Monday, May 29, 2006

For better, for verse

I don’t know whether it’s a sign of approaching senility or psychosis or both, but I’ve developed this habit of conjuring up improbable parallel scenarios while I’m watching a film (even one that I’m enjoying). Remember those campy scenes from old TV serials where a character’s drifting off into fantasy/dream would be accompanied by a spooky ululating sound and animated visuals of concentric circles? Well, I’m just like that in a movie theatre these days (minus the sound and the animated circles).

For instance, in the first half of Fanaa there was some very ordinary shayiri going on between the Aamir Khan and Kajol characters and it occurred to me that an excellent comedy could be made with the dialogue written entirely in Urdu verse. The poetry would have to be mediocre of course, but the characters would recite it with immense feeling and take themselves very seriously indeed. (After all, the film didn’t have to know that it was a comedy.) Lovers would speak in shayiri to each other all the time, even when saying prosaic things like “pass the cabbage please”. Evil terrorists would give their minions instructions over the radio in rhyme, and governments would use it to apprise each other of deteriorating political relations: things will get verse before they get better.

(Minor spoiler alert) In the second half of the film, when a wounded Aamir Khan escapes the Indian Army, crosses over the Kashmir border into Poland** and finds himself at the doorstep of the woman he deserted many years ago, I imagined a Death and the Maiden situation, where Kajol and her father (Rishi Kapoor) keep him tied up and torture him until he confesses to genocide. (I was also hoping for a dhishum dhishum fight at the end, with the portly Kapoor beating the crap out of Aamir and then sitting on him for good measure, thus proving the superiority of the early 1980s over the present day.)

Back to reality: I thought Fanaa was passable. The first half was quite dull but things tightened up after the intermission (though you have to be able to assimilate a major change in the film’s tone, along with the usual suspension of disbelief – and please, please don’t try to understand any of the characters’ motivations or get into conundrums of logic). There were a couple of idiotic scenes towards the end, but the second half also contained the film’s best vignettes (including the Antakshri one which Uma mentions here, and a few reminders that Aamir Khan, for all his posturing, is quite a good actor). It was more interesting, better acted and directed than the romantic slush early on.

Aamir and Kajol, as has been noted elsewhere, have no chemistry. I have a small theory about this: I think both of them are just too cerebral as actors. (Aamir has a well-honed reputation for perfectionism anyway, but this is just as true of Kajol – despite the pre-release publicity which hyped up the contrast between her and Aamir’s styles of working.) This doesn’t necessarily mean that they think harder about their roles than their contemporaries, but that the intelligence is always on display; like Sanjeev Kumar of yore, they have “I’m a Serious Actor and You Better Not Forget It” stamped on their foreheads. Put too much of that intensity together in one frame and it’s overkill. I think this is one reason why Kajol worked so well with Shah Rukh Khan, and why Aamir worked well with Juhi Chawla – those pairs complemented each other very nicely. (Watching Fanaa, I kept wishing Shah Rukh would bound in through the door and jump around on a piano for five minutes.)

Bottomline – I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend Fanaa to anyone (except my mother, who is the least discriminating movie-watcher alive), but it has its moments.

Quick notes:

Lots of in-film advertising, including a Radio Mirchi promotion (Aamir wears a plastic mirchi around his neck). When Kajol went to open the fridge in one scene, I was kind of hoping Ajay Devgan would pop out and sing the Kelvinator song.

Killing off Jaspal Bhatti is a definite no-no and should be made illegal.

Child actors should not be forced into unreasonable and unnatural acts like saying good things about Rahul Dravid.

“Fan-aa” is not, as I belatedly learnt, a version of “Fun comes”. Nor is “panah” the refreshing summer mango drink. (As the ToI food reviewer would say, pun comes.)

**where much of the film was shot


  1. I will agree that Fanaa is not a great film. It might not even be a good one. But I have to take issue with your criticism of Aamir Khan as an actor.

    The reason I am surprised is this: what do you expect from our actors? Why can't they be cerebral? Was Balraj Sahni a worse actor than he could have been, because he had brains? And is the converse also true for you?

