Friday, January 28, 2005

Page 3

Madhavi Sharma (Konkona Sensharma) covers Page-3 events for the newspaper she works for. As Vinayak Mane (Atul Kulkarni), a journalist on the crime-beat, scathingly puts it, “Who went to which party, who did they arrive with, who did they leave with, what were they wearing.” Notwithstanding the back-biting and air-kissing that’s standard fare.

Madhavi enjoys her job - there’s no conflict with her values when she’s being a spectator. She goes to parties, makes friends and acquaintances, and observes up-close, celebrities like industrialists, actors, designers, ministers and top-cops. She then writes about them, and argues with the editor (Boman Irani) over deadlines and priorities. She shares home with fiesty Pearl (Sandhya Mridul) an airhostess and later, Gayatri (Tara Sharma), a starry-eyed wannabe actress.  

The death of one of her Page 3 regulars, proves to be a turning point for Madhavi. It’s then that she sees the shallow self-centeredness of those she writes about. She sees with new eyes, the lies and the deceit that she has been blind to all this while.  

And it doesn’t end there. Madhavi’s trust is betrayed on all fronts, she finds herself alone. Her shift to crime-beat, despite Mane finally accepting her as a serious journalist, ends on a grim note. In the end, you see Madhavi Sharma, back in Page-3, observing with a wry smile, another party in full swing. She’s back in spectator mode, but not before righting some wrongs. Is this compromise or a work-smart philosophy that Madhavi has adopted? 

Konkona Sensharma is convincing as Madhavi, who subtly moves from being a mere spectator to a social catalyst. Her revulsion and anguish in the second half of the movie are very real.  

Atul Kulkarni, a Madhur Bhandarkar regular, has a small but pivotal role to play and he plays it with aplomb. Boman Irani, as the editor, proves his skill at taking on serious scenes with the same ease as the usual light-hearted ones that he’s constantly offered. Sandhya Mridul is good, Tara Sharma doesn’t come across convincingly in the second half. Others like Jai Kalra as Madhavi’s love interest, Rehaan Engineer as her gay friend and Bikram Saluja as the actor, are transient. Upyendra Limaye as the cop, Bhonsle, is one actor to watch out for. 

Soni Razdan, Nasir Abdulla, Dolly Thakore, Kunika Lal, Maya Alagh, Suchitra Pillai, Anju Mahendroo, Navani Parihar, Suhasini Mullay etc. form the coterie of celebs. Each one is etched to perfection.  

The music is woven into the storyline and the songs that one sees on television channels have been picturised especially for the medium.  

Madhur Bhandrakar, the director, deals with topics that are uncomfortable for most film-makers to take on. Case in point, Chandni Bar and Satta. Even in Page 3, there’s a layer of subtle digs at the lifestyles of celebrities, as discussed by their drivers. But when you scratch the surface, it reveals evils like pedophilia and more importantly, apathy. The scenes of a bomb blast in this movie, are very stark and intended to convey the intense shock that Madhavi’s character feels.  

Page 3 starts out being satirical, but addresses some very disturbing issues along the way. 

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Double Act - An Interview with Amaan & Ayaan Ali Bangash

Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash do a sound check just ahead of their performance at Saarang 2005, the IIT Madras Cultural Festival on January 21, 2005. The few students, who have turned up in advance, are enthralled. The brothers depart to the greenroom, and as though in protest, the heavens open up, and there’s a downpour.

"It’s a good sign." reassures someone. And suddenly, it’s my turn to interview the brothers.

Most people know that Amaan Ali and Ayaan Ali Bangash are Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s sons. Not many are aware that they belong to the 7th generation of an unbroken tradition, the Senia Bangash Gharana. The tradition was started by Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash, credited to be the inventor of the Sarod.

Ayaan, the younger of the two, says, "We have been handed down a legacy and count ourselves fortunate for it. However, a legacy is no substitute for hard work. If we perform poorly, our legacy is no longer adequate."

