Sunday, January 15, 2006

Is Aamir going the Kamal way

There was a time in the 90s in Kollywood, the film world down South. A brilliant actor was flexing his muscles and entering areas beyond acting. Scripting, direction , make - up, the works. Soon fights with leading directors started, messing with scripts began, ghost - direction were common. Kamal Haasan was running out of directors who would put up with his interference. The magic he had unleashed at a time when Kollywood was dishing better stuff than Bollywood ( I still believe it was too much body hair on Anil Kapoor and Sunny paaji) was waning. Mani Ratnam and he gave Nayakan, Singeetam Srinivas Rao and he gave Apoorva Sahadorgal (Appu Raja). His initial attempts were good ( the script of Thevar Magan (Virasat) and SatiLeelavati (Biwi no.1 a real cheap imitation). But then megalomania followed and he was writing, directing and acting under his own banner. Plus a divorce and relationships with co-stars ran the gossip mills.
Today when I look at Aamir, his approach, his interviews and his personal life , I get a whiff of the same odour. Mangal Pandey was the biggest blockbuster flop of 2005. An actor takes a year and half to grow his moustache and hair. He does inane number of retakes to get a shot right. The movie takes four years and tests the patience of a movie goer for another three hours. Yet the man in his interviews and especially his Toyota ad gives an impression of having fallen in love with himself and the art that he portrays. He has disagreements on most scripts he reads. There is not exactly a queue waiting at his doorstep to sign him on. The way he arranged his second marriage had streaks of madness. He told in 'Walk the Talk ' on NDTV that he would consider direction very soon. I just hope that we can still get the cool Aamir of Dil Chahta Hai, I just hope these correlations dont have a high degree of significance. Waiting for Rang de Basanti to unearth further data points.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Zinda : alive but not kicking hard

Sanjay Gupta's (Kaante,Musafir,Plan) films are usually the dark clouds in the candyfloss of Bollywood. They are technically sound heavily inspired versions of firang movies where the protagonists are the ones you would avoid bumping into on the streets of Mumbai. Zinda is probably his darkest. Every frame of the movie has a black hue and depending on the narrative, it is used to convey pain, monotony, despair and vengeance in varying degrees.
Zinda tells the story of Bala (Sanjay Dutt) a software engineer in Bangkok.Very difficult to visualize Mamu coding but we shall pardon that since Sanju baba delivers a knock-out performance. Bala is locked into a room by an unknown entity , where he is served a diet of fried wantons thrice a day . His only window into the outside world is a TV that surprisingly shows a great variety of channels. He learns through news on TV that his wife has been murdered and he is responsible for the same. Sensing vendetta he uses the time in confinement to strengthen his body by fisting rocks and copying Chinese martial arts on TV. He is finally set free after 14 years. Now Bala has to find why has he been kept Zinda for 14 years in this fashion.
The chase begins well where Bala uses a Hindustani taxi driver ( I thought that was NY trademark but here Lara Dutta is an interesting improvization to bring in the glamour quotient). He samples fried wontons at several Bangkok restaurants and manages to catch someone who leads to the place where he was confined. The confinement is actually a cool business model run by Raj Zutshi where in strict confidence they adhere to contracts of torture.
The tools used by Bala to kill are particularly gruesome, using hammers to knock off teeth, and drilling machines to amputate limbs and lastly Sanjay Gupta also throws in some Kill Bill type swordfights. One clue leads to another and finally we know that John Abraham is paying back some of the coins that Bala had dropped. The film is limited by John Abraham's limitations as a villain at times.John can look cool, but menace is completely different. Also the premise of the vengeance does not instantly appeal but it lingers on your mind. It reminds of comments you make on a daily basis. The denouement is a bit cliched and filmi.
But Zinda is nevertheless gritty and different. The whole styling of the movie definitely leaves an impact. And Sanju baba manages the entire range of emotions and of course action really well. Songs Zinda hoo mein and Yeh meri Kahani come at right times and are really soulfully written to suit the mode of the movie.In fact the music album comes with two versions Club and lounge with remixes of both songs and 2 addl songs. Sanjay Gupta once again proves he is probably one of the best technicians in Bollywood and has the ability to do further wonders if his scripts get better.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Some reserved comments

Two recent HC judgements have brought reservations for Muslims back into the spotlight. Earlier the AP High Court quashed the 5% reservation for Muslims enacted by the AP Govt (a poll promise) and now the Allahabad HC has barred 50% reservation in the Aligarh Muslim University.
Now it is a known fact that Muslims remain disadvantaged in terms of employment in both public and private sector. The figures show that only 3-4% of posts belong to Muslims whereas they represent 14-15% of the population (actually figures could be higher when you include illegal immigration from Bangladesh).
The history of reservation in this country is a mixed bag. There has been steady emancipation of the backward classes since the implementation of the Mandal recommendations in states where casteism played a key role like UP, Bihar and Rajasthan. But in the same states, the caste-based politicization has increased the cleft between the various castes. In a way each caste waits for an opportunity to get back at the other and the reservations have made sure that there would be some caste member who can bend the law. But atleast in this case, there was enough causality between casteism and backwardness of such classes in this states.
The case of Muslim backwardness is stranger. One factor behind the perceived discrimination could be the higher growth rate of Muslims in India in the last decade, so the country's lower rate of growth could not accomodate this. Another factor could be that more Muslims choose self-employment over service. Moreover there have been enough Muslim role models like SRK, Azhar etc in non-employment based options like Bollywood and sports. But there are some other issues that plague this community like appeasement politics that creates simplistic solutions like reservation to complicated problems and lack of leadership to increase education and awareness. Ghettoization of Muslim communities prevents access to mainstream schooling in some cases even in cities like Mumbai (name a good school from Dongri or Behrampada). Also some strict adherence to the religion also prevents the community from practically embracing the open opportunities in this modern world. Another factor could be the % of Muslims from traditionally backward states like UP and Bihar could be higher thus proving to be a double whammy.
All said and done, reservations do not provide a complete answer. Even reservations over a long run change the social fabric. A case in point is Tamil Nadu , one of the earliest states to adopt reservation. Although the backward classes have benefited tremendously due to almost 80% reservation, the poor Brahmin is disadvantaged. Many Brahmin students do not get admission to good colleges inspite of excellent marks ( witness the big Tambram contingent in places like BITS and IIT). In fact popular Tamil cinema make the Brahmin a butt of ridicule and ribald jokes.
I guess the time has come to think of the Mandal reservation as a one-time ticket. If the chief bread earner has used it , his son cannot use it unless they continue to be economically backward. Otherwise the reservation system would cause serious mediocrity in the class and over the long run hurt classes that currently have no reservation.