    Also I ask you, aren't you sick of the cookie cutter films and roles that someone like Shah Rukh and Amitabh Bachchan does? Where they look the same, sound the same, and act the same in each and every movie they make? What is the problem when someone like Aamir Khan tries to do something different in every film? Agreed he might not be able to pull it off each time (Mangal Pandey for e.g.) but can't we be thankful that someone, anyone in our film industry is trying?

    The most egregious, appalling part in your review is dissing of Sanjeev Kumar, perhaps the only actor who deserved to be called so (other than Aamir) in the last 40 odd years in the industry. Why do you feel that their "intelligence is always on display"? Have you seen the range of roles they can perform. Does the Sanjeev Kumar of Aandhi and Angoor seem the same to you? What about Khamosh and Silsila?

    Similarly, what commonality do you find in the Aamir of Sarfarosh and Ghulam? DCH, and Lagaan? Earth and Dil Hai ke Manta Hi Nahin?

    I feel that sometimes we are too critical of our own advantages. In our effort to be objective and be the all important "Film Critic" we hasten to criticise rather than evaluate. Aamir Khan is a great actor by all standards and if we can't appreciate his craft, then we deserve to be inflicted with the Nana Patakars and Shah Rukhs of the world.

    Maybe that would be good. Low expectations + hamming = plenty of work for the armchair critic.

  2. Shan, Nana Patekar's a pretty good actor, actually.

    Anyway, Fanaa. Right. There were some nice things in there, like the kid explaining why throwing away milk was futile, and the interval, when we had our first glimpse of Kabul Express (which looks like a superb movie!).

    But the highlight of it all was when the kid calls Rahul Dravid his father and goes to town with the 'Mr Dependable' thing. When he said that I drifted off into a fantasy/dream with a "spooky ululating sound and animated visuals of concentric circles", and imagined Dravid watching Fanaa, completely unaware of what was to come, gagging on his popcorn when it finally came, and leaving the poor kid an orphan.

  3. I have seen no signs till now that Kajol is a great actress, but when you say of Aamir that (his) 'intelligence is always on display' do you mean he's a self-conscious actor? I've never felt that though I agree he tends to take himself a bit too seriously in spite of a smart sense of humour. So what if he famously puts in a lot of effort into each role, as long as that effort doesn't show up on screen, it should be acceptable and even laudable, right?

    I know of your views re: Sanjeev Kumar, so won't get into that :)

  4. *Groan*

    Shan, I have neither the time nor the energy to get into the Sanjeev Kumar discussion again, so allow me to direct you to this old post. Enjoy reading the comments, and if you're still frothing at the mouth do get in touch with my friend Black Muddy River, who's far more eloquent on the subject than I am.

    A couple of specific rejoinders:

    Read the post properly before going off on a long rant. I've clearly said that I think Aamir is a good actor, despite all his posturing.

    I've never tried to be the all-important Film Critic (in fact, I more often get criticised for not being harsh enough in my reviews) - but that isn't going to stop me from writing what I think. Or from writing a lighthearted post about a film that I didn't think highly of. In fact, you're the one doing the browbeating here, with your martinet-like insistence that Aamir and Sanjeev Kumar were the only genuine actors in the last 40 years, and the general tone of your comment.

    P.S. If you reply, no personal insults please. Otherwise Delete Delete.

    Rahul: LOL

    as long as that effort doesn't show up on screen, it should be acceptable and even laudable, right

    Bagchi: my problem is that sometimes that effort does show up on screen. (Uma made a nice observation about this "cocky, intense" look he's developed in the last few years.) But like I said, on the whole I think he's quite good.

  5. I commented on your post on short review of "Racists" by Kunal Basu.

  6. Hello Jabberwock,

    here is a comment which has no relevance to your latest post because I am always several posts behind (the fact of iiving in Bordeaux has obviously nothing to do with it) I just remember your mentioning Enid Blyton the other day so thought you might like this from the Daily Telegraph :
    By the way, those drifting off scenes with concentric circles etc were very useful really because at least you knew the bloke making the film wanted you to know that 'whoever' was thinking back .....

  7. "Child actors should not be forced into unreasonable and unnatural acts like saying good things about Rahul Dravid."

    Especially not after the drubbing in the ODI series against the West Indies.

  8. It might have had its moments, but IMHO they were too few, far apart and more than offset by a pace that I found dreary. Hence, on this limited point, pls forgive, but I would disagree with you.

    I've posted my view and done a blogroll as well, where I'm now adding your post. Thanks.

