28 April 2011

Cinemascope: Zokkomon; Dum Maro Dum

The first instalment of my weekly film column for the Sunday Guardian: reviews of Zokkomon and Dum Maro Dum (24th Apr, 2011).

Safary shines as the rationalist superhero

Director: Satyajit Bhatkal
Starring: Anupam Kher, Darsheel Safary, Manjari Fadnis, Sheeba Chaddha

Disney Pictures has made a children's superhero movie that's deeply rationalist at its core – a superhero who doesn't have magical powers, and who's out to kill superstition. The orphaned Kunal (Darsheel Safary) is withdrawn from his beloved boarding school by his Chacha, his official guardian, who runs his own school. After a tearful farewell with his principal (which plays like the reverse of the Masoom scene in which Jugal Hansraj tugged at our collective heartstrings with "Main aap ke saath kyon nai reh sakta?"), Kunal is put on his way.

From the basketball-playing school with sensitive teachers – the evolved modern-day world, apparently – we arrive in Jhunjhunmaakadstrama, where people are either evil schemers or innocent victims. Kunal's Chacha (a smarmy Anupam Kher) and Chachi (marvelous Sheeba Chaddha) fit the former category, while most of the village is the latter. Realists may gripe about caricature, but the broad-brush characterisations work as they do in fairytales or pantomime, establishing our loyalties quickly, and often playing successfully for laughs. Chacha tries to get hold of Kunal's inheritance by declaring him dead, but Kunal reappears and befriends a misanthropic scientist (Kher again). Together they set out to reform the village through Kunal's appearances as a masked hero called Zokkomon.

The film has good things in it: the sequences where Kunal and his newfound friends wander the village, especially their discovery of the 'haunted house', are charming and Safary's combination of gravity and glee in his superhero avatar makes him fun to watch. With its refrain of 'Jab man mein ho vishwaas, to har dar hai bakwaas' and its vision of rural revolution led by fearless kids, it clearly has its heart in the right place.

But Zokkomon plays on the villagers' belief that Kunal is an avenging spirit, and the 'science' behind Zokkomon is never quite explained. It's also telling that all that's needed to proclaim the school a cesspit of ignorance is the teacher's incorrect English. Some caricatures can be harmful.

B-movie in (not very good) disguise

Director: Rohan Sippy
Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Prateik Babbar, Bipasha Basu, Rana Daggubati

Everything you've heard or seen of Dum Maro Dum has led you to believe it's fairly brimming with youthful coolth. But gorgeous Goa beaches packed with bronzed bodies, psychedelic cinematography, the revamped Dum Maro Dum song with Jaideep Sahni's out-to-shock lyrics ("Oonche se ooncha banda, Potty pe baithe nanga...") – none of these can quite disguise the '80s B movie that lies beneath.

You begin to sense it early on, when Prateik Babbar does a version of the classic hero-drowns-his-sorrows-in-alcohol song. By the time you get to pasty-faced Aditya Pancholi as the white-suited villain Lorsa Biscuita, who is both benevolent industrialist and secret druglord, things begin to seem very familiar indeed. With cocaine instead of gold biscuits and rave parties in lieu of cabarets, this could have still been fun homage.

But unlike Farhan Akhtar's Don remake, or even Milan Luthria's Once Upon A Time in Mumbai, there's not a whiff of self-conscious retro-coolness here. When there is, it's awful, like Bachchan Junior murdering one of his father's iconic songs in a clunky faux-torture scene. But for the most part, the throwback to the '80s is dreadfully in earnest, with dreadful, unconvincing backstories to boot. The druglord's moll – Bipasha Basu in yet another lacklustre outing as the golden-hearted girl stuck in the wrong life – must die as soon as she's helped nail him; the corrupt drugbusting cop, Abhishek, turns clean when his wife and child die in a car crash ostensibly caused by a driver on drugs; the susegad (Goan for laidback) singer – Rana Daggubati – having failed his girlfriend, decides to risk everything to save a boy he barely knows (Prateik). Characters were clearly not what the filmmaker was focusing on.

And the leads don't help: Pancholi hams horribly; Prateik starts out believably vulnerable, but gradually gets so squeaky that you wonder why anyone would want to save him from anything. As for Abhishek, one can only watch him and wonder: where is the spry, stylishly funny Bluffmaster of Rohan Sippy's film, the goofy conman of Bunty Aur Babli, the hotheaded Lallan of Yuva? We want him back.


rahul m said...

are you the same person who has written piece on indian script writing,i read a lot of stuff on net and can easily say that this is by far the best piece on indian screenplay

i once asked navdeep singh similar Q on a website,he told first draft was written in english including dialogues,then abhinav "dabang" kashyap was roped in to write hindi dialogues,i was surprised but after that he explained it in detail,today you have written a general piece on it

one of other major problem is that in india ,no one shares their scripts ,virtually all hollywood scripts are there on net for free ,only recently raju hirani had the guts to share it

i wish some day to read salim javed screenplays,

what you think,is it laziness on part of ppl or there is not market for it?


Trisha Gupta said...

Hi Rahul,
I am indeed the same person who wrote the piece in Caravan magazine. So glad you liked it. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it, and for seeking my blog out.
It's true, it's hard to access Hindi film scripts - even now, when the slicker people out there do actually have bound scripts of some sort. As for Salim-Javed - that would be a dream! But they definitely wrote in Hindustani, in the Urdu script. So even if the original exists, it would have to be transliterated (to Devnagari) or translated (to English) to reach much of its audience. Perhaps there would be a greater audience for Salim-Javed scripts, though, than there is for the only script I know which has beeen released in book form recently - My Brother Nikhil. (Yoda Press)

Wasn't there a script or two put on Passion for Cinema, though? The readership for film scripts, even abroad, is a film student/serious film enthusiast/ wannabe scriptwriter audience. Which is not large enough in India, I think, to sustain an attempt.

Anyway, thanks again for dropping by my blog.