DECCAN HERALD

Sunday, March 28, 1999


AT THE CINEMA HALLS

Movie: Sambhrama (Kannada)

Reviewer: Srikanth Srinivasa

With atrocious Kannada films hitting the screen week after week, Sambhrama comes like a whiff of fresh air. The right kind of film for a family audience. Though this flick is a remake of the Telugu film Pelli Peetalu, director Mahesh Sukhadhare has captured the beauty and essence of the Malnad region.

Three sisters, Roopa (Hema Panchamukhi), Deepa (Vanishri) and Manju (Kaveri) fend for themselves after their parents die and they are left with an ajji (B V Radha) to look after. Roopa is deaf and mute, while Deepa is a 'runaway` girl who`s been rejected by her fiance`s mother. Manju has to keep the kitchen fires burning as she works as a saleswoman in a saree showroom.

Here, Murali (Ramesh) makes a dramatic entry and falls head over heels in love with Manju. He has a telescope that zooms into the living area of the four women. He ogles the effervescent Manju, though she does not reciprocate Murali`s love for her in the beginning. When the two finally fall in love, all is not hunky dory for them. The youngest sister, Manju, takes upon herself the onerous task of marrying off her elder sisters. In the midst of meeting new deadlines for settling the marriage responsibilities, step- brother Raghu (Arvind) wreaks havoc in the family, destroying all the wealth.

Against all odds, Murali and Manju take up the new responsibility and find eligible suitors for the sisters. How Murali tackles Raghu forms the rest of the story.

Ramesh once again shines with a spirited performance. Hema Panchamukhi impresses in a small role. Debutant Kaveri is good. Dattatreya puts up a good performance. So does B V Radha.

However, the real hero of the film is debutant director, Mahesh Sukhadhare, who has kept the film on a tight leash. Hamsalekha`s music is in sync with the Malnad surroundings and the theme.

A clean family entertainer!

Movie: The Killer (Kannada)

Reviewer: SS

This film is just not a killer but a 'time killer`. Oh, a money killer too! A meaningless plot, mindless violence, stupid fight sequences, bad direction and to top it all, senseless music.

In sharp contrast to Sambhrama, The Killer fails to engage the viewer`s interest. One point remains misunderstood, for whom are such films made? Who are the film-makers trying to hoodwink?

Disturbing and disgusting!

Movie: En Swasa Katre (Tamil)

Reviewer: Kala Krishnan Ramesh

The film`s title is the last line of a love poem penned by its heroine (in a Nightingale note book). The poem`s English version reads, ''you are pasted, painted, nailed in my heart. You are what I breathe.``

Vairamuthu, of course. A little tired, albiet. The heroine, Madhu (Isha Gopika) has fallen in love with a stranger (Arvind Swamy) whose face she does not see, but whose touch at her waist, when he lifts her out of a fire, thrills her!

It is a coincidence worth some thought that the last film Isha appeared in, Kadal Kavithai, had her in an almost identical role! Isha is not a bad actress, she`s also self-possessed and nice looking. That she resembles Simran is unfortunate because so often she slips into a Simranism!!

The story of En Swasa Katre, is one with much potential, largely unexplored by an inadequate plot and screenplay, which, along with the dialogues, and direction, are by K S Ravi.

Arun, a selfless thief (Arvind Swamy) and Guru, a selfish thief, are the adopted and real sons respectively, of Raghuvaran. Prakash Raj playing Guru is in a role that he seems to specialise in, that of a psychopathic baddie. Arun is bound to Guru in a strange and scary bond, obeying whenever asked to crack a safe, steal a file, pinch an incriminating video tape and so on.

This relationship is treated simplistically - almost completely single-dimensional. Arun obeys Guru because otherwise Guru will harm their father. Guru does not harm his father because then he will lose Arun`s compliance. The father is in stasis. Such relationships, as life, and better films have shown, are quite deep and complex.

The story goes thus - in the course of pinching something Arun enters Madhu`s house, seeing her photo he realises that it is the house of the girl he saved and who he is half in love with already. He leaves but takes her diary along, in which he has read her poem to him. After that he is hooked. He follows and sings one of her poems - Oru thuzhi inzhuthe and she`s also hooked.

The music, by Rehman, is pleasant, often, as his music is wont to, suggesting more than it actually does. They become lovers.

Madhu`s brother is an ACP and when he finds out, he`s furious. From then on its a good versus bad, love versus other considerations. Finally Madhu and Arun both shoot dead Guru, and she tells her brother, ''If he`s a murderer, so am I, where he goes, so do I. And the film ends.

