Three Films: Fanaa, Guru and Nishabd

Whereas New Zealanders might be the world's most enthusiastic cinema-goers, writes the Economist, it is the Indians who made the most visits to the movies in 2005 - 1.6 billion. At 1.5 per person, that makes for a skimpy per-capita average, but hey, it must be the quantity that counts, not the quality, right? Maybe. As for the films themselves, I finally got a chance to catch up with three of Bollywood's more recent releases. Here goes.

Fanaa is pure old school masala served up a in spanking new thali. This is a typical Yash Raj production where characters spend hours exchanging Urdu couplets and extolling the glory of Pyaar (Love) with a capital P. In Yashland, parents are always madly in love with each other, every smile is intended on moving factory loads of Pepsodent, security guards are called Jolly Good Singh and house roofs are color coordinated to match the dupattas worn by their inhabitants. Plotwise, all you need to know is that Aamir Khan plays a Kashmiri terrorist who, while masquerading as a Delhi guide, falls for the innocent blind Kajol. Three hours of moping, sermonizing and mewling later, Kajol must make a terrible decision. I am not saying the film is without its bright points, chiefly the stunning cinematography and exceptionally high production values, but diabetics be warned for your condition is likely to worsen with the sugar shock.

I won't deny it - I had high hopes for Nishabd, a Ram Gopal Verma quickie where he tries to continue the rehabilitation of Amitabh Bachchan the actor. Sadly, Ramu's take on a robbing the cradle type tale whereby sixty year old photographer falls for eighteen year old girl is no Lolita, Venus or American Beauty. Though the acting overall is top notch, what could have been a provocative work is scuttled by the stylistic choices. Too often the camera swoops and soars and the music crescendoes to climaxes that aren't actually there in the scene itself. Both the music score and camerawork belong in a horror movie, not a mood piece like this. It's overkill for so slight a plot, reminiscent of playing ping pong with a cast iron saucepan. Though the creative team deserves hosannaas for sticking to their guns and producing a flab free film with a desolate ending that doesn't feel like a copout, I am still hoping Ram Gopal Verma can return to form with his next one.

The last effort of Mani Ratnam I saw, Yuva, fell below his usual standards. An attempt to follow the lives of three separate couples in Kolkata, Yuva was too bogged down by the weight of its ambition. Abhishek was a standout there though and, wisely, Mani Ratnam makes him the titular character in his latest, Guru. Abhishek does not disappoint - his performance is the best thing about Guru, one of the biggest hits in India this year. In my mind, it marks his coming of age as an actor. Guru relates the saga of Gurukant Desai from his days as a village school dropout to a textile tycoon. A thinly veiled re-telling of the story of Dhirubhai Ambani and his Reliance conglomerate, it's easy to understand why the struggles of Guru to grow his business despite crushing government bureaucracy really resonated with the Indian audience. Mithun Chakraborthy has a nice turn as a newspaper owner who gives Guru his first big break but turns against him. Their fallout and subsequent bizarre relationship forms the emotional core of Guru. Certain scenes involving peripheral characters seem out of place, but overall it's worth watching if only to see the son step out of his father's shadow for good.

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- June 17, 2007 8:53 PM // Bollywood , Film , Review