Thursday, December 22, 2005


A 2-minutes long tracking shot takes us through a lower-end brothel in Hyderabad and ends showing Guna on the terrace (shot from below with a 'Godly' respect), standing on one leg. It is a Pournami (full-moon day) and Guna is awaiting the arrival of Abhirami. He sees a bride going through the Jaanavasa ceremony and mistakes her for Abhirami.

So starts Gunaa, one of the best films to have come out of Tamil Cinema in the last decade. This was the first of the twin efforts (the other being the great Mahanadhi) of Kamal Haasan with his friend Santhana Bharathi wielding the megaphone. Kamal packs in a superb team (Venu for Cinematography, Balakumaran for dialogues, and of course Raaja). Yes, it is not a flawless film. But, it is a film of the kind that stays on in your mind.
The film looks at this man Guna, with unconditional sympathy; how he is doomed in this big bad world; and in that sense, it is a cynical film. Guna is a madman (an obsessional psychoneurotic) who is told, by a fellow asylum-inmate (Ananthu), that Abhirami (the Goddess) will marry him on a full moon day and will take him out of all his miseries. There is this sense of Godliness attributed to him in the movie - He can unlock anything like cars, safes etc. and helps his uncle in his thefts. He wants to be cleansed (in the famous scene Guna explaining to the doctor about how Abhirami would 'cleanse' him). He unconditionally believes that he is God, and that only Abhirami can cleanse him. He believes in uniting with Abhirami, the Goddess (an imaginatory sequence shows the formation of the Lingam). So he kidnaps her; takes her along with him to a deserted church on top of a hill and explains his love for her, and their destiny.
The screenplay of the film {written by Sabjaan, a Kamal Haasan associate who wrote Chanakyan and (according to my assumption) played the role of Narasimhan is Kuruthippunal} is of the highest standards w.r.t. Tamil Cinema. It's expertly woven, richly textured, subtle and doesn't scream for our attention. Not to forget the insightful and yet realistic dialogues by Balakumaran. Ilaiyaraaja gives a great background score (most of BGM pieces during chase sequences are liberally borrowed from Kamal Haasan's 2 earlier flicks Aboorva Sagodharagal and MMKR). Kamal Haasan comes up with a truly wonderful performance (before anyone pounces on me, I haven't seen Rain Man yet, which would not change this statement anyway), with all the rest of the cast chipping in accordingly.
What is striking is that the film doesn't melodramatize the state of Guna. It doesn't put him in fake glory. It looks at him with a detached sympathy. Guna is after all, a madman and it never bats an eyelid to put forth the fact to us. He says he is in love with Abhirami and that she can never go leaving him behind. But, he still ties her giving a new reason each time.
Apart from this, the movie also works as a traditional thriller with an (albeit heavily stereo-typed) villain, CBI in chase, and lots of money at stake. As in every other KH film, the subtle humour is unmissable.
Looking at the mythological connections of the story, the keypoint in the film is how the usual assumed gender roles are reversed here. The mythology has this story of Parvathi, the Goddess, who takes human form because of a curse and eventually re-unites with Lord Shiva. We also have other examples like Meera and Aandaal. In Gunaa, the roles are reversed. It's Guna who has taken an earthly form and yearning to unite with Abhirami.
This is apparent in many scenes like,
1. Guna tying the thaali around his neck.
2. Guna, looking reverently at his "thaali" after Abhirami walks out of the car hanging at the edge of a mountain.
3. Guna waiting for Abhirami to complete her meal.
4. Or when Abhirami kisses Guna.
The story also owes the main thread of obsession towards the Goddess to the story of Abhirama Bhattar, who wrote Abhirami Anthathi.
In a beautiful sequence, Rohini and Guna playfully pretend to be bees and buzz around in air (ending with the bees "kissing" each other), and Abhirami asks Guna to tie the Thaali, Guna says they have to wait till Pournami. But, she says "Nila aagasuthalaiya irukku? manasula irukku. Manasu thaan nila. Neranja naal!..". Apart from serving as a point for the culmination of their love (Nilu feels that this is a "must-have-sex" film and I agree; but this sequence does have the desired effect without showing them have sex), it also directly refers to the mythology itself. In the story of Abhirama Bhattar, Abhirami turns an Amavasai into a Pournami by throwing her ear-ring into the sky. Guna recollects the mythological incident and says "aamaam! Abhirami sonna Pournami thaan!".

And when the movie ends (with that divine and strangely soothing theme playing in the background), we see the deserted church in the bird's eye view and the glowing moon behind it. It is the next Pournami (thus completing the cycle) and Guna has joined hands with his Abhirami. Or has he?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara

It's quite late in the movie one would realise (disregarding preconceived notions raised from the movie's interesting title and from what one has heard about the film) that Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara's theme comes very close to being a preachy film. It can be defended that all the talk on current "apathetic" generation is nothing but the ramblings of a senile man and not meant to be preachy. But Prof. Uttam Chaudhary (Anupam Kher), the retired Hindi professor and the protagonist of the movie, does thrust some Gandhian ideals on us and quotes recent examples ranging from bombing the twin towers to some tragic incident in Japan (which I fail to recollect). On how we forgot the Gandhian principles (and how "we all killed him and locked him up in the pictures and statues"); if ever we understood them at first place, that is. This doesn't impact us to any extent because it appears as a late offshoot. A tangential take on contemporary violence/destruction doesn't strike hard as the movie wasn't about Gandhian principles till then. This concern of the professor over the current world situation (though we see passing glimpses of the professor disturbed by newspaper headlines about various crimes) seems plain abrupt.
Apart from this quibble, the movie is well made though appearing quite stagey at times. In the beginning, we are introduced to the retired Prof. Uttam Chaudhary, whose forgetfulness is crossing the normal limits of an old man, and his three children. The movie employs quite a number of regular plot devices here - a daughter torn between her own good (professionally too) and her concern over her dad's mental state, her indifferent boyfriend and a failing love affair, a dude who has 'forgotten his roots' and is unable to connect to his father's concerns - but handles all of them with adeptness. The first half revolves around many incidents revealing the professor's increasing forgetfulness because of which the plot sometimes seems to meander pointlessly (like the sequence with a barber). It also revolves around Trisha (Urmila) and the diffculties she is going through to take care of her old father, and that's told in a compelling fashion. At the end of the first half, we get to the point of concern in Chaudhary's illness. He thinks he has murdered (accidentally) Mahatma Gandhi. From there, the movie proceeds towards how this man is cured from his illusions. In the final minutes, the professor's illness serves as metaphor to the illness of the contemporary "non-idealistic" generation and suggests that we, like the professor, are also ill and need a cure.
Anupam Kher pulls off a crackling performance as the ageing man whose mental balance is getting out of his control - especially in the scene when his daughter comes to his room and apologises to him (which he seems to be unaware of) for being cross with him, he is a class act. Urmila Matondkar gives a decent performance as the caring daughter. Rest of the cast did not have much to do.
Jahnu Barua has written and directed this venture. Overlooking Barua's accomplishments one can say he has done a commendable job. But I wish I could catch his Assamese films which, I presume, must have been much better than this effort.