Amaan adds, "The instrument has changed since its creation, more from the angle of expression. Our father is responsible for making the sound as expressive as the human voice."
Both Amaan and Ayaan are also disciples of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Initially, they saw it as a complex relationship, but were later able to mentally separate the roles of disciple and son. They played their respective solo debut concerts when they were eight.

Amaan says, wistfully, "As children, we were more interested in what we were wearing for the concert. The turning point came for both of us during one concert abroad, where there were many eminent musicians in the audience. After the performance, there was a dinner, which our father did not attend. He was so disappointed with our performance, that he developed high fever. This was when we realised the extent to which our performance mattered to him."

Since then, the brothers have performed extensively in India and abroad, and won accolades aplenty. They have also gone off the beaten track by hosting Sa Re Ga Ma, for Zee TV, when their name and popularity reached the living rooms of many an Indian family. "We did Sa Re Ga Ma for two years. Popularity apart, it brought a new section of audience to our performances."says Ayaan.

Amaan and Ayaan have also authored a book, ‘Abba – God’s greatest gift to us’ for Roli Books as part of its Family Pride series. The book is said to be written with great sensitivity and grace, the very qualities that Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is renowned for.

As for their composing skills, the duo have worked on the soundtrack of a film set in an Indian call-centre, ‘American Daylight’, directed by Roger Christian. Due to its setting, the film will first be released in Bangalore and then move to other cities. "But do buy the album", insists Ayaan.

So, what are Amaan and Ayaan’s plans for the year? "We perform at a concert in memory of M.S. Subbulakshmi at Delhi on January 28th, 2005. After that, it’s the usual concerts in India and abroad. We will, of course be coming down to Chennai as often as in the past."

"One thing we don’t understand is, why don’t the Sabhas here invite us to perform? Be it Carnatic or Hindustani – at the end of the day, Music is Music." chips in Amaan.

(edited version published on January 27, 2005 in Madras Plus, the city features supplement of The Economic Times, Chennai. Pic courtesy Third Eye, as published in magazine)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Pulp Reigns - Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow

If you’re a big fan of action comics, you will love ‘Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow’. If you’re not, it will hook you to the genre. Although in the last year, we’ve had a spate of movies from comic books, like Spiderman (2), Hellboy and Catwoman, this one captures the mood and detailing extremely well.

It’s the 1930s. Newspaper reporter, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) is investigating the disappearance of six scientists. She discovers that the brain behind this, is a certain Dr. Totenkopf who has plans for the world. She joins forces with an old flame, Joe ‘Sky Captain’ Sullivan (Jude Law) and with a little help from his techie friend, Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), they’re off on the trail of the evil mastermind.
The situations change rapidly, from giant robots (and I mean GIANT) walking the city streets to a dynamite-filled mine in Nepal to a mobile airstrip under the command of the eye-patched Captain Franky Cooke (Angelina Jolie) and finally concludes with a modern-day ark. Along the way, we find dinosaurs, aircrafts that mimic bird flight complete with wing-flapping, a mysterious companion of the elusive Dr. Totenkopf, ray guns and innumerable robots (alright, not quite as many robots as in I-Robot or Matrix Revolutions, but just about enough to add sheen).

Unlike other action heroes, Sky Captain doesn’t wear a signature outfit or have a key phrase. He has no supernatural powers, but is extremely determined and courageous.

As for performances, there’s an excellent rapport between Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow as the opportunistic, argumentative lead characters. Their banter is witty and each character is constantly trying to undermine the other. 

Ultimately, it’s Polly Perkins’ indecision about the usage of the last shots in her camera, the brave Sky Captain’s dependence on Milk of Magnesia, Dex’s brilliance with anything technical, and Franky Cook’s gutsiness, that keep one riveted to the seat. There’s no violence of the blood-and-gore kind, no profanity and no steamy scenes either. Add to that, a narrative that doesn’t flag, but hurtles on to a fantastic finish. Ultimately, it’s the combination of the imagination of the 1930s, coupled with today’s special effects, that works to the movie’s favour.

