25 July 2011

Cinemascope: Singham; Memories in March

Only Devgn’s muscles are larger than life


Director: Rohit Shetty

Starring: Ajay Devgan, Kaajal Aggarwal, Prakash Raj, Sonali Kulkarn


The film opens with an honest police officer committing suicide because he can't handle being falsely indicted by an anti-corruption squad in cahoots with the villainous Jayakant Shikre – a kidnapper, murderer and aspiring politician. His widow (the talented Sonali Kulkarni, who really deserves better roles) goes from pillar to post trying to prove his innocence, but to no avail. Until the arrival of Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn).

The latest in a long line of Hindi films in which the police aim to dispense justice rather than simply enforce the law, Singham has a hero who uses family funds to save young defaulters from jail, obligingly sheds his police uniform to beat up thugs who challenge his masculinity, and eventually singlehandedly takes on Jayakant Shikre. But really, how tough is it to take on anything, when villainous hoods quake before you and cars somersault at your touch?

Rohit Shetty's remake transposes 2010's Tamil hit Singam from Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin district to the village of Shivgad on the Goa-Maharashtra border, makes its hero a Maratha, and changes the plot around a little. But happily, it retains as villain the original film's most colourful actor, Prakash Raj, who alternates between unspeakably evil and hilariously deadpan and gets the best lines ("Meri baat koi sunta hai? Toh Kareena Kapoor ko Pradhan Mantri bana do"). Meanwhile, Ajay Devgn spends his time trying to rile him and slapping his men around to the accompaniment of Sanskrit chants and flying automobiles in slow motion. There's also the insufferable simpering Kaajal Aggarwal, who makes her entry wearing a bhoot mask and swaying (don't ask) and graduates to coyly basking in the glory of her boyfriend's superhero punches – when she's not egging him on to even greater heroics, like saying "I love you".

The film wants to be that currently fashionable thing: a 'retro' 80s style potboiler, in which there is no apology made for holes in the plot or paper-thin characters, as long as there are a few clapworthy dialogues and it can be described as "larger than life". But really, all that's larger than life in Singham is Devgn's muscles.


Director: Sanjoy Nag

Starring: Deepti Naval, Rituparno Ghosh, Raima Sen


Sanjoy Nag's directorial debut – released in April 2011, and now on DVD – is billed as an English film (and it won the 2010 National Award in that category) but actually lets its characters switch easily between English, Bengali and Hindi. This freedom to transition between languages depending on context – one we take for granted in our lived experience, but so rarely grant to our cinematic characters – lends the film a rare lifelike quality. Nag's film is also unusual in dealing with an 'issue' – social attitudes towards non-heterosexual relationships – without hitting its audience over the head with it.

Art curator Arati Mishra (Deepti Naval) arrives in Calcutta for the funeral of her son Siddharth, a successful young advertising executive who has died in a car accident the previous night. An aging but still remarkably graceful woman, very close to her son but independent enough to live her own life in Delhi, Naval's Arati is the personification of dignified grief. She is reluctant at first to accept the help proffered by her son's colleague Sahana (Raima Sen) and his boss Arnab (played by Rituparno Ghosh, who is also the scriptwriter), people she thinks of as strangers. But she soon finds out that it is she who is a stranger to a large chunk of her son's life: his sexuality, which she must now come to terms with.

Ghosh's script is, as is his wont, a talky one. There is no 'action' to speak of, just a series of conversations that happen entirely indoors. Along with the read-aloud letters, phone messages and voicemails, it can feel a bit clunky. It doesn't help that Ghosh has written himself dialogues that are tiresomely pedagogical (eg. a reference to aquariums brings on a rant about putting life into boxes), but he seems very much at ease playing himself. But it is Naval who shows again what a stupendous actress she is, moving from quiet dignity to shock, vulnerability, and eventually acceptance as she gets to know her son afresh, this time through his lover. Between Naval's able histrionics and Debojyoti Mishra's lovely score (reminiscent of his music for Raincoat), Memories cannot fail to move you.

No comments: