25 August 2011

Cinemascope: Not a Love Story; Sahi Dhandhe Galat Bande

My Sunday Guardian column for 21st Aug:

Both overdone and nuanced – just like RGV

Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Starring: Mahie Gill, Deepak Dobriyal, Ajay Gehi

With NALS, Ram Gopal Varma has reached the stage where he pays homage to his own films. The character of Anusha Chawla owes less to Maria Susairaj (the woman whose alleged role in a gruesome murder in 2008 is said to be the film's real-life basis) and more to RGV's long-term fascination with the small-town girl out to be a star. From Urmila Matondkar as the effervescent Mili of Rangeela (1995) to Antara Mali as Chhutki, the uncrowned nautanki queen of Gajrola who arrives in Bombay with wide eyes and great hopes (Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon, 2003) or the driven choreographer Rewa of Naach (2004), RGV's wannabe heroines switch heartstoppingly between seductiveness and naivete, foolhardiness and steely-eyed determination. Anusha in NALS is a decent version of this character, and the talented Mahie Gill brings to life the Chandigarh girl who knows what to wear to auditions to accentuate her curves but isn't up for the casting couch – and doesn't quite know if she should (or wants to) refuse a soppy come-on from a casting director who's just got her a role.

But all the nuance, the non-judgemental approach to the character is thrown to the winds by RGV's always-intrusive camera, which surpasses itself here in perversely sexualising Gill's every move, missing not a single chance to peer down her cleavage or up her skirt, whether she's simply climbing the stairs to her apartment – or wiping blood from the floor.

Strangely, the film is also a homage to RGV's penchant for horror, and here, as with all things RGV these days, the problem is one of excess: the slanted, often jerky camera angles leading us to expect a ghost around every corner (none appear); Sandeep Chowta's overblown soundtrack; and Deepak Dobriyal, who could have been excellent as Anusha's obsessive boyfriend Robin if he wasn't constantly shown as if through a keyhole, his eyes popping out of his head. Still, there is much here that is well done: the suggestion of violence rather than the depiction of it, the menace of the police station scenes (particularly the superb Zakir Hussain) and most strikingly, the refusal to paint its protagonists as inhuman.

Compelling tale, but told too badly

Director: Parvin Dabas
Starring: Vansh Bhardwaj, Parvin Dabas, Tena Desae, Anupam Kher

"Pehle is gaanv ke naujawaan fauj se waapas aaya karte thhe, ab usi garv ke saath jail se waapas aate hain (Earlier young men from this village used to come back from army service, now they come back from jail with the same pride)," says an old woman in Sahi Dhandhe Galat Bande who's only introduced to us as Tai. It ought to have been a scathing statement, but it's delivered without punch. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with Parvin Dabas' filmic debut.

Kanjhawala-born Dabas sets out to make a rather ambitious film about important things – the rural-urban divide, the land acquisition act, the takeover of agricultural land for 'public purpose' that leaves farmers with (often meagre) monetary compensation but no enduring future. Set in the villages of Outer Delhi, to which Dabas' own Hindu Jat family belongs, SDGB lays out the terrain fairly deftly: a gang of four young men – Sexy (Vansh Bhardwaj) Doctor (Kuldeep Ruhil), Ambani (Ashish Nair) and Rajbir (the fetching Mr. Dabas himself) – spend their time roughing up other gangs or terrorising innocent people on the bidding of their boss Fauji (Sharat Saxena). Fauji is a father figure of sorts to Rajbir, but when he decides to further his own political ambitions by getting Rajbir and Co. to sabotage their own villagers' resistance to the sale of their land to slimy industrialist Agarwal (Anupam Kher), Rajbir decides he's had enough, and begins a double game.

Rajbir, then, is the character on whom the film hinges, and while his laconic, brooding persona is believable, the grainy flashbacks with which Dabas tries to give him a backstory that would both evoke nostalgia and provide personal justification for his ideological turnaround just fall flat. His relationship with Fauji is wafer-thin, as is his connect with arty photographer Neha (Tena Desae). The other gang members aren't given much to do except fool around and handle a few guns, which is a pity (Vansh Bhardwaj, for one is a talented stage actor), and the subplot involving a corrupt chief minister and her too-idealistic son is tragically lacklustre. This film deserves a remake.

No comments: