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.

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