17 May 2011

Cinemascope: Ragini MMS; Stanley ka Dabba

A clever film, despite the ghost who talks

Ragini MMS

Director: Pawan Kripalani
Starring: Kainaz Motivala and Raj Kumar


The superbly titled Ragini MMS is a clever attempt to cash in on the undeniable fear factor of the "true story". Not only is the film shot entirely on digicam – sometimes shaky and handheld, at other times stable but odd-angled – it also arrives filtered through a useful haze of news: the "real Ragini" – apparently a Delhi University student called Deepika – not being allowed to see the film before release, reports about paranormal events taking place during the shoot, not to mention pictures of Ekta Kapoor praying "for Ragini MMS" at a Hanuman temple. And through the opening credits we hear the Hanuman Chalisa, including the hopeful words: "bhoot pishaach nikat nahin aave, Mahaavir jab naam sunavai". But more of that later.

The film stars the rather charming Kainaz Motivala as the dreamy-eyed Ragini, and the brilliant Raj Kumar Yadav from Love Sex Aur Dhokha as her boyfriend Uday. The masterstroke is the continuity of Yadav's character from LSD to here, as the boy trying to make a sex tape with a girl who doesn't suspect a thing. But also as in LSD, the real hero of the film is the camera. Right from the opening scene, when it barges into the sleeping Ragini's room without her knowledge, it is an intrusive, unsettling presence, a lens through which we see everything. Sometimes things no-one wants us to see, and sometimes things we'd rather not see ourselves. If Ragini MMS does nothing else, it understands and opens up our increasingly addictive, complicatedly love-hate relationship with the camera. So the form is well thought-out, the dialogue spot-on and the actors extremely good: if Motiwala convincingly runs the gamut from gentle and placatory to coyly horny, sulky, angry and then petrified, Yadav is stunning as the irreverent, rough-edged boyfriend always on the verge of a tantrum. His transformation from bluster to fear, when it happens, is outstanding. The problem, then, is the bhoot: a Marathi-speaking churail who keeps saying the same thing just doesn't cut it. As a friend said while watching the titling, "Jab itna dar lag raha thha toh picture banayi hi kyun?"

Gentle exploration of sharing and greed
Stanley Ka Dabba

Director: Amole Gupte
Starring: Amole Gupte, Partho, Divya Dutta, Divya Jagdale, Rahul Singh


Every morning, on his way to school, Stanley walks past a huge golden statue of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He always stops and gazes at the Holy Family for a little while. School passes by in a blur of classes – mostly unremarkable classes taught by unremarkable teachers (barring everyone's favourite Rosy Miss) – and riotous shouting in-between. Until lunchtime. Lunch is when everyone's tiffin boxes come out: dabbas of all shapes and sizes, packed with food of all kinds. But Stanley doesn't have a dabba. He says his mother was busy, and gave him a two rupee coin instead, to buy a vada pao. But his friends – and he has many – are quite happy to share their dabbas with him. But then there's Varma, the Hindi teacher, also known as Khadoos. He sniffs the food right out of everyone's lunchboxes – teacher or student. And makes sure he gets a share. Khadoos doesn't like Stanley. What he really doesn't like is that Stanley doesn't have a dabba...

Amole Gupte has made a quiet film, almost fable-like in the clarity of its characters. The dynamic between Varma – the adult-as-bully, the pile-on in the staffroom, the guy who doesn't bring any food himself and shamelessly tucks into everyone else's, all the while pronouncing judgement on its quality – and Stanley, the child who can't answer him back: this is what forms the film's core. The genius of the script lies in making Varma's dabba-less-ness run parallel to Stanley's – and then use precisely that parallel to reveal how different they in fact are. Stanley's joyful acceptance of food as a gift seems far removed from Varma's graceless snatching of it as a right: the film gestures to the fact that Varma understands that, and is shamed. Gupte plays the tragicomic Varma with aplomb, while his son Partho is superb as Stanley – winsome and vulnerable by turns, his flights of fancy alternating with wordlessness. The child actors are uniformly marvellous, though their unrelenting niceness (and that of Rosy Miss) seems faintly unreal. As does the film's too-soppy denouement. But these are mere trifles in a film made with so much love.

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