Monday, November 03, 2008

Waiting for the Mahatma

RK Narayan is best known for putting life into the small town that is Malgudi. And within its perimeters he is a master.He could dissect the daily details to nuanced perfection and (if you are a South Indian) you are transported right into the small household on Kabir street. Such is his narration and attention to (otherwise neglected) details. But, that is when he is talking about Swami and his friends. Or say about small town people and their daily chores.

Here, the canvas he has chosen is much wider. The characters he tries to sketch are itching to take a form much larger than routine. The circumstances are such. The backdrop is political. And he tries to set a love story in it. There are quite a few tracks which RKN tries to weave in this story.

1. The protagonists characterization - his coming of age, love for the woman and his inner emotional and moral tribunals
2. The woman - strong-headed, in love and totally dedicated her life to the service of Mahatma, and hence the people
3. The various events in the late pre-independence era

And, this is where he loses touch. His narration style is stuck to Malgudi whereas the protagonist here is no Swami. RKN, though, treats him none too differently. The character is brought out by reading his thoughts aloud. He is a child sitting by the window struggling to come to terms with the world. And he has fallen in love - with the first woman he has come in conversation with. This woman is level headed. Knows what she is doing. He worships her for what she is. And she leads him unto Mahatma Gandhi. She likes him too - but would not nod till the Mahatma gives the go ahead. He is awed and then on the tale revolves around his meanderings amidst the political turmoil. His emotions and state of mind are ventedout as actions. He becomes utterly vulnerable. He fights to find his balance while being shoved around by a revolutionary. There is a fight that is taking place between his ego and his sense of duty. He is blinded in this fight and ends up in jail. Every moment his inner turmoil is marked by reactions to his woman's (imagined) actions. The day he is released he leaves for her and finds her in Delhi. The climax, though predictable, has been well written. As you read the final pages - you know what exactly is going to happen - and hence doesn't punch you hard enough.

The narration is not tight - and at places slackens in both pace and coherence. The power of the plot lies in the character sketch of the protagonist. That comes across quite well. Politics does not look like RKNs playground. Or maybe it wasn't his intention to bring in politics in the least. Either ways - its fleeting presence does not deliver the goods. The socio-economic sketch that the reader envisions has not been given enough verbose backing. The plot doesn't hold you - it flows a bit easily - like the stories set in Malgudi. But here somehow, the style does not suit me. The plot, if it had been much tighter say in like say 'Train to Pakistan' the novel would have risen notches.

All said, this is a very good read - especially for fans of RKN. All those who are in for a dose of light pre-Independence set-up, pick this up.

'Once the wait was over; he bade us good-bye!'


It was Page 3 revisited sans the powerhouse performance and the punches packed in. Nothing special in this 'trying to be gritty' tale about how a Chandigarh di Kudi becomes a diva and after seeing the 'highs' falls hard to the lows - and how!

The movie does start off earnestly albeit in a cliched manner with Meghna Mathur (Priyanka Chopra) leaving her house in small-time Chandigarh to make it big in the City of Dreams - Bombay. Her efforts are sincere - and some cleverly attended parties brings her straight into the company of the Fashion World's high fliers. Her confidence and attitude sees her through the 'struggle period' with charming ease. Her morals are held high and all's well for the damsel. One questionable comment about her morality by a leading designer and she walks away from her first big break! But surprise, surprise - a silent Mr. Sarin (Arbaaz Khan) of the leading designer brand (Panache, nice name - I thought) ropes her right in as their ambassador, terminating Shonali's (Kangana) contract for no apparent reason. Within no time we see Meghna walking the ramps being the show stoppers for most fashion shows littering Bombay. Her attitude builds up and thus slowly, very slowly begins her downfall. Starting from her break-off with her live-in boy-friend right to her going into depression.

Throw in Priyanka sleeping around with a black guy, a whole lot of homo-sexuals, drugs-drinks-smokes and a slip-down on a ramp walk... that is what the movie is all about. The plot on its own is decent enough and lays down a decently wide canvas for the director to paint in. Where Madhur falters, I thought, though is on two counts - there is nothing new shown in this movie. And at nearly 3 hours it is simply too long. The dialogues in the pretext of reality cinema are banal. The screenplayis nothing to talk home about. Music by the talented duo Salim-Suleiman is reminiscent of Page 3 - so are the characters, so are the actors, the scenes, the treatment. Heck, everything.

On the performance front, except for Priyanka and a little bit of Kangana here and there, there is none too much on display. Priyanka gives her best performance till date. Not to say she was brilliant or anything throughout - but let us just say, the rest of her performances till date have been nothing special. As long as Kangana keeps her mouth shut and has to act stoned - she is fine. In fact she meanders in that margin where you might think she might give in a brilliant moment but the director spoils it all by giving her a dialogue or two. (Note: Swearing, especially in English, by all Bollywood actors seems so contrived and unconvincing.) Anyway, one scene warrants special mention. The first time Kangana is shown walking the ramp - she looks all high and disinterested when she has to walk in. Then she takes the 10-odd steps that leads her to the ramp and the camera is right at her face as she takes the turn. Watch her expression change ever so lightly at every step and from being a drunken-little thing backstage she takes her first step on the ramp as if she owns the stage. She walks the ramp and jaws drop. The music in the background that rises to a crescendo is subdued by the mere walk Kangana possesses. That moment - I liked! Priyanka looks a kid - every step an amateur on the ramp.To give her due credit - it suits her image of being a small-town girl and all that. But her walk looks unnatural even during her last supposedly emotional ramp and that looks stupid. Anyway.

As for the director - he is trying to outdo himself and that is apparent. Why - one couldn't fathom. He is doing fine with his relaity bytes cinema - but to merely take a framework and apply it to different scenarios is appalling.You got to treat the subject differently. Show different shades. The protagonist undergoes a character change and that is shown quite well - but it lacks depth at every scene. That - maybe is limitation of the actor, rather than the sketch itself. However, the end result is poor. Humor is pathetic at best. Where he scores is despite the topic - you could watch it with the family. It is glamorous alright, but never vulgar. The fashion world that Madhur has created never looks pretentious. All's fine except the way he has executed. He wants to make a movie rather than tell a story. He takes extreme moral stands and that is probably because that is the way Indian audiences work.

At the end of it all - it doesn't look like the work of a 3 time national award winner. Fashion - lacks the passion.