28 August 2005

Review of Malayalam Film Kunjikoonan

Kunjikoonan, the latest Dileep film, which was mired in controversy at the time of its release, as some people felt it presented disabled people in an insensitive light. But when you venture in to see Kunjikoonan, you will be surprised (pleasantly or otherwise depending upon your exposure to disability as an issue).

The treatment of this film is shocking as Kunjikoonan is made in what is called the ‘Mimicry-film’ style, with ample dose of comic one-liners, slapstick situations and other such ingredients. Director Sasi Shankar successfully breaks the notion that a film with handicapped protagonists has to be a weepy tearjerker.

Kunjikoonan is the story of crippled hunchbacked youth running a telephone booth in rural area. He is shown as having normal aspirations in life, including finding a good girl to marry. Kunjikoonan is an evolved character, who has developed a defence mechanism to face the society, which sometimes belittles his physical deformity. There are sequences in the film which subtly bring out the moral courage of the hero. It is evident that lot of thought has gone into developing the psychological traits of the character. At one level he is shown as possessing high-principled moral courage, and at another level he is an uncomplicated, compromising person accepting his limitations with wry sense of humour in situations which he cannot overcome. The credit for this should go to the scriptwriter Benny P. Nayarambalam, on whose play ‘Vikalanga Varsham’ this film is based.

In spite of being a commercial pot-boiler in the truest sense of the term, Kunjikoonan maintains a fine balance with realism where the characterisation of the disabled protagonist is concerned. There are no obvious deviations in character-graph of Kunjikoonan; its progression is very consistent.

The only grudge that we can have at the end of the film is that Dileep’s double role is used as a cushion against the fear of alienating his fans from the glamorous image of the star. The character of Prasad which runs parallel with the character of Kunjikoonan throughout the film; is a college student with golden hair and blue eyes, ace basketball player who can deal with a dozen baddies single-handedly. The effort to accommodate this character in the story somehow washes out the poignancy of the film.

Kunjikoonan may not turn out to be a landmark film in terms of its longevity in the memory of the audience, considering the inherent flaws at the script level. But when you see a spontaneous smile spreading on a few faces of general public coming out of the theatre when they spot a physically challenged person amongst themselves, you feel that this film is a success.

(This write-up appeared in the Indian Express a few days after the release of the film a couple of years back).

03 August 2005

Review of Marathi film Devrai

Schizophrenia: A kindred form of insanity. This is what I got from a dictionary of my grandfather’s time when I was in my mid-teens. The word had a certain charm and mystical ring to it. Every creative person (be it writer, poet, actor, director and even fashion designer) worth his/her salt, would casually drop this word, when describing their creative processes in interviews. And, aspiring for a career in any creative field, I felt it would be mandatory to achieve a “schizophrenic state-of-mind”, before attempting anything worthwhile.

But as realization that you don’t need anything special to write a sentence, just a little application and language skills dawned, the contentious word started loosening its grip on me. It didn’t haunt me when I read/heard that word in interviews. It was just a flossy thing to say in interviews was understood.

These thoughts came to me when I watched ‘Devrai (Sacred Grove)’ directed by Sumitra Bhave-Sunil Sukthankar combo, which deals with the disease, so tracking it down to see just how it relates to me.

Now, there was more awareness about the disease and a couple of epochal movies like Ron Howard’s ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s ‘Anantharam’ (Monologues) to fall back on, so there was a confidence in me of being on a familiar terrain, but as the film started un-spooling a weariness (or should it be a sense of trepidation) crept in by the starkness of the whole thing. ‘Devrai’ brings the disease into point blank range of the viewer.

Generally, we have seen films tackling a disability or a disease as being emotionally manipulative (they simply target your tear ducts), depicting the heroism of the protagonist/s in overcoming the disability and coming out trumps, as ‘A Beautiful Mind’ was a watered down version of the true life story of Nobel Laureate Prof. John Nash, whose ‘Game Theory’ changed the way businesses functioned.

It must be said that ‘Devrai’ isn’t a conventional film showing individual heroism against odds; rather it focuses on the problem at hand. The best way to put it would be that it doesn’t show a way to solve a problem (disability), rather it shows us a way to live with it.

The story of a youth zealously concerned about depletion of the Nature around him in the countryside of Konkan. His deranged mind mixes up personal failures with the cosmic chaos and hallucinates to create an alternate reality in his mind.

To simply put it: the hero Shesh (Atul Kulkarni) is suffering from acute schizophrenia. The rest of narrative shows his younger sister Seena’s (Sonali Kulkarni) struggle to cope with her brother’s mental condition and maintain the decorum in her family life.

The complicated screenplay co-written by Sumitra Bhave juxtaposes the past and the present, and the real with the imaginary giving the viewer a real feel of mental condition of the protagonist. The technique works well; they would have lost it if they had resorted to devices such as black and white frames representing the past or fogging the borders of the frame to represent imaginary things. The credit for this should also go to the cinematographer Debu Deodhar.

Another intelligent thing we notice is the premise of the story. Deforestation is an universal concern, so the casual viewer who strays into theatre hearing big names like Atul and Sonali Kulkarni, doesn’t find the happenings on the screen to be unhinged. What he sees is the magnified manifestation of his worries, be it environmental degradation or the snapping of his umbilical bond with the verdant countryside, instantly relates to him.

That does not mean that the narrative is perfect. There are a few glitches like the unrequited love angle is very commonplace. The characterization of Shesh’s brother-in-law Sudesh played by Tushar Dalvi is cardboardish.

Films like ‘Devrai’ tend to become a performer’s paradise, so Atul Kulkarni prevails in his paradise, as Adam would have prevailed in his before biting the forbidden fruit. Sonali Kulkarni’s “the hassled sister act” is credible.

Co-produced by the Schizophrenia Awareness Association, it hits the bull’s eye as for achieving the purpose. And, winning the National Award for the Best Film on Environment is just like icing on the cake.

(Published in July - Sept 2005 issue of 'Success & Ability' with minor changes)