24 February 2006

Review of Iqbal

(I wrote this a couple of months back. I had seen the film when it was released with my parents. I took a very long time to write the review as I did not want to be swayed by the feel good factor only. The review has appeared in the Jan-Mar 06 issue of ‘Success & Ability’).

He is the person who coined the term anti-slick for something tacky a few years ago with the sequel of ‘Hyderabad Blues’. Now Nagesh Kukunoor, with his new film ‘Iqbal’ has brought new dimensions to a much-abused Bollywood term “feel-good”, where any film connecting the elaborate North Indian wedding ceremonies fell into this genre. Here the director brings the triumphs of an underdog to underscore the true meaning of term.

The premise of the film is well known by now: that a deaf-mute teenager from a fictitious tiny hamlet in Andhra making to the Indian Cricket Team. The script is laden with incidents which you can directly associate with happenings in the real world, may it be the inner workings of the selection process or the meteoric rise of a cricketer with an underprivileged background from a minority community.

In a cricket crazy nation these things are enough to ensure success of the film. But what wins our hearts are the minor things weaved into the story; be it the dogged approach of the youngster in chasing his dreams or the incidental treatment given to the disability. The director was often quoted as saying that he didn’t want to show the family of the disabled person wake up crying every morning or words to that effect. He remains true to his words so there is subtle humour underlying throughout the film and the best part being that one cannot remember an incident where the disability of protagonist being cursed or discriminated against, which is typical of any film dealing with disability.

So far so good, but you find glitches in the proceedings when you dwell for a while on the theme i.e. cricket. A cricket enthusiast with prodigal talent in fast bowling, who practices his art with three twigs for stumps while gracing buffaloes, has never bowled to real batsman till the age of eighteen is very hard to digest. It may be true that the coverage the game gets on TV can make an armchair expert out of any lay viewer but you cannot get an international quality player out of that. Iqbal practises his game in complete solitude. It could have helped if he was shown playing gully cricket with tennis ball with boys of his age (it could have worked wonders for the cause of Inclusion). Nagesh had initially wrote the script with a Malkhamb (Maharastrian pole gymnastics) practitioner in mind, a solo sport, but had to change it to a bowler when he found that there were no buyers for the idea, so he couldn’t incorporate the team concept in the initial stages of the story.

Technically, the film sets high standards; the treatment reminds you of Iranian master Majid Majidi’s ‘Children of Heaven’. The fable like treatment gels very well with the content because we understand this is an unreal story but positively told. And, its influence can be immense on the uninitiated. I have heard of kids trying to hold the seam of the cricket ball upright while practicing after watching the film.

There may be some flaws with the characterisations, but you flow with the happenings to notice them at the first go. The central character Iqbal played by Shreyas Talpade looks earnest and eager as an aspiring cricketer. His chemistry with Shweta Prasad, who plays his young sister, is very endearing. The presence of Naseeruddin Shah as the reclusive failed cricketer with drinking problem, who agrees to coach the young lad, helps to amplify the performance of the two youngsters. Girish Karnad as the scheming coach of the local Cricket Academy brings in a sense of realism into this film, but his character doesn’t seem to fit into the whole scheme of things in this feel-good caper.

All seen and said; not really, in spite of its shortcomings, you still root for reel ‘Iqbal’ as you would for a real Irfan or a Dhoni.

05 January 2006

Disability in South Indian Language films- A Critical Review

I presented this paper on "Disability in South Indian Language films- A Critical Review" in an Orientation cum Training programme in “Media & Disability Communication” conducted by Ali Yavar Jung institute For Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai in Collaboration with Kerala Press Academy & SOMS, Kochi in Kakkanad on 16th & 17th December 2005.

The couple of days have been the most exciting days in my life for many reasons, to be discussing my favourite subject with you people who will be deciding the shape our media will take in the coming years on the one side and on the other side there are people who have shaped our thought process for many years and in a way shaped our destinies. People like Mr. C. S. Venkiteswaran, whom I consider to be my Dronacharya, me being his Eklavya, we have never met personally before this event, but he is one person without whom I would not have been sitting here, it is his column Rumble Strip along with writings of Khalid Mohamad and T. G. Vaidyanathan that has sustained my interest in films since the days I was just a student. So, Sir, today you can ask my forefinger which I use to type or a piece of my brain as your Guru Dakshina, and I will happily oblige. Mr. P. J. Mathew Martin thanks to you for giving me this opportunity and thanks Mr. Satish Kapoor for recommending my name to him.

