Utpal Borpujari

February 13, 2011

Yeh Saali Zindagi: Restless, Intelligent

By Utpal Borpujari

Twenty-one years ago, in 1983, a young Sudhir Mishra had written a screenplay that remains arguably the best-ever satire on the socio-politics of the Indian urbanscape in Hindi cinema, even the whole of Indian cinema. Directed by Kundan Shah, that film was Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, a cult classic that needs no detailing to anyone familiar remotely with Indian cinema. Thirteen years later, in 1996, Mishra came up with Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin, a mostly-grim-sometimes-funny thriller that was described as ahead of its time.

Why recalling these two movies is important here is because after another 15 years, Mishra explores in his latest film, Yeh Saali Zindagi, a subject that has a world somewhat similar to that of IRKSN, though the time and milieu changes. And the treatment to the subject has glimpses of his brilliance as a writer that had come through JBDY. Of course, JBDY is a classic, and to repeat that level of excellence in writing would be virtually impossible, even for Mishra.

But like in JBDY, the characters in YSZ too are full of flesh and blood – and quirks – sometimes almost making the viewing experience surrealistic. To give an example, even each of the henchmen of Kuldeep (Arunodoy Singh, in a layered and completely unrestrained performance that was required for the character of a small time hoodlum from Old Delhi who wants to do a big job before quitting and settling down with his viciously-charming wife and kid) have what it takes to make them memorable, and are not just mere bystanders crowding the background as it happens in most Hindi films.

YSZ’s plotline is simple, almost a one-liner. Without divulging the plot, one can just summarise it by saying it is two love stories entangled towards a common end in the backdrop of violence and intrigue that binds two disparate strata of the society. These strata beyond the surface difference, are basically the same in their viciousness and lack of value of human lives and emotions when it comes to chasing the moolah. Here in this world, everyone is a crook, and only the degree of their crookedness varies. If some can kill at the drop of a hat, others like club-singer Priti (Chitrangada Singh, in an assured performance that re-emphasises her Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi brilliance) give glimpses of their grey sides in the face of adversity (like when she takes the finger print of the body of her ‘brother-like’ partner when pushed to the wall).

Mishra’s characters, in fact, are as colourful in their greyness as they were in IRKSN, even as each of them have their own ‘normal’ selves that make them part of the crowd when they are not in their elements. We see such people – the men and women in YSZ – on the streets of Delhi everyday.

Irrfan Khan as Arun, the chartered accountant to an unscrupulous businessman Mehta (a delightful Saurabh Shukla) is in his usual elements, making his sophisticated-crook-with-an-inscrutable-lover’s-heart look utterly plausible. And Aditi Rao Hyderi, despite her sophisticated looks that sometimes look out of sync with the character of Shanti, the firebrand girl from the bye lanes of Old Delhi who hates-‘n’-loves her husband Kuldeep, gives a finely layered performance that contrasts her demure widowed aunt’s role in Dilli 6 and does justice to her acting qualities that were first seen in the Tamil film Sringaram.

The film begins on a slightly clumsy note with the director choosing to go for a lengthy introductory phase – including a slightly irritating decision to introduce each character and location (in the latter repeatedly for even the same location) through ‘supers’ on the screen. But the fast pacing of the narrative and a screenplay that dares the viewer to be on a constant alert to catch every little quirky facet of the characters without resorting to any other gimmick comes as the saving grace along with some intelligent editing. Indeed, the real strength of YSZ lies in the intelligently-layered writing and characterizations and the witty dialogues that reflect the Delhi street lingo (courtesy Manu Rishi of Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! & Phas Gaya Re Obama fame). A big downside of the film, however, is the loud background score which sometimes jars. Mishra’s ensemble casting for the film, like in IRKSN, is impeccable, with the talented-but-seldom-seen Prashant Narayanan giving a particularly wonderful performance.

YSZ is a film that is not for the brain dead, and it is on this count that the film might suffer in a nation where no-brainers often score at the Box Office. It’s a moody film like most of Mishra’s films have been, but the director has also strived to move away from his earlier narrative style towards a more restless treatment. It is here that YSZ fits the bill as a likely sequel to IRKSN, time and space updated.

(Published on http://www.dearcinema.com, 04-02-2011)


October 2, 2008

A Film’s Journey: From Pune to Pusan

Rajesh Shera’s film that takes a look at post-tsunami life in the Andamans, leads the Indian charge at Pusan International Film Festival, finds Utpal Borpujari

Rajesh Shera is on cloud nine these days. And why shouldn’t he be – this Pune-based director’s debut film, shot in the Andamans and recalling the impact of the devastating tsunami through the story of an old teacher, will have pride of place in this year’s Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) at Busan, South Korea.

