Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Age of Innocence- My Week with Marilyn, Barfi and The Saint Zeta Society

When it comes to Marilyn Monroe, all of us, especially the men, will always be twenty three year olds. We long to breathe the same air as she did. And know instinctively if that had happened, we would have led a different life, deeper, more charmed, more significant somehow. That’s why our empathy is with the wide eyed young man, Colin Clark, played brilliantly by Eddie Redmayne in ‘My Week with Marilyn.’

Clark was the third assistant director for ‘The Prince and the Showgirl,’ the British film that united the acting legend Sir Lawrence Olivier with the world’s ultimate sex symbol. The book is based on his memoir. There is something about Redmayne’s performance that prevents us from mocking him for his helpless devotion to Marilyn. Instead we gawk at her with his eyes. And when she decides to make him her chosen one on the sets of the film, we don’t envy him. We only know he is not at fault for breaking young Lucy’s heart.

Lucy is portrayed by the luminously beautiful Emma Thomson. But we know her beauty, her charm, her youth and innocence is going to be no match to the Monroe magic. She is not the hero of this fairy tale. Strangely enough, for a film based on two cinema legends, the scenes that stay with you afterwards are those that have Redmayne and Watson in them. Both Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh use their craft and inherent brilliance to their interpretation of the two legends. But it’s evident they have worked hard at becoming the characters. They are not good enough to conceal the labour that has gone into their performances. Redmayne and Watson, on the other hand, just are.

‘Barfi’ is also about innocence, albeit of the special kind. There are films that let down their actors just as there are actors who fail the film. Anurag Basu’s films always fall in the former category. However the acting is always brilliant, almost undeservingly so, in Basu’s films. Right from his first film ‘Murder’ that turned Mallika Sherawat into a star for all the wrong reasons. In a sex starved country like ours, all the attention went to Sherawat’s bedroom sequences with Emran Hashmi. What got overlooked was that she had turned in a very convincing performance in that one. Afterwards, it has been all downhill for her. The same can be said about Shiny Ahuja and Kangna Ranaut in ‘Gangster.’

Barfi has three actors who compete and collaborate with each other to rescue a screenplay that is always in the danger of sinking. The car that is pushed in a lake in the film may very well be a metaphor for the writing. But the talented trio of Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Illeana D’Cruz manage to salvage the film.

I didn’t think this is Kapoor’s best performance. He is very good but not as good as he was in ‘Rockstar.’ He has worked very hard on this role and his performance is well crafted rather than heartfelt. Some of the chaplinesque physicality he brings to his role has already been displayed in ‘Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani.’ We love him as long as we are watching the film. But it is not a character that stayed with me after the credits had rolled.

The female actors in the film however are top class, each notching brownie points for the consummate ease with which they play the two women in love with Barfi. Illeana D’Cruz is no newcomer. She has been around in the South Indian film scene for a while now just like Asin before she made her Hindi film debut in 'Gajini.' Ironically enough, she is likely to bag all the promising newcomer awards unless Karan Johar manages to get it for the three new actors featuring in his ‘Student of the Year.’ That one is going to be as corny as hell. As bad if not worse than ‘My Name is Khan.’ Mark my words.

Barfi ultimately belongs to Priyanka Chopra. It is not easy for the female lead of a commercial cinema to turn unattractive for a scene, let alone for the length of an entire film. Chopra is not a trained actor like Kapoor but she uses her gut and instinct to touch the inner core of Jhilmil, her character. For me, the most powerful scene in the film is when Chopra steps out to tell D’Cruz, Kapoor belongs to her in the climax of the film. Both of them manage to triumph over the lacklustre script in that moment, making it one of the most poignant moments ever in a Hindi film.

Thanks to Flipkart, I manage to procure Ruth Rendell’s latest ‘The Saint Zita Society.’ The book reminded me of the time when I was on my first writer’s residency in the University of Canterbury, Kent. In a dinner party hosted by one of the professors in the university, I made the mistake of talking about domestic helps we employ in India only to face disdainful looks by everyone present. ‘We have done away with that sort of thing many years ago,’ commented a scornful British writer, another guest.

Not if one goes by Rendell’s latest. The book is about a society formed by the drivers, gardeners and domestic helps of an affluent neighbourhood in London. Rendell is in top form here, treating her character with a healthy dose of compassion and humour. There are some innocents in the book including the victim. The man who is behind the murders is delightfully wily though. Just as the MP’s wife and daughter who take turns to bonk the good looking driver. All very vintage Rendell.

I got my American visa a couple of days before all the trouble erupted for the film that has angered a part of the Islamic world. Now that I have less than three weeks to leave, I can spend time reading books and watching plays and films with family. Also going for a short holiday this weekend. So maybe I will write about that in my next post.

Happy Ganesh Chaturti to all of you.

1 comment:

  1. Agree with your prophecy about Student of the Year...