16 May, 2011

The lunch box fable ; Stanley ka Dabba

A long long time ago there was a guy called Aesop. He told simple tales about animals and people. There was a difference though, each of his story had a moral at the end of it thus giving a story the depth of a fable. These tales have become immortal and are popularly known as Aesop’s Fables or “Isaap Neeti”. This simple style of storytelling went missing until the last Friday the 13th May 2011.

 Along comes Amole Gupte to tell us a fable of a lunch box and a kid called  Stanley. He then makes it into a movie and calls it “Stanley ka Dabba”. 

Amole Gupte hit the radar of cine viewers with "Taare Zammen Par" a masterpiece of a story, it was later directed & produced by Aamir Khan and made history. Thereafter he was seen in a stellar cameo in Vishal Bharadwaj’s - Kaminney as the virulent right wing thug turned politico. This role was essayed with such a razor sharp brilliance that the world had found a new actor willing to stretch the envelope.

The sheer simplicity of the storytelling in "Stanley ka Dabba" is so elegant that one views the whole world through Stanley’s eyes. You are hooked right from the titles which by themselves are so creative that please don’t go late for the show. 

It is the story of Stanley and his Hindi teacher Babulal Verma. Stanley doesn’t ever bring a lunch box to the school and tells stories in free patches of class time; he eats up from his friends boxes. This trait has a deeper parallel in Verma Sir’s personality who himself is a cheap freeloader. Verma Sir, played by Amole Gupte himself…absolutely superb…is deservedly called “Khadoos” by his students. For sure we have, when in school given special names to some of our teachers. The instant naming ritual is invariably so apt that it sticks to the teacher forever. 
Haven’t we all had crushes on some of our teachers like “Rosie miss” who is at the cusp of her new life, enacted by the lovely easy performing Divya Dutta .The stern faced science teacher “Mrs.Iyer” Divya Jagdale is quite superb in her role as the rather self centered, portion specific, blinkered vision teachers we largely encounter in our schools. 

But quite simply the movie belongs to Stanley played by Partho Numaan and his clique of friends, who fight, frolic and generously share life space with each other freely. Childhood is the one time where there are no inhibitions, as to who is who and the dividing lines are yet to appear. It is in this aspect that the movie scores.The film maker deserves a double pat on his back for not only writing a superb script but also preserving the spontaneity of the main characters. It is a balancing act of the highest order. The message that seeps across to us at the end of the movie is so very gently put out that it hits all the more harder on this account.

The movie sizzles like the tadka’s and the jhaukas from the pots, pans and tiffin( Lunch) boxes being stuffed by mothers that the lines of a song, lyrics written by Gupte himself poke at you…"don’t look so critically…at the food…its not just food but love packaged in a tiffin box." The camera by Amol Gole, (he surely has to be a foodie) teases your eyes, to a point that one almost smells the aroma of the food as it gets prepared, packed or unpacked when each Dabba is opened. Very rightly goes the catch line of the movie…”Every Dabba has a story”. The cameos by Shivkumar Subramanian & Raj Zutshi as the teachers, Aditya Lakhia as the peon, Rahul Singh as the Jesuit Principal and the rest of the cast are so competent that it seamlessly becomes the world of Stanley and his Holy Family High School. There is a cinema for kids and a cinema about kids, Amole Gupte manages to fuse in both of these superbly.

A few years back Vishal Bharadwaj made “Makdee” a wonderful film that he followed up with the “Blue Umbrella” the baton was picked up by Gupte who came up with “Taare Zameen Par” and now “Stanley ka Dabba”. The ability to see the world through a child’s uncluttered innocent and hopeful vision is what lingers from this story. Personally am mighty glad that a credible effort is being made to make such a film and keep this cinema alive. 

14 May, 2011

Bal Gandharva: Two Reviews

Word of mouth got us into the theater to watch the latest hot offering from the Marathi Cinema world- Bal Gandharva.

What’s it about?
The stage performer who got butchered by progress in the entertainment field called cinema, the stubborn showman who refused to give up his own perceived purity of the art form for commercial compulsions, the one who performed seamlessly on stage in the face of personal tragedy, the one who blindly trusted his friends for everything despite it being detrimental, the man who left a devoted household for the arms of a beautiful artiste who worshiped his art, the man for whom the stage was a reality and reality was a stage, was the man popularly known as Bal Gandharva and this is his story.

Bal Gandharva the movie, is about Narayan Shripad Rajhans; a singing child prodigy. The title was bestowed upon him by Lokmanya Tilak. The growth of the man, into a ready natya sangeet ( musical plays) performer is the graph of this movie.  He belonged to an era in which women did not act on stage & male performers had to play the parts of female characters. This was the place where the singer gained his fame. By far the artist to have played the most number of female characters on stage he was synonymous for playing Draupadi, Shakuntala, Bhamini and making each performance memorable for his viewers. He is also responsible for popularizing classical music (shastriya sangeet) through the medium of the stage. His progress from a child prodigy to an artist working in Kirloskar Music Company, to breaking away to form his own theater group, his lavish stylish magnum opuses on stage that led to fame as well as personal bankruptcy is the thread of this story.