  9. Haha!! very funny :)

    you should watch more Bollywood movies and blog about them!! They do arrange free screenings for critics and journalists, don't they?

  10. Well, it's my opinion against yours, so cool! In any case, if what you wrote about the "cocky" expression of Aamir Khan in everry film was actually meant to be a compliment to his acting, then I am really sorry I misread your post. I guess I am not very good at comprehending English.

    And please don't threaten to delete comments. I know it's your blog. You don't have to rub in the "my territory - so don't cross limits" thingie...:)

  11. nice review indeed.
    although you missed out on the themed refrain of 'yaaa maulaaaa' at moments of (even more heightened) romance/luurve/helplessness in love/lust etc. i would have made fun of that some more.
    also, how lame was kajol to try and outdo rani mukerji's blind girl act??
    for me, the movie was an excellent way to re-orient oneself towards bollywood after a selective diet of black, rang de basanti and other 'alternative' typologies for the last few years. indeed i went and became an extra for a forthcoming bipasha basu starrer the very next day. watch out for 'the lady at the slot machines'!

  12. Hi Jai,

    Couldn't find the relevant Sanjeev Kumar post on BlackMuddyRiver, but I did see a comment by you on Mystic River. You will probably be happy to know that I will avoid debating movies with you in the future. We obviously are very different from each other wrt movies. :))

    PS - Although for some reason I do agree that most Amitabh Bachchan movies, esp ones by Desai and Mehra et al are total crap, and that they ruined an actor by making him a star. That is the bane of Bollywood, right from Dev Anand, to Rajesh Khanna, to Shah Rukh Khan. They were/are all promising actors, as shown in a few films (Kaala Paani, Guide, Anand, Ittefaq, Bemisal, Shakti, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa etc.), but ended up sacrificing acting for the stardom that repetitiveness brings in India.

  13. Well, it's my opinion against yours, so cool!

    Ya well, but that goes without saying, doesn't it? Everything is about opinion and perspective anyway. I'm certainly not trying to present mine as the final word on any subject.

    One last thing: please tell me where I've written about "the 'cocky' expression of Aamir Khan in everry film". I've read and reread the post and I couldn't find it. In my reply to Bagchi's comment I said that sometimes the effort he puts in (along with the cocky, intense expression) shows up on screen.

  14. Shan: replying to your last comment. Sorry to keep bombarding you with links but if you're still interested, have a look at this post I wrote on the Middle Stage a year ago. You can skip the first 2-3 paras and come down to the bit about how "versatility" in screen acting can be an overrated (and misleading) concept.

    Based on your comments here, I don't expect that you'll agree with what I've written in that post. But treat it like a clarification of my thoughts on the subject, and also as a window into an alternative perspective/"opinion".

    P.S. Sure, so we differ on Mystic River. But looking at your Blogger Profile I find that I have very high regard for at least 4-5 of your other favourite movies (and all your favourite singers). We might grudgingly have to accept that our tastes do meet somewhere!

  15. Since I haven't seen Fanaa, I won't say anything about it.

    I will say this Sanjeev Kumar was seriously overrated as an actor.

  16. No problem with referring links to me. They are all uniformly interesting if not consistently agreeable.

    And you are right Jai. I do not agree with the theory of mannerisms. I am of the opinion that while repetitive (over a career) mannerisms might define an actor, it also constricts the actor. But I will also admit that it has no effect on the popularity of an actor. So my position is that when an actor becomes defined by his/her particular (peculiar) mannerisms, than what that actor has done is "acted" only one movie, and just carried that character on in the subsequent ones.

    Now this would be acceptable if the roles are the same or similar (I wouldn't want Superman to act like a sunny, happy superhero in one movie and a brooding murderer in another (although that might be fun sometimes). This similarity works for franchises or genre movies (for example, westerns, but even there Clint played against type in Unforgiven), but it does ruin a movie where the actor plays the same "character" in a "different" movie.

    Shah Rukh gets away with it because of two reasons. A)His recent movies can safely be called genre movies, so his character can stay the same; and B)Most audiences crave the safety of the familiar. But real actors choose to change according to roles, be it Brando, Kevin Spacey, or Johnny Depp, or more "character" actors like Chris Cooper, Marcia Gay Harden, Charlotte Rampling, and yes, Sean Penn (these are just a few). In the Indian context the counterparts are fewer - but according to me some of them do make the cut...but let me not name them because that will become the focus of the discussion.

