Review: Jurm / Black

Posted on February 27, 2005


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Vikram Bhatt’s new thriller with Bobby is remarkably like his older ones – no good.

FEB 27, 2005 – JURMIS ABOUT Avinash (Bobby Deol) being arrested for the murder of wife Sanjana (Lara Dutta), while buddy Sonia (Gul Panag) and lawyer Rohit (Milind Soman) try to help from the sidelines – in other words, it’s intended as an edge-of-the-seat nailbiter. But relax! Not only are your nails safe, they may actually grow a quarter-inch by the time this overlong, overfamiliar, machine-cranked Humraaz-Fida-Fugitive mix comes to an end.

But don’t underestimate Jurm. As a whodunit, it may be about as sinister as a Jataka tale narrated by your toothless grandfather – albeit with hot guns, hotter girls – but it’s invaluable as a character sketch of its director Vikram Bhatt. Here’s how.

Vikram Bhatt loves food: Sanjana serves Avinash a meal from a thali surrounded by so many katoris, it looks like its own solar system. Elsewhere, Sonia begins carrying tiffin dabbas for Avinash. Then someone lays out an, uh, Indian-Continental breakfast of fried eggs, cornflakes and juice. Most damningly, impending doom is signified by the spilling of milk. Do not see this movie on an empty stomach.

He loves women even more: Lara Dutta is so impeccably presented, even after a car crash, her only bruise is a compact oval patch of purple at a teeny corner of her forehead, perfectly setting off her slinky black dress. And Gul Panag’s role may be thankless – as is everyone else’s, though Bobby bravely attempts to give something of a performance – but, oh, those deep, deep dimples… you want to fill them up with water and plunge in on a hot summer’s day.

He has a bad ear for dialogue: This is how yuppie Avinash proposes to sultry Sanjana: “Kya tum is janam mein aur agley har janam mein meri bankar rahogi?â€? Even Satyavan’s proposal to Savitri would have had about a hundred less clichés. As for humour, there’s a desi cabbie in Malaysia who’s called Harry Jagjit Singh Miss India, because his name is Harry, because he loves Jagjit Singh’s ghazals, and because “Main India ko miss karta hoon.â€?

He has a worse ear for music: It’s bad enough that the songs (by Anu Malik – Anand Raaj Anand) sound like they’ve been composed by the ten-year-old son of the chai-wallah from the recording room canteen, but did they really have to rub it in by having a character croon Do Hanson Ka Joda, that Lata beauty from Gunga Jumna?

You could go on. About Vikram Bhatt’s social conscience. (He opens our eyes to the horror that tobacco causes not only cancer, but also, uh, jailbreaks.) About his sensitivity to audience needs. (Avinash helpfully wears a shirt with the legend ‘Wake Up’ during the soporific first half.) And, most of all, about his continuing fascination with horror. He may not have made an all-out scarefest since Raaz, but seeing Shakti Kapoor here in nothing but his underwear… man, that comes mighty close!

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali is back with yet another story from his heart – from his incurably romantic, melodramatic heart.

FEB 13, 2005 – EARLY ON IN BLACK, deaf-blind Michelle (Rani Mukerji) shuffles to church, praying to God to give her what she wants – namely her teacher, Debraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan), the man who untiringly transformed her from unruly ‘special child’ to Arts graduate, and who left her twelve years ago. She stretches out a hand in front of her, the music swells, and snow falls from the sky. Or so you think – for this being a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie, it isn’t just snow from the skies. It’s a sign from the heavens.

It’s also the purest kind of moviemaking – the kind that needs no words, only images. Images of the condensation that’s wiped off a car window in the pattern of a crucifix, images of Michelle’s love-starved face amidst the confetti sprayed at her sister’s wedding, images of the young Michelle’s tiny fingers curling around Debraj’s gnarled hand in a tentative gesture of friendship, images of a stage-like set with theatrically-lit panels serving as backdrop to the drama of the infant Michelle being diagnosed deaf-blind… Even the routine fades to black take on a new meaning considering Michelle’s visual impairment, as they’re her images, they’re what she sees (rather, what she doesn’t see).

After Devdas and now Black, it may be time to coin a new term for the cinema of Sanjay Leela Bhansali – maximalism. His Helen Kellerish story, about Debraj helping Michelle conquer her handicaps, may be minimalist, but nothing around it is – not the cavernous sets, not the wondrous God’s-eye-view cinematography, and certainly not the almost fetishistic attention to detail. (Even the precipitation seems designed to a micro-degree – rain for the more dramatic moments; snow for the lighter ones.)

And that’s what will decide whether you choose to drown yourself in this full-blooded sensual experience or rather choose to view the collected works of Tusshar Kapoor in one sitting – for Bhansali doesn’t believe in half-measures. When Michelle’s parents observe that she needs someone to bring roshni into her life, the very next scene shows Debraj holding a light bulb. So by the time Bhansali unleashes a sequence of Michelle learning to use a walking stick next to a poster of Chaplin’s The Kid – Why, we’re meant to exclaim, with her funny gait and with that stick, she’s just like the Little Tramp! – those in the audience who are creatures of logic may well be groping the theatre floor to locate the eyeballs that have rolled out of their sockets.

But then, Bhansali doesn’t make movies for creatures of logic. He makes movies for those who realise that Bollywood is really nothing but silent cinema with sound, colour and item numbers. Like Guru Dutt, he’s in love with the exaggeration, the passion, the melodrama, the symbolism that is possible through props and lighting and camera angles – and when done right, this sort of thing can be an out-of-body experience, like when Michelle mimes and dances along with a singer belting out Nat King Cole’s L-O-V-E. With the sheer opulence of the Anglo-Indian setting (not seen since Benegal’s Trikaal), with Rani Mukerji’s instinctive duet with the performer, with the beautifully diffused yellow light from Chinese lanterns, this moment is cinema at its most manipulative, at its most magical.

Magic is also what Amitabh Bachchan accomplishes – literally. He’s presented as not just a teacher, but a magician, and Bachchan pitches his performance at just that level, never simply saying things when he can instead declare them with a drumroll, never simply doing things when he can instead put on a show. But as he ages, you see the energy draining out of him; from then on, it’s all about the small things – the lump he catches in his throat after reading a letter of Michelle’s where she says she’ll never be a bride, the walk he affects after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his snow-white beard making him look like Santa Claus after a crash diet.

Rani Mukerji is equally outstanding. You may wonder how she’s so perpetually well turned out, but there’s nothing insincere about the tear that wells up in a corner of her eye when her exuberance of securing a college admission is tempered with the reality of the gift she receives for this accomplishment – a walking stick. As is customary for Bhansali, she’s supported by a large, lovingly-detailed female cast, especially Shernaz Patel (supremely moving as the mother) and Ayesha Kapur, who plays the young Michelle like a woodland sprite, all tangled mass of hair and wild abandon. The men, in comparison, are left to their own devices. Dhritiman Chaterji, for instance, is fine as the father, but did Bhansali really need to make him so rigid that he appears to go to bed in a three-piece suit, pipe in hand?

Then again, that’s why it’s called melodrama – and what’s surprising is that underneath this melodrama, Black is really a message movie. Its triumph-of-the-spirit story speaks for better understanding of the less fortunate, but not once are you asked to feel for Michelle because she’s deaf-blind or Debraj because he has Alzheimer’s. You feel because her love goes unrequited, because she struggles to pass examinations, because she copes with sibling rivalry, because he undergoes trials while doing his job – just like you, just like me. Everyone’s different in some way, yet what connects us is the sameness of our experiences – and that’s a message as beautiful as this movie.

Copyright ©2005 The New Sunday Express

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi