Passion play

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 30.01.10
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In Rann, director Ram Gopal Varma attempts to expose how the country’s electronic media is increasingly sacrificing journalistic ethics at the altar of sordid sensationalism, all in a cut-throat bid to stay ahead in the TRP game.

But in an irony of sorts, the treatment of this relevant and sensitive subject is carried out in the same sensationalist — often over-the-top — manner that the maker of films like Company and Satya censures throughout the film. Overly dramatic and with a predilection for the hyperbolic, Rann is a film that promises too much and delivers too little.

With a linear narrative, unidimensional characters that are either too cardboard or too caricaturish and a been-there-seen-that feel from Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3, Corporate and Satta — and even Varma’s own Sarkar — the predictable Rann fails to impress for a large part of its 150 minutes.

To expose the sordid goings-on in the field of electronic journalism and the politician-businessman-media nexus that is claimed to be dictating the content and tenor of the news being dished out today, RGV pits idealistic channel honcho Vijay Harshvardhan Malik (Bachchan) against his morally corrupt son Jai (Sudeep). While the upright Malik Sr is unwilling to succumb to falsehood and sensationalism to save his news channel (India 24x7) from bankruptcy, Malik Jr is willing to stop at nothing — lies, deceit and even murder — to up his TRPs and steal the thunder from Ambrish Kakkar (Mohnish Behl), the unscrupulous head of a rival-and more successful-channel.

Frustrated with the idealistic patriarch, the son joins hands with his businessman brother-in-law Naveen (Rajat Kapoor) and corrupt Prime Minister-in-waiting Mohan Pandey (Rawal) to hatch a conspiracy that threatens to alter the political fabric of the country and catapult the channel to the top in the viewership game. Reduced to an ignorant puppet in his son’s hands, Malik Sr unknowingly becomes party to the murky mess as his equally idealistic protege Purab Shastri (Riteish) takes it upon himself to unearth the grisly truth.

Touching upon a novel subject, Rann had the potential to be a powerful drama, but like most of his films in the recent past, Varma squanders the opportunity by choosing sensation over substance. The moving scene of Bachchan chancing upon the truth and his subsequent 10-minute soliloquy in which he talks about the role and responsibility, the perils and pitfalls of the media sum up what Rann could have been.

Cinematographer Amit Roy shoots the film in muted grey and iridescent blue, but negates the good work by resorting to weird camera angles and unnecessary top shots that do nothing to heighten the drama. Add to that the pounding-into-the-brain background score — a RGV trademark — that is used (unnecessarily) in almost every minute of the film. Sample this: the background score heightens when a viewer picks up the TV remote, reaching a crescendo as his finger touches the power button!

Rann also suffers on account of the loopholes in the plot. Why would a man, hailed to be the best journalist in the country, run a tape implicating the head of state without checking the source or credentials? How is a cub reporter made part of the decision-making meetings of a channel? How does the second in command of a channel sell company secrets to a rival in full public view?

A film with as hard-hitting a subject as Rann should have relied on powerful dialogues, but the film falters on this count too. From “news ko masala banake becho” to “computer ke zamaane mein typewriter nahin chalta”, the lines vary from the trite to inane. And the less said about the lyrics, the better. “Big, big news, breaking news. Remote ko baahar phenk, sirf mera channel dekh,” goes a song!

Rann is resurrected by some of the performances, but even that is as inconsistent as the film. Saddled with a powerful role, southern star Sudeep shows promise in some scenes, but overdoes it for the most part. Paresh Rawal predictably handles the role of a Ray Ban-sporting corrupt politician well while Riteish Deshmukh’s character is too sketchy to make much of an impression. Rajat Kapoor ably reprises his Corporate role of a slimy industrialist. The women — from Gul Panag to Neetu Chandra to Suchitra Krishnamurthy to Simone Singh — function as mere props.

But in the end, if Rann is worth a watch, it is on account of one man. One man who has been at it for 40 years. From an ageing idealist holding on to his principles in the face of adversity and opposition to a helpless father reduced to a pawn in his son’s hands to a true citizen willing to sacrifice family for nation, Bachchan makes the Rann journey worthwhile. Almost.

Ishqiya opens with one of the most erotic shots in recent movie memory. Vidya Balan as the lady in red — a sari draped around her voluptuous body — lies on the bed in a manner reminiscent of Roman nude paintings and hums in the voice of Rekha Bhardwaj: Ab mujhe koi intezaar kahaan....

