Thursday, 21 October 2010

Movie Review: Gandha

I have always believed that some of the country's best stories are written and are found in regional cinema. Unfortunately, most of them remain imprisoned within their geographic and linguistic boundaries, flowering and withering away unnoticed or get overshadowed by Hindi cinema. Hence, it is necessary to look beyond Hindi cinema and capture the essence of regional cinema.

The Marathi film "Gandha" (Smell) directed by Sachin Kundalkar is strong on visual detailing, the perspective in which the stories unfold, the connect you feel with its character. After Adoor Gopalakrishnan's "Naalu Pennungal", this film comes closest to having a familiar plot with an originality and path-breaking in its own sense.

Gandha encompasses three simple stories about a bride-to-be who wants to fall in love and finds herself rejecting every suitor her parents find. Until one day, she meets a man to whom she is attracted to because of the way he smells. There is a stunning episode from the life of an HIV-affected man and his wife who are struggling to cut themselves away from each other. Lastly, there is a simple but engrossing slice of four days of a woman's life as she sits separated from her family because she is having her periods.

Sachin Kundalkar unfolds each story with utmost mastery and confidence of a veteran filmmaker. The dialogues are real and the actors are real that you can identify someone you know with them. The performances are endearing and impactful. A seemingly mundane episode of a woman having her periods, sitting out for four days doing nothing is so interestingly mounted on screen that one never bothers about where the story is heading. One gets the sense of the smell of that rain, the smell of the sheera the old lady is cooking downstairs, the smell of the book the lady reads poetry from. It is visual detailing at its simplest yet most exquisite.

With equal elan, the director manages to create the disturbing life of Sarang, the HIV-affected man's apartment. A claustrophobic individual in swanky surroundings, Milind Soman is a pleasant surprise. The story of the bride-to-be who sets out to find her own groom is as endearing and lovable as Sarang's story is disturbing.

"Gandha" is elegantly paced within its 1 hour 40 minutes running time. Abhijit Deshpande's editing deserves special kudos for its confident, placid style. There is so much faith in the material and the actos that there never seems any pressure to cut away for the sake of hurrying the pace. Rarely does one get to experience a film that has been edited for value than correction, gimmickry or pacing. Ditto for the camerawork by Amalendu Choudhary. The rain soaked village, the claustrophobia of Sarang moving through his apartment, or the lovely mystery accompanying Veena as she follows the smell of the man she is attracted to, images such as these remain etched in the mind.

Ably supported by some expressive production design, this film is an example of how craft and vision have the power to overcome small budgets. "Gandha" is the kind of film that soaks you in itself completely. It's the kind of film one as a viewer is happy being with. It's the kind of film one wishes never ends. And it never really ends because after involving us from three sporadic episodes from three random people's lives, Sachin Kundalkar chooses to exit those very lives with seemingly small resolutions, leaving it with a very open end.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In black and yellow

So much of Mumbai and its typical "isms" be discovered in those black-bodied, yellow-topped moving things. Just like India lives in its villages, some part of Mumbai definitely lives in its taxis. Savour this.

On a trip from Churchgate to CST, you ask the cabbie to turn left before Flora Fountain. But he tells you, "No, the Flora Fountain route is shorter. I have done the ARD." I wondered what ARD meant. The pace of Mumbai is such, it doesn't take long to decipher that he means R&D.

Then, another day, you are returning from a gastronomic journey to Mohammed Ali Road. And, there's this one cabbie who wants to go home. Nevertheless, he will drop you at CST first. High on kebabs and nihari, a friend gets chatting with the cabbie. Asks him if it's his girlfriend who called when his mobile rings. On being told that they are waiting for him at home, the cabbie wants to know what he will eat for dinner. "Whatever has been cooked."

