Saturday, March 25, 2006

O Mallige (1997)

O Mallige (1997)
Featuring: Ramesh, Charulata, Amar Mayur, Chaitali and others.
Directed by: V.Manohar

Kannada movie industry’s well known music director V.Manohar chooses an interesting story to launch himself as a director. “O Mallige” has shades of a lot of features that have dealt with similar themes in various languages – the well known and my personal favorite being Kamal Hasan and Sridevi’s dynamite feature ‘Sadma’ – but gives it a different treatment.

Mallige (Charulata) lives in a small village with her uncle played by V.Manohar himself. A heart patient, Manohar has an ambitious wannabe model in his son Nacchi (Amar Mayur) who is lost in the bliss of the big city. When he suffers another nearly fatal stroke, Nacchi reluctantly returns to be by his dying father’s side. Seizing the opportunity, the dying man manages to knot the innocent village belle Mallige to our dear city chap. As much as Nacchi hates the decision, he goes along considering his father’s health. He even manages to consummate the wedlock under the influence of alcohol. A few days later the old man dies leaving the helpless girl to his son. The very next day Nacchi takes off without a care in the world for the newly wed and naïve girl who has nowhere to turn for support.

Days roll by and soon Mallige realizes she is expecting. To take things under her own control she decides to join her absconding husband in the city. As one would predict our opportunist young man has shifted base and is shown wooing the rich daughter of a millionaire to fuel his aspirations of becoming a successful model. Soon the young couple is shown exchanging sweet nothings in parks and restaurants while the pregnant girl is roaming the streets of the city looking for her ignorant husband.

Towards intermission we are introduced to the real powerhouse of the feature in the form of Krishna Murthy alias Kitti (Ramesh) who is also an aspiring model in between odd jobs. An accident brings Kitti and Mallige together as she is seriously injured in the mishap and loses all memory of her immediate past. For his convenience to shoo off the prying landlords, Kitti brings Mallige to his house and christens her Lakshmi since she has no memory of her name. A special bond of affection starts forming between the two. Nacchi continues his Casanova ways with the rich girl unaware of any of these happenings.

Time continues to roll by and before we know it Lakshmi aptly bears Ganesha. Meanwhile Kitti manages to get a plum offer from the same firm that works with Mallige’s husband. Soon the jig is up for Mr.Big-Dreams Nacchi as his girlfriend realizes that he is married and so starts encouraging Kitti instead to get back at him. Nacchi confronts her and ends up apologizing for his “mistake” but she is firm in her decision and decides not to have anything to do with him.

Things start falling into place when she sees Mallige at Kitti’s place and informs him about the truth. Kitti is heartbroken at the thought of losing Mallige to a stranger. She has been his life for the past few years and this sudden change of events scares him. As the movie turns more predictable Nacchi meets his long lost wife in Kitti’s house and confronts him to return her to him. Now Mallige alias Laxmi is shown to have to choose between the two men although I never saw the relevance considering the “real husband” had no role in Laxmi’s life expect the marriage and its consummation. The final showdown sees Laxmi undergoing medical treatment in the process of gaining her memory back. Who she chooses to be with and under what circumstances forms the final few minutes of the movie.

Performances wise Ramesh is the only trained professional in the feature who keeps the story alive. His natural flair for expressions brings a much needed realistic look to the script. The only downside seemed to be his casting as the male fashion model since I thought it did not really fit him. Charulata does a good job with her character with a lot of screen presence. Amar Mayur, debuting with this feature apparently, is a complete let down. The man is camera conscious, wooden-faced and out of sync with the lines in many places. The story could have used a seasoned actor for his role and thus ends up losing some luster. Sadhu Kokila is supposedly the comic component but ends up overacting his way around like always. Others chip in as appropriate in their stereotypical roles.

The real weight in the feature in terms of execution is the post intermission section. Manohar does a decent job at stitching together a cohesive script although random patches of needless comedy throws the narration off balance. Being a music director an overdose of songs seems irrelevant since they add less mileage to the story telling process. They are definitely melodious nonetheless and are pleasing to the ears. Editing seems rushed and abrupt so could have used some work.