Oh! And did I mention that all the action described above, barring the actors and a few props, was primarily special effects? And that Sir Laurence Olivier is Totenkopf?

Sky Captain is in the pulp-magazine genre, named after the inexpensive pulp that was used to make the paper that the magazines were printed on. Primarily focusing on romance, westerns, detective, war and science fiction, this genre set the stage for such greats as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Street and Smith’s Doc Savage and The Shadow.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Tsunami - Some reactions

Archana Meiyappan

“We were staying at a beach resort on the outskirts of Pondicherry over that weekend. On Sunday morning, I stayed in the room while my husband Karthik, and our two sons went down to the beach. My sons were in the water, when Karthik noticed something wrong with the way the waves looked. They seemed to be unusually high and were proceeding towards the shore very rapidly. He told the boys to start running, and all three of them reached the resort and then our room on the first floor. From the window in our room, we could see one other guest and a couple who were staying there, struggling in the water. We later learnt that the couple were fine. The water started receding, so, we went down to the lobby. The hotel was surrounded by water. We went back up to the room to call our folks to tell them that we were alright. And then we saw the water rising again! When we came back down, we could see a dining table afloat in the water, and the belongings of the guests staying in the ground floor room washed away. And to think we were offered the ground floor room first! Anyhow, we returned to Chennai via the Tindivanam route instead of East Coast Road. We then saw on TV, the extent of the disaster, and were quite shaken by it.”

Raghu, Visualiser, BrandComm

“Like many people in Chennai, I used to play cricket with my friends on Marina Beach on Sunday mornings. Last Sunday too, we were at it. There must have been about 1500 people on the beach that morning. During our game, we happened to notice on the water, a few steamboats moving very rapidly. They looked quite unusual, as they seemed to be covering great distance in a very short span of time. Moreover, we couldn’t see anyone manning the boat. Within about 30 seconds, they were almost on to us. So, we ran away from the water, some of us leaving motorbikes behind, others carrying their cycles with them. We later returned when the water had receded and the bodies were being removed. We saw one of the places where the waves must have crashed on the land, as there was a pit, about 5 to 6 feet deep and almost 10 metres wide. Thankfully, all of us escaped. But I am sorry for people who lived around there or slept on the beach overnight, who were swept away.”

Sharad Singhi

My birthday was on Saturday, and we were celebrating along with some of my friends at Silver Sands’ Adventure Zone. We pitched tents and stayed on the beach on Friday and Saturday night. We had also taken along equipment like a home theatre system etc.

On Sunday morning, at around 6.30, I closed my tent, and ordered breakfast. A little later, my wife alerted us to the fact that the water was moving forward, and towards us. This place is actually 10 ft. above sea level. We initially thought, it was just high tide, but it kept rising and within 15-20 seconds, it looked like a wall of water coming in our direction.

My son ran towards the road, and the rest of us were swept by the wave. My friend who didn’t know to swim, held on to a tree. My family and a few friends and their children, reached a structure that was meant to be rooms for the resort. My friend’s wife was wearing a saree, and she needed to be rescued. I went back, and tried to help her, but her saree got caught in a tree. I had to take her saree off, and take her with me towards the structure. Even after the water receded, there was still about 5 to 6 ft of water left. Then we realised that one of our friends had been sleeping in the tent. Apparently he had heard the commotion, and came out, then ran towards the road.

There was a 3ft x 9 ft. freezer in the kitchen there, and I later found it outside, about 200 metres away. There was a stone wall, and some platforms, that ceased to exist after this happened.

We reached the road, found my son, and started walking away from the seaside. We took the road to Chingleput, and tried to hitch a ride from cars and vans on the road. Nobody stopped for us despite the fact that there were young children in our group. The children had to walk barefoot, for almost 7 kilometres and nobody in the group had any water or food until we reached Chennai at 5 p.m. We didn’t have any money either. None of the telephones were working. The person at the tollbooth lent us the phone so we could inform our people at home that we were fine. 

