Thursday, August 26, 2010

'झेंडा' engages you..

As continuing evidence of the comeback of Marathi movies (not withstanding the current row over ticket sales and show timings), ‘Jhenda’ (The Flag) (released earlier this year) takes the not-so-uncommon political movie genre but gives it a different treatment in terms of the issue that it seeks to address. Written and directed by Avadhut Gupte (more known for his Jai Jai Maharashtra Majha number), Jhenda has as its backdrop the famous uncle-nephew rift that was the talking point of Maharashtra politics a few years back. However, Avadhut Gupte uses that only as a reference point and instead focuses on the political foot soldiers (the कार्यकरते ) that, in many ways, are the heart and hands of the party. The turmoil that the rank and file of the party experiences as a result of the games played by their leaders is the point of focus here and the movie is refreshingly different because of that.

The movie begins with the grand patriarch (shown only via his feet and his rudraksha-bearing trembling hand) anointing his son as his political heir (and thus overlooking his nephew who is seen to be a more natural successor). The political fallout of this on the lives of the people lower down in the party hierarchy is what is depicted. Specifically, there are four main characters (all portrayed by relative newcomers – another plus point) that are affected because of this. Santosh and Umesh are best friends living in one of the many chawls in Mumbai from where the parties get their manpower. While the former is a devoted follower of the partriach and his party (Jan Sena), Umesh is enamored of the fresh ideas and appeal of the nephew and his breakaway party (Maharashtra Samrajya Sena - MSS). Needless to say, when Umesh joins the new party, their relationship is put under severe strain. Then there is Avinash, the youth leader of the MSS in Kolhapur. Well educated but wanting to make a career out of politics, he begins with high hopes from the breakaway party and of his own political ambitions, but ends up being used by his political bosses for their own ends. And finally, there is Aditya. Working in a media company, he begins as wholly dismissive of, and uninterested in, politics. But when his job puts him close to the charismatic nephew (RAJesh Sarpotdar) he gets drawn in the political whirlpool and, towards the end of the story, emerges a completely different man. In fact, all four of them undergo a seismic change in their lives, mostly a result of excessive devotion, followed by disillusionment, towards their ‘jhenda’. Finally, the question of ‘कोणता झेंडा घेऊ हाती ?’ (‘Whose flag do I pick up ?’) - part of a brilliant title track - becomes largely rhetorical, underlying the fact that in politics, everyone is the same at the end.

As a first effort, credit is definitely due to Avadhut for taking up a sensitive subject (and he had his share of pre-release controversies) and handling it well. By taking up the issue of the ‘karyakarta’, the movie conveys the basic point, which is, ‘नेता कोणीही असो, शेवटी मारतो तो कार्यकर्ता आणि मारतो तो ही कार्यकर्ता !! ’ (‘Whoever is the leader, the people who kill are the workers, and the people who die are the workers !!’). The performances are all good, especially Santosh Juvekar (as Santosh) who convincingly shows the pain and disappointment of a soldier unable to come to terms with the changes in the party he so much adores. The music is passable, however the title track stands out. All in all, a good directorial debut by Avadhut Gupte.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The book review trilogy: 'THE IMMORTALS OF MELUHA'

Welcome back in time about four millenia. In around 1900 BC and in the kingdom of Meluha (where Kashmir is today). The kingdom of the Suryavanshi (followers of the sun). The ideal kingdom and the ideal way of life established by Lord Ram centuries earlier, but which is fighting a losing battle against their natural adversaries, the Chandravanshis. And the legend goes, only one person can save the Suryavanshis. And that person happens to be 'a rough-hewn Tibetan immigrant'. A person who we all worship today as Lord Shiva !! The neelkanth !!

'The Immortals of Meluha' is of the racy thriller kind, cleverly marrying mythology and fiction, though there is, probably thankfully, less of the former and more of the latter. The first in the a trilogy of books by Amish (who, incidentally is not a priest or a religious person but a 35-year old IIM Kolkata grad with a day job in the insurance business), the central point of the book is to tell the 'story of the man, whom legend turned into a God'. So the book starts of with Shiva as a tribal leader of his clan living near Mount Kailash, spending his time battling his rival tribe the Pakritis and smoking marijuana through his chillum. Until a chance meeting with a foreigner from the land of Meluha reveals to the latter Shiva's great secret, his blue throat, the neelkanth. From that moment on, he is revered as the saviour of the inhabitants of the kingdom of Meluha, the Suryavanshis. The crux of the book (and of the forthcoming books of the trilogy) is to describe his life and times in the kingdom of Meluha and how he carries out the task assigned to him. And Amish does a good enough job of it.

As mentioned, the book takes us back four millienia and offers us a glimpse of the imaginary kingdom of Meluha, with its ideal way of life. However, and in a pleasant surprise, the tone and the language of the book is modern (imagine Shiva saying words like 'dammnit' !!!). That is probably what makes the book a page-turner. As also the fact that the references to reality do not hamper the narrative, thus allowing fantasy and reality to live in harmony. And the book has all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler: fast-paced action, flashbacks and, definitely not the least, romance between Shiva and the princess of Meluha, Sati (later to be called Parvati) !! Undoubtedly, would be adapted to the silver screen sooner than later.Also, the way of life of the Meluhans is described very well, allowing the reader to visualize vividly how the kingdom, its people and their way of life would look like.

So if you are a lover of Indian mythology and do not mind a good fantasy woven around it,'The Immortals of Meluha' is for you. So go ahead and lap it up !!!!