    These actors not only change their mannerisms as per the character, they actually seek out new and different roles to challenge themselves and the audience. Frequently the audience is not up to it, and a movie fails. But these brilliant failures are as important and as precious as are the overwhelming successes.

    The problem with mannerisms is that when overdone, rather done over and over, they degenerate into caricatures, as has regrettably happened to so many famous ex-actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Nana Patekar, Robert DeNiro, and to an extent, even Al Pacino. Sometimes the story glosses them over, frequently not.

    I know there are times when we would prefer that actors just do what (we feel) suits them. In school, I wanted Cling Eastwood to play Dirty Harry all his life. He did oblige by making 5 movies and I enjoyed every one of them. But then he moved on, and thank heavens for that. Similarly, if Jim Carrey had been Eddie Murphy, we would never have got The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

    In conclusion, I say, hurray for the experimenters. May their tribe increase even in India.

    PS: Oh, and on whether Sanjeev Kumar succeeded in execution, I disagree completely. But then you already knew that. :)

  17. Hey Jai,

    I quoted you in my own movie review here.
    Hope you don't mind.

  18. Ha ha, funny way to look at the movie. I haven't seen it but my friend thought that first part was nothing less than a comedy movie with a desperate blind girl looking to hook up with the first guys she bumps into.

    I don't agree with you on the part that Kajol is not natural. I think she is very spontaneous. I will be watching the movie just for her... ;-)

  19. Ok. Let me point out that Sanjeev Kumar has been dragged into the debate unnecessarily. The piont is artists are moulded in the times and society that the live in and in their work they give their own judgement of it. Sanjeev Kumar did a good job of it. Maybe all the stalwarts of our Industry did it. Take the case of R D Burman. He transcended his times. That's genuis.

    And the genius of Aamir is that he is not following the diktat of what the times want.

  20. Good review of a bad movie. I had liked the first half, but did not liked the second half. Thanks for not mentioning anything about pre-release hype.

  21. having watched this movie last night ,i came out of the moviehall with only one thing in my mind 'Gujarat is not missing much' :)

  22. Just back from India and an onslaught of hideous advertising for Fanaa.

    I hope Kajol is not considered intlligent because she wears glasses and reads books (for all I know, it may well be like Hindi actresses saying they are well read because they read Jackie Collins) - she has been merrily arching her eyebrows and looking pained in movie after movie as a sign of good acting. Aamir unfortunately looks like a very dissolute Botticelli angel at 40 which undermines the kind of roles he plays.

    Naa no Fanaa for me.

  23. Perhaps many wouldn't agree with me but Amir has his mannerisms. Only they are not as etched out as Shah Rukh's or Dev Anand's. But they are there alright.
    And Shan, yes, I do find the Amir of Fanaa, Sarfarosh and even QSQT to be quite similar. May be, I'd say he was different in Ghulam

  24. Shama, do you blog? Would love to read more from you. The following lines have converted me into a fan - so funny and so damn true!

    "I hope Kajol is not considered intlligent because she wears glasses and reads books (for all I know, it may well be like Hindi actresses saying they are well read because they read Jackie Collins)"


    "Aamir unfortunately looks like a very dissolute Botticelli angel at 40 which undermines the kind of roles he plays."

  25. Hi London Ladki, thanks for that! Unfortunately I don't blog, perhaps I should give it some thought. I read lit blogs quite often though and the comments page allows me to exercise my acid wit on easy targets - like Hindi film "stars":-)

  26. hi,
    well, i don't agree with you guys about what you said about fanaa, kajol and her chemistry with aamir.
    fanaa as a film is a good film. personally, i like it so much and i think it did well at the box office.
    kajol is a great actress, very talented and so natural. none can deny this fact. her performance in the film was so strong and great; it was appreciated by all. what a comeback!!!!!! so, kajol i think was the reason that fanaa made that success.
    and about kajol and aamir chemistry, i think they are the jodi of the year. their chemistry is new, fresh, hot,..... i think that aamir finally finds his co-star (kajol). so kajol aamir jodi are really great and new because we as viewers get bored from the repetitive jodis.