When we reached CST, and the meter clocks Rs. 30, midnight charges included, the friend tells the cabbie, "Arre, you're a friend, take Rs. 20, not 30." The taxiwallah understands friendship. "If you're a friend, pay me Rs. 10 more instead. Give me 40," he says with a smile.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Strangers In The Night

It was Wednesday, the thirteenth of February, which marked the eleventh anniversary of Mahesh and Divya. Since morning, Divya had been extremely busy at home so much so that she didn't even have time to pause and wipe off the perspiration from her face. Divya, dressed in a modest maroon night gown, her hair tied up like a bun, her make-up all smudged was busy ticking off items in a long list clipped on the door of the refrigerator.

By five, she had succeeded in putting some kind of order into the arrangements. Chairs, tables, napkins, flowers, they were all there on the verandah, neatly arranged. Mahesh had come home much earlier than usual and was pleasantly surprised to see the arrangements she had made for their eleventh anniversary.

It was nearing nine when Divya started laying the table for dinner. As she was laying the table, there was a sudden power cut. She rushed to the kitchen and got a packet of birthday candles lying in between the Bru coffee packets above the refrigerator. Planting a red candle in the middle of the dining table, she sat down to have dinner. Every year, they followed a pattern of talking about their previous distractions. It wasn't a matter of concern as they had been very candid about these things. Thus, this year it was her turn to reveal her distraction.

She began her story after taking a deep breath. It was when she was a young college girl who was returning home after a classical music concert. She reached the station shortly after the last commuter train had departed from the station and there were no trains till morning. Dejected, she proceeded to the waiting room.

In the waiting room, she was approached by a young twenty something tall, gentle, charismatic, smart Muslim man asking her for a favour. She was so bored that she came down to doing anything for him. She kissed the man's fingers and also planted a kiss on his cheek. Meanwhile, Mahesh started taking deep breaths and his expressions were washed away by flares of jealousy. He asked her how she could even attempt such a thing despite being the daughter of conservative parents.

It was only when Mahesh quizzed her about this did she actually reply. She did this to protect the Muslim man's five year old kid who was being lured to join a terrorist organization as the city was burning due to communal violence.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Silently, She Cried...

Ritika Narayanan

Her shuddering frame, collapsed on the chair,
Numb, disbelieving.
She couldn't bear to see that villain
The matrimonial columns, again
Nearly all that was asked for,
She had.

Beautiful girl, from cultured family,
Well educated.

She had that and more.
Her degrees, all of five years old,
Her career, the envy of her peers,
Her demure manner,
Her practical thinking,
Her compassionate heart,
All, all reduced to the background
For the one thing she lacked.

Silently, she turned to the mirror and saw
Herself in all her dusky, Indian glory.
Yet sadly, she could not answer to the foremost requirement:

Fair, beautiful girl, from cultured family
Well educated.

A last sigh let loose,
And she became herself again.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Mumbai's Answer to Tokyo

A rush hour is generally that part of the day when traffic congestion on roads and crowding in public transport is at its highest. The rush hour in Tokyo, Japan has about 3000 passengers packed in a 10-car train and about 100,000 passengers generally transported in an hour, which makes it one of the most congested railway networks in the world.

It is a slice of Tokyo's rush hour that is played out in Thane for a few hours every morning and evening. A row of young railway policemen and women queue up along the narrow foot overbridge that lies at the Kalyan-end of Thane station, virtually splitting up the bridge into two.

As soon as a train chugs in (in the morning, trains from Kalyan and in the evenings, those arriving from CST), the policemen and women brace themselves for their task: Pushing the crowds to the exit. It made me wonder whether if these policemen knew that their task has been derived from the famed "pushers" of Tokyo's overcrowded underground railway stations.

Of course, I do realize that even if someone in the crowd finds it dehumanizing to be thus "channelized" towards the exit; frankly, there is no time or space to protest. Most in the milling crowds rushing for a bus or a rickshaw home, it would appear, have been immunized by years of being jostled around (or even felt up) in the narrow foot overbridge.

It is time that the oldest railway station in the country caught up with the changing times--and broadened its bridges.