REMADE IN INDIA
Priyadarshan reworks a minimalist masterwork into an overblown (and over-cute) drama. The results aren’t pretty.
MAY 16, 2010 – IS THERE ANYTHING THAT SPAWNS cold terror in the pit of the stomach like the revelation that a favourite song is being remixed, or a favourite book is being transformed into a movie, or worse yet, a favourite movie is being remade? The rate of success of these ventures (which, in other words, is simply the probability that they will turn out to be what we want them to be, or how we’ve imagined them inside our heads) is so infinitesimal that you wish you could shake the perpetrators by the collar and scream, “Make your own bad movie, goddamit! Don’t desecrate our memories in the process.” Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven is such a wispy instance of storytelling – pivoted on the affecting aftermath, on impoverished siblings, of the loss of a pair of shoes – that you barely sense that a Feature Film is unfolding before your eyes. (It’s only after the lights come up that you realise you’ve seen something as spiritually cleansing as the early Ray films.) Melodrama – or even drama – this is not.
And that won’t do for Priyadarshan. Under the guise of broadening (or making palatable) Majidi’s gentle fable for the (apparently) masala-mad Indian masses, he gooses the scenario with frissons of thunder-and-lightning drama. He throws in a rape attempt, terrorist attacks (better suited to something named Bomb Bomb Bole, you’d think), a spectacularly ill-placed song item by one of those ubiquitous bands of gypsies that always snakes into bad movies – he does everything short of having an anvil fall out of the clear blue sky onto the hapless father’s head. (The family of four is played by Atul Kulkarni, Rituparna Sengupta, Darsheel Safary and the adorable Ziya Vastani. The latter delivers the film’s sole creditable performance, never mind that the billing is hogged by the child-star of Taare Zameen Par. He even gets an attention-grabbing freeze-frame in his “introduction shot,” underscored by an overblown violin swell that suggests he’s either ascending to the heavens or about to burst into ballet, or perhaps both.)
And in the tangle of these myriads strands of plot, Priyadarshan forgets what was at the core of the earlier film – the sheer desperation of children to whom losing a pair of shoes is as monumental a disaster as, say, a World War for grown-ups. Priyadarshan, once, knew how to spin stories of desperation – even the comedy of Hera Pheri was grounded in the tragedy of have-nots. But after years of committing to louder-is-better Akshay Kumar vehicles, he’s forgotten how to whisper. (Was Kanchivaram, then, a fluke?) And isn’t it time he learned to situate his screenplays (at least the ones that aim to be realistic) in a recognisable anyplace? His locations, as always, are at odds with his locutions. The father, at one point, sighs, “Khali dimaag shaitan ka ghar! Bhagwan ko hi sooli pe chadha diya!” A concerned onlooker ventures, after an accident, “Suna teri cycle ke bhi barah baj gaye?” And this, my favourite, from a police officer interrogating a terrorist-suspect: “Hukka paani kiske saath tha?” Then again, maybe this is really cause for comfort, that in the absence of virtually any positives there’s at least the opportunity to guffaw at inadvertent humour.
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