Julie M: It took many sessions on the exercise bike, but I finally finished Raincoat (2004). Such a pleasure to see Ajay out of action-hero mode, and amazing chemistry between him and Aishwarya Rai. Good performances all around and well-integrated music in the background. She managed to look lovely and sad and beaten all at once, and the performance seemed to foreshadow her role in Guzaarish. A+, all around.
Plot summary: Manu (Ajay Devgan) is an out-of-work millworker from a rural area who has come to the big city of Kolkata to try and drum up investments from friends to fund a new business venture. On a whim he decides to visit Neeru (Aishwarya Rai), a former girlfriend who had dumped him six years previously to marry a wealthier man more acceptable to her family. They spend a rainy afternoon together, discussing old times and their current lives (during which they shamelessly lie to each other without the other knowing), and a surprise ending recalls the famous O. Henry short story “The Gift of the Magi.”
Jenny K: I loved their reminiscences of their past. And Ajay was very good playing against type. No toughguy here, until the end, maybe.
Julie M: Funny, but the way it was performed I thought it was originally a stage play, because it’s basically a one-scene piece. The part at the beginning and end with Manu’s friends seemed tacked-on; I could have done with just the two characters, but I guess there had to be a way to explain his life otherwise we would not have known.
Jenny K: You’re right, it’s very suitable for the theater. This was close on the heels of Choker Bali, both directed by Rituparno Ghosh, and was at the height of Aish’s “I can prove that I’m not just a pretty face” campaign. Raincoat works much better for me than Choker Bali, which was glacially slow, if earnestly played.
Julie M: Raincoat is available free on YouTube, in parts. Here’s Part 1.
Jenny K: I had a productive (for the blog) night, last night…I ran an Irrfan Double Header! Thank God for art films, because it made a twofer possible, not often feasible in Indianfilmland, without a mid-afternoon start and serious munchie fortification.
First up was Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar (2010) which I have been trying to see for quite some time, but it never made it to any of my local theaters. But now it’s on Netflix streaming!
As a film, you feel as if you’ve seen it before…familiar, yet with such odd mash-ups that the results are unique. At times it feels like Chariots of Fire, but set in the military…then there are bits of Sholay‘s Gabbar Singh in a rather Robin Hood kinda mood. Also strong Bimal Roy tinges of “what’s a poor self respecting farmer to do when life gives you a rotten roti?” And the answer seems to have been cribbed from the Bhagat Singh Handbook. Here’s the trailer.
The film is extremely watchable. Irrfan has such an expressive face, it’s a pleasure just to have him on screen. The story begins with a disclaimer that the plot is based on true people and incidents, but is a work of fiction and any similarities to real people are coincidental??? Is it just me, or doesn’t the first half of that statement preclude the second? Oh well…
The story is that of a peaceful, unremarkable young man from a village, who joins the military as his only escape. He was born under a wandering star, says his wife’s fortuneteller. But she knows that he’ll always come back to her, no matter how long the walkabout. While in the army, he signs up for the athletic program because he loves to run, and to get more food. He does have quite the appetite, does Paan Singh Tomar, and boy, can he run. All the way to being National Champion of the steeplechase, and all over the world.
He seems completely happy with his military life, his racing and the occasional visits home to see his wife and kids…until…his cousin, Bahwar Singh (Jahangir Khan) steals his sugarcane crop. It seems Bahwar resents the local running celebrity just showing up infrequently and not doing any of the work around the village fields, so he takes what he wants from Paan Singh’s fields, too, which he regards as his due for not being the prodigal son.
When PST asks for recompense, his cousin ignores him. PST goes to the police. They ignore him. He tries to call in favors from his army bosses…heck, he’s a national sports hero, after all! Well, they send in a mediator to try the case, and find in Paan Singh’s favor, but aren’t willing to enforce anything. Seems his clippings and medals get him only so much, and no more. Bahwar Singh just laughs and burns the cane, sends PST’s wife and kids running for cover, beats up his mother who stays to defend the house, and then destroys said house. What’s a law abiding man to do when the authorities don’t care? Become a dacoit, of course!
The plot sort of goes where you expect it to after that, however, the trip is well worth the taking. Irrfan and his supporting cast are wonderful, the atmosphere evocative, and the mood is increasingly more oppressive as the film unfolds. You know why Paan Singh does what he does. He’s a rebel, not a dacoit, as he says, repeatedly, to any who will listen. If the following interview with surviving relatives is anything to go by, he did have no choice.
This film is on YouTube, too. In parts, here.
Julie M: I love anything Irrfan Khan does. You had me interested by just saying his name!
Jenny K: The second part of the twofer was The Warrior (2001). Directing his first feature film, Asif Kapadia hits one out of the park on this film. A short film (about 90 minutes) this film is long on impact. It’s shot with practically no conversation, all in vibrant visuals. Taken from a tiny mention of a story of samurai life, writers Kapadia and Tim Miller along with DP Roman Osin, weave a mesmerizing story of a warrior who gives up his life as an official kingdom assassin, tired of what his liege lord asks him to do. Unfortunately, that decision costs him his home and everything dear to him. Here’s the trailer.
