Saturday, December 17, 2005

Based on nothing by R.L. Stevenson

Last weekend, I saw two movies about kidnapping – Apharan and Ek Ajnabee. The first was set in Bihar and the second in Bangkok. Both were fictitious, although it was easier to believe that of the second flick.

I’ll begin with the first movie that I saw.

Apharan is based in Bihar around the time kidnappings of rich and famous people were on the rise. In fact, the politicians and the mafia were so thick into it that if you were remotely involved with either, politics or mafia, you could conduct an abduction almost legitimately. Circa this is the story of Ajay Devgan who wants to join the IPS. But due to circumstances, he crosses over to the other side of the law and becomes a kidnapper himself.

I watched this movie at Cinemagic, Andheri East. The movie hall is in a dusty, non-descript lane and is usually frequented by other office-goers with last minute plans. Those who come here come with the stout knowledge that they either won’t get tickets anywhere else or they won’t reach the other theatres on time.

If you took a sample of the patrons, you’d find that probably 3 out of 10 would be SAP professionals, and the other 7 would know that a SAP professional does not deal with sticky fluids of plants. So, it’s quite an IT savvy crowd. They speak English; some even say ‘dude’ (pronounced as ‘dood’). Not everyone is well-heeled but you need to look closely to observe that. Suffice to say that such a crowd, and I include myself here, would probably live out their lives in India and never go to Bihar.

So, it came as quite a surprise when I heard murmurs with distinct UP accents around me. Something quite definite was unfolding in the theatre while the movie was going on. From what I could catch, people were identifying with the movie’s plots and sub-plots and were thinking of home – wherever that home might be.

This was despite the disclaimer at the beginning of the film that references to anyone living or dead were purely incidental. But people were identifying alright – from the blasé to the bizarre. I’m a rather uninvolved person when it comes to politics, yet I could see the strains of certain human truths in the movie.

Like the instance when Tabrez Alam (Nana Patekar), a politician, wants a Muslim police officer transferred because he is coming in his way. Alam goes to the Head of the Police and asks for the officer’s transfer. The Head refuses on the grounds that ‘the minority won’t like it.’ Alam replies, ‘I am the minority,’ to which the Head of Police states, ‘not the kind that runs the country.’

In another moving scene, the Muslim officer has been slapped by Alam when he insists on checking his car. (The car, at this point, has a dead body and some weapons stashed in it.) The officer’s superior, who is also present at the scene, apologizes to Alam and helps him get away. The officer comes home to his wife, tired and beaten. He falls down sobbing and tells her, ‘I’m tired of paying my dues as a Muslim – always twice over.’

Then there’s another scene where Devgan is having lunch with friends. He’s now working for Alam and has become his right-hand man. In fact, he’s getting slightly reckless with the power vested in him. He has just sanctioned the kidnapping of an important person without his gang’s approval. This has irked some of the old-timers in the gang. One of them calls him up and asks him to take the onus of the kidnapping on himself. Devgan listens to the tirade, hangs up, and tells his friends blandly, ‘Phook phook ke lassi peeta hai.’ An excellent line, I thought.

And my favorite scene comes in the beginning. Ajay Devgan is a salesman who sells medicines to drug stores. This is his part-time job while he waits for his IPS results. One day, he’s trying to convince the store owner to pay him for some herbal medicines when he hears a gun shot outside. Devgan rushes out to see a man being kidnapped and put into a van. While the crowd in the market-place is running helter-skelter, Ajay leaps to the van, very foolishly, trying to slow it down. He’s getting dragged on the road and is bleeding now – yet he’s holding on.

Just a few minutes back, he was half-heartedly trying to do a job, before he got a chance to become what he wanted to be – a brave man. That particular transformation was what could have been ‘filmy’ but wasn’t. It was so convincing. In the rest of the movie, Devgan is routine – brooding, quiet, and running deep. But in this particular scene, you know why he’s such a good actor. In make-believe, he actually made believe.

For all its merits though, I don’t know if I would strongly recommend Apharan as a good movie. Sure, I’d tell anyone to watch the film because of the germ this flick has grown from. We all read about power and corruption and sometimes we imagine ourselves in a sticky situation. We ask, ‘What if?’ Apharan, I think, has arisen from such a ‘What if?’ and that’s what makes it interesting but…okay, there’s no getting away from the comparison, it wasn’t what I’d expected. Not after Gangajal.’

