Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Aaal well indeed.

Aamir Khan’s annual Christmas present has opened to a fantastic response. I was expecting a lot from this film for 2 reasons – first because it stars Aamir Khan  and second because it is directed by Raju Hirani. From the two earlier films of Hirani it is clear that he literally thinks out of the box and is secure enough in his rather ethical outlook on life, to try and convert the cynical viewer. To get the audience to agree with Gandhi in India is astonishing. And yet he managed it triumphantly in his last film. In 3 idiots he has a much easier task. That of telling us that our education system stinks. We know that already, and agree wholeheartedly.

Aamir does his role of a genius-with-not-the-slightest-interest-in-marks as brilliantly as one could expect from him. Am more than a little sick of the ageing 40+ stars playing students, one of the reasons I was not sure about this film – but that just doesn’t come up as a glitch, as Aamir looks seriously young. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi who make up the other 2 idiots, are reliably good too. Kareena Kapoor plays the simple girl well enough, but really, there is not much for her to do. ( Manish Malhotra dresses her in pretty but fuss-free clothes for a change and she looks super). Boman Irani shuffles around in his typical professor attire looking like grim the reaper and inducing you to chuckles.

The story uses Chetan Bhagat’s 5 point-someone as a base but makes some significant changes, the most important one being the mystery behind Rancho (Aamir). Hirani’s refusal to be in awe of the wealthy or the titled or the certified, makes up much of the altered vision in this story. The black-and-white take on the poverty-stricken parents of Sharman whose filmily sad lives still manages to evoke good-natured-humour must be a first for hindi cinema. The movie packs in every dramatic situation – from the runaway bride to natural birth by engineers-turned-nervous-obstetricians. It’s all there - masala entertainment that still tells you the hero could be from some godforsaken part of unmainstream India. I believe the critics are holding back their stars after gushing about something as insipid as New York. Fikar not – you are going to love this one.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Keep, Keep, Keep, Thy blue ship……..

I was prepared to be blown by the whole experience. That, definitely did not happen. There are any number of films that I have seen, even in the recent past, that I would say are far better than Avatar. Having got that clear (and out of my system) let me say that I would recommend the movie to any fellow-movie-buff.

Everyone, by now, knows that the movie is about Earthlings trying to infiltrate the Na’vi – a blue-skinned alien species – so that they may obtain the unobtainium which is available in plenty on this alien planet and which is desperately needed by the dying planet of the humans. So ex-marine Jake Sully is given a Na’vi avatar and sent off to their astonishingly beautiful planet to learn what he can so that the knowledge can be used to get to the unobtainium. That being the premise on which the film unravels, the viewer spends the first half of the film expected to marvel at the flora, fauna and Na’vis on the planet. It gets boring pretty quickly. There is a surprising lack of characterizing in the film – so that the main actors are no more than clich├ęd stereotypes. I can see how this might have helped the good-vanquishes-evil kind of story-telling philosophy that works for any good myth or fable where the characters end up representing certain qualities that we all aspire to. In this particular case, that did not happen. I wanted to see more flesh, figuratively speaking, on the characters. Instead Sully is the intrepid warrior who is child-like in his simplicity; the girl is beautiful and innocent and trusting; the scientist understands the beauty of this alien world and wishes to preserve it, realizing we can learn from it; the”colonel” is a trigger-happy moron (which is the only okay characterization as far as I am concerned coz there is nothing so stupid as the chest-thumping-aggro-male) and so on. Surely, even sci-fi benefits from the eccentricity and individuality of its characters?

In the process of being accepted into the fold, Sully predictably aces the tests (the most important one being akin to taming the bucking bronc) and falls in love with the chief’s daughter.

The second half gets far better however as the climactic war between the humans and the Na’vis unfolds. The central philosophy of the Na’vis, which is that we are all part of the system on our planet and NOT creatures meant to rule it has been laid out earlier. As far back as in Asimov’s Foundation, humans ultimately learn to live as part of Gaia (a Greek name for Earth) so that all their actions enhance HER well-being. The emotional parts in the film came from these references – that the colonel and his army would kill their “own mother”, that you are automatically an enemy if you are sitting on "shit" that other people want (America in Iraq), the colonel swearing to “fight terror with terror” after initiatinganall-out invasion on another race...etc.
The war scene is something else and deserves every bit of the praise being heaped on the film. I was watching the whole thing literally open-mouthed. The lithe blue aliens with their unsophisticated weaponry against the ultra-sophisticated army of humans proves to be a visual treat. And when the underdogs win in the most unexpected ways, you can’t help but cheer them. So, you leave the show feeling that it was money well spent.
Now if only Hollywood’s sympathy for aliens could be reflected in their country’s foreign policy towards the non-white countries…….sigh!