With this one frame, debutant director Abhishek Chaubey sets the tone for the next 120 minutes that will see passion play in its most refreshingly primal form. A game that will also see a lot of blood and gore — replete with a free flow of the choicest cuss words — which do not necessarily have anything to do with the fire burning in body and soul. As Vidya’s Krishnaji says coldly: “Ishq mein sab bewajah hota hai.”

Chaubey has been Vishal Bhardwaj’s associate right from his Makdee days and Vishal’s also written the dialogues and co-written (with Chaubey and Sabrina Dhawan) the screenplay of Ishqiya, besides scoring the music for the film. Fortunately the protege speaks the same language, on paper and on celluloid... a language soaked in world cinema, yet rooted in earthiness. And after Maqbool and Omkara, it’s now almost an acquired taste for Bollywood watchers.

Ishqiya’s ingenuity starts from its one-line concept. Two crafty crooks on the run are helped by a village widow, with whom both fall helplessly in love. This may remind you of Yang Shu-peng’s Chinese gem The Robbers but Chaubey’s canvas is smaller and his main course here is the internal dynamics of the three players. And that is why the plot tying the pieces together is lame and like Vishal did with Kaminey, the first-time director resorts to meaningless mayhem to bring the curtains down.

But before we get to the troughs, let’s celebrate the crests that make Ishqiya quite an irresistible offering.

From the moment Khalujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) and his nephew Babban (Arshad Warsi) land up at Krishna’s house in Gorakhpur, mausam aashiqana hota jaata hai. The badlands of UP become the bedroom for a couple of budding romances — one between Khalujaan and Krishna and the other between Babban and Krishna. But love is not a four-letter word for either of them.

For Khalujaan, love is about listening to Krishna do the morning riyaaz on her tanpura. He peels garlic, she hums an old Jaidev song. They debate who the music director of Anupama was — SD Burman or Hemant Kumar. The closest they ever get is when she sits in front of him on the cycle rod and the two ride by the river.

Babban does not care for the language of gaana bajaana. For the man who sniffs out a red light area in every town he visits, love is powered by testosterone. He would rather caress Krishna’s bare back than hear her sing. And only when she drops her armour (read pallu), would he contemplate a nikaah. After a bout of dirty dancing, that is.

But which side of love is Krishna on? Is she a pari or a tawaif? A gulab ki patti or a desi tamancha?

And the beauty of Vidya Balan’s performance lies in her keeping us dangling for the answer. Forget the pronounced deglamorisation or the gandi gandi gaali on her lips, Vidya makes Krishna such a fascinating character by never letting you know what’s going on in her head. She sucks one man’s thumb, she dresses the other man’s wound. She puts her head on one man’s shoulder, she draws the other man to her bed. In your bid to find out who she really wants, you will fall in love with Krishnaji.

It’s always good to see Naseeruddin Shah, even when he is doing nothing. He hardly disappoints and here too he is in fine form but his genius comes through only in a couple of sequences. Watch his facial expressions during the Dil toh bachcha hai ji song and you will feel the magic. And the scene when he gives it back to Vidya, when she tells him: “Aapko toh theek se jhooth bolna bhi nahin aata.” He looks into her eyes and says: “Mard hoon naa!”

But it is Arshad Warsi who is the real surprise of Ishqiya. Saddled by bad choices and casual performances, Arshad finally breaks the Circuit with Babban. The characteristic guffaws are there but it is the raw intensity and the smouldering passion which Arshad brings to Babban that makes him magnetic. The kiss he shares with Vidya has to be seen to be believed. Look no further, this is the real thing and Bollywood has finally got there.

A Vishal Bhardwaj soundtrack is a treat because it always complements the images. Besides the brilliant Dil toh bachcha hai ji, which is almost like a lost Madan Mohan song, Ibn-e-Batuta and Badi dheere jali are two beautiful tracks. Cheap thrills include how he uses RD Burman’s Dhanno ki aankhon mein and a very-Ennio Morricone closing theme. Mohana Krishna’s cinematography is stylish yet easy on the eye.

Allow for little nonchalance here, a little self-indulgence there and Ishqiya is definitely one of the most assured debuts in recent Hindi cinema.

We recommend you catch this Abhishek Chaubey film for a rollercoaster rustic ride through ishq aaj kal. Otherwise you may just end up being called ‘ch***yam sulphate’!