Vantage point

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


There has recently been a trend in Bollywood to make different movies. Most filmmakers end up laying eggs that are as bad as the formula stuff. I always counted the late Anant Balani as one of these. I found his earlier ventures like "Joggers' Park" and "Ek din 24 Ghante" absolutely wannabe-ish. However the movie he started shooting for just days before he died has turned out to be a decent flick.

The biggest strength of Chameli is, no not Rahul Bose, it is its length. At 2 hours, the movie does not make you feel that it should have ended an hour earlier, like most Hindi movies. Of course, Rahul Bose does a fantastic job as well.

The movie is set in a stormy night in Mumbai when an investment banker and a prostitute are stranded under the same shelter. Chameli, played adeptly by Kareena Kapoor, has set out that night having made up her mind not to sleep with Nayak, a guy who has paid advance for her, but is afflicted with an STD. The banker is stranded because his mobile phone and car have given up on him. In the beginning, Chameli tries to entice him, making a predictable sales pitch. Then, when she realises he is not interested, she starts yakking, telling him how she manufactures sob stories to get extra tips from clients.

Characters keep entering and exiting, thanks to the Nayak angle. It is this angle that takes the couple to a bar, then a police station, then a hospital and finally Marine Drive. But i will not elaborate on the story too much.

What is refreshing is the portrayal of a prostitute, which for the first time avoids the two stereotypes seen in Hindi movies. In fact the script pokes fun at the two stereotypes - a) that of a young village belle sold into flesh trade by her uncle, b) the daughter of a prostitute who has to enter the flesh trade because of her mother's connection. It pokes fun by presenting these two as the tip-inducing sob stories. Chameli is not shown as a sati savitri, neither is she shown to be totally independent. She actually seems believable when she is being very sisterly with a young coffee vendor, or when she is being pally with the lady constable.

Rahul Bose's character is on slightly shakier grounds. His motives behind going out of his way to help a whore are highly questionable. One could assume that he has fallen in love with her, but he seems too obsessed with his dead wife for that.

The story moves rapidly, and the dialogue is by and large taut. Since I watched it on a computer, the songs were fast forwarded, but their placing rankles. However the movie is ended right in time, which is admirable, since it is the end that leaves most Bollywood directors looking silly. It also ends in an "open to interpretation" manner, which I personally like, since it is not forcing any particular end, probable or improbable, down your throat.

Another pitfall that replacement director Sudhir Mishra by and large sidesteps is that of political correctness. Indian directors tend to either get so sanctimonious that it looks like a Films Division production, or get so anti-establishment, that the movie seems to be funded by the politburo. For a movie that features prostitutes, eunuchs, pimps, policemen and heehee investment bankers (couldnt resist that MBA jibe), the scriptwriter walks the tightrope pretty well. It doesn't sermonise, neither does it lambast.

It merely tells a simple story in a simple manner. Very few Indian movies follow the "Keep It Simple Stupid" adage. This movie does so.

P.S - There are some beep-ings by the censor board that are bizarre, bordering on the ridiculous. Whenever Chameli is telling about how she started her "dhanda", the age is beeped out. I think Anupam Kher, the board chief, feels that by hearing the age at which Chameli took to the streets, all girls of that age will immediately feel encouraged to do so. Ridiculous!!
However the censor board has not beeped out some pretty bordering-on-vulgar marathi dialogues mouthed by the policemen, acting under the assumption that no Indian understands Marathi. Maybe none of the board members understands marathi. :P