Shera’s film, Ocean of an Old Man, will be showcased in the New Currents section of the festival as one of the six projects selected for the Independent Feature Post-production Fund of the highly-prestigious Asian Cinema Fund (ACF) programme, considered a recognition for best emerging talents from Asia.

In fact, India has hit it quit big this year in PIFF’s programmes to promote new talent. Delhi-based Jahar Kanungo’s Half Truth is one of the chosen seven in the ACF Script Development Fund, and Paris-based Partho Sen-Gupta’s Arunoday – The Sunrise has been selected for the sidebar Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) that offers a platform to find funding and co-production opportunities to talented Asian filmmakers. Another Indian filmmaker, Ranu Ghosh’s documentary project Quarter No. 4/11 too has tasted success, having been chosen for the ACF’s DongSeo Asia Fund component.

Shera, an FTII alumni with a diploma in editing, will have the world premiere of his film, starring Tom Alter, at PIFF. And for a debutant director of a small film, it is quite an exposure that he would get, particularly as the festival has emerged as a focal point of those interested in Asian cinema worldwide. Quite naturally, Shera is excited, “

This has opened a big opportunity for me to explore the international scenario of filmmaking. And since it is a completion fund, I was able to complete the film.”
Ocean of an Old Man is the story of a school teacher in Andaman Islands, teaching kids from nearby islands in his school. As the devastating tsunami hits the archipelago, the school is rebuilt, but five students do not return. Where have they vanished, forms the crux of the story as it unfolds through the eyes of the teacher.


It is an original story conceived by me. We shot the film over 39 days in various locations in the Andaman islands. While the language of the film is Hindi, there is Nicobari too in the form of their folklore and traditional songs, and it has been done for the first time in the history of Indian feature films,” says Shera, whose visit after the 2004 tsunami and the first-hand witnessing of the agony of the people there laid the seed for the film.

Equally excited is Kanungo, whose first film Nisshabd – Reaching Silence (Bengali), had offered an interested treatise about modern-day man’s daily encounters with noise and their impact on his psychology. “The support from ACF will help me tremendously in developing my new film, as it will give me an opportunity to do all the research work and engage experts in the story board, engage a script editor, and also visit the likely locations on the basis of which the script is developed,” he says. Nisshabd was incidentally a part of PIFF’s competition section in 2005. The director, who developed the concept for Half Truth from a Bengali story he had written in a magazine called Digangan, says, “My story is about fiction and reality.  ‘Is fiction a manipulation of truth?’ is the question that I am trying to answer in this thriller.”


On the other hand, Sen-Gupta’s Arunoday is at a fairly well-developed stage, with Sudhir Mishra’s company Cine Raaz Entertainment roped in to be the producer. Sen-Gupta, whose first film Hava Aney dey (Let the Wind Blow, 2002), was made with the help of French Cultural Ministry’s fund Fonds Sud and had also got selected for PPP, says, “A selection into PPP gives my project a position in the ‘world cinema market’. I don’t have to tell anybody on the international world cinema scene that I am making a film, they already know because of this selection.” Incidentally, Hava Aney Dey, shown in 30 international festivals, was never released in India

because of censorship issues.


Like in his first film, for Arunoday too he drew from his experiences during “roaming around” in city streets at night. “The urban streets at night are amazing sources of stories. Once, I was sitting in a small shady bar in Mumbai, when I was approached by a man who said he could supply me with a sexual partner. I queried and discovered that there was a free and open market of underage children for sex. I went back home very troubled,” says Sen-Gupta, who himself had survived a kidnapping bid in Mumbai when he was six. “This traumatic event has stayed with me throughout my life, often reproducing itself in disturbing nightmares. I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I been abducted,” says Sen-Gupta, who is also developing another project that will be funded partly by Europe MEDIA fund and the Dutch Film Fund and produced by a Dutch producer.

But the India story at this year’s PIFF, being held from October two to ten, does not end here. The festival in its main sections will showcase quite a few Indian films across genres. While the  Window on Asian Cinema section will screen Nandita Das’ directorial debut Firaaq, Priyadarshan’s Kanjivaram and Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan, The Special Programme in Focus section comprises Anurag Kashyap’s animation film Return of Hanuman, another animation film Ghatotkach, the short-film compendium Mumbai Cutting and Hrithik Roshan-starrer special effects extravaganza Krrish. Quite a few documentaries from India are also being screened as part of the Wide Angle section.



(An abridged version of this article was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 26-09-2008)

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