If that structure hadn’t been there, 4 people from my group could have died. Also, if we hadn’t been awake when this happened, we would have got swept away along with the tent.

I went back to see the place on Tuesday, and I am still amazed that we are alive.

RAINCOAT - Love & Longing in Kolkata

At the outset, let’s set the record straight on what Raincoat is NOT.

As is apparent, there are no muscle-flexing heroes and demure heroines. There are also, no dangerous liaisons, no gun-toting villain and no item numbers. Not even one lusty exhalation. So, a lot of people are likely to be sorely disappointed and are better off missing the movie entirely.

Ash in a de-glamourised get up, is a topic that’s been done to death. Believe you me, that is not reason enough to watch this movie - it’s something you’ll outgrow within the first half-hour into the movie.

At its most basic level, Raincoat is slow & sensitive. If you must, watch it for Mannu, Neeru and the ambience of a rainy afternoon.

Mannu (Ajay Devgan), travels from Bhagalpur to Calcutta to get seed capital from his friends, for a business he wishes to begin. Right through the movie, Mannu’s character is devoid of bravado, but is self-assured in his own way, with just that hint of naivete. He stays with one of his friends (Sammeer), whose wife (Mouli Ganguly), is empathetic to Mannu’s predicament and is intuitive about his feelings for an old love, Neeru, whom he wishes to drop in on while in Calcutta. Six years ago, circumstances had pulled Mannu and Neeru apart, with Neeru marrying a person of her parents’ choice.

The movie is centered on Mannu’s visit, on a rainy afternoon, to the house where lackadaisical Neeru (Aishwarya Rai) lives, in South Calcutta. Through the short flashbacks, we are let in on their relationship, the contrast between who she was and who she has become. The Neeru that Mannu loved, was a sprightly lass with a tad of mischief in her. The Neeru he sees now, has aged prematurely, with dark circles under her eyes and is completely oblivious of her appearance. There is an aura of hopelessness that seems to hang over her, despite her assurances of being happily married. Aishwarya Rai deserves appreciation in the way she has subtly used body language and mannerisms to transform herself into Neeru. Ajay Devgan is at times the helpless failure, complete with stoop and sometimes, in front of Ash’s character, he does an excellent make-believe of the now-successful man she lost out on.

There is no rekindling of romance between Mannu and Neeru. But there’s a refreshing innocence in their relationship with both characters building a house of cards with regard to their respective lives. It takes a visitor (Annu Kapoor), with his revelations, to upturn it. And in the midst of all this, the said raincoat plays a small but pivotal role.

Sammeer is adequate in his role of Mannu’s friend. Mouli Ganguly lends subtlety to her role as his wife. Surekha Sikri, as Mannu’s mother, has a very short but adequate role. Annu Kapoor brings a certain zest to the otherwise dank atmosphere.

As for music, there are no sequences dedicated to song, only snatches that waft in and out of the scenes, like the varying intensity of the monsoon. It’s interesting to see how the music has been incorporated in the scenes, without drowning out the dialogues. Shubha Mudgal gently sets the mood with soulful rendition of songs written by Rituparno Ghosh and set to tune by Debojyoti Misra.

The narrative is sedate, reminiscent of Bengali cinema of the Ray genre, but it’s really fine even if you haven’t seen Bengali cinema before. There’s no major twist in the end, and halfway through the movie, many will guess the short story that inspired this movie. But hang on, and watch it. It’s not every day that we watch a truly inspired movie, sans the double apostrophes.

Raincoat is like a monsoon raaga, replete with tender longing, yet righteously understated in its treatment.

TRIVIA: Rituparno Ghosh made his first movie at the age of 23, and his first full length feature film, Unishe April, won many awards. More recently, he directed the much-acclaimed Chokher Bali. What’s interesting is that Raincoat is his first movie in Hindi, and he has managed to create an interest in Bengali Cinema by capturing its pace and ambience.

(edited version published on January 1, 2005 in Madras Plus, the city features supplement of The Economic Times, Chennai)