Lacfadia, the warrior, flees from his fellow enforcers who are sent after him to stop his escape, and having taken a vow to never raise a weapon against defenseless people again, his flight is a desperate one. Irrfan, practically silent, is even more expressive than he normally is with words. He takes up a few wanderers he meets on his seemingly aimless quest for spiritual peace. One of which, a petty thief named Riaz, played by Noor Mani, does an equally impressive job. Noor posted excerpts from his own performance here on Youtube, but it gives a nice cross section of the film’s tone.
This young man had been living a life on the street before he found an acting school set up by Mira Nair’s people when Salaam, Bombay! needed non-professional actors. Actually, most of the actors in this film were non-professionals, and the director, Mr. Kapadia, got some amazing performances from them. Great behind the scenes pieces on the DVD…almost as much footage as the film itself!
This one is definitely worth the watch. It felt a lot like Tarsem Singh’s The Fall with its eloquent silences and beautiful scenery, and also a bit like Road, Movie in the collection of oddly assorted travellers, that we reviewed earlier in our Abhay Deol Fest. The intimate interaction between relative strangers is there in all three films. Get it if you can…probably is a library choice as it won the BAFTA in 2003 for best picture.
Julie M: WOW. I’m speechless with the quality of both of these films and of course with Irrfan Khan as the lead performer. I’ve got to get hold of them! Library has neither. Bummer!
Jenny K: Well, it is on YouTube, but no subtitles…I’ve watched some like that, but it can be frustrating…
Julie M: Whew, finally finished Tehzeeb (Etiquette, 2003). Major EFD (emotional family drama)! I’m still recovering.
Brief plot summary: Tehzeeb (Urmila Matondkar) grew up as the lonely daughter of famous singer Rukhsana (Shabana Azmi). Her character has been shaped by the witnessing, at age 10 or so, the murder of her beloved father (excellent cameo appearance by Rishi Kapoor) by her mother, a crime for which Rukhsana was acquitted; however, despite years of suppressed horror and rage, she still admires her mother and she is still the emotional center of Tehzeeb’s life. Tehzeeb, once an aspiring singer but now a housewife, is married to romance novelist Salim (Arjun Rampal, sigh), and they live with and care for her developmentally disabled sister, Nazneen (Dia Mirza). Here’s their great meet-cute scene.
Jenny K: Actually, this is the first movie where I found Arjun attractive. He does grow on you.
Julie M: One day Rukhsana announces that she is coming for a visit for the first time since Tehzeeb and Salim married five years ago; the prospect of this throws Tehzeeb for a loop. The next few weeks expose buried feelings and contradictions, rub raw nerve endings and lead to confrontations, disclosures and more.
It’s rare that I get to see an Indian movie that centers so strongly on complex female relationships. You’d think, with Bollywood’s preference to avoid niche marketing, that such a project would never be greenlighted unless it was liberally sprinkled with dishoom, or at least some scantily clad gori dancers. But all this female bonding, to me, was treated too superficially.
The schmaltzy background music was more suited to TV soap operas than a mainstream movie, and the requisite hospital scene near the end had me rolling my eyes. Nevertheless, I appreciated the character conflicts even if they were handled in a daytime-drama way (from sets, costumes and staging through action and significant glances…is this Mumbai or Pine Valley?). “Tehzeeb,” in addition to being the name of the lead character, also means “etiquette,” and ultimately it is etiquette that kept Tehzeeb all these years from confronting her mother with her feelings, which could have avoided all this intense drama.
Yes, there were dance numbers, but they felt tacked on and gratuitous, particularly Arjun’s, seen here. It was completely wrong for the character, as he played kind of a combination of narrator, comic relief and token useless male (but he was gorgeous, especially in that black turtleneck sweater, and if I were to have a slightly cowed but very romantic husband I’d like him to be Salim).
Urmila, a decent enough actress, should never be allowed to dance. Everything I see her in she is clunky and robotic and looks like she is slightly in pain.
Jenny K: Now, to give Urmila her due, I ought to put up one of her more acclaimed dance performances from China Gate. Now, I’m not saying she’s going to threaten Madhuri’s queen-of-the-gypsy-numbers status or anything, but she does hold her own, here.
Julie M: And WHAT was up with the “creative” dance number for Dia Mirza??!! The “move the action along” music was much better, except when it was intrusive, which was, oh, about half the time. The slow songs were lovely. And my favorite part was when Tehzeeb, entertaining her mother and sister, parodied famous movie numbers. Can’t find the scene online, though.
Jenny K: That was always the scene that stuck in my mind, too. She was really funny, and on-the-nose in her imitations. Hidden talents!
Julie M: Overall…a solid B film, worth seeing if you come across it but nothing to go out of your way to find.