En Swasa Katre is as much about what makes evil evil and why good is good. As a buoy of changing times, its all there: computers, cell-phones, people with ideas about love, for don`t let it fool you, this is no blind love - it`s love well-considered.

Arvind Swamy is not bad, as for as an Arvind Swamy can be so. And the same goes for Prakash Raj. Worth taking a look at.

Movie: Raktha Saakshigal Zindabad (Malayalam)

Reviewer: Jayalakshmi K

'One who loves human beings the most, makes the best Communist. And I know that Comrade Shivan is one big lover of humanity`, says Comrade Oormis, while proposing Shivan`s name to the party`s politburo. Shivan accepts the compliment but declines the offer out of fear that occupying such a high post may dilute his love for the masses. The ruler can never empathise with the ruled, he says and nominates friend and Comrade Oormis for the post. For himself, he prefers being one with the masses.

Yes, this is again about the Communist movement. Yes, there has been no dearth of movies on the same from the south western shores of the country. Laal Salaam is still quite fresh in most movie-goers` minds. But that is no reason to give this one the go-by, even if you do not swear by the Das Kapital.

This one from maestro Venu Nagavalli once again punches the audience with questions. Some new, some old. It makes one have a good look around, and within. What is right, what wrong, what should one fight for, and how? Is violence the answer? Do unto them as they do to you? How does one reconcile idealism with reality? Which is what Comrade Shivan finds difficult to do, when confronted with the hungry, orphaned children of Comrade Sridharan, martyred for the cause. (The children manage to raise hands weakly in an 'inquilab zindabad` while gobbling food.)

The film is also about our own 'Bravehearts` who die saying 'inquilab zindabad`. Shivan and Oormis are two young men in the pre-Independence era, who are troubled by all that they see. Shivan, a member of the Congress, gets restless with the party`s lack of nerve. Situations force him to start a socialist group of the party in Kuttanad, and from this the Communist party. Soon he and friend Oormis, (who has abandoned the pursuit of the ICS and is thrown out by his despotic father), take the lead in spreading the message among the masses. To join hands and fight for what is theirs. There is inevitable bloodshed when the ruling Deewan gives shoot-to-kill orders.

Mohanlal, as Shiva Subramanya Iyer from the Thyagaraja Madham, excels in his portrayal of a Brahmin-turned-Communist, troubled by conscience and spurred by fury at what he sees. The scene where he confronts the Brahmin community gathered to denounce him for his activities is sure to send your adrenalin pumping. Accused of un-Brahminical acts, he explodes by tearing off the sacred thread and casting it away. 'If mutterring chants into the fire and turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed around is what makes one a Brahmin, I`d rather not be one.`

Suresh Gopi as Oormis lends good support to the extent the role allows. Nedumudi Venu as Shivan`s big brother, Murali as Sridharan, Sukanya as Shivan`s Shivakami, Karamana, Maala and the rest do their bits. The songs with music by M G Radhakrishnan and some very good lyrics, and the dialogue, deserve special mention. There are some pointless scenes the movie could have done without.

One does wonder about all those lives lost. We are rather weakly told that days after an assault on the Deewan, he scoots and the country is soon free. Communist propaganda? Well, the climax shoots some uncomfortable questions at the party, too. About party office-bearers who tend to get disaligned with the masses, about the hapless and alive rakthasaakshigal and who tends to them, etc.

Whatever the motives for making the film, this one is worth watching.

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SCREENSCAPE

Revamped

As she watches the current crop of heroines don skimpy clothes and gyrate gracelessly, SUCHITRA LATA longs for the panache of the bad girls of yore

TWO music directors, O P Nayyar and R D Burman, immortalised slinky vamps by the seductive tunes they composed for them. Yeh hai reshmi zulfon ka; Raat nashili hai; Duniya mein; Sajna mera; Piya tu ab tu aaja. There was Mona, Sona, Helen, Monica, Suzy ... Always a tinge of otherness, not quite the Indian nari, but some phirang touch which of course explained everything!

There was no musical discrimination. Mumtaz, Asha Parekh or any other heroine who was either circumstantially forced to play the vamp, or Helen who was the vamp of vamps, all had extremely catchy songs picturised on them. Other music directors like Laxmikant Pyarelal too composed cabaret songs, but their sensibility was more restrained. In Aa jaane jaan from Inteqam, the chord progression is admirable but the tune does not have that bubbly taste of a fast cabaret like Piya tu ab to aaja or Duniya mein or the seductive invitation of the slower vamp songs (Yeh hai reshmi zulfon ka).