If I measured a good movie by its impact, I’d say ‘Gangajal’ was a meteor. I remember unclenching my fist only after the movie ended. I remember being shocked at my own reaction, when despite myself, I cheered Ayub Khan as he poured acid in the prisoners’ eyes. That movie corroded this sense of comfortable niceness that I have. It revealed a person who did see justice in ‘eye for an eye.’ Gangajal had made me hugely uncomfortable. And it’s one of those films I’ll, sort of, always be grateful for watching.

So, with almost the same cast and similar set-up, what really went wrong with Apharan? Somewhere the impact got muffled. It’s not because Apharan is fiction and Gangajal was based on a true incident. Purely from the directorial and acting standpoint, something was a bit off. It’s as if this movie was made with people aware that they were being watched. There’s a sense of self-consciousness in the film. Like when you’re on the dance floor and you notice a fantastic dancer who, sometimes, looks sideways to see if people are watching her. Of course, these indications are subtle – overtly loud music during a fight sequence or a rather lengthy dialog with one too many innuendoes calculated to get a laugh, too many profile shots of the main characters – things like that.

But I suppose that’s understandable. To say something well and to say it once requires a diligent restraint. And it’s tempting to sidestep it when you know you have people listening.

‘Ek Ajnabee’, on the other hand, has a remarkable marquee mien. It’s the dancer that gets up on stage in sequins and feather boas, waits for the lights to strobe, and begins the show only when the audience is adulating enough. The movie is as slick and violent as they come.

It’s shot in Bangkok with several tall men – Amitabh, Arjun Extremely Handsome Rampal, some guy whose daughter gets kidnapped, Kelly Dorjee. So, length of limbs is in abundance here.

This means that long legs will step out of sleek cars or be folded across tables.

Tall, lean silhouettes will face each other with wolverine finesse.

Long arms will be outstretched so that the elbow is not folded while shaking hands.

Ah. Tall men. Tall, tall men and then there is Amitabh Bachan who indicates so stylishly that height is really such a small part of being tall.

In the final scene of the film, we have Amitabh Bachan, Abhishek B, and Lara Dutta. Abhishek gets out of his car in a dapper suit and strides along the other two. Now, Abhishek is supposed to look suave and smooth and killer, see. But at the end of it, well, umm, you appreciate the sentiment and all…and look over to his father, realizing why there will be only one of him ever.

Also saw Neal n Nikki. Everyone, irrespective of gender, and everything, including the scenery has breasts.


Supremus said...

Also saw Neal n Nikki. Everyone, irrespective of gender, and everything, including the scenery has breasts."

PRICELESS comment!!

I want to wactch Aparahan too, but being in proximity of theaters near d.c, which tend to show more of yash chopra, we've been deprieved! I wish I could see the movie though!!!

Very well written thots on the movie.


Mukta said...

Hi Suyog,

So the theatres near you usually have Yash Chopra movies? That means you'll wouldn't get to see Nana Patekar or Ajay Devgan ever. :-)

Have you seen 'Gangajal' though? Or 'Yuva'? Both very good.

random said...

I also found Gangajal more powerful, and Apharan a bit made-up. For example, scene Ajay goes to Nana to get into the gang, similar to the scene in D. Acting and direction make it good but not that convincing. But surely miles above than usual crap, including neal n nikki, that comes out. Also saw Bluffmaster this week. Ain't too bad.

Mukta said...

Hi Random,

Strange that you should mention 'D'. I loved that movie. In fact, I thought that was so much better than Sarkaar. In fact, I felt the same way about Sarkaar as well - it's got a little bit of 'see what I can do here now' kind of thing.

I haven't been able to get tickets for BluffMaster. I don't like the rap song though.

Vinaya HS said...

Both, Apaharan and Ek Ajnabee, are must-avoid movies. Especially Ek Ajnabee. The first half is brilliant. In the second half, no one seems to have any clue about what they are doing on the sets.

