Saturday, August 04, 2007

Double Bill

I appreciate the written word more than the visual medium of cinema, so it's nice when a film is structured like a novel. It's even nicer when the film in question is much better than one expected. I may have liked it all the more in comparison with the director's previous attempt, so you are free to discount my praise hereafter.

Anjan Dutta directed Burrah Din (or Bada Din, though that spelling is not advisable in Calcutta) 9 years ago. It sucked. So I expected The Bong Connection to be another patchy mélange. Surprise. This is a well-scripted, neatly structured, thoroughly enjoyable film with excellent performances from an ensemble cast.

Dutta portrays Bangali quirks and foibles in Houston and in Hati Bagan. His observations, from the standard drunk in the probashi party to the para layabout who’s into ‘contracting’, are acute and often hilarious The story tracks two young Bengalis moving in opposite directions, as one tries to grow anew from family roots in Calcutta and the other learns to fly in foreign skies.This could easily have been a clever little linear docu-drama with no soul. Instead, it tracks their respective arcs as they cross in mid-air and even closes the circle by film's end. Anjan Dutta's script drives the film even better than his direction, with only two weak spots [1] in over two hours.

Not that the direction is weak. There's an interlude when the main characters, half of them in Shantiniketan and the other half in Texas, dance to the rhythm of a remix (yes, but it works!) of Tagore's Pagla hawa. It could have been kitschy, or sunk under the weight of reverence. Instead of which, it rises and soars, lifting the sails of imagination like Tagore's "frenzied wind". Or a chapter from Kerouac. Even Raima Sen looks natural and not her usual precious self. Now THAT is quite an achievement. In fact, Dutta extracts good performances from even the noted non-performers (no names) and some great cameos from Victor Banerjee and Shouvik Kundagrami. The supporting cast are solid and Peeya Mukherjee blazes quality in a comparatively ill-defined role.

Neil Dutta’s music is surprisingly good for a first-timer. Not every track, but the baaul tracks are wonderful. My friend criticized the under-use of Soumitra Chatterjee, now one of the grand old men of Bangla cinema. He appears in two scenes – as a paralytic old man struck silent by a stroke. I, on the contrary, found this the neatest part of the film, the under-stated tribute to Ray and his oeuvre (echoed by the background score). Soumitra was the original Apu, ‘Opoarajito’. As his character dies, Porombroto’s character, also named Apu, returns to his native shores. A closing of the circle and a reaffirmation of faith. A satisfying experience.

[1] Once when Porombroto and Peeya fight in front of his apartment, and again in one of the scenes with Hasan the taxi driver.

The other film I saw recently was Partner. Don’t gasp. I loved it, and not just because of Govinda’s innate timing. This film works on many levels. Much has been written about the chemistry between the film’s lead pair – Salman and Govinda. It’s there and it drives the film, but one of the stars is not on screen.

Sanjay Chhel wrote the script. He has been a favourite ever since the days of Yeh jo hai Zindagi, right through Daud and Yes Boss. If the two leading men sound good on-screen, it’s because of the lines Chhel gives them. Camp, outrageous, but so inane they’re good. I mean, Jahan guru wahan chela, ayee milan ki bela is almost as over-the-top as Owe koi nahin jee, hum toh bus underwear-underwear khel rahe they (from that other Dhawan-Govinda romp, Jodi No. 1).

There’s not much by way of a story or plot, no matter that the basic premise is lifted from Hitch. The intermittent ensemble numbers are faintly irritating. Rajpal Yadav is too loud and wasted in a little digression as Chhota Don. Katrina Kaif is pretty and vapid. Lara Dutta doesn’t have much of a role either except to flesh out, as a single mother, the acknowledgement of changing times. Unlike Katrina, however, she does look like a person and not just a pretty face. I’d do coffee with her any day.

The soul of the film glimmers in the scene where Salman as the ‘love guru’ tries to teach ‘bewaqoof Bhaskar’ to dance. Others have mentioned Govinda jiving to Sarkai le khatiya while Salman tries to do a coolio to Just chill. (This is one of a series of in-jokes, like Salman’s inability to do a film fully clad, that I enjoyed enormously.) The giveaway comes just afterwards. Salman walks out, Govinda starts a crazy hop and Just chill morphs into Cheel cheel chilla ke, from Kishore Kumar’s Half Ticket.

This, I think, is the essence of the film. Kishore Kumar in Half Ticket was a bizarre, unpredictable streak of comic energy. The film had a ridiculous premise that was actually irrelevant except for some sight gags. Like Kalidas’ 1962 romp, David Dhawan doesn’t mess with a good thing. He has a script with some good gags, he has a lead pair who crackle together. He lets them loose, rolls the camera as they freak out, and waits for the good bits to fall in place. And you know what, it works. Full-too time-pass. So what if it isn’t Blow-Out?!

**** ****


Phantasmagoria said...

I like. Thank you. ;)

Sayantani said...

really? u mean u really liked bong connection that much? so much that u bring in kerouac?? i'm disappointed.

satanbug21 said...

am deeply hurt n appaled at the fact that u watched " Partner"...
and then again bothered to talk about it...
coming from a man who thrives on Devilled Crab n Chicken Pavlograd,its a real RHINO BULL>>>

Heh Heh said...

thanks. the soundtrack is very refreshing. (referring to bong conn)

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Ph, thanks for the thanks

Sayantani, I was not disappointed. Which may account for my opinion.

S-Bug, Memories of Mocambo prevent me from chastising you. Orbacheen chhokra

Heh Heh, I agree. Mentioned it too.