Nadira used to be one of the most diabolical vamps, in looks and character, thanks to her winged eyebrows. She stylishly represented wanton vampishness (Mud, mud ke na dekh). Mumtaz in her earlier roles made a slightly undecided vamp, innocent eyes in love with the hero, but fated to side the villain (Yeh hai reshmi zulfon ka). Hers was the type who unfortunately got finished off by the villain, after having done the good deed of warning the hero of imminent danger (Mere sanam).

The picturisation of Aruna Irani cabaret`s in Khel khel mein must be the only one of its sort in Hindi cinema history. She mourns the death of her lover, one of the villains, through the song, openly grieving, almost on the verge of madness at the loss. The song is tragic and seductive at the same time. That was R D Burman`s genius blending with the imaginative portrayal of a bereaved vamp to arrive at a cabaret song of intense sorrow!

Helen was all seductive siren, but amazingly devoid of any vulgar flaunting. She was said to have choreographed all her cabarets. From Chinatown to Teesri Manzil she played the same role, the dancer, the non-Indian girl who could expose herself while the heroine would not and could not.

In tribute to the character of Hindi film vamps, Channel V hosts a show called Cabaret. A year from now if they still need to continue the show, they would have footage, but the vamp is quite dead. If the earlier films had at the most one vamp song-dance sequence, these days all heroines have taken on some part of the character of vamps. Their dress sense is much like those of earlier vamps. On the one hand, Indian women have less inhibitions, and on the other the script writers make sure they can undress a bit no matter what the context or familial background.

For instance, a middle-class girl is made to walk around in mini skirts (Rangeela). Or there could be a dream sequence (Hum se hai muqabla) to lift all restraints.

This could mean that the Indian heroine now accepts her sexuality and has got bold enough to express it, or her utter exploitation. But with her changing psyche she has killed the vamp!

If the vamps could dance, the modern babe can romp around gracelessly as long as she has a charmless dimple anywhere on her self and asks the hero piquantly if he were still a virgin.

More than an expression of their sexuality, it seems to be more of an expression of conformity. Be it a Mahima or a Rani, a Karishma or a Raveena, they all look, sound and act as if they have been mass produced for the consumerism latent in today`s audience. Tu cheez badi hai mast mast.

But we have a censor board trying its best to make martyrs of today`s producers, directors and heroines by objecting to the lyrics in Sexy, sexy sexy mujhe log bole. The change in the lyrics from sexy to baby effects absolutely no value change, and the picturisation would put any real cabaret show in the shade, with Karishma the sexy baby pointing and clutching a la Michael Jackson.

One wonders if the vamps ever had such a devastatingly frustrating effect on the male audience which forms the majority. Our heroines want to be vamps and seduce, but virtuously refrain from going any further. Their confusion is not metaphysical: it stems from a total lack of identity. Only very few heroines and scripts rise above this commercially, satisfying confusion.

Kajol in Pyar toh hona hi tha follows a boyfriend, falls in love with another boy and helps him solve familial problems without lecturing on the evils of the path he has chosen. There is no sexy song and dance and her quiet and helpless coming to terms with her new found love is sensual and very well done. She is trying to win back the affections of her old boyfriend. And is frank in her declaration of love. Perhaps this is closer to what one means by freedom to express and being at ease with one`s sexuality.

Nargis` rain scenes seemed to be only for Raj Kapoor`s eyes, though he meant them for the audience as much as for himself, in Pyar hua ikrar hua hain from Shree 420. She is the humble school teacher and can only be shown in a rain sequence. In Anari she is the rich girl who is shown in a swimsuit, but the camera was very circumspect. If the same were to be shot today, the camera would play a totally voyeuristic role. Such is the difference in picturisation, camera angles and choreography, between what was seductively private and what is obscenely public.

Freedom for woman and openness of expression? Perhaps. A thin line seems to differentiate exploitation from freedom of expression. And filmdom will continue to make the most of the situation.

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Sugar n' spice and a stepmom who's nice

ARTHUR J PAIS on 'Stepmom,' an emotional film about forgiving and parenting

ONE of Hollywood`s most consistent spinners of comedies, Chris Columbus is famous for the outrageous Mrs. Doubtfire, which has grossed a mighty 500 million dollars worldwide. He is also the director of a bigger hit, Home Alone, which grossed over 600 million dollars over a decade ago.

So last Christmas, when word went around that he was coming out with a weepie, many of his fans wondered what happened to the combative humour in him.

