Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Streets of India

It has been a slow week for movie watching as I have been busy catching up on my reading. But I managed to watch these two very different Indian films in between glimpses of La Liga futbal games.

Traffic Signal (2007, Director Madhur Bhandarkar): Rating 8/10

I was one of the few people who was not bowled over when Madhur's 2nd feature Chandini Bar earned rave reviews in 2001. In fact, I used that film as an example to point out the problems in Bollywood story-lines in my first on-line article published on rediff. Chandini Bar started off with an interesting concept of showing the lives of dance girls in Bombay's red-light district. However, once the camera left the bar, the movie fell into a typical cliched Bollywood gangster film which combined street gangs with politics. On the other hand, I was much impressed by Madhur's 2003 film Satta which throughly tackled the corrupt political games played by politicians. His last two films Page 3 and Corporate attempted to give us an inside look into Mumbai's celebrity and business world lives respectively. Although, both movies had plenty of merit, they suffered from poor acting and a dull screenplay. So having tackled Mumbai from the street level to the high-rise board-rooms, it was appropriate that Madhur completed the circle and returned back to the street level from where he made his name.

Traffic Signal portrays the lives of people who work at Mumbai's traffic light intersections. Bhandarkar interestingly shows how a giant profit making network operates/controls the street level beggars and workers who sell their goods on the street signals.Once a car stops at the traffic signal, the street workers job begins. The movie's first hour is absorbing as we observe the lies and cons that operate at the street level. But then the movie starts to get repetitive until it ends with a highly contrived ending -- safe to say, such an ending would never occur in the real Mumbai and feels like a happy Bollywood ending stamped on an other-wise non-Bollywood movie. There are some brilliant performances in this film -- Konkana Sen Sharma as the prostitute and Ranvir Shorey as the chillingly realistic drug addict. Konkana seems to have no problems with any role given to her and proves that she is comfortable in whatever language she speaks (Hindi, English, Bengali or Tamil) -- she is truly one of the best actresses in India. Like Page 3 and Corporate, Traffic Signal also suffers from some substandard acting when it comes to some of the secondary characters.

Overall, not a perfect film but still worth watching. And if one looks closely, one can see a Chandini Bar in the background at a traffic signal. In a sense, a Mumbai cinematic circle from 2001 to 2007 is complete for Madhur.

Strings (20056, Director Sanjay Jha): Rating 4/10

Good ideas on paper don't often translate into watch-able movies. Such is the case with this movie. Jha had an interesting idea alright -- to explore themes of love and faith against the background of the colorful and religious Kumbh Mela in India. The story does contain elements which could have produced powerful cinema. An Englishman (Warren Hastings played by Adam Bedi) comes to India to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and is keen to find out what made his grandfather love India. Warren is a confused lad who is easily influenced by others. On the other hand, Tanishta Chatterjee plays a priest's daughter who is grounded in her religious beliefs. However, her faith is tested when she sleeps with Warren. What could have been a great film ends up being a terribly painful watch. One of the big reasons for that is poor acting by all involved, especially Adam Bedi (Kabir Bedi's son) and Sandhya Mridul (actually overacting is the problem in Sandhya's case). The only thing that saves this movie is the gorgeous cinematography which captures the breath-taking scenes of the Kumbh Mela. However, the same great shots are repeatedly sliced in between different scenes of the movie and eventually lose their charm. Shooting a movie against the million+ crowd in Nasik must have a hard task but that can't be blamed for this movie's faults. Sanjay Jha did a much better job with his first film Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye which explored life in the Mumbai chawls.

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