January 24, 2013

A Kusturica Film by Vishal Bhardwaj

A gypsy without dreams is like a church without a roof, like a textbook without letters...

There is a scene in Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest film that is supposed to be funny, in which, the two male leads are trying to shift a well from its position, too drunk to realize the futility of the endeavor. It is night, and the area is deserted. In the background, among the shops that are shut, a board reads – “Kusturi-ca Brass Band”. It is not a deliberately ‘detailed’ art-design decision, but clearly a tribute to the great Serbian film-maker Emir Kusturica. And thanks to the scene that was boring me like the rest of the film, my eyes wandered from the main action to this little, subtle detail in the background, because it made me think before I started criticizing the film. And it has now led me to a very confused state where I find myself split over my views on it.

Vishal Bhardwaj was my favorite modern Hindi-language film-maker, until he made ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ (2011). That film kept me depressed for days, not because of its content, but because I thought it was a bad film that broke my heart and ended my love affair with the maker. Two years later, I suddenly found myself praising the film, after I watched ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’. That was perhaps the only good thing about this latest film, that it made its predecessor look so much better. This, however, is my film-buff self speaking, that wants to watch good films, and good films alone. A bad film spoils my mood and affects my physiology. But the truth is that I am not just a film-buff. I am also a film-writer, and someone who dreams to be a director one day. When my film-maker self thinks about ‘Matru’, and thinks of Bhardwaj as a colleague rather than an icon, I find myself empathizing with him.

All serious film-makers want to create unique, unforgettable films. And mind you, it is not easy. In fact, the more I work in this medium, I realize how incredible it is that some people do end up making films that are brilliant. One thing we can never take away from Bhardwaj is that he always tries to make films which are unique, at least from Hindi commercial cinema standards. Even his decision to cast stars over genuine actors is because of the complicated commercial dynamics of our industry, which would otherwise make it impossible for you to make ‘your’ films ‘your’ way. So, I appreciate the film-maker’s aspiration to make a film on the lines Kusturica. That his film falls short by a ridiculously large margin does not rob him of the credit of trying something as insanely difficult as this. Most film-makers would fail trying to do this, and hence the film’s failure is not a big surprise.

If you are aware of Emir Kusturica’s films, you will know what I mean when I say that most film-makers would fail trying to do what he does. I recommended the first Kusturica movie that I watched as a must-watch, and I’m almost tempted to do the same with the second. For the first half an hour or so, in both these movies, you are trying to get oriented to their mad fervor and quirky characters, something that ‘Matru’ had common with them. However, Kusturica eventually involves you so deeply with his characters that you care and feel for them, and almost do not want the film to end. In fact, until last week when I watched ‘Time of the Gypsies’ (1988), and the 'Kusturi-ca' mention in ‘Matru’ inspired me to do that, I thought something like the Marquez epic ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ can never be filmed. But now I feel tempted to say, that if there is one film-maker today who can adapt that novel to film, it is Kusturica. If you have read that novel, watch ‘Time of the Gypsies’, which is perhaps the best magical-realism film I have seen. It is ridiculously funny and painfully sad at the same time, a strange feeling that the Marquez novel so effortlessly evokes. Watching this film will also make you understand Bhardwaj better, or his motivation behind making ‘Matru’, a film I would like to forget as soon as possible, and hope that the maverick from India only rises from here. Something even half as good as ‘Maqbool’ (2004) would make me re-discover my love-affair with the amazing Vishal Bhardwaj I once knew.

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