A good movie with a fine theme.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Parameshi Prema Prasanga (1985)

Parameshi Prema Prasanga (1985)
Featuring: Ramesh Bhat, Arundati Nag, Anant Nag, Shankar Nag, Manjunath, C R Simha and others.
Directed by: Ramesh Bhat

For this debut venture Ramesh Bhat chooses a tried and tested family entertainer formula. Stories about married couples and the challenges they face specially with regards to trust is something that is as real as life itself. Many movies have successfully tried to showcase this and Parameshi Prema Prasanga (PPP) attempts to do the same.

Parameshi (Ramesh Bhat) is happily married to a village belle Ramamani (Arundati) and they both parent a little boy Paapu. He works for a small time firm run by a vicious lady boss and gossip monger of a colleague team. Simha is the office peon who gets his kicks placing childish bets with the employees. Parameshi is something of a simpleton who is not necessarily aware of the conning mindsets of insensitive people. He falls prey to one of Simha’s little bets and ends up going out with another female colleague in the office a couple of times. This does not gel well with the naïve wife at home and she confronts Parameshi about the same. He scoffs it off saying in the changing social framework one has to be accepting with such socializing. He also goes on to add that it would never bother him if she (Ramamani) would do the same.

True to her strong willed self, Ramamani enacts a little drama herself to convince Parameshi that she is having an affair with a faceless name. Cigarette butts, movie tickets, her unusual staying away from the house – it has all the cliché suspicion-arousing elements that couples are known to succumb to. This makes our hypocritical little man Parameshi very upset and he takes to extensive drinking (of course!) to overcome this unbearable pain. Ramamani is successful in her attempt and is on the verge of breaking the news to him. However, things spiral out of control when Simha, being his mischievous self, adds the final nail in the coffin by sending Parameshi an anonymous letter confirming Ramamani’s affair. This pretty much ends the couple’s happy journey. Parameshi takes off without any news to an unknown destination leaving the helpless and innocent wife and child behind.

Without an option she braces herself to face reality. She gets all kinds of odd jobs to support herself and the growing child. One song later the child is a four year old Manjunath who is shown attending school. A chance encounter brings Manjunath and his father Parameshi together. It is not long before Parameshi realizes this fact and files a case in court for custody of his son. A showdown eventually takes place bringing a tired and weather-beaten Ramamani face to face with Parameshi.

Anant Nag plays Paapanna in all this as a parallel character who is an alcoholic lawyer. Nothing much happens with his character till the last few minutes of the movie. A surprise package of the movie is Shankar Nag who I saw after so many years. It had been a very long time since I had seen Shankar and it was a refreshing few minutes anyway.

Performances wise Arundati Nag proves she is a natural on screen. She emotes well and plays the role of the gullible yet alert village girl with finesse. In a way she is the only major entity in the post intermission parts. Ramesh Bhat is adequate as the suspicious Parameshi. Manju does a good job reminding me of his classic performance in Swami and Friends. Others chip into their finitely scoped character roles although Anant and Shankar were definitely wasted.

Ramesh Bhat does a decent job at putting a cohesive script into execution. Technically the film is well shot although editing could use some work. The climax which was expected to be a major court room drama also leaves a lot to be desired from. Music is nothing to write home about.

Initially my impression was that PPP would be a laugh riot of a movie with major comic sequences. However, I was proved wrong. A script like this could have been a light hearted and comedy based one like Rama Shama Bhama (which also dealt with a similar theme) but Ramesh Bhat chooses to give it a serious and realistic angle. This in a way kills the potential such a time tested script could have had. Bhat’s hesitation with experimenting with a good story is what makes this feature pretty ordinary. With the Nag brothers in the cast, I thought he could have done a lot more than use them as crowd pullers by casting them in minor and lack luster roles.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

H2O (2002)

H2O (2002)
Featuring: Upendra, Prabhudeva, Priyanka and others.

