Tag Archives: indian cinema

Urban Jungle {Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai}

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Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai (2012) is a peep into the mess of urbanism, the static everyday and it manages to tell a tale of vast proportions. A tale of our cities and its underwired nexuses. You may say this is an old story. Well all stories are. The builder-politician-bureaucrat underhand dealings were well etched even in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1981). What is different in Shanghai is the presence of the ubiquitous digital video camera. I felt the camera continuing its quiet but prominent presence from LSD (2010) into Shanghai. Like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, the underdogs piece together information and re-connect a crime to its perpetrator through images. Much into the film, Kalki’s character Shalini tells the shady but trustworthy Emraan Hashmi’s Jogi “You can do anything to me if you want, but I need that footage.” Yes, it is the footage that counts. The mainstream media in the film is relegated to the television screen. What we see on ground is the migrant from Jodhpur’s digital video store where cheap green curtains form the chroma backdrop for a politician’s advertisement to a couple’s loving proclamations. It is here in a cubby hole on the second floor of a dilapidated building that images are made, copied, renewed, re-processed and saved. There are millions of stores like this in our cities and in our small towns where images are played with. It is here that Banerjee provides the power to fight against a system that remains the same, as much as it changes.

There is time to breathe here. To look carefully at every frame and notice the little details that the filmmaker fills it with. This could have easily been made into a classic political thriller of a ride with quick cuts, pacy action or preaching dialogues. But it is not. And that is its strength. It quietly creeps onto your skin and grows on you as the story unfolds. For me, Dibakar takes conventional material but gives it an unconventional twist. For the enquiry sequence by Abhay Deol’s IAS T.S Krishnan, we watch an ordinary empty room with peeling walls being converted into a enquiry room of a major murder – a woman sweeps the floor, a water cooler whirs, a basketball falls inside, and both Shalini and Krishnan slip on the wet floor outside. The action is almost real-time, but not slow. Every character is slippery and dual. There are nuances which can probably be read and re-read on multiple viewings. This is an urban dystopia unlike that of Satya (1998), where the underworld ruled the netherlands of Mumbai. This is a new dystopia stemming from SEZ’s, displacement and party hooliganism on the streets. The city and film have always had a relationship and in Shanghai, we see a story oft heard and told. But it does so in a rejuvenating way which can only be a good thing for Indian cinema.


Bibi, Begum aur Patni

shab-houkah-1Well, I’ve had a mammoth film viewing day of three classic hindi films depicting the social life of Indians in three different periods.

1. Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962)

2. Shatranj ke Khiladi (1977)

3. Katha (1983)

Although Sahib Bibi and Shatranj were set in a time older than their year of release, I found certain similarities and observations on the role of men and women in Indian society in all three of them.

Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam: Meena Kumari’s character is of a woman who is married to a rich landlord of Calcutta (pre-independence) who is given to heavy drinking and womanising at thekotha. But she is not like the other women in the house who quietly ignore these antics of their husbands and as according to her sister-in-law even support it as a ‘manly’ activity. She wants to spend time with her husband, or what else does she have to do the entire day! Her Husband is like a God, and she must serve him at all times, so much that she will drink liquor and sing for him (blasphemy in those days). I really liked her performance, it was powerful and conveyed the dichotomy of her situation very well. The song, “na jao sayian” is haunting with her drunk presence and Alvi’s camera movements. But why does she have a deep devotion for her husband who clearly does not care for her? Was it a survival technique for women in those days who could not be economically or socially liberated? Or was it in some sense a powerful effort on her part to claim her husband back to where he belonged?

But there is only a slight retribution for her at the end, as her husband lies bedridden and she drunk….an ironic role reversal. Waheedas’s character on the other hand is of a woman who is also taking charge of her life, even though it is within archaic child marriage rules.

Shatranj ke Khiladi: Shabana Azmi is Sanjeev Kumar’s wife who has clearly lost interest in her to his chess board. Here too, Azmi’s character tries to connive Kumar’s character into spending time with her. She is desperate and even sexually deprived. But the man here is not interested in being physical. On the other hand, Jaffrey’s wife (a robust Fareeda Jalal) is cheating on him with his nephew and clearly expressing her sexuality. I found these to be brilliant characterisations.

Katha: Deepti Naval’s character is easily attracted to the “bad-boy” Farooque Sheikh. While on the other hand Naseeruddin is never able to express his love for her till the last moment nor does Deepti’s character guage his emotions. But what struck me was when Farooque’s character asks her if she is ‘modern and liberated’. As soon as she admits she is (hesitatingly), he finds it easy to canoodle and get her into bed. But even after facing humiliation from him, Naseer’s character accepts her in the end as who she is. Sai Parnjpye’s characters in Katha, may border on the extreme with Naseer being too simple, and Farooque too conniving, and Deepti too unsure. But the director shows us how all three have their flaws.

All in all……I’m trying to place how women are portrayed in Indian Cinema through the ages. Why is a woman portrayed to be begging for a man’s affection? And yet, they are infinitely free and powerful. It says something about our patriachal society, which has been, and still is going strong, if not directly but subtly.