Films & Feni: The Big Bong

Posted on December 2, 2009


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DEC 2, 2009 – THE PHRASE “FILMED PLAY” HAS, by now, entered the lexicon of moviemaking as an embarrassing pejorative, an indication that declamatory acting and theatrical mise en scène has been foisted upon us in the name of cinema. But the Brazilian director, Daniel Filho, in his thrillingly dramatic Tempos de Paz, intuitively understands that what works on stage can work on screen too – with close-ups and tracking shots, say, alleviating the deluge of dialogue. This could well have been a fiery two-character play, and what makes it shine isn’t just the emotional gravity brought to bear on the wartime incident of European intellectuals emigrating to Brazil, fearing the Nazis, but also the demonstration of the power of performance. The leads are spectacular, and for those with a passion for potent wordplay, so is the film.

IT MUST BE SOMETHING IN THE WATER in Kolkota. Atanu Ghosh’s Angshumaner Chhobi was yet another Bengali film that effortlessly straddled the median between art and commercial cinema – if not in the sense of appealing to vast numbers of audiences, at least in its ability to narrate an engrossing tale that works at the surface-level even as subtext and metaphor lurk mysteriously beneath. Soumitra Chatterjee plays an eccentric great-actor who’s lured out of retirement by a young filmmaker, and the actress cast opposite him (Indrani Haldar) is a jatra performer. How this twain of East and West meet and mould one another is the crux of this moving film, which even works in a murder mystery. The more interesting mystery, though, is what exactly is in that water.

THE ETHICS OF A DOCTOR PLAYING GOD (in deciding the future of a patient’s life) clashed with the ethics of a human playing God (in deciding whether or not to abort a child) in Suman Ghosh’s Dwando, which begins as a rather self-conscious Before Sunrise-type, walk-and-talk exercise, and evolves, gradually, into a hushed, Bergmanesque chamber drama. Soumitra Chatterjee, once again, is magnificent, a lifetime of experience distilled into the kind of finely tuned performance where a whisper is the equivalent of a shout. The director also succeeds in making us empathise with modern-day youth – where a more moralistic filmmaker would have balked at their putting themselves before everyone else, Ghosh simply sees self-absorption as a way of life, today’s inevitable way of life.

MS SATHYU IS SO IDENTIFIED WITH Garam Hawa that, even today, it comes as a surprise to some that his initials stand for Mysore Shrinivas – and it is with the Kannada feature Ijjodu that he made his presence felt at the festival. The director was the epitome of effacement in the programme booklet, where he wrote, “It is almost twelve years since I made my last film. I wondered if I still know the grammar of cinema.” His concerns were mostly misplaced. The rust showed, sure, but not nearly enough to corrode his narrative of a city slicker who finds himself embroiled in the affairs of a village (which includes the lovely Meera Jasmin). If not Great Art, this was at least a worthy story, well told.

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