Khakra said...

height height height.. that term drives me nuts...did you say the SAP pros were well-heeled?

Anonymous said...

and what exactly do you mean by well-heeled? good shoes?


Mukta said...

Hi Vinaya,

I wouldn't say they are must-avoid movies. I thought they were rather okay. Ek Ajnabee, I particularly enjoyed. :-)

Hi Khakra,

What's wrong with height? i LOVE Height - especially in people. Tall people. So nice. Sigh! I don't know about ALL the SAP professionals, but some of who I've seen in that theatre are well-heeled. Polite, won't cough without covering their mouth, have a hanky ready, etc. etc.

And what's wrong with height again? I would love to have been tall. Very tall. Uber tall. I would have absolutely cherished to be a human skyscraper. hee hee! Have I been maddening enough?

Hi J,

Yep. Among other things. :-)

Ravi said...

In another moving scene, the Muslim officer has been slapped by Alam when he insists on checking his car. (The car, at this point, has a dead body and some weapons stashed in it.)
Correction: twas not a dead body but a kidnapped "party" being returned after ransom had been paid.

And I esp. liked Ajay's transformation from a directionless youth to a focussed calculating criminal - The scene where he asks Bipasha to leave "main ek criminal hoon. mujhse milna aapko shobha nahi deta." I could identify with that.

Mukta said...

Hi Ravi,

I think the guy was dead...but I won't be watching the movie again to corroborate that, so I guess I'll take your word for it.

Why could you identify with the Bipasha situation?

Ravi said...

I would have done the same thing had I been in Ajay's place. At least I would have contemplated becoming a full time no holds barred criminal.

Khakra said...

You completely ripped my guts apart, mission accomplished! My baby indicates she wanted a man exactly 6'2'', and I started looking for heels to get well-heeled. She's now well-heeled enough to drop that idea. If it ever comes up again, I'll ask her to pursue A B baby.

when you go back to bombay, you'll certainly find your tribute somewhere -- a mukta apartments

Mukta said...

Hey Ravi,

A 'full-time no holds barred criminal'. So sweet. The mind is tickled when I think of what the other options are 'Part-time slightly conservative malfeasance inclined'. :-D

And khakra,
I wanted someone who was 6-6. After watching Michael Jordan in Space Jam (ahem! I don't watch sports , umm, ever as you can tell. I wonder how I even learnt to spell the term.)6-6! Imagine being with someone tall! Tell me the truth...have you never wanted to be with a tall person? And yes, tall does mean 6-2 minimum - not that stupid 5-10, 5-11 that gets brandished as vertical conquest. Tall. Sigh!

No ya! Nothing in Mumbai. Nothing tall for Mukta in Mumbai. Although I do love Sunjay Dutt. But then, he IS a class apart, and a class higher because he's tall. hee hee! Okay, will stop now. :-D

Khakra said...

Come on mukta, as an Indian man you think I want to be with a taller woman? I don't want to be a human barstool!!

Terrible memory about writing this gross comment for a small college buddy: "Jhatak, jhatak, khambe se latak." Naturally, he's now doing better than any of us.

Dutt man/Jordan.. you certainly are looking for more than height!

Mukta said...

Hi Khakra,

That 'jhatak jhatak' comment is rather cute. But I get that awful feeling - you wrote that comment in that vile game, 'fishpond', didn't you? Tsk Tsk!


Ravi said...

The mind is tickled when I think of what the other options are 'Part-time slightly conservative malfeasance inclined'
..which many of us are. Aren't we?

And BTW I'm 6'0". What place (if any) does that give me in the well-heeled club?

Mukta said...

Hi R,

Unfortunately, since I am not 6'0, I don't belong to the club. :-)

Khakra said...

impressive! our eco teacher in college got bored of teaching sometimes, so he'd either mimic johnny lever or would DJ fishpond. most stinky and terrible bashing I ever got: "you may love chaat, but also please take a bath."

Mukta said...

Hey Khakra,

I see that has scarred you for life. I HATED that game! But what is really cute is the extent to which people will go to make a rhyme - chaat/bath. he he he he! That was funny!

Braveheart said...

You may like to read this --

Impressed with your review nonetheless. Some quality thoughts there.

-- Akshaya