On the subject of South Indian Language films – I cannot claim any expertise on it. I am no better than a lay viewer who spends money for the ticket to be enlightened – entertained for nearly three hours. Maybe my reaction will be a little more amplified than the mere clapping-whistling-hooting of the next person considering the physical hardship I have to go through to get my quota of entertainment. So, I write reviews just to add value to my experience.

The general perception is that films reflect what society is going through and we also see that how films influences the minds of the viewers, it is a two way street. Filmmakers claim to be inspired by real life incidents and characters to make up their stories and mould their characters. On the other hand, we have heard people saying that how they were influenced by a scene or the film which changed their lives. So, the ‘chicken or the egg’ kind of debate continues.

Personally, I have never succeeded in analysing how a particular film has influenced me, some films are just stories for us, so; we are just concerned about how well they are told. Some other films compel us to look beyond the obvious, the technique, the characterisation and even the motives of the director behind making the film in such a way.

When a filmmaker makes a film with a disabled protagonist; the first claim he will make is being inspired by ‘triumph of the human spirit’ kind of thing. But if we dwell enough on the subject, we can see that such characters give immense dramatic scope for the director to work upon. Every basic trait required for making a good story can be magnified manifold if one or more characters happen to be handicapped.

If we take Mr. Vinayan’s three films as case in the point; Vasanthi Lakshmium Pinne Njanum, Oomapenninu Uriyada Payyan, and Meeraude Dukham Muthuvinte Swapnam, we clearly see the manipulative qualities of story telling at work.

He deserves to be congratulated for the audacity he has shown in taking up the subject with deformed protagonists. The care taken to imbibe the physical attributes in the actors is credible.

It is agreed that making films in so called commercial format requires a bit of exaggeration. The goodness, evil, virtue, vice, magnanimity and pettiness, you see all these in the some form or other in all these films. You can say they are packaged in such a way. And to top it all, a captivating climax to keep the audience glued to their seats till the very end.

As mentioned earlier, the very liberal use of cinematic license is visible in all these films. You see a much heightened volume in every emotion here. The exaggeration is very pronounced. Which may make you wonder, “Is this for real”?

In reality we don’t see anything out of the ordinary in our lives, whether we are able-bodied or disabled. It is through eyes of a third person that something becomes extraordinary in our existence.

For example, if we take the character of Kalabhavan Mani in Vasanthi…we may see all the above points very clearly. Everything about him is exaggerated (I’m not talking about the acting part here, which was a very contentious issue when this film was released), from the placement of his comb to the abusive nature of his father and brother and the love showered on him by the lead females in the film. As ordinary viewers, we may pass it off as good narration. But if we look a little minutely we see the manipulative forces of story telling at work. And, this pattern is repeated in all the above mentioned films.

The same pattern is also being used in some Bollywood films as well. Sprash (1984) directed by Sai Paranjpe is still appreciated as one of best films on disability to be made in India. Naseerudin Shah’s superlative performance helps the film to rise above the ordinary. He plays a visually impaired principal of a blind school. A very independent and proud person, the problem starts when he comes in contact with a widow played by Shabana Azmi and a romantic relationship develops between them. Somehow, it is conveyed that he is ill-equipped cope with having a relationship with a so called normal person. Then it goes on to show how he overcomes his complexes to go back to her.

It is here that the society’s attitude towards the disability is reflected in films. The notion that people with disabilities lead secluded life and bereft of any social skills.

If you look westwards where the society is more attuned to the needs of disabled community, you see revolutionary films with disabled characters. Sometimes even a passing glimpse of disabled character leaves a very positive impact. If you take Ron Howard’s Oscar nominated A Beautiful Mind starring Russle Crowe playing Nobel-laureate Mathematician John Nash who is suffering from schizophrenia, towards the end of film we are shown that Prof. Nash’s fellow faculty members at the Princeton University queuing up before him, gifting their pens to him as a token of their appreciation after he won the award, in that queue we see a person on an electronic wheelchair doing the same without any fanfare. Can we imagine a faculty member who uses a wheelchair in any of our colleges? The answer for the time being at least will be an emphatic ‘No’.

At the end; I trust that some of you will be following the footsteps of Renji Panicker and will turn to filmmaking after practicing journalism for a while, at that time if you use what you gained from this interaction; then only the efforts that went behind preparing this paper will bear fruits.

Thank you.

(The Paper was in fact read on my behalf, I just typed it. To be factually correct).