31 July 2011

Cinemascope: Bubblegum; Gandhi to Hitler

Lingering look at idealised childhood 


Director: Sanjivan Lal
Starring: Sohail Lakhani, Apurva Arora, Sachin Khedekar, Tanvi Azmi


On the heels of last year's celebrated Udaan and this year's blink-and-you-missed-it Cycle Kick comes another heartwarming film about two brothers in an Indian small town. Like Udaan, it's set in Jamshedpur, one of those industrial townships whose green spaces, relatively empty roads and everybody-knows-everybody feeling seems to conjure up nostalgia more easily. And like Cycle Kick, Bubblegum is framed as a loving, lingering look back at a long-ago childhood. Unlike both those films, however, Bubblegum's narratorial voice self-consciously both distinguishes itself from the present, referring to growing up without Facebook and cellphones ("Un dinon manzil tak pahunchne ke liye phone ki jagah khud ko mobile hona padta thha"), and links itself to it ("Vineeta ka ghar mera Barista aur CCD sab kucch thha"). It successfully recreates an '80s middle class childhood: housing society friendships, parents fighting over children's quarrels, kids collecting chanda for Holi, a world of Fiats, mangoes and cycle rides, where you made phone calls to the girl you had a crush on from the house of a generous but hawk-eyed aunty. The detailing is brilliant, from the Ambassador-filled garage in which a fight breaks out, to the Linda Goodman's Sun Signs in which a love letter is hidden.

There's a little too much pop-philosophising around patang and pressure cooker metaphors, but otherwise the parents (Sachin Khedekar and the always wonderful Tanvi Azmi) are mostly endearing as they bumble their way through their son's fiery adolescence. As is our hero, the fourteen year old Ved (Sohail Lakhani), with wavy hair he refuses to cut and a heart that's forever breaking and being put together again. The plot is ostensibly about Ved's huge crush on the long-haired and polka-dot-frock-wearing Jenny Rebello and how he outwits his rival in love, the colony ka dada, Ratan. But the relationship that's really central here is the one between Ved and his elder brother, Vidur, who studies in Delhi at a residential school for the deaf. The film does a marvellous job of weaving Ved's blossoming romance into a much more multi-pronged tale of sibling rivalry, responsibility and yes, growing up.

Ripoff with not two ounces of originality


Director: Rakesh Ranjan Kumar

Starring: Raghuveer Yadav, Neha Dhupia, Nasir Abdullah, Aman Verma, Lucky Vakharia, Nalin Singh, Nikita Anand, Bhupesh Kumar Pandya, Avijit Dutt


 The first thing to be said about this film is that if you've seen Downfall (2004), the superb German film about Hitler's last days directed Oliver Hirschbiegel, you're not Rakesh Ranjan Kumar's target audience. Kumar has essentially taken large chunks of Downfall – primarily scenes built around Hitler and his meetings with his generals, and Hitler's long-term lover Eva Braun – and transposed them into Hindi, while throwing in a parallel narrative about some ex-Indian National Army soldiers tramping through Europe, as well as about three scenes involving Gandhi. The sole act of originality in all this is that all the film's characters, whether they're Indians or Europeans, are played by Indian actors. We in India are so used to having unknown white extras (or Tom Alter) play every "foreigner" role in our films that this appears startling, even bizarre. But really, why should Raghuvir Yadav have any less right to play Hitler than Charlie Chaplin, or Anthony Hopkins, or Bruno Ganz?

Yadav in fact does a rather good job of portraying Hitler's near-insanity (though I'm afraid he is not playing Hitler so much as he is playing Downfall's Bruno Ganz playing Hitler). As does the talented and underused Neha Dhupia as the attractively living-for-the-moment Eva Braun. So this is not a film that can be said to have been let down by its actors. It is the script that fails, and fails miserably. When we're not watching Hitler, we seem to always be seeing some black and white cities bursting into flame. Meanwhile Gandhi (a sleep-inducing Avijit Dutt) drifts in and out of the scene, phantom-like, writing unanswered letters to Hitler about being his true friend and urging him to peace, or lecturing suitably attentive satyagrahis. This crowd of satyagrahis includes one Amrita (Lucky Vakharia) who turns out to be the non-violent wife of the patriotic Balbeer (Aman Verma), who turns out to be one of the aforementioned ex-INA men wandering hopelessly through a supposedly European landscape, forced to fight as part of the SS after the palaayan of their leader Subhash Bose from Germany. Such are the slender threads meant to bind this film's highly disparate parts together. But suffice it to say that they do not hold.

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