Friday, August 25, 2006

Telling Films

These films are different because they tell the story differently...

I was going all gung-ho about Rang De Basanti, especially how the film is narrated, how the two stories, the past and the present, are brought together in a cohesive narration, when my friend pointed out a flaw. In the very first scene itself we are introduced to Karan as Bhagat Singh. So, when Sue comes to India, and struggles to find a good cast for her film, don’t we, the audience, already know that Karan and his friends are going to act in her film? Doesn’t this mar the suspense element? Isn’t it a flaw considering how meticulous the RDB script is? For example, in the very beginning, Sue tells us that she’s going to Hindi night classes, just to justify her Hindi dialogues.
Despite this, RDB is a success in telling a film in a different way. There are two stories in the film, told by two narrators. Sue narrates the present story, while the past story is told from her grandfather’s point of view. The two stories run parallel, at times they overlap, and at important junctures they lead to the same conclusions. For example, the way Soha Ali Khan’s character motivates the protagonists, saying, “kill them,” in both the stories. RDB boasts of a smart screenplay and smarter editing. Remember the scene, where Aslam, after the fight with his father, climbs up the stairs. In the next shot, when he opens the door, we see him in the past. The transition between Eastman colour present and sepia-toned past is achieved so effortlessly!
As we talk about story telling in films, here’s a random list of few Hindi films that tell the story differently.
Shyam Benegal’s underrated masterpiece Trikal. The story begins in future. The narrator has returned back to Donna Maria’s house after a long time. The house is in ruin. No one lives here any more. He enters the house, and suddenly it comes to life. He takes us to a guided tour to his memory, telling us the history of the house and then introducing us to the characters one by one. “And that young boy in the corner, that’s me, sixteen year ago,” he tells us. The characters are Goan Portuguese. They interact in Portuguese language. For few minutes, the narrator translates their conversation to us. Then suddenly he says, “How long will I translate their conversation to you. Why not out characters speak in a language that we all understand. And the characters start speaking in Hindi, and it happens so suddenly! A moment ago Lila Naidu was speaking in a different language and now she fluently speaks Hindi. This must be a very special ‘poetic licence!’ Then, the narrator disappears completely leaving Lila Naidu to tell her story. When her story is over, he appears again, but not to add a rejoinder to the previous story, but to mourn his own loss. There are so many stories told from so many points of view that the central focus is lost somewhere in Trikal . Probably that’s what Benegal wanted.
Mani Ratnam’s Yuva . The film begins somewhere in the middle. An ordinary day in Calcutta. Camera focuses on three people, in the midst of their activities. We have no idea what’s going on. Then, the camera freezes over Abhishek Bachchan’s face and two words appear on the screen, ‘Lallan’s story.’ As soon as Abhishek Bachchan’s story is over, we come back to the same place, the Howrah Bridge and Ajay Devgan’s story begins. When his story is over, begins Vivek Oberoi’s story. Interestingly, all the three stories end up at the Howrah Bridge, and from here on begins another story involving all three of them. And problem starts. The three stories are told in such detail that we don’t have any energy or willing left to really care about what happened to them finally. And then, things begin to happen so fast that it leaves us baffled. An over-ambitious Vivek Oberoi suddenly turns into an activist, as a group of city-bred youngsters go on to fight election and even win it. We couldn’t care less!
Nagesh Kukunoor’s 3 Deewarein. Welcome to the house with three walls and a barred door, the jail. Meet three criminals: Jaggu, who accepts killing his wife, Nagya, who vehemently denies the same charge on him, and Ishaan, who thinks, his killing of a pregnant woman while robbing a bank was an accident. Enters a documentary film maker Chandrika, who begins to take unusual interest in all three of them. At last, we find out that there’s only one person who committed all the three crimes. First, it is a sheer co-incidence that all three of them come to live in the same place, not only that, they begin to bond as well. And when everything is cleared out, it’s over. We didn’t have the chance know how they finally reacted. It was already too long and Kukunoor wanted to wrap it up fast.
Rules: Pyar Ka Superhit Formula . The film begins with a series of interviews, of seemingly unrelated characters. Tanuja as the grandmother is the anchor. It’s a typical love story, nothing new. New is the way the set of people comment on love related issues. And as the film progresses, these interviewees become an integral part of the subplot. An innovative idea, granted. But to what purpose? That is left unclear as these comments fail to add anything to the story of a supermodel’s love affair with an ordinary girl.
The same concept was used in a limited way in Nikhil Advani’s Kal Ho Naa Ho. Here, they are just comic relief, like songs in any Bollywood film, just an accessory.
Aziz Mirza’s Chalte Chalte. The love affair between Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherji is told from the point of view of their friends in the first half. It’s obviously a glorified account. But in the second half, when we get a direct entry to witness their marital discord, we feel cheated by their ‘friends.’ They didn’t prepare us for what is to come. Again, there is none to tell us how it all began.

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