THE TIMES THEY ARE A'CHANGIN
At the end of six months if there are half-a-dozen films worth talking about in Hindi cinema, you can call it a good year. This one certainly is. Notwithstanding the fact that Rowdy Rathore has raked in over Rs 100 crore, Housefull 2 was a big draw and Ram Gopal Varma continues to enjoy the inexplicable patronage of Amitabh Bachchan (Department), overall there's been much to cheer about.
The commercial success of a heroine-centric film like Kahaani, for instance. While Sujoy Ghosh's thriller may have benefitted from Vidya Balan's newfound stardom in the wake of last year's The Dirty Picture (driven more by titillating content than actual merit), Kahaani, superbly shot and edited, brought to the Hindi screen a new cityscape (Kolkata) and showcased a bunch of exciting actors (Parambrata Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee and of course, the ever-dependable Nawazuddin Siddiqui). An ungainly, heavily pregnant woman taking centrestage for the entire duration of a film is in itself a revolutionary idea—Vidya Balan redeems herself quite well—and it's success, testimony to the importance of screenplay which doesn't need props like salable male stars, foreign locales or item numbers.
Tigmanshu Dhulia's Paan Singh Tomar—almost two years in the cans, perhaps because the producers didn't believe in the film—was a triumph of the underdog in more ways than one. Irrfan Khan may have been snapped up for the odd Hollywood role, but he's hardly 'star material' in the way our industry interprets this concept. Tomar himself was an underdog rebel—the kind we'd like to watch, but preferably essayed by a dashing superstar, not everyman Irrfan whose intensity smoulders through an impassive exterior and conveys his character's despair without histrionics.
A bit like Manoj Bajpayee's stupendous portrayal of Sardar Khan in Anurag Kashyap's Gangs Of Wasseypur. Bajpayee has spent over a decade on the fringes because of his unstarry face and yet, one can hardly recall a role in which he hasn't stood out in a crowd (Prakash Jha's Raajneeti, for instance). Here, his ability to oscillate between being a hot-headed gangster and a soft-hearted aashiq dominated by his women, is delightful—equal marks to the writing for imagining such an entertaining character.
Kashyap too has come a long way from being unable to release his debut film (Paanch), to helming an ambitious two-part epic tribute to The Godfather and to Hindi cinema, set in a dusty pocket of the hinterland, dialect and all, shot with appropriate grandeur (Rajeev Ravi). The 'discovery' of the year so far has undoubtedly been GOW's music director Sneha Khanwalkar, whose off-beat compositions inspired by the sounds of the soil have become all the rage. And again the presence of Siddiqui (amidst another brilliant ensemble) who is fast becoming the most exciting actor to watch at the movies.
A close second comes Juhi Chaturvedi, the writer of Shoojit Sircar's Vicky Donor, for busting stereotypes and creating a couple of memorable characters. The 'Scene Of The Year' (now that every other award function is creating such micro categories, why not?) has to be the one where Vicky's hardcore Punjabi mother and grandmother (Dolly Ahluwalia and Kamlesh Gill) are getting drunk into the night, sprawled around their Lajpat Nagar drawing room with the grandmother ruing, "Pata nahin aaj mainu chhadh kyon nahin rahi." Dr. Chaddha who claims,"Main shakal dekh ke sperm pehchaan jaata hoon," is a part Annu Kapoor inhabits with elan as the film takes the comic route to tackling the tricky issue of infertility and sperm donation without every turning bawdry.
Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai was the first film in a long time to express outrage over contemporary socio-political events. The understated tone of the narrative may not have gone down well with all sections of the audience, but here was a film that spoke with feeling and through its morally ambiguous characters and unsettling atmosphere, showed us a mirror to the cauldron that's India 'shining'. It also suggested that Emraan Hashmi could act after all, given the right cues...
Two actresses made their mark with dramatically different films, both in content and stature. The first was Parineeti Chopra in Habib Faisal's Ishaqzaade, a contentious narrative of love against the backdrop of small-town political chicanery and senseless violence. The questionable gaze of the film doesn't allow Zoya to flower and clips her wings halfway through by throwing her into an impossible situation. But before that we've already seen enough evidence of the young woman's spunk and ambition and Parineeti's undisputed talent.
It's a miracle Karan Gour's indie gem Kshay got even a limited multiplex release. Here's an inspired film made on a shoestring budget, shot in gritty black & white and featuring an actress (Rasika Dugal) who delivers a raw, unnerving performance as a woman who goes from being reasonably sorted if dreamy, to a ghostly figure devoured by her strange obsession. Shot in a crummy flat in suburban Mumbai, cinematographer Abhinay Khoparzi frames Dugal in uncomfortable close-ups, pushing her anguish within breathing distance.
As for the stars, Hrithik Roshan reprised Amitabh Bachchan's Vijay Dinanath Chauhan in Karan Malhotra's remake of Agneepath with flourish. Despite the excessive violence and loud tone, it packed a punch. Particularly noteworthy was erstwhile chocolate-boy Rishi Kapoor's transformation into a ruthless pimp, kohl-eyed menace and all. The other interesting debut also came from Karan Johar's company in the form of Shakun Batra's Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, a frivolous but entertaining love story set in Las Vegas and Mumbai. Kareena Kapoor is her effervescent self and Imran Khan isn't half bad, but it's essentially the director and the supporting cast who steal the show.
Here is Film Impressions' list of the Best of the first Half of 2012:
Best Picture: Gangs Of Wasseypur
Best Director: Anurag Kashyap (Gangs Of Wasseypur)
Best Actor: Manoj Bajpayee (Gangs Of Wasseypur)
Best Actress: Rasika Dugal / Parineeti Chopra (Kshay / Ishaqzaade)
Best Supporting Actor: Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Kahaani / Gangs Of Wasseypur)
Best Supporting Actress: Dolly Ahluwalia (Vicky Donor)
Best Music: Sneha Khanwalkar (Gangs Of Wasseypur)
Best Cinematography: Rajeev Ravi (Gangs Of Wasseypur)
Best Editing: Namrata Rao (Kahaani)
Best Script: Juhi Chaturvedi (Vicky Donor)