His humility appears misplaced

NASEERUDDIN SHAH is doing Peter Brook's ``Hamlet'' and he isn't playing the lead. Instead, he has agreed to do the less important role, Rosencrantz/ Guildenstern, and what's disturbing is that he's not even protesting. This, after waiting for ten years to work with his favourite director. After declining all other assignments to dash off to Paris after just one phone call from the director's office. That's not all. The play will require Shah to travel, which will mean staying away from his family for almost a year. It isn't an easy decision and Shah admits he is suffering. Not getting to play ``Hamlet'', his ego does get in to the way a bit, but he says he is treating the experience as an opportunity to improve his craft. Something doesn't quite ring true. This isn't the self-assured Naseeruddin Shah we've known. Even if the actor is going through a self-denying phase, his humility appears misplaced. After 27 years and his body of work, he doesn't need to make any creative compromises.

After being the capital of Indian Cinema for over a 100 years, after being acknowledged as the world's largest film making centre, at last Mumbai city has an annual festival of its own, Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI). Unlike IFFI which travels from city to city every year and consequently fails to evolve a character of its own, MAMI, like Montreal, Berlin, Moscow and Cannes will have a festival reflective of the city. Conceived by a small group of film buffs, with little resources and loads of enthusiasm, the first International Film Festival was lacking in organisation but the passion compensated for the inadequacy. If Calcutta and Thiruvananthapuram could succeed with non- government aided festivals, so could Mumbai. The committee had the wisdom to withdraw the festival the following year and do some soul-searching. For the second year, MAMI involved prominent film makers on the board. It was their way of acknowledging the contribution of stalwarts in the craft of cinema. The big sponsors came with the big banners and the canvas expanded automatically. After 44 entries in the first years, the present year has over 90 films from 27 countries. A special section unique to this year's festival includes films made by non- resident Indians and films about Indians made by non-Indians. It may be recalled that it was MAMI that launched Nagesh Kukunoor before he and ``Hyderabad Blues'' became a rage with the audience.

The opening at the Shanmukhananda Hall was a star studded affair, an indication of the film industry's participation in the event. As expected there were minor grievances. Parallel cinema felt sidelined by mainstream cinema. Mainstream cinema felt apologetic about their solitary (``Gaja Gamini'') representation in the entries. The Association heads felt excluded from the festival and the old guards opined that the festival lacked a clear-cut objective. Barring these minor discordants, there was a universal feeling of bonhomie and celebration.

The closing ceremony made up for all the glitches at the opening ceremony. The organisation was smoother and the speeches shorter. Malayalam film ``Vanaprastham'' by Shaji Karun and Aparna Sen's ``Paromitar Ek Din'' were adjudged the best films by the jury. Vasudevan Nair's ``Oru Cheru Punchiri'' received special mention and Anupam Kher's ``Bariwali'' in Bengali evoked maximum curiosity. Attended by a packed audience, both at the screening and later at the chauraha discussion. Kiron Kher, playing the main protagonist, revealed that playing Bonalata was a self- reflective experience, an exercise in purity and cleansing. Directed by Rituparno Ghosh, ``Bariwali'' tells the story of a film unit arriving in a small town to shoot a film and taking over the mansion of a trusting, getting-on-in-age lady householder. Looking at his characters through many layers, Ghosh once again journeys into the heart of the main protagonist and filmdom, with alarming clarity and compassion! The intriguing moments are conveyed through dream sequences, comprising partly, the day's residue and partly, repressed desires. As always Ghosh tugs at your heart strings, making you look inwards. As the vulnerable householder, Kiron gives a sincere performance devoid of indulgence or vanity.

It proved to be a women's week. Aparna Sen attending the festival elaborated on what attracted her to make a film on the complex mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law relationship. Woven in a stirring tale of hostility and anguish, ``Paromitar Ek Din'' is about the bonding between two women sharing a man through relationship. One the mother, the other the wife. Aparna's earlier films have also dwelt on complex relationships providing new insights into stereotyped portrayals.

Jaya Bachchan was conferred an award for her significant contribution to Indian cinema, an award she truly deserved. Probably the only actress to make a virtue out of simplicity, Jaya was the first whiff of realistic acting in an era when showbiz was bursting with mannequins. Starting as a child star in Satyajit Ray's ``Mahanagar'', she created history with her debut film ``Guddi'' directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

Unlike any of her contemporaries and breaking every rule in the book, Jaya in her next-door-girl appeal and candour made a place for herself with powerful performances in films like ``Koshish'', ``Mili'', and ``Abhimaan.'' Temporarily away from acting after ``Silsila'' in 1981, Jaya returned to the arclights with Govind Nihalani's ``Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa'' and subsequently, Khalid Mohammed's ``Fiza''. Sometime ago, Jaya made her debut on stage with ``Ma Retire Hoti Hain'' and ``Doctor Mukta''.

The timing of the award couldn't have been more appropriate. Signed by Shaji Karun for his trilingual film with Mohan Lal, Jaya is re-inventing herself with new images in Vinay Shukla's forthcoming ``Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche'' and Karan Johar's ``Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum''.

``Gaja Gamini'' could have been the film of the millennium. It had a superb plot and a superb casting. Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan.

The film could have been a celebration of moving images, a celebration of silence in performing art. Instead, the country's most celebrated artist meditating on the mystery of the archetypal woman has proved an embarrassment. Barring the passionate strokes from a painter's thoughts delving into history and myth reaching out to contemporary times, the film fails to communicate with the audience. M. F. Husain's labour of love, like all magnificent obsessions of geniuses may bring him creative satisfaction but not economic returns.

Thought for the week: Under world don Chhota Rajan made a dramatic escape from a Bangkok Hospital. There are three versions to his escape story. That he bribed the security, drugged them, and third, he used bedsheets to clamber down from the balcony. If the same is shown in our commercial films, we call it exaggeration!


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