VISHWAROOP

There are two faces of Vishwaroop, as the Hindi version of the much talked about Vishwaroopam is called. As a generic spy thriller with the war against terror as the backdrop it is an engaging enterprise with high adrenaline action, wry humour and penchant for detail. But if you are in a mood to discern the politics of it, it is rather shallow, if not completely one-sided. The film sees the issue as Rambo films did in the 1980s. The only difference is Hollywood didn’t send a Rahim in place of Rambo to keep the parity on the surface. No doubt the film addresses some discomforting questions. If it hints at the link between pan-Islamic movement and the Mujahideen fighters, it also points out that for America it is a fight not for the well-being of the people but wells of petrol. But overall the outlook is closer to the American view of the crisis in West Asia than that of a dispassionate observer.

But then, like any creative medium, cinema is about taking sides and as an entertainer with a heart it is a winner. It unfolds in New York where a nuclear oncologist (Pooja Kumar making a decent debut) wants to get out of a marriage of convenience with Kathak dancer Vishwanathan (Kamal Haasan). However, her efforts to pry over him backfire and they get caught in a mess when members of the terror group led by one-eyed Omar (Rahul Bose) knock at the door.

Soon we get to know the dancer has a different identity as well and as the true identities begin to unfold and the action shifts to Afghanistan in flashback, the film shifts tone. The problem is the Afghanistan episode is a little too long and doesn’t add much to our knowledge of the war against terror. Of course the action is mind-blowing and Kamal is winsome but the scenery begins to look plastic and the drama formulaic after a while.

When the narrative shifts gears we again come to the edge as Kamal smartly uses messengers of peace as nuclear devices. The loose ends do tie up but the climax is underwhelming. In fact, the film keeps shifting between smart and stereotypical, between detailing and dovetailing perceptions. While Omar looks straight out of Hollywood’s exaggerated perception of a terrorist in the ‘80s, his lieutenant played by Jaideep Ahlawat looks a lot more plausible. But at the end of the day it is a Kamal Haasan show and he doesn’t disappoint as an actor. Be it playing the effeminate dancer or the rugged spy, he proves that for a true artiste age is just a number. As a director his conviction is apparent but he could not dismantle all the caricatures and cardboards that crop up in such big-budget ventures to keep things simple, to reach out to the maximum numbers.

All the intricacies in the narrative make it a watchable spy thriller but no ‘Faraday shield’ can deflect attention from the superficiality of the realpolitik it is based on.

MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN

Expertise is a big thing in creative business. If you poke your nose in another person’s job chances are things will go for a toss. This is what happens here as Salman Rushdie turns his best literary work into a screenplay. Long considered “unfilmable”, the myth was not all that wrong.

It is the story of Saleem Sinai (Darsheel Safary and Satya Bhabha), who is born in Bombay to a poor family at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947. He and Shiva (Siddharth), a child born to wealthier parents, are switched at birth by a nurse (Seema Biswas) whose “let the rich be poor and the poor rich” idea doesn’t pass muster when it plays on screen. Saleem has got special powers. He can telepathically connect with all the children born in the first hour of India’s independence. As they descend into his bedroom and talk, there is scope for fostering magical bonds but it doesn’t happen.

As Saleem grows up from a comfortable childhood in Bombay to uneasy teenage years in Pakistan, Bangladesh and New Delhi, his life intertwines with Shiva’s and his increasing pains and diminishing powers mirror the conditions in India and Pakistan. As it turns out, the much talked about magic realism of the book evaporates into thin air. It neither appeals to the heart nor the mind. The political allegory which made Midnight’s Children a force to reckon with comes across as an appendage added to make sense of the supernatural elements in the story.