Directed by: Loknath and Rajaram

India has always been one of the lands cursed by geography and history. If on the one hand there are unresolved issues with our neighbors then there are internal conflicts as well that alienate us from each other. I was watching Anupam Kher’s “Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara” the other day and somehow I could draw parallels of that feature with H2O given the fact that indeed our Gandhian values and principles are lost in the post-independence era. Our priorities are no longer about unity in diversity but finding ways of dissecting whatever is left of our united front. We seem more interested in finding ways to isolate ourselves rather than move forward as one nation. The danger of such loss of values is what H2O attempts to showcase. It brings to light problems of colossal proportions that have been plaguing the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for the past three decades.

Honnuru (a Kannada speaking village) and Chennooru (a Tamil speaking village) live on the banks of the river Cauvery. The river is the lifeline of both these villages where people live in harmony, love and brotherhood. A love-struck couple representing each of the villages actually manages to bear a child as a symbol of the unity they share. Enter Kireek (a hunchback with an evil eye) who manages to convert the love that the couple shares into arrows of gossip thus successfully igniting a full blown communal riot. The once friendly and harmonious villagers now turn thirsty for each other’s blood killing the loving couple in the process. The woman bears the child in the middle of the river Cauvery. The cautious boatman takes the girl child, now christened Cauvery, to a medication center run by some saints nearby. Cauvery (Priyanka) grows up in the nature’s bosom and is also shown to be a caring and nurturing girl who only believes in selfless giving.

Enter Udayashankar (yes our very own long haired Upendra) who is pretty much the landlord of the entire village. He has his own way of dealing with problems and internal conflicts. He believes in equality. And not just among people but even in their status in the society. This is probably why Kireek (who manages to lurk around the area by getting a handyman’s job in the medication center) is awestruck to find beggars on motorbikes and sweepers in double breasted suits in Honnuru. Under the baton of Uday’s leadership equality is a forced entity. One of the humorous situations shows how Uday managed to trade places of his rich parents with a poor worker’s family. This, in effect, is how Uday sees equality among all.

Enter Vairamuttu (a stylish and blonde-streaked Prabudeva) who is shown to be a Chennoorian returning from the United States. Not only does he bring back stuff for himself but for his entire village! Soon we have farmers using laptops while irrigating their fields and their wives prancing around with Nike T-shirts and sunglasses. While Muttu also believes in equality, his vision is about the future. He nurses political aspirations and has figured out that if he keeps his people happy then he is sure to achieve a lot of mileage on his political vehicle.

Uday and Muttu have only one thing that sparks friction between them – Cauvery, the doctor. When she is not busy curing patients, she is playing the mute doll between these two exceedingly eccentric characters. She has no feelings of love or romance with either of them yet is drawn towards each of them. Unfortunately not once does the poor girl get a chance to speak her mind to either of them. So much in the name of true love, eh? While Uday is busy creating “heaven on earth” and praying to her photograph at home, Muttu is Michael Jackson-ing himself in front of her till the cows come home.

Re-enter Kireek. Sparks fly once again between the two cities to bring an end to this bizarre tale of love. Uday and Muttu confront each other claiming stake for Cauvery’s hand. Each one thinks she belongs to him and the other would face death if thought otherwise. One thing leads to another and the heat of hatred starts spreading beyond the river and its banks. The people of each of these villages get involved and before you know it, Kireek has successfully managed to spin tales and communal riots resurface. People who once admired each other are now chopping each other off, burning each other’s houses, violating each other’s women. Kireek manipulates with their innocence and manages to bring complete destruction to their doorsteps. There are no winners and losers here. Cauvery is the only one who has lost more than just the prospect of love. She has lost trust and more importantly goodwill for everyone around her. No amount of nurturing can ever bring it back. In effect, everyone has already lost Cauvery.

“H2O” is a tongue-in-cheek satire of the river dispute. Each character in the movie represents much more than just a name. In some cases it is a state and in some cases it is the people. In some cases it is the government and in some cases it is Mother Nature herself. Scenes in the movie took me back more than a decade ago when I remember watching houses being burnt in front of my eyes in Bangalore. Scenes of policemen asking us onions to help get rid of the tear-gas sting still rolls by. Scenes of hundreds of homeless, helpless and eventually hopeless people still loom large. When will we stop being petty and start working towards the dream that the Mahatma had once seen? When will he stop thinking about ourselves and start building the true definition of the Swaraj? When will we look past insignificant differences and truly become united? These questions have no answers elsewhere but within ourselves. Features like “H2O” are gentle reminders of the price we will have to pay if we do not come together as one community. Only then shall India awake in the sunshine of true freedom.

