Sunday, 9 December 2007

Vintage. Period.

Raving about retro seems to have become a good pastime for most style gurus in India today, courtesy OSO. The Bollywood mindset currently celebrates its own past. The trend may have been set by Mahesh Bhatt's self-justifying movie 'Woh Lamhe' based on the gorgeous Parveen Babi.

But a new release 'Khoya Khoya Chand' goes beyond retro, into the vintage period of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The protagonist Nikhat (played by Soha Ali Khan) is a combine of Nargis, Madhubala, Meena Kumari , the reigning goddesses of this black and white era, with persona as pure as driven snow.

Sudhir Mishra, the film's maker needs to be congratulated for telling the story as it is. Mark my word, this movie will not be a super hit like its distant cousin OSO, as it certainly drags at times. But, the compelling way the story has been told needs to be highlighted. This is the story of Nikhat, a top heroine who started her life at 14 on a casting couch, only to climb the rungs of stardom after getting into relationships with people who mattered.

This story has no plot. It is a slice of life, showing a web of relationships, where personal and professional lives are interchangeable, pursuit of glamour and success a question of survival and above all, a tale which exposes the severe exploitation of successful actresses in the hands of producers, co-stars, directors and yes, even their own families.....

One aspect really impressed me: The heroine, unlike her reel persona was not a sati savitri. She was supposed to be a tough woman of the world who knew she had to survive the rat race. But she was innocent in her love all the same. Chastity and love were two different sides of the spectrum. There is one scene which I will never forget---the heroine indulges in self-pity and laments the fact that she had been used by the the reigning superstar, who after bedding her several times and recommending her to big directors marries someone else. The hero just reminds her that everything had been done with her consent so she had not right to crib...

Shiney Ahuja who plays scriptwriter Zafar, scorches the screen with his smouldering expressions and extremely powerful presence. Soha Ali Khan does a fine job, but I feel she could have put more passion into her character. Maybe the responsibility of this author-backed role was too heavy for her young shoulders? (Sets me wondering, would Vidya Balan, the first choice for this role, be better?). Anyway, Soha reminded me of her mom in her heydays.

This movie will not interest front benchers as it has no fairytale romance or hot item numbers. It is not a formula film, but is a tale that had to be told. For thinking people, it is a treat to watch the dark blue light and shade camera work, the sepia tinted frames, the rustle of benarasi silk and the strains of 1950s Hindi film numbers. I wonder how many of us would bother to subject ourselves to this treat....a handful perhaps?

1 comment:

Hoity726 said...

The story, as related by honestinjun, reminds me of a Smita Patil film from the 1980s, whose name was probably Manthan. Period films, when handled by a superior director (Ray, Speilberg, Copolla,Attenborough,etc.)end up both didactic and delectable, translate into box office successes too. Why? Probably because because they make us relate to that part of our collective past which we cherish. Or, maybe the theme is too powerful to matter whether the setting is 19th Century England or 21st Century India.Honestinjun's moving prose takes me back to the time when I used to attend the British Council's film screenings. They not only showcased the best movies but each screening was followed up by a lively discussion on its cinematic language, treatment, camera work, and, most importantly, the historic context. Attending them, I got an early insight into the dimensional probe aspect that gifted auteurs put to play. They stress that retro is not only about mahogany furniture and propellor aircraft, but also the art of resurrecting old mindsets. When you are depicting society of the 1950s, you need to recall the prejudices that shaped people's vision back then. For example, people were much more conscious of their caste background than they are today. Yet, there was none of the conflict that you see now, because people accepted -- almost fatalistically you might say -- the subtle borderlines within society. These constitute sub-plots demanding delicate and without-comment handling.There is one kind of film maker who sees the past with present-day glasses. That's unwise. You should float above the happenings without intervening. Now, the most difficult part is, how do you pack in a message for today from a story on yesterday? Well, I don't know. But what I do know is there lies the difference between a good period film and a disaster.Often times, there are goof-ups galore. Directors who don't have an eye for detail often use models of cars that made their appearance later than the historical backdrop. They even play dance music of the 1980s in the 1960s. And so on.