No sooner than I reached home and got my first call from a friend who asked me why was the phone shut, to be told that I had gone to see “Bal Gandharva”. How was it? This question sparked off a chain of thought and told him read my review. Now I find myself in a quandary…Did I like the film or Did I not like the film? And I had a Yes as an answer to both the questions. How is that possible? One cant like a movie and not like it equally at the same time can one? Apparently going by this film one can. Here is a movie I shall grandly sit on the fence and agree with both who passionately liked it and those who dismissed it. Read On.

Heads…I Liked it

The fact that somebody chose a topic like this one to make a film is an act of ultimate bravery. Bio-pic’s of famous personalities are typically controversy generating subjects and any attempt in this direction is an effort definitely worth lauding. 

Subodh Bhave, the lead actor who discovered the Gandharva Gatha and thought that it had the potential for a film and took it to Nitin Chandrakant Desai to produce. Ravi Jadhav who had earlier directed Natrang was chosen to captain the ship. Subodh Bhave the prime mover was charged up to play the most challenging role of his career. Subodh Bhave plays the lead actor and has lived the role. His entry is dramatic and beautiful. The support cast is large and numerous faces flit in and off the frames and few do make a mark. Vibhavari Deshpande as his wife is competent and so is Suhas joshi as the mother and Anand Abhyankar as his uncle. There are three cameos that are memorable. First one is by Avinash Narkar as the scheming friend with an agenda, Kishore Kadam as the friend and partner who doesn’t scheme and finally the most polished one comes from Manoj  Joshi who plays the role of patron merchant from Karachi. His is the one act that lingers on.

In a movie on a musician theater artist it would have been a real challenge to choose the right Music Director and this is the one stroke of pure genius in the choice of Kaushal Inaamdar. Thankfully they did not choose the flavour of the season the duo of Ajay Atul, though talented their heavy leaning on folk would have hampered the measured pace of this movie. This required a music director who would also have an academic researching bent of mind and one who would seamlessly replay and recreate the sounds of the era of Bal Gandharva on pure musical instruments. The songs would be Bal Gandharvas song and there would be very little scope for original music. One sufi sant vani at the end is all he gets. But the background score that Inamdar scores makes him the unsung hero of the film.
With Nitin Chandrakant Desai as the producer all expectations on making the period setting perfect was a given and he does not disappoint. Neeta Lulla at the helm of costumes does a superb job saving a small and minor blip that can be overlooked. The jewelery looks neither Maharashtrian nor period. The story has pace and moves on through the life of the artist mapping history religiously and accurately.

Is the movie worth a watch? Definitely it is & for Marathi Cinema to have come up with a production value of this kind is commendable and immensely pleasing. Subodh Bhave looks the part and is focused in his essaying and one can with a definite measure of satisfaction say that he raises the benchmark of his own ability for this role. Would this find a way into the running for the National award? Yes it will, because it has the right names associated with it and with a teeny weeny ministerial support might even see itself as one of the winners.

Tails…Something was off

There are bio-pics and then there are bio-pics. Harishchandrachi Factory and the comparisons are inevitable ( what with the period being similar, and similar kind of passionate individuals on whom the stories are based ) here was a bio-pic that got it just right. Bal Gandharva overdoes it in certain departments and doesn’t quite reach there.

There are times when one feels that there is far too much attention to form over substance. The disclaimer that it is difficult to do justice to a life of an individual in a 3 hour format sounds to me too much like an apology which makes me revert with did I ask you to make the film? I know it is difficult, am an engaged mature viewer so don’t take me for granted. 

The production value of the movie is excellent and the musical score by Kaushal Inamdar is authentic and these are the areas which the director has got right. Many actors who come in a scene and go are wasted, either they got edited on the table but I felt Manoj Joshi was underutilized and even spotted Lokesh Gupte in a scene and the movie does not give him a single line. Maybe he just wanted a presence in his best friends film, who knows, one can only speculate. Vibhavari Deshpande who also plays the wife is in danger of being typecast as the number one wife choice for early 20th Century characters. She is the wife in Harsihchandrachi factory too and there while she smiled and laughed here she has cried. but who wouldn’t when the Hero of the film goes about wearing far more spectacular sarees than his wife. 

My one grouse with the film is that it skims the surface. There is a very sensual possibility in a scene where Narayan enters the nuptial chamber to have his waiting wife eagerly express that she would like to see him in his female ensemble. He is furious and walks out, she is petrified with what she has asked for only to have him return as per her wish. Their embrace truly walks the line for a Marathi film and this is the characterization that is missing from the whole film. Subodh Bhave looks good but as an actor who flits from being a male to a female back to interacting as a male there is a whole chapter lost. The gender fluctuation has serious psychological depths and it is this act left unexplored which disappoints as it remains in the safe genre of staged performances and music. There is a darker shade to the performance of a willful character who is a cross dressing musician par excellence which has not entered the cognitive zone of either the director or the lead actor, or perhaps deliberately skipped to preserve the sensibilities of the explosive Marathi audience. 

In a case where the packaging tries to compete with the substance and in parts even overshadows it there is a serious danger of the film not connecting? At some levels the film did not connect with me and this is the kind of cinema which deeply disappoints. The one where no effort is spared to get it right, everyone in the cast and crew gives it their all and only had the captain got the emotional depth right then I am sure they may not have had to write the particular disclaimer at the beginning of the film.