanti leaves the world…along with Om…only Om is reincarnated as Om Kapoor, son of a starlet and now an A list hero.

After a series of unexplainable flashbacks relating to his previous life, Om ultimately learns the truth of his past and sets out on a mission to undo the sin that Mukesh inflicted upon Shanti and him…this time with the help of a Shanti look alike, who may not be just what she seems…

Om Shanti Om works for two reasons, the comedic elements and the visually stunning dance numbers but a whole load of laughter and glitter can not save a hackneyed storyline which stagnates in the second half. Granted that the film is a tribute to the bygone era of the 70’s and so packs in all the clichés that audiences are familiar with but one misses an innovative and compelling story which is ultimately the backbone of any film.

Farah Khan deserves kudos for being brave enough to mock the all too soporific trends of the industry for example in the Filmfare Award sequence and throughout several other moments in the film. However after an entertaining first half, it is the amalgamation of both the 70’s and the present that leaves the viewer disdained as what starts off as a spoof film turns into a inane paradox in the second half of the films preliminary sentiments.

Khan’s role as Om is anything but path breaking. It does however, offer him the chance to play to the gallery and tap all the right buttons to present a character which is ultimately built around his star image. Whilst physically he may have re-invented himself with the much talked about six packs, it would be far more appealing if Khan presented his acting ability in a new manner instead of depending on the tinsel of big budget films to carry him through in the latter part of his career.

Padukone makes for the essential eye candy which is prevalent in most commercial flicks and delivers a confident debut. However, one wishes that Farah Khan had given her a meatier role where she could have demonstrated her acting abilities to a larger degree rather than appearing mainly as a decorative ornament.

Rampal as the villain is excellent in the first half of the film, fitting to the role as precisely as a tailors stitching pattern. He excels as the ruthless and arrogant Mukesh but in the latter half of the film, he is letdown by a shoddy get up which makes one laugh more at his look rather than grimace at his antics.

Musically, Om Shanti Om caters to almost every mood and with Farah Khan being a seasoned choreographer; the song and dance routines prove to be a showcase for her to display her forte in glory. Whilst “Deewanagi Deewanagi” appeals for its star quotient and "Dhoom Tana" is magnificent for it's presentation and nostalgic element, bringing a smile to the faces of those who have grown up on a healthy dose of Bollywood films. The quintessential item number “Dard-e-disco” with Khan in his gasconading six packs would be any drag queens wet dream for its camp factor.

Om Shanti Om is by no means a poor film; it is however a film that fails to leave a lasting impression. The aim of the director is purely to entertain and she succeeds in doing so but in the meantime, there is little substance within the story.

The death sequence of Om is well executed and makes for gripping drama, ditto for the heated confrontations between Shanti and Mukesh, however such moments come in dribs and drabs. The climax of the film is extremely drawn out and appears to send out the famous “shuffle in your seat” syndrome to its audience when a film refuses to end.

Om Shanti Om makes a lot of commotion and in doing so promises a lot to its viewers yet ends up delivering little, with the end credits rolling sooner than the smoke has settled from this gaudy explosion of Bollywood glory.