Monday, August 20, 2018

Jottings - Slice of life - 231 ( "Kaala" - too lengthy a movie, but a rare glimpse into Rajni - the actor)

Jottings - Slice of life - 231 ( "Kaala" - too lengthy a movie, but a rare glimpse into Rajni - the actor)
The problem with most Indian movies is that it has to be nearly three hours long. We simply cannot accept the idea that a story can be told convincingly and with sufficient entertainment is less than that. And most stories, we tell, hardly have enough meat in it to keep a discerning audience riveted for nearly 180 minutes. Movie makers may argue: we cater to the masses, and not to the high-nosed, Hollywood soaked literate gentry who walk into cinema halls only to critique and compare. That may be true; I am not questioning that. But the point is, evolution and appreciation of an art form is a bilateral responsibility. Unless the artist is bold and talented enough to change tastes and attitudes, their audience wouldn't have an opportunity to adapt and appreciate. Its a osmotic relationship. Every major change in trends - whether it be in music, painting, dance of movies demands a risk, and onus unequivocally lies on the artists to take that risk. To blame the audience is to shy away from the integrity of the art.
A case in question is the movie "Kaala", the latest Rajnikanth Starrer. After a very long time, the aging actor has finally acknowledge on screen he is aged, and can no more play the swashbuckling hero, he once was. Except for one or two scenes where director P.A Ranjith makes him performs the impossible (to appease his fan following), the movie has a mellowed down Rajni, playing the role of a slum don, past his prime and more or less settled down. Even his romance is respectable and believable background affair with no trips to far flung islands around the world gyrating to rhythms with girls quarter his age, or shot in elaborate sets and photoshopped by virtuoso cinematographers. He is happily married, loyal, has grown up boys who are parents themselves, and grandchildren in ascending order of age. However, the essence of the story is the problem of slums, ownership of land and right of slum dwellers to choose their own destiny.
Dharaavi, in Mumbai, is one of the popular slums in the world. I hate to call a slum popular, but that is how many times we have used Dharaavi as a prop in Indian cinema to tell a story. Anytime, we need a poverty stricken, hygiene-less, downtrodden section of society to project - Dharaavi seems to be the first choice. Within an area of 520 acres , nearly 700,000 people live in the most squalid conditions, with extraordinary courage, grace, integrity and dignity. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dharaavi's tale of poverty and courage need to be told from rooftops and podiums to the whole world. And some writers have done it already. Katherine boo's book "Behind the beautiful forevers" captures the core of what it is to live and die and Dharaavi without trivializing and sensationalizing the issue. But in movies, Dharaavi is often the backdrop for a zealous protagonist to fight his own war. From Salim- Javed's Deewaar to Mani Ratnam's Nayagan to Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay, to Vidhu Vinod chopra's Parinda to Danny Boyles Slum dog millionaire and many more - the land of Dharaavi has been exposed in its various dimensions. There is nothing more to show there. Despite all this hype and media exposure, the condition of the slum still remains as it is even today with no resolution in sight. That is the tragedy in a country, when a powerful art form becomes mere entertainment and loses its deeper meaning as a vehicle of social revolution.
I have digressed. "Kaala" for the first 70 minutes is brilliant. The story moves on at slick pace, with well crafted screen play and direction. Rajni is portrayed in quite a new avatar, and he acquits himself very well. The sensitive scenes when he meets his old lover, and establishes new code of conduct between them, is perhaps one of the best acting sequences for Rajni in a very, very long time. One wonders, when we see him act like that, whether Tamil cinema has underutilized his talent over the decades. The spark is still there, but age and health is not. Like Amitabh, he should have turned his career around at least a decade ago; but he was caught in a rut, which he now attempts to come out of, and reinvent himself. In my opinion, its a little too late for that. Its risky for him and people who put money on him. Anyway, beyond the first 70 or 80 minutes, the movie begins to meander without purpose. Both the story and director evidently did not know what to do to fill up 180 minutes of cinema footage. The tight screen play gives way to pointless prolonged sequences and images. Midway through the second half, one feels like getting up and walking out. Thats a shame, considering the movie had everything going for it in the first half.
At the end of it, I was frankly bored; but somewhere deep in my heart, I was happy too - for Rajni. For my generation in the south, Rajni has always been an iconic figure. we grew up with him, watching his style, stunts and painful Tamil diction. We unconsciously imitated him too. Over the decades, however, with expanding personal horizons, his work began to lose its artistic value, and what remained was just the commercial aspect. Rajni , the actor was lost in the Rajni, the Superstar. "kaala" is an attempt to resurrect him. Produced by his son in law, I think, it is a step in the right direction. If only the movie was pruned, and kept slick and tight, running for 120 or 130 minutes or so, it could have been a masterpiece of a comeback for the great actor. Instead, it failed at both levels - artistically diluted, and commercially unsuccessful, with no fault of the main actors or the story. The narration was simply too long, boring and pointless.
Coming to think of it, this is the archetypal story of many Indian movies - too long, diluted and in the end pointless.
God bless...
yours in mortality,

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