Vantage point

Monday, February 14, 2005


Q- How did Rani Mukherjee lose her eyes in Black?
A- Sanjay Bhansali removed them so they could be on the Oscars.

Bad joke, I admit, but it describes the underlying motivation behind Black perfectly. The movie is Bhansali's bid for an Oscar, having failed with Devdas. Devdas, he reckoned, was too garish, too long, and had too many songs.

Black is the exact opposite. It is not at all garish. In fact it is plain. The movie's sets are dominated by dark colours. It is just a little over 2 hours long, which is the standard length for a serious Hollywood movie. And it has no songs at all, which for me, was one major check-mark in the favour of the movie.

Another clear indication of Bhansali's target audience is the language and the setting of the movie. The family in the story is a Christian family, almost definitely Anglo-Indian, that lives in pre-Independence India.

Hence, a high percentage of the dialogues are in English!


*Oscar Rules Alert*

The website of the Oscars says - "A foreign language film is defined, for Academy Award purposes, as a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track."

Is Black's dialogue track "predominantly non-English"? I seriously doubt. If it means at least half the dialogues should be non-English, then Bhansali probably won't even see his film nominated as a foreign film.

So.... is it possible that Bhansali is planning a grand American release aimed at the mainstream audience, and not just the diaspora?


Anyway, enough about Bhansali's Oscar dreams. To the movie.

Is the movie good?


Is it an amazingly fantabulous movie that will be counted as a classic?

Errrrrr... not if I had any say in it.

The basic story, as mentioned in the credits, is inspired from Hellen Keller. It is a sweet and poignant story, and has been brought to life by some stellar performances.

Stealing the limelight in Black, no irony intended, is Ayesha Kapoor, playing the role of the young Michelle. The angst and frustration of a little girl who, as Mr. Sahay (Bachchan) says, is just blind and deaf, but not mentally retarded, has been portrayed by her with the dexterity of a veteran.

The scenes between the little girl and her teacher are the high points of the movie. That part of the script has been masterfully written and executed, where we see Michelle's savage stubbornness go head to head with Sahay's eccentric stubbornness. Sahay is convinced that the biggest step in her education is to explain to her the concept of words, something which we people with eyes or ears, or both, can effortlessly pick up as infants. His efforts meet with violent inertia from the little girl. However finally, his stubbornness wins, and Michelle starts to understand words, at which point the triumph felt by her parents, teacher and herself, are shared in full measure by us, the spectators.

At that point however, the movie dips.

Mind well, it is still a very good movie. But I am just explaining why it has stopped short of being counted as great in my books.

Post-interval, its almost as if Bhansali, the writer, has blacked out. (Ouch!). The story just doesn't go anywhere solid. Different streams of the story flow off in different directions, like Michelle's academic problems, Sahay's health issues, the jealousy of Sara(Nandana Sen) Michelle's sister, and the issue which is the most haphazardly handled is Michelle's awareness of her sexuality, her being a woman and her feelings for Sahay.

Bhansali just takes dabs at all these sub-plots, and then ends the movie. It would have been a great movie if just one of these threads had been followed through right until the end. But the way the movie comes out, all the threads seem semi-cooked.

All in all, Black ends up way short of what it promised. To use a cricket analogy, remember the first India-Pak One-Dayer at Karachi in 2004? The way India were going until the 20th over, you expected them to cross 400. But eventually they ended up on "just" 349. 349 itself is a mammoth score, but anyone who saw the match will understand the disappointment I am talking about.

Bhansali has done something similar. He has scored 349, but after promising the viewer at halfway mark, a 400. Good effort, SLB, but you coulda done better.