Monday, January 24, 2005

Shwaas Vs ?

One amazing thing on the second last day of PIFF was that 3 major contenders for the Academy Award for the best Foreign Film were being shown on the same day. Afghanistan's Earth and Ashes, South Africa's Yesterday and India's Shwaas. Albeit these three are yet to be shortlisted, trusting PIFF organizers I have come to believe that these films are hot favourites to make the cut. So what chances does homegrown talent have against these prospective competitors?

Earth and Ashes -

A from the heart tale of a Grandfather and his Grandson travelling to a faraway mine where the Grandson's father works to tell the news of devastation of the whole family in a bombing of their village. Where the film scores, is its simplistic storyline - objective and effective. The screenplay and the cinematography are absolutely amazing. The sweeping desert landscapes, the bombed village, and the appalling haplessness that the Grandfather faces have been wonderfully portrayed. Sub-plots have been woven wonderfully into the main storyline, i.e. the rich merchant from Kabul who helps waysiders, the grandson becoming deaf and his attempts to convince everyone that their voices lay hidden in one of the tanks which lie bombed along the road, the daughter being abused in public, the kid chasing the goat into a landmine where it is reduced to smithereens etc. give the viewer a bone-chilling overview of life during the war. Many people have praised the acting talent of Ashwin Chitale, the child actor in Shwaas. However the grandson in this movie I thought was much better. Ashwin's character is such that he plays himself most of the time in the film. However this kid in Earth and Ashes portrays someone deaf - someone who he is not, with aplomb. The film is technically brilliant, emotionally touching and wonderfully directed and written. The film's end - a pitch-black screen with the Granddad singing (wailing?) for atleast two minutes is absolutely chilling (and brilliant).

Yesterday -

This was the movie that won the best film (The Prabhat Award) at this year's PIFF. This movie tells the tale of a village belle named Yesterday whose husband works in the city. She finds out that she has contracted HIV and on the advice of the doctor tries to warn her husband that he may have it too. She shows the moral power to survive, till her only daughter Beauty is admitted to school. She also lives through her husband's last days and helps to make his end as comfortable as possible. Again the film scores on the same points that the earlier film did. Amazing cinematography and a simple direct story. I thought the film is in some ways a case of old wine in a new bottle - however the brilliance of the filmmaker cannot be overemphasized. Another interesting aspect is the portrayal of South African village life (in Kwazulu-Natal) and a social rhetoric on the state of affairs as regards to scare water supply, electricity, education and medical facilities in rural South Africa. Overall a good cinematic experience however definitely not mind-blowing.

Shwaas -

Much pixels (and indeed newsprint) have been spared dissecting and analyzing Shwaas. So when I saw it again at PIFF I indirectly compared it to the previous two and here are a few observations. Shwaas tries to create the glorious cinematic experience (read cinematography) which the other two films do effortlessly. The village scenes are amazing but the hospital and the city sequences lose the plot as far as visual appeal is considered. Also the film gets caught in the battle between mainstream cinema and art house productions. The 'suspense' is extremely flimsy and the film somehow does not quite match up with the other two. However this does not mean that it does not compare at all with the other two. It has come very close as far as the story, acting, direction is concerned. It loses on the technical front and probably the issue taken up might not appeal to US voters as AIDS and the Afghanistan war might. Anyway all the three films were a treat to watch and I enjoyed my wonderful journey (9 am home -> 9:20 AM INOX -> 11-4 E^2) through these Oscar nominated films.

Indian cinema has some way to go before it can match up to it's wealthier counterpart's, but if a Marathi film can do so much then Hindi cinema should be able to do much better. Till then - Hare Rama Hare Kisna!

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