Monday, February 28, 2005

Black revisited

Ok, I saw Black a few weeks ago. I tried to write a review once and just when I thought I had nailed it, Firefox crashed and I lost all that I wrote :(
This sunday, I was reading Deccan Herald and happened by this article -
I must say that this article conveys a lot of my feelings about this movie.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black is brave, passionate and well-crafted- a film that should be applauded for raising the bar for Bollywood films.
Yes, definitely it looks like a brave movie. At a time when Bollywood is still rehashing the same old stories and creating movies that are better classified as soft porn, this movie is a refreshing to see. It is good that a mainstream director whose last two movies were re-written love stories making a movie that has a different agenda than romance on the movie. It talks about the problems faced by the handicapped. The loneliness felt by the blind is their own and we could never be able to understand what it does to them. Psychologists say that sensory deprivation is very harmful to our mental health. It is for this reason that "terror" suspects are being treated like this. Anyway, back to movie, we see the struggles of Bachchan's character trying to teach the uncouth girl some manners and the relationship between words and what those words represent. It is heartening to see Bachchan in fabulous form, as he plays the character of the eccentric, devoted teacher fabulously. He is very convincing as that character.

But it is highly derivative, laden with excesses and at the core, somewhat dishonest and manipulative.
I agree with the reviewer here too. I think that the director does not hold any bars for the amount of emotions displayed on screen. While I could accept the dramatic nature of Bachchan's character, at times I felt that he was doing too much. And I felt that there was no reason for everyone in the movie to act in the same manner as Bachchan. The melodrama factor was far too great in quantity and there were scenes that seemed to have been created for the sole reason of manipulating the audience's emotions. The sibling rivalry thing looked very out of place and the entire portion of Bachchan's deteioration is added in but frankly, is needless if the movie was focussed on the problems of the deaf and blind.
The director seems to be fascinated with the colonial times. The setting of the movie is very colonial with colonial buildings and anglicanized main characters. By setting his characters in a period and setting alien to the audience, he has effectively isolated them by creating an unbridgeable gap between the audience and his central character. Thus, he has destroyed a good reason for making the movie - that of showing how the deaf and blind live amongst us and the difficulties they face due to the insentiveness of the physically normal people. Plus, the movie seems to suggest that handicapped people need to be the heirs of the wealthy to have any chance of getting a good education and that they would be dependent on their parents for a looooong time. So, in a sense, it rules out the possibility that the poor blind and deaf being able to live a life.
I also had trouble with the way he tried to depict the difficulties they face. For example, he uses the repeated failures in the exams as an example of the problems suggesting that handicapped people are so hindered by their handicaps that they could never be able to pass a BA in normal time. She takes 12 years in the movie to complete the course! wonder why he does not explore the possibility of oral exams like the interview for the admission to the college because as far as I know exams are a means of testing knowledge and not whether you can write so many words in a minute.

The scene where Michelle asks her teacher for a kiss may have been tackled with restraint but is designed ultimately to evoke pity for Michelle. Why does she have to think that no one is going to treat her like a woman and beg for a kiss?
This was something I hadn't thought of when I saw the movie. It think the reviewer is right here too. It is very sad that the depiction of the deaf and blind should be so. The movie seems to suggest that Michelle would never get the love of a man, not just in words (through her sister) but also in the duration of the movie. So, inspite of the fact that I would not have liked a stupid romantic angle, it would perhaps have been better to have shown a love interest. The scene mentioned above has been included for extracting audience pity, something that a dignified representation of the deaf and blind would have strived to avoid.

Bansali's direction is very flaky. It is sometimes exceptional but very often slips into unforgivable mediocricity. Unforgivable because it seems that he has not put enough thought process into the scene. The editing is sad but perhaps that is the best the editor could do given the shots that Bansali seems to have taken without any forethought.
The scene with the ball bouncing into the light is a great metaphor signifying the acceptance of the teacher by the child. But that is an isolated instance where Bansali does not seek to explain it. Very often, he uses a symbol and blatantly explains it to the audience in words, suggesting that the audience is incapable of understanding his "superior" ideas. It gets irritating at the very start of the movie.
Then there is the scene when Michelle's mother is told that her daughter is deaf and blind. The spartan set and the shot with the different images highlighted behind looked something out of a stage show. It was an effective shot as it was a very dramatic moment. I thought that Bansali could have used the same technique as a motif for other dramatic moments in the movie. There is a reappearance of the spartan set in the scene where Bachchan's character isolates the girl in a room so as to introduce her to a new thing everyday. But the scene is not shot in the same manner and the opportunity is lost. The spartan set again reappears in the form of the hospital room where Bachchan is chained to the bed. So, it seems that Bansali has tried to do something with these scenes (perhaps, connect them together) but the purpose is lost on me as he does not use the same technique in all the scenes. One does not get the feeling of a stage in these other scenes, so the connection is lost!

I am left with the conclusion that Bansali is a sloppy director who does not concentrate on all aspects of filmmaking. He would use beautiful sets but would forget that by doing so he creates a world of fantasy cut off from reality and thus, would further distance the audience from his characters. He would use lovely cinematography but would not concentrate on structuring his scenes properly.

All in all, the film is not an honest, sensitive portrayal of the handicapped. It goes further and is irresponsible! At the core, it is a commercial film. Bansali saw the subject could be milked for audience sympathy and that is what he has tried to do with this movie.

Bansali, you have lost a viewer!


_sRIyaNSa said...

apporva ... an excellent review of the movie ... when now one of my friends asks me why "Black" is not such a great movie in my opinion, i will promptly forward them the link to this url.

Sriyansa .... (to help you remember me ... Dash)

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