14 November 2011

Cinemascope: Rockstar; The Adventures of Tintin

Published in the Sunday Guardian on 13th November:

Long hard road to art

Director: Imtiaz Ali
Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Nargis Fakhri, Shammi Kapoor, Aditi Rao Hydari


The first half of Imtiaz Ali's new film is wonderfully endearing. There's the guitar-playing, dil ka saaf Pitampura boy who wants to be a great musician and can't understand why the cool kids are laughing at him. There's the stunningly lovely, unattainably upper-class girl from St. Stephen's College who he contrives to confess undying love to, really only because his canteen-running mentor Khatana (the brilliant theatre actor Kumud Mishra) has told him that a kalakaar must have his heart broken: "Jab tukde tukde hote hain dil ke tab nikalti hai jhankaar." It's long after she's told him to bugger off ("Burger off?" he wonders) that they have their first real conversation. The unlikely friendship that blossoms – based though it is on the "neat and clean, hi-fi" Heer's desire for slumming it by watching desi porn and drinking desi daaru before her fully arranged marriage to a suitable boy in Prague – at least has the virtue of believability. (Token transgression seems to be the thing for these supposedly sassy heroines with minds set on Marriage with a capital M: think Tanu Weds Manu, Mere Brother ki Dulhan.)

With the second half of the film, however, Ali catapults us – and himself – into a sea of high drama where we flail desperately to find something real to hold on to. Ranbir Kapoor transitions beautifully from the buffoonish Janardhan Jakhar to Jordan, heartthrob of the nation, and almost manages to come off simultaneously as gruff, ganwaar Jatboy and gentle lover. But Ali's character arc for his talented hero is simply not detailed enough. There is no sense at all of what suddenly transforms the "upcoming star" who's difficult to trace even for a persistent journalist (Aditi Rao Hydari, who simply does not do justice to the possibilities of this role: think of what a Deepal Shaw might have done here) into someone who's mobbed everywhere he goes – unless a criminal charge slapped on him in a foreign land is deemed to be enough? Worse, despite the beautifully shot stint in the Nizamuddin dargah and the satisfying cameo by Shammi Kapoor, not to mention the powerful musical sequences themselves, we have not a glimpse of where Jordan gets his music from, what his sources of inspiration might be. "Image is everything, everything is image," recites Piyush Mishra in a very funny rendition of a music company agent called Dhingra. Perhaps that's all there is to it, then?

And then there's the love story, which starts off charmingly and goes steadily downhill. In a move that struck me as deep-down reminiscent of Jab We Met, the effervescent, almost childlike heroine of the film's first half is transformed into a silent, pale shadow of herself in the second. Gorgeous Nargis Fakhri, of the beestung lips and alabaster skin, does okay on bubbliness (though she does sometimes simper annoyingly in a way that reminded me of Neelam) but is simply awful at playing tragedy queen. Why, when there are so many kinds of love in the world, must we strain again and again to create the epic kind – and fall so desperately flat? Perhaps great art, as Khatana says to Janardhan, can only come out of great pain. Rockstar gets full marks for trying.

Old-school Pleasures


Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Daniel Craig


Steven Spielberg takes a comic book character beloved of millions (except in America, which has apparently never heard of him) and does the sacrilegious thing only an American could: he mixes up at least three separate Tintin stories – The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure and The Crab With the Golden Claws are the ones I identified – to create a single film in which a lot of the pleasure of Herge's sidestories and minor characters is sacrificed to a fully-fleshed out plot. Since Spielberg's version will, to all intents and purposes, introduce Tintin to a whole new generation who might not ever read the comics themselves, this is more than a little tragic. On the happier side, if you're not an angry Tintinologist (I kid you not – www.tintinologist.org) The Adventures of Tintin rides piggyback on Herge's painstakingly put-together universe to create a film that is both a joyous old-school adventure of the sort one aches to find these days and a visual treasurehouse.

The glorious animation transports one into a past Western world recreated in loving detail – ghostly gaslit city streets, antique radio rooms aboard rusty old ships – and Eastern worlds that are no less vivid for being imaginary, like a Morocco of palaces filled with crab-shaped fountains on the one hand and bulletproof glass cases on the other. At one point we are even allowed to accompany one of our protagonists further back – via his imagination – into an earlier era of swashbuckling heroes and bloodthirsty pirates. There is much to savour in both narrative and visualisation: like a delicious scene which captures the inexplicable sensation of being alone in a huge silent library – and feeling yourself watched. Or the beauty of a plot twist in which a hallucination brought on by a parched day in the desert unlocks an alcoholic's long-lost memory. And there is of course the undeniable satisfaction of watching unlikely heroes win. Tintin is good to root for, and Snowy even better, but what's best is the scruffy drunkard Captain Haddock, who's always been doomed to failure, coming out on top of the spiffily turned out Ivan Ivanovich Sakharine (a character quite altered from his original harmless avatar as a collector in Herge's books).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why You May Not Want to Join the Imtiaz Ali Finishing School for Girls

- its a really insighfull dissection of the pattern of Imtiaz Ali.
some of these highly pverrated directors get stuck like a gramaphone record to the same theme but still are called geniuses just becoz their movies make money.

May be you can study Farhan Akhtars movies too - all his movies (and his sisters) are lifted very cleverly from hollywood and have the same pattern of friends and their bonding and the angst they undergo - his movies dont seem to move away from this trajectory - may be you can trace it too.

Its fun to rip apart overrated people. some curious satisfaction :)