Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kahaani, A Twist of Lime and A Pale View of Hills

There is a delightfully tender moment in Kahaani. The very pregnant protagonist played by the ever reliable Vidya Balan brings her face tantalisingly close to the young policeman’s. He is sitting on his chair in front of his desktop when she leans from behind to fix a bug in the system. In the ensuing silence, a range of expressions flit across his face. From confusion to the overwhelming attraction he feels for her. Scenes like these are so rare in Indian cinema. After Satyajit Ray, no Indian director has been able to capture these nuances. This particular scene reminded me of the master's seminal work Teen Kanya that was full of heart warming moments that linger on in memory years after the first viewing. I can’t wait for the DVD of Kahaani to be out. So that I can buy it only to watch this scene again and again.

The rest of the film is competently directed by Sujoy Ghosh but nothing about it is great, including the performance by Balan. Just like the rest of the film, she is adequate too. One gets the feeling she didn’t get enough time to prepare for the role and ultimately relied on her craft to sail through. The problem with watching any of Balan’s performances of late is that she has set such high standards for herself after Ishqiya and No One Killed Jessica that all her subsequent outings seem to fade in comparison.

Tenderness appears to have been a casualty in Vivek Madan’s effervescent and adept handling of ‘A Twist of Life,’ three short plays by Anita Nair. The production had a lot of energy but seemed to miss out on the subtext that Nair’s stories pack when they are written in other forms. I love ‘Mercury Woman,’ the short story which was adapted into ‘Sushil and the Maybe Virgin.’ But I thought it lost much of its depth in its stage avatar, mainly because the protagonist didn’t project the complexities of her character.

Nair like Balan sets unusually high expectations with her novels and short stories, so there is always a bit of dismay when something written by her doesn’t quite match up to her earlier works. Nonetheless, it was an evening of edgy entertainment and maybe I wouldn’t have nitpicked like this if the woman sitting next to me didn’t laugh and applaud at all the wrong places. She was actually shouting things like ‘Boo to you’ when the male characters on stage were discussing women. Her continuous commentary to her companion was really distracting. I have always believed theatre calls for commitment not just from the actors but also the audience. But I suppose you can audition for the right actors but how do you screen whoever lands up to watch a play in a public performance?

The actors were all very professional and on top of their craft. I was seeing them on Bangalore stage for the first time. Instead of the usual suspects you encounter when you go to watch a play in English in Bangalore. It felt as if a new generation is taking over and that’s both positive and refreshing. I think the present run is over but if you love theatre do catch the show whenever Jagriti decides to revive the production.

And since I started with the theme of tenderness, let me conclude by mentioning the book I have been reading. A pale view of hills, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is both enchanting and enigmatic. The prose is so mellifluous that I feel I am listening to an old cherished song while I am reading the book and the confusing plot somehow enhances the allure of the work. I am rationing the reading. Making sure every night I read only a few pages and go to sleep holding it close to my chest.

It’s that kind of a book.

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