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Monday, December 31, 2007

DUS KAHAANIYAAN - an Indian Decalogues?

Seven Visionary Directors. Ten Spectacular Stories. One Cinematic Journey... so goes the tagline of this cinema production. That perhaps is what best qualifies this venture for this is no one single story movie or one thematically united episodic movie. No doubt, it is an impressive attempt in the Indian movie firmament, when run on the mill movies dominate with their old wine in new bottle formats. But, but...

What they did not tell you about DUS is this: the twist in the tale is the tail... and... it has probably one of the best line-up of actors since "LOC - Kargil". Nevertheless, it sadly fails to interest you. No aspersions on the actors or the quality of acting. When you have Shabana Azmi, Naseerudin Shah, Nana Patekar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpai and Sanjay Dutt for acting as well as Mandira Bedi, Neha Dhupia, Dia Mirza etc to sizzle the screen... and several other impressive names and then some more, you expect a buffet of pyrotechnics and thespian thrills; but...!

It doesn't matter how good your players are, if the playing field is bad, you can't put up a good total on the board. DUS, thus, looks like the best batting line-up in the world - the Indian cricket team - that fails to deliver at the crunch. The title is the most impressive part of this Sanjay Gupta - Sanjay Dutt cohort. The 10 short films remind one of perhaps the greatest film-making attempt under a single title - The Decalogues of Krystof Kieslowski, the great Polish director; but there ends the parallel. Rambling, boring, cliched, predictable fare this one is.

Let me give you a sample. You go and judge for yourself. Or the other alternative is this, you can wait for Moserbaer or someone to bring out a 28 buck vcd or 34 buck dvd, buy a copy and see. There's no hurry here. After all, 10 stories in two sitting, if you count the interval after the first 5 tales, is a bit too much. Not every one is used to the film chamber or film association screening of two, three films in the same sitting. Or you can even borrow it from someone else who wants to add it to their collector's chest simply because it is allegedly different from other Indian films (if you discount the fact that Satyajit Ray has done it decades back!) So... let me get to the content of DUS.

We start with MATRIMONY - the first of the short flick. The flick starts very impressively. The camera does interesting things. Stays where it is or cuts and cuts back without ambiguity between Mandira Bedi's lips and her husband's glass of mango juice. He leaves, she smiles, they coo to each other sweet nothings... and then she leaves. Cut. Ms Mandira in the back seat of car, voice over: "I am Pooja Sarin, the bored and lonely wife of a multinational's vice-president". Overlooking the bad use of possessive pronoun, my mind starts thinking. A-ha! If I just replace Ms Bedi with Ms Sherawat (not much of a difference actually!), and accept neither Arbaaz nor Sudanshu Pandey are equals for Emraan Hashmi in the bilabial department, I think there is a Murder or other hot semi-porn flicks of its ilk. Only... I wonder and am piqued, how can they make a semi-porn flick that you can watch uncensored the next time you travel in a Lufthansa flight, in just 12 minutes. My fears get allayed. Soon Pooja Sarin is finished making love to her army-boy lover Adi (that's how! you skip the vital parts and like a bikini just show the bare minimum to excite the viewer!!) and he breaks the bow with a customary twang: the boy is going to the border, not before he has gifted her a nice necklace. Hey... wait a minute. Yeah, you got it figured. It's D-A-H-L, Roald Dahl all over. Yeah yeah yeah. No new year's gift for figuring it out. And do you need me to continue the story?

Well, for unwhetted viewers of populist bollywood movies, these shorts would come as whiffs of fresh breath. Each tale has the O'Henry twists in the tail. But the bottom line is... the pattern gets to you. The tail is too sun-burnt to look healthy. Movie after movie after movie of repetitions about marital discord and flings and betrayals in an urban scenario, as though the bourgeoisie and the emerging nouveau riche urban middle and upper middle class have only a metaphorical middle finger in their minds - whether it is in the back of the Mercedes or the backroom of a CEO's office or in between brunches and lunches! Mr. Sanjay Gupta must give a little more credibility to the urban livers and lovers, even if he shows only Mumbai-ites. Now the last straw... as though he and his other directors and 10+ story writers and 6 or 7 music directors as well as screenplay writers have no faith in the thespians of the movie, they push the children of bollywood's lesser gods in the first half. And what have we. Besides Manoj Bajpai and an older Amrita Singh, all the big names are kept in the back pack. Or the back pack contains inferior stories and had to be beefed up with bigger performers?

Now then! Coming to the object of my post: the movie bears no parallel to any work of art, leave alone The Decalogues by Kieslowski. There is no grace nor seeking Grace here like in the case of the Kieslowskian protagonists. Of course, both the TENs (DUS and Decalogues) have a lot of focus on female protagonists and both the lot try and grapple with human existence, but those of DUS grapple with stupid and unnecessarily glamorised sordidities of urban existence. Their daily lives have cultural myths and urban legends deflating their seeking something elusive, no doubt. Nevertheless, these concerns are absolutely trivial and would not even appeal to the majority of the urban Indians, not remotely in a broader context. Their concerns are several other things.

Only Bollywood can come up with a sold-by-the-soul belief that urban Indians have different concerns from non-urban Indians. Slickness in movie-making need not make one believe that it can happen only with slick decors, suave settings as well as suitings, silky locales and interiors aided by stylish lighting and svelte cars as well as clevage-popping heroines. Slickness is in the planning of frames and editing to aid a strong narrative. Film-making is no different from other forms of story-telling. And the telling is what is important. Not necessaril the how. There are better themes and issues to shoot flicks on. What a waste of meters and kilometers of film rolls, when there are so many struggling artists carrying dreams to emerge as mainstream directors and storytellers.

Having said that... there are three flicks that are the saving grace of this TEN TALES: Pooranmashi, Gubbar and Zahir. And the attempt to give the Jimmy Shergill starrer High on the Highway a touch of Natural Born Killers, though laughable is tenuously laudable.

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