Tale of two ‘Woods’

Jaipur doesn’t afford me the luxury of watching Bengali cinema. The Internet sucks and Hall releases are out of the question. On my last – kind of impromptu – visit to Kolkata, I squeezed out enough time to watch a couple.

Shiboprosad Mukherjee is the probably the brightest star Bangla New Wave has, at the moment. I landed in my hometown a few days after the release of Prakton. And YouTube had a good Bela Seshe. The middle-class urban social milieu and its crises has never been so subtly and deftly portrayed by any other contemporary director before. Mukherjee (and Nandita Roy) has given some of the most relevant and memorable movies over the last 4-5 years, starting with Icche.

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Along with Mukherjee, directors like Kaushik Ganguly, Anik Dutta, Srijit Mukherjee, among others have consistently proven that good cinema needn’t be pedantic with a distinctly grave mood. These directors have steadily maintained the fine balance between commercial and arthouse. Some, such as Dutta, has even managed to deliver extremely enjoyable movies high on wit and humour, without sacrificing cinematic finesse.

But I do not intend this post to sing paeans of my brethren! However, I can’t help but put these filmmakers as decidedly superior against some of their more hyped Bollywood counterparts.

I watched Tamasha last night. Imtiaz Ali is touted as one among the increasing number of directors who do not make movies ‘solely’ for commercial gain. Tamasha perhaps tries too hard to not appear mainstream and yet not be artsy-fartsy. In this tug of war, it at best manages to be a mediocre movie with a wafer-thin plot which comes to a predictable and much too dramatised end. It does give glimpses of nuanced acting from the lead pair. But that’s simply not enough.

I felt cheated after I finished watching it. Why is Tara Maheshwari relegated to playing just a second fiddle? What is her story? Why would Ved have such a matter-of-fact reaction when he sees THE woman out of the blue. When he’s least expecting it. I don’t think that is how real people react to real-life situations. The film is jerky  with overtly staged situations stitched together. It disappoints, big time. 

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Wazir, Chalk n Duster, Teen, are a few other recent movies which failed short of expectations.  Then again, Laal Rang, a relatively low budget movie starring the grossly underrated Randeep Hooda received much less attention than it deserved.   

On the other hand, movie of the moment – Udta Punjab – was well worth all the controversies surrounding it. Yes, it was dramatic, maybe even farcical as far as the climax is concerned. But, much like Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya – Abhishek Chaubey’s two previous offerings – it is neither pretentious nor too self-important. Two things movies like Tamasha and Wazir are afflicted with, more often than not.

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The new breed of B-Town directors – Dibakar Banerjee, Soojit Sircar, Neeraj Pandey, and more recently Ram Madhvani – stress on the need of meaningful cinema. Yet, they do not compromise on entertainment. Piku, for instance, has an unusual storyline, as far as Indian Cinema is concerned. Yet, it entertains and makes you think about your relation with parents in equal measures. Bollywood needs more such films and directors.

There’s at least 10 Houseful and 5 Tamashas, to one Piku or Neerja. Not that the industry in East doesn’t have out and out Masala flicks. But they are evenly balanced out with movies which are meant for the masses but aren’t brainless capers.

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More importantly, the average cinema-goer in urban Bengal is likely to watch (and discuss) a Srijit Mukherjee film rather than a Dev-starrer. For the uninitiated Dev is the reigning superstar of commercial movie-dom in Bengal.

The same can’t be said of the average Bolly-viewer. An Udta Punjab review mentioned men laughing in a Gurgaon plex while a girl (presumably Alia Bhatt’s character) recounted her rape . I had a similar experience while watching the movie in an upscale Jaipur Mall. People laughed during both poignant and comic moments! And while descending the aisle as the credits rolled, I caught this snippet of conversation: “Yaar, Kareena ko marna nahi chahiye tha.”

That’s the average viewer. After watching a movie dealing with drug abuse and the debasement it causes, the only immediate point of discussion is why was a lead character not kept alive. Talk about escapism!

It’s high time Bollywood creates and executes more Nil Battey Sannatas along with the Baaghis (I had to endure this ordeal for there was no other option to kill time while waiting for some medical test reports to arrive). No offence, but it looks like by and large, the Bongs still are the flag bearers of good cinema in Bollywood. How I still love watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s homely films.      

                 

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