It has been two Fridays and two matinees at a trot, both about a young female damaged protagonist, one in English and one in Hindi.
Let me start with ‘Hanna’ because I watched that one last week. I suspect it is soon going to turn into a cult classic. It is directed by that young British auteur Joe Wright, who didn’t get a high school diploma because of his dyslexia but is the youngest director to have his film ‘Atonement’ premier at the Venice Film Festival. That should tell us something about how redundant formal education is.
Hanna is about this seventeen year old who has been raised in isolation in a forest by her father. She has been trained to be a killing machine to help her survive against the violent machinations of an evil CIA agent played by that genius actor Cate Blanchett. The rest of the cast is equally effective. Saoirse Ronan, the delightful Irish actor introduced by Wright in ‘Atonement’ plays Hanna with sprite agility, mining the meaty role for all its sub textual richness of loneliness and wonderment. Eric Bana is equally effective as her noble father. There is this interesting twist in the story that educates the audience about the unconventional upbringing Hanna has had that we are both prepared for and yet not prepared for, which is what a thriller giving you your money’s worth is all about. I am amazed at Wright’s versatility. He is in his late thirties currently and that means he was younger when he directed this one and the ones that came before including ‘Atonement.’ I am sure I will catch all the subsequent movies he makes and can’t wait for the DVD of ‘Hanna’ to come out to add to my collection.
Bejoy Nambiar is in his thirties too and has made a stunning debut with ‘Shaitan,’ produced by Anurag Kashyap. I think of Kashyap as a modern day ‘Jung’ to Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Freud’. Kashyap started out with Varma and was as responsible for Satya’s success, having written the screenplay. Now Varma has been reduced to a paranoid shadow of his earlier creative self, churning out one horrible film after another whereas Kashyap is having a great innings. Not only did’ Dev D’ that Kashyap directed change the rule of film making in Bollywood and made us realise how ‘thoo-thoo’ the films of Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra are, but his banner has also introduced some young talented directors who have made kick ass films like Vikramaditya Motwane and ‘Udaan’ and now Nambiar and ‘Shaitan.’
I think a lot of the film critics get jealous of the young directors Kashyap introduces, as they want to be discovered too. I certainly picked up a tinge of envy in Raja Sen’s review. He was trying too hard to attribute the film’s strengths to Kashyap rather than Nambiar. That’s just slimy behaviour rather than an honest critique. The film has been made by Nambiar and the credit or discredit for the film goes to him and not to anyone else. Kashyap comes across as someone who has a lot of integrity speaking on behalf of other directors like Onir and Dibakar Banerjee when they get into trouble with publicity hungry starlets. He doesn’t need a front to make his films.
‘Shaitan’ is also about a young damaged female protagonist played by Kalki Koechlin. Now Koechlin has a long way to go before she can come anywhere near Ronan as far as acting chops are concerned but she has one great quality none of the female Indian actors have. She is not afraid of making herself ugly in front of the camera. That’s a terrific trait to have for an actor and helps her to make her character believable despite the inconsistencies in her interpretation. Much has been made about the acting of the other young actors in the ensemble cast but really I don’t think there was much of a demand placed on them. I am sure none of them are addicts but apart from that character trait, they pretty much interact like most urban youngsters do, cracking poor jokes and appreciating each other for the ‘come backs’ in the barbs that fly to and fro among them. Any other set of young intelligent actors would have done as well if asked to have fun in front of the camera. Rajiv Khandelwal is very good though and the unknown female actor who plays his wife has the most interesting and haunting face I have seen for a long time in Hindi films. Who is she?
But the star of the show is undoubtedly Nambiar. His shot taking is unusual and sometimes his scenes play out inordinately long like in a Tarentino film but he keeps the audience riveted and the film stays with you long after it is over. Nambiar spent some time in Bangalore and even directed a play in the city and he pays a tribute to his theatre days by including the veteran playwright and theatre person Poile Sengupta in the cast of his film
He moved to Mumbai and got married to Juhi Babbar. That must have been terrible. The Babbars are probably the most clownish theatre and film family in Mumbai. The matriarch Nadira Babbar runs a theatre group in Mumbai that along with Dinesh Thakur’s troupe stages the most god-awful plays in Prithvi. The two talentless ugly kids –Juhi and Arya play significant lead roles in most of the home productions. The patriarch Raj Babbar tried to make his mark as a slimy rapist in his debut film in the early eighties. Afterwards he tried to be a hero but all his films flopped, so he turned into a UP politician. His innings in politics has been as sidey as his films but he is a hoot to watch whenever he tries to speak in English. If you want to have some cheap thrills, you can always invite the Senior Babbar for an event and ask him to give his speech in English. The audience will die laughing. Raj Babbar is also the father of Prateik Babbar, Smita Patil’s son. Pratiek has been sensible enough to drop the surname. Nambiar and juhi Babbar are divorced now.
Thank god Nambiar made the intelligent transition from the Babbars to Kashyap and discovered the ‘Shaitan’ in him.