Saturday, January 29, 2011

Peepli [Dies], Udaan Flies

I feel sad. Sad to the core. The 83rd Academy Award nominations are out.

Around four months back, I had the pleasure of watching one marvellous movie. A movie made with heart. A movie that didn't have any pretensions attached with it. A movie that didn't try to teach anything or send out any message to its viewers. A movie that was made not for bagging any award, either the Filmfare or the Oscar. A movie whose motive was not to end up being a blockbuster or be a super hit among the masses. The sole purpose of that movie was to fulfil one's desire to create something that is close to one's heart. To bring forth to audience something that one feels, rather than something that audience want to feel.

I am talking about "Udaan", and about its drector, Vikramaditya Motwane. I would rate it as the best movie to come out of Bollywood last year and perhaps in a long long time. Infact, it was one of the best movies to have been released in 2010 all across the globe. And IMDB acknowledges this by rating it as the 6th best movie of 2010.

I was hoping badly that some common sense would prevail, and "Udaan" would be chosen as India's official entry for 83rd Academy Awards by Film Federation of India. Alas!!! It wasn't to happen. "Udaan" lost to Aamir Khan's production "Peepli Live". And as I had expected earlier, "Peepli Live" eventually didnt make it to the final five.

Nothing personal against "Peepli Live" or Aamir Khan. I think that it is an excellent movie in parts. Yes, in parts. Credit needs to be given where it is due. Considering that "Peepli Live" is the directorial debut for Anusha Rizvi, she carried out a splendid job. The portrayal of the village in which the story evolves, the whole concept, the inital hour or so, and the last two scenes are the high points of the movie. Especially the final two scenes - the one where protagonist's brother and wife are sitting outside their home, and the one where the protagonist is working at a construction site in the city, and finally sits down for rest. The silence speaks so much in these two scenes. The end is left open for the viewers to perceive on their own whether its a sad one or happy.

However, what I hated about the movie was the humour that went too much over the top at times. In the name of satire, the filmmakers tried to indulge into too much mockery of the news media. Consider for example the scene where one of the newspersons is shown capturing the footage of the spot where the subject was last seen excreting. Such humour, I am guessing, was added only to ensure that the movie doesn't miss out because of lack of slapstick. I would have preferred all the humour in "Peepli Live" to be subtle rather than this loud, and ultimately falling to such below par standards. I feel that "Peepli Live" is a movie that has been made not with heart, but with an "Oscar aspiring" mind, and with an eye on the Box Office.

"Udaan", au contraire, was a movie that had enough content in it to give in easily to the melodrama. But, it did not. It stayed mellow throughout. The movie is full of moments that a viewer would savour forever. Moments such as the silence between the two friends in the woods broken only by poetry. Or the scene where the protagonist is shown dragging his heavy trunk upstairs, mildly giving suggestions to the audience how his life is going to be an uphill climb during the course of the movie. Or the scene where he takes out all his anger on the car. Under normal circumstances, a person who has frustration and rage building up inside of him would need a good friend to speak it out. And if he has nobody close enough to speak to, what else can one do to let out his frustration? Each and every minor detail in "Udaan" represents something bigger. For instance, the old Contessa that the protagonist's father possesses represents his old and outdated beliefs, and his pretence. His morning jogs, black sunglasses, smoking and drinking as a false belief of being a toughie.

Another good thing about the direction was the perfect placement of background score throughout the movie. For instance, the scenes I have described above have not been marred by a background score being played. Silence in these scenes, or the presence of only the sounds like trunk being dragged or window panes being broken is what makes these moments so pleasant and natural. And then there are scenes like college-style banter with the newly made friends, or narrating a story in the hospital, which could have easily been the areas where director had the option to make the dialogue or the monologue much more clearer, so as to make the regular audience laugh or to hear a complete story from the narrator respectively. However, the director rather added loud background music in these two situations, which made the conversations inaudible. Yet the music and the inaudibility of these conversations served their purpose pretty well. The director wanted us not to laugh at the banter, but rather to feel happy on seeing the protagonist laughing himself at that moment. The director didn't want us to hear the complete story being narrated at the hospital, but rather to experience his good knack of story-telling that made several people (a kid, old patients, young patients, nurses, doctors) listen keenly to him. These are the subtle things which mark the difference between a good movie and a great movie. You don't need to shout out loud to tell what you want to tell.

When I compare "Udaan" to "Peepli Live", I can definitely say that it had far more chances of reaching the final cut in the Oscars, as compared to the latter, had it been chosen. I am still unsure why the latter was preferred. Was it Aamir Khan's old experience at Oscars that tempted Film Federation of India to send another Aamir Khan movie to the Oscars his year, hoping that this time he would do what he couldn't in 2001. Or was it due to the misconception we have that anything that displays Indian villages and poverty has a greater chance to win abroad. Whatever it be, none of them could take "Peepli Live" to the final five.

PS: Came to know today that "Udaan" won several awards in India in most prestigious categories. If Filmfare and Star Screen awards can acknowledge the movie, why can't Film Federation of India?

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