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Watch out: The Hollow Man is here....

By M. Shamim

HOLLOW MAN (Chanakya and other Delhi theatres): God made man a visible being. But man continues to make efforts to become invisible like God. The Greeks would call it a divine tragedy: Man trying to become God. The Americans, as suggested in ``Hollow Man'', may be spending billions in their clandestine efforts to become invisible. What they do not seem to know is that an Indian called Veerappan already holds the patent for the very visible formula for invisibility. Foot soldiers of two State Governments plus an alert Centre have been combing the green wilderness down South for almost three decades without ever being able to set their eyes upon him. Now that is what I call total invisibility.

The only man who seems able to see him clearly is Mr. Karunanidhi. As an old cinema hand, he knows the worth of special effects. They say it is all in his glasses. Now ``Hollow Man'' -- who can be seen only through special glasses -- seems to confirm it. An old Research And Analysis (RAW) hand whispers into my ears: The glasses are a gift of none other than the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). There are three others at least who might be seeking Veerappan's assistance to become invisible -- Azharuddin, Jadeja and Mongia, all for reasons lesser than divine tragedy. And please don't say it is not cricket!

There is something common between American scientist Sebastian Caine, played by Kevin Bacon, and our Indian bandit. Both got trapped in the invisibility of their own making. Both try hard to become visible again. The bandit's last-ditch efforts ran into roadblocks addressed as ``Your Lordships'' by people in black robes. Sebastian's bid to return to the land of the visible is prevented by an instable serum, minor professional hazard of a scientist working in research and development laboratories.

Do you remember two guys called Budd Abbot and Lou Costello? They made fun films in the 1960s. In one of their rib-tickling adventures they meet the invisible man. He is in fact, one of their old friends. In one scene set in a room, Budd watches the man become invisible. Lou comes in and asks for this friend. ``He disappeared,'' informs Budd in a matter-of-fact tone. ``But how?'' asks an aghast Lou. ``By instalments,'' replies Budd in a sedate tone, as if it were something that occurred every now and then. As special effects go these days, it was no great shakes. Those were the good old days when computer-generated imagery had not been inflicted upon the soul of cinema. And the American people were simple, fun-loving folks looking more like the children of what they called the roaring 20s.

Now Hollywood caters to a more science-oriented lot with the famous American yen for technology. So more flesh and blood, entirely literally, had to be put into the act of disappearance by instalments than good old Budd had been a witness to for innocent laughter. The ``Hollow Man'' team tries to get its nitty-gritty right technology-wise. It is still like our tried and trusted magician P. C. Sircar's disappearance trick in which he puts a young woman in a box and chants abracadabra. Lo and behold! she has disappeared when the box is reopened.

Here, of course, Bacon's scientists bring to bear greater transparency upon their invisibility trick. Much of Sircar's abracadabra has, of course, been retained in scientific mumbo- jumbo chanted by the team while working the trick -- things like ``heartbeat study'', ``pressure study''. There are those weird contraptions making suitable noises and blinking like a Christmas tree. On an operation table lies a full-grown gorilla strapped into immobility in addition to his invisibility. You get to see him in instalments. As our mad scientist Sebastian injects the radioactive serum, you first see a vein through which it rushes, then the heart and other veins, then the bones, the muscles and finally the skin. The Victorian ladies could not have watched the revolting process punctuated by inhuman groans and grunts without a generous helping of their smelling salts. But there are three females of the species who seem to have opted for scientific immunity against the feminine infirmities of their Victorian sisters, though one of them -- Elisabeth Shue -- has not lost any of her appeals to our basic instinct.

That reminds us of the director of ``Hollow Man'', Paul Verhoeven, who also made ``Basic Instinct'' and ``Total Recall''. In the first one he had explored the fatal charms of the female anatomy, embodied in the form of the one and only Sharon Stone.

``Total Recall'' had a futuristic look. It had his favourite female Sharon Stone but the film sought to explore the dark side of human nature which is as mysterious as the other side of Mars. We Indians have no difficulty in perceiving Paul Verhoeven's intellectual undertakings. We have our own myths -- like Amrit Manthan -- about churning the sea to get the ``nectar of life''. Those who know the story might profitably recall here that both gods and devils had got together in the effort to churn the sea. Therein lies danger for all civilisations.

In Verhoeven's ``Hollow Man'' now the line between gods and devils is very thin. A man can slip into any one of those identities at will. The lab hidden in the bowls of earth is a marvel of computer-generated cinema. Verhoeven, as usual, tries to overawe us by a stunning display of special effects. And as usual there is also his instant philosophy: Man must not bite the forbidden fruit. The story of Adam has not changed since God raised him from dust.

Verhoeven examines snatches of the American dream. A society living on the frontiers of human knowledge as Verhoeven tells us in ``Hollow Man'', could easily overreach itself -- after all, the Greeks, the Romans and the Egyptians all have done it before and come to grief.

But mostly the film is for special effect buffs and, believe me, Sebastian can do his invisibility act in three different Indian languages -- Hindi (showing at Odeon), Tamil and Telugu -- as well as he can do it in English.

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