This is an Upendra movie without a doubt. I do not know why someone else was credited as directors because not one frame goes by without the unique and creative essence of what I like to call “Uppi Logic”. If he took care of the story, screenplay and dialogues then I wonder what stopped him from directing it officially. Regardless, the feature has some well shot sequences which act as metaphors to real situations. Not bringing Kireek to justice was a master stroke.

Acting-wise Upendra is his usual self playing to the gallery. His loud and sometimes outrageous outburst tends to get tiring. Prabhudeva is strictly ok despite not getting ample time to bend himself out of shape. Priyanka looks dazed and surprised at the energy Upendra and Prabhu seem to diffuse into the feature since she is basically looking blankly into the camera most of the time. I think this was done intentionally since the river Cauvery herself is a mute spectator to the goings on. If this was not the case then I guess Priyanka has a long way to go to hone her acting skills. Supporting cast is adequate with the right amount of Kannada and Tamil used in the right places to maintain authenticity.

Music is a decent fare. Sadhu Kokila belts out a couple of hummable tunes but loses sync in the remaining ones. Background score is well done. Editing seems very hurried in some of the crucial portions and hence looks amateurish. In the process of making a point, the editing department loses the effect which is so vital for such fast paced features. Watch out for a brilliant climax sequence that shows the dispute in new light.

Overall, it is the message that “H2O” tries to convey which is the only thing that should matter.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bhoomitaayiya Chochchala Maga (1998)

Bhoomitaayiya Chochchala Maga (1998)
Featuring: Shivraj Kumar, Ramesh, Shilpa, Vijayalaxmi and others.

Directed by: S.V Rajendra Singh Babu

“The only way to be a true democracy is by taking part in it” is a quote that Bhoomitaayiya Chochchala Maga (BTCM) attempts to examine.

Karna (Shivraj) and Bharat (Ramesh) are close friends. They are such despite their financial status in society (Karna is the rich one). Karna has an annoying namesake girlfriend (Vijayalaxmi in a completely wasted role) who does nothing more than appear in super skimpy outfits and has scenes without a single line of dialog. They are shown to be college going students who are happy winning small time elections and boozing their nights away.

While these three are making merry in the city, Karna’s father Chennabasappa(Sabyasachi) has a heart attack in his hometown Bharatipura. The man needs rest and comfort so Karna shoots across to be by his father’s side. A meaningless confrontation with Neela (Shilpa) who is a social activist and commands extreme goodwill with the local folk there finds Karna apologizing to her for his misbehavior. This act does not gel well with our man and he fumes his frustration on a tennis ball as he narrates this incident to his friend Bharat on his return. Bharat promises Karna that they would together avenge this outrageous act that was meted out against Karna.

Having decided thus, Bharat and Vijayalaxmi arrive in the village posing as some minister’s kids. The village school master is so naïve that he actually invites them into his school without so much as a proper enquiry. Of course, that Bharat is never shown teaching the kids anywhere is apparently irrelevant. All this, however, is an act to get under the skin of the locals there and try to humiliate Neela and claim revenge.

As incidents unfold one after the other, Bharat realizes that getting under Neela’s skin is not an easy task. He also realizes that she has done a lot of commendable works for the village that is dying without water. Farmers commit suicides by consuming insecticides every passing day. Local elections arrive and Bharat wins (he actually stabs himself convinced that it would get him ‘sympathy’ votes!) and soon he is seen taking initiatives in the village for the people’s welfare. Bharat starts looking at his new found responsibility and conveniently forgets all about Karna’s childish revenge-project. Instead, Bharat goes ahead and discovers that the only reason why a dam, which is a great solution to lend water to the dying farmers, was not built from three decades is because of Chennabasappa – Karna’s father. Caught between the greater good to the people and Karna, his close friend, Bharat struggles to keep his ground.

