Monday, June 26, 2017

Jottings - Slice of Life - 132 ( Dangal - exquisite craftsmanship and brilliant performances)

Jottings - Slice of Life - 132 ( Dangal - exquisite craftsmanship and brilliant performances)
My favorite critic and Journalist of Newyorker Magazine , Anthony lane, had a simple rule to write about films. In his own inimitable style, he writes “ ..Whenever possible , pass sentence on a movie the day after it comes out. Otherwise , wait fifty years. Films are most plausibly assessed in the heat of the moment or with the icy advantage of the long gaze; anything in between is hedging ones bets..” I cannot agree more. But unlike Lane’s recommendation I cannot wait for fifty more years to write about one of the finest films, and extraordinary performance of Aamir khan in Dangal. It is true, I consciously deferred watching this movie when it came out last year. My friends, coworkers and every casual acquaintance I had a chance to bump into raved about the story, its intense portal of feminine power and the aura of patriotism which suffused it. But as Indians in a foreign country, sometimes we overdo this patriotism gig, and I politely ignored all earnest pleas to watch Dangal for that reason. One fact I was certain of though, and that is, an Aamir khan movie cannot get just be run of the mill stuff. It was certain to contain committed art in it, and Aamir himself would have given nothing less than hundred percent of himself and his talent to the movie.
The heroic story of a aging Wrestler fulfilling his dream of winning a gold medal through his daughters, is no doubt a fantasy come true. We really did have Babita and Geeta perform that extraordinary act in 2012; but what is even more amazing is how such an incredible and intense tale of success and determination in wrestling - a sport that does not often get as much attention as it deserves in the media, caught the perceptive eye of Creative director Divya rao of Walt Disney productions. Like talented and knowledgable publishers who know where success in authorship lies when they read a written page, people who head movie production houses must have a subliminal instinct on which stories can be told on screen, and how and who can tell them effectively and with conviction. When Divya read this small piece about Mahaveer Singh Phogat and his dream in the paper, she knew she had a great story and screenplay in hand, and she set the gears of production machinery rolling. The result is Dangal. The name Divya rao may not resound in public domain when the success of Dangal is recounted , but without her spot-on instinct and ability to convince a host of creative people that this idea is worth capturing on screen, Dangal may have never been made - at least not in the way it finally shaped up. To that extent, she and Walt Disney deserves credit for doing their job doing well.
My first impression after I finished watching Dangal is one of immense aesthetic satisfaction. A satisfaction that comes from seeing a flawless execution of a predictable theme. Every frame spoke of careful lighting, thoughtful arrangement of sets, great supporting cast, and a screenplay which peeled the story layer by layer without losing grip till the very end, when it floundered a little to accommodate a traditional cinematic climax. That is excusable. After Clint Eastwood’s “million dollar baby”, I havent seen a movie where a fighting sport (especially featuring Women) was so realistically captured on screen. Never for a moment did I get the impression that people were aimlessly fighting or going through half hearted motions of cinematic stunt; every action sequence gave us a ring side view of “wrestling”, its artistry and subtle nuances. The central theme of the film, for me at least, was not patriotism or gender struggle. While those are definitely individual tiles on the broader mosaic of the tale, the main theme of Dangal is Wrestling as a sport, and the discipline it takes to becomes a great wrestler. Gender doesn't matter. Like martial arts, Wrestling is a psychological exercise and anyone with right frame of mind and good technique, and educated instincts can rise above the ordinary. However, within the context of India or China ( where the film did unbelievably well at box office), Dangal may still appeal as a voice of female emancipation, patriotism and love for motherland in a predominantly patriarchal society - a theme Indians are very passionate about and which I thought was exhausted in “Chak de” and couldn't be bettered; but from the larger perspective of Movies as an art form, where Dangal succeeds, is in its picture perfect rendition of the ancient sport of Wrestling, a sport which looks clumsy at first to an untrained eye, but has enough grace, finesse, strength, strategy and spontaneity to rank among the most difficult and entertaining of sporting duels. In Dangal, Director Nitesh Tiwari captures its beauty through the eyes of two smart girls, who train and discipline themselves under a strict and admirable father.
There are very few actors of who I am in awe. Aamir is certainly one of them. From his early days of wavy haired, guitar wielding, innocent looking college boy who lip synced to the lilting tune of “Papa kahte hai bada naam karega..” to the intensity, manliness ,maturity and complete immersiveness in the role of the Patriarch Mahaveer Singh Phogat - is a study in artistic progression, commitment to art and stern determination to keep reaching higher and higher and not fall prey to the disease of complacency. A great performance is one where audience lose track of the person playing the role, and start seeing the character portrayed as a real person. Not many actors can achieve it. Some do in certain movies, but nobody in recent times has done it as consistently as Aamir. In Dangal, Aamir Khan, the man, the hero rarely surfaces. It is Mahaveer, the determined father, who dances in front of our eyes. What is commendable is not merely Aamir’s physical rigor and discipline in conditioning himself, but the sheer imaginative scope of the character he brings on his face. His intense stare can literally bore a hole through the wall. Performances like these should make textbook study for young actors in Film institutes across the world. Its worth studying. As his Wrestling daughters, the young and talented girls (Fatima and Sana) shine and sizzle, and never once does Aamir steal the thunder from them. Like a wall he supports their incredible performance, and lends the story its true heroines, as he quietly basks in their glory.
There is common criticism of Aamir, that he disregards the movie industry, he is arrogant, does not attend award ceremonies( though they are compelled to give him all the awards he deserves) and so on. I am not surprised. If Aamir needs to continue acting, producing and making movies that redefine Cinematic excellence in India, he cannot afford to mix with the mundane. True artists are essentially lonely people. The Gurudutts, the Meena Kumari’s, the Sanjeev Kumar’s could not survive in a celluloid world inundated with superficiality, and we know what they did to themselves. Aamir keeps a benign, spiritual detachment from mainstream, which allows him the artistic liberty and resources needed to realize his artistic vision. After kamal Hassan, he is the only actor who can dare to make a movie and force his audience to watch, appreciate and learn. There may be failures along his way. It is inevitable. When one walks the razors edge, as Aamir often does, one is bound to slip and slide; but the joy lies in keeping at it and experience the creative adrenaline rush through the veins.
In an introduction to his collection of essays that came out in 2000, Anthony Lane makes a poignant observation on movie making. He writes ( I paraphrase) “ ..Movie makers are never tired of keeping their fingers out of Cinema’s deepest and most promising pockets, the wallet and the heart. Whatever humans do on film, they do it for love or money…” To extend Lane’s acute observation a little, few film makers and actors are fortunate to make movies on both accounts - love and money; Love first, money later. The phenomenal commercial success of Dangal only shows that good movies do not need six years in the making, 100’s of millions in special effects, or international promos . All it needs is great performance, a simple tale told with conviction, commitment and honesty.
In conclusion, one more effulgent feather in Aamir’s cap, and a standing applause to the hearts, brains and resources behind Dangal..
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

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