Films & Feni: Oscar Ahoy!

Posted on November 30, 2009


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NOV 30, 2009 – CAN A FILM BE COMMERCIAL, incorporating songs (wonderfully tuned by Shantanu Moitra) and ingratiating product plugs, and yet not too commercial, wanting to embrace a wide audience but not at the cost of losing its soul along the way? Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s beautifully bittersweet Antaheen somehow finds that magical mean – not alienatingly arty, yet not panderingly market-minded. Rahul Bose, the lead, introduced the film as having been a big success, and you have to wonder how. The language meanders easily (i.e. naturally) between Bengali, Hindi and English. The relationships are extremely sophisticated and resist facile happy endings. The performances are alive, yet extraordinarily muted. (Aparna Sen, who play Bose’s sister-in-law, makes you wish she’d stop directing and get out more in front of the camera.) However did a mainstream audience respond so positively to this? I’m still rubbing my eyes.

BEWARE, ALWAYS, A FILM THAT, in its early stages, subjects its audience to the sight of a mountainside trapper-hunter skinning the hare he’s just killed – even as the fur comes off in one smooth (and revolting) motion, we can be sure that the director, Florian Eichinger, is out to do more of the same. In Without You I’m Nothing, he peels the layers off an estranged father and son, whose relationship is so benumbed as to be nonexistent. But underneath, there’s raw flesh – simmering resentments built up over years and stashed away in cold storage, seeking desperate release. It all comes to a head in the presence of their respective partners, who are both involved in the attempt (as we are) to figure out what exactly went wrong. But the answers, when they arrive, are hardly worth the wait, and nothing you haven’t already witnessed in a hundred other dysfunctional family dramas.

THE CLAMOROUS PREMIERE OF The Rite of Spring! The story behind the unveiling of Chanel No. 5! The stormy affair between the creators of these twentieth-century cultural signposts! How could anyone not want to be in the theatre screening Jan Kounen’s Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky? And yet, the hype formulated in the mind far exceeded the reality. After a stunning opening sequence, the film – while always respectable, and who can complain about the music or the fashions? – never quite latched on to how the melding of two great creative minds (and bodies) informed their lives and their art. At least the former is followed to some extent, thanks to the composer’s long-suffering wife. But was the headiness of Chanel’s perfume the result of romantic uplift? By the end, we never really know.

DESPITE THE OSCAR-NOMINATION HOOPLA (or perhaps because of it), I confess I somewhat dreaded walking into Harishchandrachi Factory. Would this be, I wondered, one of those drearily life-affirming tales of survival and victory against all odds, the noble – which usually translates, in film-language, to insufferable – struggles of Dadasaheb Phalke in making our first feature film? But first-timer director Paresh Mokashi, in an inspired stroke of mad genius, treats his story as grand burlesque, which not only transforms the serious into the comic, but also mimics the earliest of cinematic conventions. Phalke, blessed with the world’s most sympathetic family, comes off as an endearing amalgam of nutcase and nationalist, and it’s only fitting that his efforts have been recorded in Marathi. The first time his finished film was screened for an enraptured audience, I had gooseflesh.

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