Karna, on the other hand, is busy cutting himself and weeping his eyes out to his girlfriend (who for some reason is still with this man despite his lack of attention towards her.) swearing that he would get back at Bharat for betraying his friendship and trust. They both part ways because of this new friction.

The second half showcases Bharat in the Assembly at the Vidhana Souda presenting his case with Bharatipura’s problems. This is quite possibly the highlight of the movie in terms of dialogs and presentation. I was impressed by the entire scene which included the typical glimpses from the Parliament where people throws chairs, slippers and words at each other with no one to control the situation. Ramesh delivers his lines with a lot of conviction in this scene and by far this is the only sequence that stood out in the entire movie for me. Truly well shot and deserves applause in all departments.

Unfortunately there is not much applause for this initiative from Bharat from home front. Chennabasappa, as one would imagine, is furious at the progressing harm towards his assets. He did not budge for three decades so one cannot imagine him being any different now. Hence, while Karna is finally basking in the new found light of realization towards his friend, Karna’s father manages to take that same light out of Bharat’s life. Bharat’s murder finally ignites the ray of revolution in Karna as he braces for a showdown with the government, the Chief Minister, his people and his own father.

The one thing that struck me immediately during the first half of the movie is the uncanny resemblance it has to the Hindi feature “Namak Haraam” featuring Amitabh and Rajesh Khanna in similar roles. How a poor friend gets into the rich friend’s environment to try and kill the opposition but ends up becoming their deliverer. The first half is pretty cliché but it is the second half that engrosses you into the goings on. The movie taps on real problems and real situations. But somehow the loud and melodramatic presentation seeps into the reality it tries to showcase thus making its effect weak. Some sequences, like the one with Ramesh mentioned above, are definitely a class apart but once his character dies the remainder of the story loses heat with Shivraj choosing violence to take care of business. It is unfortunate that people have to go to such extreme measures (one good soul actually chops off his own ear without so much as a whisper!) to make a point with the administration.

Rajendra Singh Babu experiments with scene handling in some cases effectively but otherwise it turns out to be a painful exercise. Like most larger than life stories, BTCM leaves many unfinished traces along the way.

Performances wise Ramesh definitely comes out in flying colors, literally, considering his final scenes. He plays the part with a lot of commitment. Shivraj Kumar is alright as the confused and misunderstood rich boy Karan who eventually rebels against the odds. Nothing out of the ordinary from him in this feature. Shilpa is adequate as the tough and goal oriented Neela who has dedicated herself completely for social welfare. Vijayalaxmi is wasted as a little girl trapped inside a grown woman’s body. Others in the story, mostly unknown faces, lend apt support to the goings on which also includes a philosophical “I-am-going-to-build-a-dam-myself” Lokesh who goes around trying to inspire people in vain.

Background score is well composed and gels well with scenes. Songs are nothing to write home about and act as fillers during the story. Editing is well done and camera work of wide angle shots of the rural scene is commendable.

Overall BTCM delivers a strong message. I wish it was not as predictable as it turned out to be towards the end since it was showcasing a real issue that haunts our villages even today. But a valuable bottom line nonetheless.

It is true then that the only way to be a true democracy is by taking part in it.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Udbhava (1985)

Udbhava (1985)
Featuring: Anant Nag, Sunder Raj, Mamta Rao, Dinesh, Ashwath, Balakrishna and others.

Directed by: Kodlur Ramakrishna

Faith is what keeps us optimistic. Faith is what helps us get past impossible seeming situations that we find ourselves in. Faith is what eventually matters. But how appropriate does it seem when it is taken advantage of by a corrupt minded social framework? How much faith should one possess to avoid being taken for a ride? Faith is always just. Blind faith, however, is a questionable entity.