If a novel is about the flow of ideas, a screenplay is equally about the gush of images. It requires skill to leave out portions from a novel and still maintain the thought, the imagery. Here after promising brilliance, it meanders its way into a muddle. It becomes an assortment of important pages from “Midnight’s Children” connected by Rushdie’s voiceover, thus leaving little for the actors – it has got some of the best names in the business – to create, for the director’s flair to come into play. One doesn’t know why director Deepa Mehta allowed so much intrusion of the author into her work. It doesn’t measure up to its source and for those who haven’t read the book it becomes an exercise in absurdity.

DAVID

If cinema is about stunning visuals, David is a treat. Bejoy Nambiar is fast emerging as a young director who blends craft with content, who draws liberally from foreign imagery but manages to place it in indigenous scenery. If Shaitan was a baby step, this one is a leap. Here he picks the good old David and Goliath tussle and places it in a riveting narrative format that pokes your idea of tolerance and probes the concept of love without getting didactic.

There are three Davids fighting their individual Goliaths in three different timelines. David No.1 (Neil Nitin Mukesh) is a gangster who discovers that his godfather Ghani is more “familiar” to him than he knows. David No.2 (Vinay Virmani) is a budding guitarist who doesn’t believe in the “giving” of his priest father (Nasser) till a saffron wave tarnishes his father’s belief. And then there is David No.3 (Vikram). He is a carefree Goan, indulging in his fenny and Frenny (Tabu), till he sees Roma (Isha Sharwani), his best friend’s girlfriend, and gets intoxicated in romance. The narrative goes back and forth only to come together towards the end.

Each episode is shot by a different cinematographer imparting it a distinct shade. Between all the layers of style Bejoy wraps a word for forbearance, the power of forgiveness. Wrong seems right in a particular situation but if you pan out and care to see the bigger picture you realise there is more to life than seeking parity through violence.

Bejoy has got the horses for the courses as Neil oozes chutzpah, Vinay has oodles of innocence and Vikram lends gravitas to a role which is essentially hollow. Bejoy knows the trick to make optimum use of his actors. So Milind Soman doesn’t utter a word. Nor does Isha Sharvani. They are meant to be seen. Period. Neil’s episode is the most enticing of the lot. The interplay of silence and background music gets infectious as David gets drawn to Noor (Monica Dogra suitably seductive) amid the layers of loyalty and betrayal. The weakest of the lot is the one that features southern super star Vikram. It is expected to be funny but it remains verbose and one-dimensional despite Vikram giving it all and Tabu playing along valiantly.

There is a flip side to indulgence as well. Every action scene plays out in slow motion, so much so that after a point it becomes, as Frenny would say, loose motion. The frames continue to attract with their matte finish and consummate performances captured by a camera which takes you to angles seldom explored before but Bejoy doesn’t have enough pulp to keep us busy.

At one point Noor asks her David you see me only as a body, you don’t feel the soul. There are periods when this becomes true for the film as well. Still, David deserves a chance for enchanting.

MAI

Old parents in distress has been a staple theme of Bollywood. From Avtar to Swarg to Baghban over the years it has been dished out to us in melodramatic forms. We buy it because the reality is not far from the drama we get on screen.

This time it is the turn of debutant director Mahesh Kodiyal to dress up the same old recipe where an aged parent in dumped by a selfish son and the caring daughter comes to her rescue. The proceedings are believable as you can relate to the concerns of the characters. Be it lack of space for the granddaughter or the uneasiness of the son-in-law (Ram Kapoor) to share space with the mother-in-law when her own son has cried off the responsibility, you know such things happen. So is the daughter’s frustration in striking a balance between career and home. The film’s USP is Asha Bhosle’s debut as an actor -- and the legendary playback singer is not found wanting in her maiden performance before the camera.

Playing an Alzheimer’s patient, she looks the part and manages to make us forget that you are watching Asha the singer. She is very well supported by Padmini Kolhapure as the daughter who stands up for her mother. She holds the film together even when it takes predictable turns towards the end. A relevant film in times when the space for the elderly in diminishing in the bustling metros.

Give Mai a chance when it premieres on television.

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