Sunday, November 2, 2008

A take on Fashion

When one goes to a multiplex, sorry, to one of those relics of Indian metros, a proper old-fashioned theater to see a movie like Fashion in the first week of its release, it is because of two reasons: 1) One has faith in the director, his reputation and the actors not to let one down and 2) One believes that the subject in question is different and intriguing enough to arouse the curiosity of even a non-multiplex crowd.

Page 3 and Traffic Signal made good profits from multiplexes and Fashion will no doubt continue the trend, certainly by beating some expectations. The obvious expectation at getting a peek into the working of the glamor industry will no doubt be satiated. Madhur Bhandarkar plays to the gallery here by serving expected fare, but in some cases even cliches when delivered in the proper places and in the proper manner and helped by good acting leave a good impact. That is exactly what Fashion does.

There are the expected villians, people at whose whims and fancies, the fashion mills grind. The difference lies in the execution and in the deft handling of a complex subject. The director has extracted Priyanka’s best performance as an actor. When Aishwarya Rai was appreciated for her acting for the first time in Guru, Mani Ratnam deservedly got the credit and so should Madhur Bhandarkar here.

In an effort towards giving out minimal spoilers, the story is about the moral challenges and compromises one is subject to, during the rise to the top of the glamor industry. Again, this might seem a bit of oversimplification. Revenge is recurring with the tactic often misfiring. One can’t take sides easily as the story doesn’t simply let you take sides in the first place.

Kangna Ranaut has to start looking beyond some roles that she revels in. Mugda Godse looks the part and can go places in the future. Other actors play their roles but get overshadowed by the three girls. Music is just about good. The length becomes annoying later in the second half. It can be overlooked.

With gay associations, wardrobe malfunctions, the fall from fame to rags - all sharing screenspace, it is easy to say that recent media stories and happenings have influenced the maker but for the disclaimer in the beginning that any resemblance to real life incidents is purely coincidental. It is not a movie for the weak hearted. Some might end up feeling that certain parts were melodramatic and dragging.

Overall, a very much watchable movie that reaffirms my belief that, Bollywood with its recent string of releases, is breaking some invisible shell and trying to stand proud on its feet.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The White Tiger - A travesty of reality

When a journalist embarks on a novel, he simply cannot shrug it off as pure Fiction and certainly and quite expectedly, Mr. Aravind Adiga hasn't done so. Instead he is quoted as saying that the attempt was to highlight the brutal injustices of Indian society.

The narrator of the novel, Balram Halwai is certainly "half-baked" as he admits because the author never wants him to be anything more than that. He has a laptop, but looks to All India Radio as the source for the latest news, he is ignorant and cunning, sympathetic and ruthless, his emotions and feelings is like the swing of a pendulum. Sounds like a boring cliche? Mr. Adiga has hundreds of such plain comparisons. The best of the lot is "An old man in a brown uniform, which was like an ancient army outfit"! The narrator hails from a region of "darkness" and gets to drive his master around Delhi in Honda City.

The descriptions totally lack in detail and read very naively artificial if there is such an expression. Here is what the narrator says about village shops: "three more or less identical shops, selling more or less identical items of kerosene, incense and rice". Beyond a certain point, they become frustrating and annoying. There is a not a single good word about our country. All the narrator of the novel thinks about our system boils down to hopelessness.

Not even a figment of positivity or goodwill for anybody remotely working for the Government. Ministers can be bribed, politicians make empty promises, Government school teachers "spit paan" endlessly and pilfer money, policemen can be "lubricated".

Some satire is acceptable but not if it deliberately translates into heedless obscene vulgarity without respite:

"Kishan got two weeks to dip his beak into his wife,.."
"That brother's wife was finished off by three men working together."
"this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a Zoo."

Every person is painted with the same brush. There is no discrimination employed. All servants scheme to cheat their masters, the poor suspect the rich and the rich, the poor and every Indian from a landlord to a bus driver has some inherent caste/religion based stereotypes. This is not simply oversimplification, but an obvious attempt to misrepresent or worse falsely and disapprovingly represent a huge chunk of people.

I had very strong urges to leave the book unfinished but in the end, continued till completion. I won't deny that the book is entirely without any high points. The only genuinely inventive and really good piece of writing that I am able to recall is when Balram imagines two puddles on the road assuming two distinct sides in his mind's eye and starting to argue. The language is not very impressive; it is understandable given the story.

The motive of the driver is not clear and whatever is made obvious is too amateurish and blanketed with references to the White Tiger. ("In any jungle, what is the rarest of animals.."). The narrator here claims "The story of my upbringing is the story of how a half-baked fellow is produced.".

The White Tiger, very sadly is hardly 10-15% baked. It does not deserve any praise. I am appalled that some critics feel it is "seducing" or "an unexpected journey to a new India". All I can say is that, the Booker has given some unworthy readership and credibility to the pages of the most depressing book "supposedly" written on the Indian condition. Mr.Adiga has let his imagination run riot! Chetan Bhagat in his first novel was far better and most importantly he had a clear disclaimer in the beginning.