“Udbhava” explores these questions in a social fabric woven around it. Centered on one of the infinite narrow streets of Bangalore City, the story zooms in on the life of Raganna (Anant) who is jobless, penniless but definitely not hopeless. With a house of his own, a nagging wife (Mamta Rao in a minuscule role) and two sons, Raganna goes about his day with the only asset he has – his talking skills. He is a man of many shades when it comes to talking. One of those sly double talking chaps who will kill the snake without breaking the stick, as it were. To make the family’s ends meet, he capitalizes on peoples’ shortcomings which includes everything from threatening to expose secret lovers to killing his non existent relatives to ward off money lenders. He has a couple of devoted followers (Sunder Raj and someone else) who go around showcasing our dear man as a social worker.

Things take an interesting turn when a random road accident takes place on one of the streets in that area. Rumors start getting generated by Raganna and Co. that the government is making arrangements to widen the narrow street to enable better movement of vehicles. This, needless to say, starts poking other members in that area since they have vested interests in that street. Widening the road would mean bringing down their buildings and this does not gel well with any of them. Rich and poor alike turn to Raganna to “aid them” out of this pickle. Little do they know that it was his very rbain that manufactured this little scheme. One thing leads to another and soon this news is all over the city More characters get involved in the form of Radhakrishna, who nurses political aspirations, to lead the way in this road-widening project. A freedom-fighter threatens to starve to death if the road is not widened. . The government, not able to deal with this crisis, decides to go ahead and widen the road after all. Of course, the stick is safe and sound at this point but the snake is still not dead. Raganna is scratching his multi-processing brain to rake up an idea and hence begins a scam of gigantic proportions.

During one his early morning visits to the temple, the priest (Ashwath) spots an idol of Lord Ganesha coming out of the land. India is known for many religious places that are believed to have been emanated deities. Raganna capitalizes on this belief and before you know it, hundreds are visiting the supposedly “holy spot” to get a glimpse of this miracle. One of those visitors is Balakrishna, a sculpturer by profession, who is shocked to see that one his sculptures is now the supposedly emanated idol! He realizes there has been foul play and cries murder but in vain. The government officials who had been working on the road widening project too are roped into this vicious cycle of faith as they do not want to be responsible for invoking the Almighty’s wrath by getting rid of this holy spot He has Himself decided to grace. The road now shifts from 20 feet on either side to 40 feet on one. This puts a spanner in Dinesh’s (his last movie) vested interests and hence seeks refuge in Raganna once again.

The Math and Physics of this now boiling pot starts to heat up with each passing moment. Raganna starts to play with a lot more than just the plight of couples in love. He starts “creating God” as and when there is a problem. What started out as minor money making scheme by Rajanna now escalates out of control. Despite an opposing minority who firmly believes that this is a major scam, Raganna and his supporters (both quiet and outspoken) continue to thrive on people’s unending faith in the Almighty. All said and done everything except the road itself miraculously widening does occur.

“Udbhava” is one of those movies that show us a tongue-in-cheek view of the society we live in. The way our upbringing, especially in diverse countries like India, is so tightly knit around religious entities. The way this very entity is exploited by people like Raganna for their personal benefits. It also showcases the despair we all live in that makes us want to believe in something…anything. Even if it means celebrating a scam.

Anant controls the entire show as always. He performs his role as the scheming and deceitful Raganna with class. Somehow he seems to be tailor-made for such roles that seem to be written specifically for him. This role of a godfather-of-sorts that he essays is definitely one of his finest performances along with so many others. His comic timing is perfect as always too. Character actors like Ashwath, Balakrishna and Sunder Raj are flawless in their roles. The few minutes that Balakrishna does appear on screen reminds us what a legend our industry lost and in such a shameful way. Mamta Rao, as mentioned earlier, is alright as the abiding wife to Raganna. Other characters lend apt support to the goings on.

Technically the movie is well shot although not necessarily high budget in its production value. Music is pleasant and gels well with the storyline. The director narrates the tale of the scum that haunts our society and administration with a lot of depth. He leaves us with a profound “It is no surprise that Gods appear in our land. What is surprising is that so do many Ragannas …”

For those who have not yet seen this socially relevant comic feature I would recommend they have a look. Maybe the next time your faith is questioned, you will be able to respond to it more accurately.