Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jodhaa Akbar

Last Sunday, my room mates and I went to see the hindi film Jodhaa Akbar playing in Indianapolis. The film was entertaining, but leaves much to be desired. There was a sense of a missing style, the film was no different from Doordarshan serials based on history, except for a more sophisticated approach (the dialogue and acting was more restrained and realistic). Period Dramas are such excellent opportunities for film makers to put together beautifully made films, with gorgeous costumes and sets and stylish shots. The cinematography of the film was rather lacking in inspiration, and really made that connection for me with Doordarshan serials. The plot was not very complex, and the lack of a fresh storytelling style, made the film somewhat ordinary. The music didn't seem to fit with the film, especially with the songs. Synthesized sounds and heavy orchestration made them seem anachronistic.

The film brings Satyajit Ray's Shatranj ke Khiladi to mind, another drama set in Mughal times. Ray, being the director he is, made a beautiful film. Especially with cinematography, the shots make beautiful use of light and the sets. I think the strength was also in the film's script, with only a handful of main characters for the audience to concentrate upon, we are left with an intimate understanding of the characters. I can't say that with Jodhaa Akbar, possibly because the lead roles are played by popular stars with whom it is difficult for the audience to leave out their real life personas, but also because the lead roles are portrayed as almost perfect people, in line with Bollywood tradition.

Jodhaa Akbar is promoted as a love story, the name itself evokes Romeo and Juliet. But, the climax which involves a conflict between Akbar and his brother-in-law, has nothing to do with their love. The final scene, in which Akbar asks Jodhaa to join him on the throne probably was intended to bring back to mind that the film is called Jodhaa Akbar. A stronger script would have highlighted the events in the film as being a test of their love. At the end of the first half before the interval, the only conflict in their love ends, and the second half is devoted mostly to tying loose ends. Maybe there wasn't enough information available about Jodhaa and Akbar's love to warrant making a film. The story of an intercultural marriage between a Muslim king and a Hindu princess I would think would surely have a lot of interesting episodes with culture clashes and ideology conflicts. By the way, I thought this blog by people who are married to people from other cultures, one of them an American woman married to a Telugu man, had some funny posts. From the posts, it is clear that there is plenty to talk about in an inter-cultural marriage. There are a few scenes that depict these conflicts, to give credit to the film, but if it was supposed to be a film about a love story, there had to be more.

Amitabh Bachchan narrates in the beginning of the film yet again. He did even in Ray's film, but Ashutosh Gowariker himself had used that device in Lagaan too. It is difficult to write the script in a manner that communicates the historical setting without resorting to narration, as the story will have to emerge through the scenes. That would also possibly make the film longer. Shatranj is 129 minutes, while Jodhaa is 213 minutes long. At that length, even with the song length subtracted, there was no reason why there couldn't have been more innovation by way of storytelling in Jodhaa. Jodhaa Akbar is possibly a shining film among its counterparts in Bollywood, but as good cinema it falls short.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Away but not Gone.

I haven't posted since August. Last semester was pretty occupied, this semester feels occupied, though I don't seem to be getting much done. I am looking for and applying to jobs, working on my final project and an independent study. Some random observations about recent times, to warm up to posting more.

I was in India in Dec-Jan for a month, and I guess I am still hung over from being there. The trip to India was a good time, meeting family and friends. Thirty days were gone very quickly. While I was there, I seemed to feel "empowered", it felt like I had the energy to change things there. From confusing airport procedures and less than friendly bank service to congested roads and poorly implemented traffic rules, there was an element of a lack of thinking on the part of people thinking about these services and procedures, and everything seemed like it could potentially be made better using good design. Or, maybe it was that inevitable foreign-returned-contempt-for-the-country. I didn't ask for bottled water though, so maybe I was an inch better.

I was at the Student Recreation and Sports Center (SRSC) at Indiana University yesterday, and jogged in the indoor track. I was at the SRSC to exercise for the very first time since I came to IU. While I was jogging, all I kept thinking was about what status message to have on Facebook and Gmail, "Balakrishna is wondering if the heavens are crying, he was at the SRSC exercising for the very first time", and then having somewhat of an obsessive compulsive tendency, I was refining that sentence while jogging additional rounds. "Does exercising sound good in that sentence, or should I say jogged?", "the heavens are crying, or should I say will start crying", "the heavens are crying? but it's been raining here in the last couple days, so should I say it's going to be sunny?". In the end, I didn't have a status message after all. Well, I have this post. I guess it's a human need to express oneself, or maybe I am narcissistic. It felt good after I ran, first, because I was doing something new and second, running seemed to lift my spirits.

Last week, I saw a six hour movie, called "The best of youth", it is among my favorites now. The film tracks a family over the years, their lives intertwined with historic events in Italy. It is a wonderful film that makes you feel good about life, family and friendship. The six hour duration seemed well justified, and the characters are memorable. The concept for the script, to intertwine a family's story with historic events in a place is so good, and possibly could be replicated to make good films based in other places. There haven't been well made period films in Telugu, not at least in the last ten years, and this could be a concept well suited to adapting.

I was just reading entries about me from the yearbook from IIIT, after looking at a friend's orkut profile that had a link to his yearbook entries. It felt nostalgic, and I always feel good reading those because most of them heap praise on me. There are a few of them that write that I am an anxious person, and a few that I needed to be more outgoing. I might have improved from that time on both fronts. Or at the least, I can fake kewlness.