And when some of the important reviewers, including Liz Braun of Toronto Sun calling the film 'maudlin` and 'manipulative,` some Hollywood observers may have wondered how audiences would react to it. But as often happens, audiences were indeed prepared to be manipulated; the modestly budgeted movie (50 million dollars) has grossed 160 million dollars worldwide, and is expected to wind up with at least 225 million dollars.

Columbus, whose own mother died of cancer last year, initially did not want to direct the film in which cancer plays a pivotal role, his friends say. But after some consideration, he found the story and script (by Rain Man`s Ron Bass) to be therapeutic. Columbus, who also wrote the script for such comedy hits as Gremlins and Goonies, says he has wanted to make a non-comedy for a long time.

As in most of his other films, kids have major parts in Stepmom. But they are not in a comedy this time around. Columbus, whose Home Alone made the pre-teen Macaulay Culkin an international star, is glad he got another opportunity to direct children. ''I`m drawn toward films about the potential of a family falling apart, about real-life family drama, which naturally involves kids,`` he says.

Directing a drama has its own joys, he says. ''I didn`t have to do everything in 15 or 20 takes, and worry if I`m being funny,`` he explains.

Stepmom offers essentially the story of three people: A former book editor Jackie (Susan Sarandon) who, on the surface, does not seem to know what to do with her life and two children; and her ex-husband (Ed Harris), who is to take a fashion photographer (Julia Roberts) as his second wife. As she tries to fit into his family, Roberts finds herself an unwelcome addition and the target of Sarandon`s resentment. And then, there are Jackie`s two children, who are trying to find how they should deal with their stepmother.

Columbus says he was not interested in making the standard melodrama. His film challenges its viewers to direct their sympathies in a number of directions - and wait to see if they were right. In one segment, one may want to side with the new wife; in another, with the husband, and soon, it could be the former wife who commands our attention - and love.

To the main artists of Stepmom, the suspense in the screenplay was a big attraction. Harris (Academy nominee for The Truman Show) says it is the constantly changing emotional landscape that raises the film above the usual Hollywood melodramas.

As for the Academy-winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking), who has the reputation of being one of the choosiest stars in Hollywood, she says she admires Columbus for respecting the audience.

''I think a film that goes back and forth like this is saying to an audience, 'We`re going to let you do the work`,`` she said in an interview. ''We`re going to let you figure it out and maybe sometimes you`ll be surprised because you can`t always predict where things will go or how you`ll feel about it.``

Her sentiments were echoed by Julia Roberts, one of Hollywood`s highest paid actresses (10 million dollars plus for a film), who reportedly slashed her fee because she coveted the role of the younger wife.

The artists and writers felt right from the beginning ''that we had to be really honest about these people, where they were coming from and how they felt toward each other,`` says Roberts.

The movie project fascinated stars from two generations: Ed Harris is nearing 60, Sarandon is 52 and Roberts is 31. Sarandon and Roberts felt so convinced of the film`s appeal that they decided to be a part of the production team.

Sarandon, Roberts and Harris readily credit Columbus with turning the script into a smooth- flowing, gripping film. He also worked hard to keep things ''realistic,`` Sarandon says.

A key character dying of a terminal illness can lead to high velocity melodrama, she explains. But to her, the turning point of the film is not when she is told she has cancer; but when her little boy tells her, 'If you want me to hate (Isabel), I will.`

That`s when she begins the process of realizing that, ''Well, if I`m going to die, I`d better teach this woman how to take care of my kids,`` Sarandon continues. ''That`s the key to the whole movie, not her illness by itself.``

She saw the movie as being essentially about forgiving and parenting, says Sarandon, the mother of three children she raised with actor and film-maker Tim Robbins (the Oscar-winner, Dead Man Walking).

The healing, Columbus says, is one of the invisible but key characters of the film. The film project would not have worked for him if the script had not addressed the issues that challenge people not only in America, but across the globe. Problems of the heart are the same anywhere in the world, he feels.

And that is why, Columbus says, Stepmom has remained in the top five box-office category in more than a dozen countries, including France and Germany, for over a month. Just in the way that the whole world loves to share a joke, Columbus feels, an emotional film bonds with audiences despite linguistic and cultural barriers.

Stepmom opened, along with nine other films, in America in the Christmas week.

Columbus says he was worried about its fate at the box-office, particularly because he felt he had a ''personal stake`` in the movie. It is not just a movie that is a departure from his familiar genre; he has also dedicated it to his mother.

When he sneaked into a dozen movie houses in more than six cities, including Chicago, he says he knew it would fly.

''Everyone walks out emotionally charged,`` he says. ''It just shows that audiences truly want an emotional experience at the movies.``


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