Bollywood Baatein: Three memorable performances from the last decade

Here are three performances from the last decade that I cannot forget. The movies too are brilliant works of art

Bollywood Baatein: Three memorable performances from the last decade

Subhash K Jha

1. Neeraj Kabi in ‘Ship of Theseus’: Thisis a sombre, meditative profound and yet weightless work of unfettered beauty with a life-changing performance by Neeraj Kabi who plays a monk who won’t use pharmaceutical medicines even ifit killshim.

Director Anand Gandhi defines life’s mysteries in mysterious ways,- showing a command over his mammoth philosophical world that Mani Kaul and Jean-Luc Godard would have envied. In my favourite story the ailing monk, played with inscrutable veracity by Kabi, speaks to his young beatnik lawyer-friend as they walk briskly across the bustling streets of Mumbai, the camera trails their dialogue without cuts.

No one would dare interrupt a discourse on the exigencies and practicalities of a non-violent protest against medical experiments on animals when two such iconoclasts are at it with an extempore exuberance. What a debut Anand Gandhi has made! Ship Of Theseus is so luminously layered, so spectacularly segmented, and yet so cohesively assembled you fear the entire burden of existence would weigh down the narrative.

Bollywood Baatein: Three memorable performances from the last decade

2. Kartik Aaryan in ‘Akash Vani’: In one of the film’s high dramatic moments shot on a small deserted railway station in the night, the film’s protagonists, now estranged byan unfortunate series of circumstances, sit on the bench and...well, they sob. Yes, they simply cry their hearts out. First, the girl. Then in a melancholic celebration of the me-too syndrome, the boy, now alas no longer a boy (and he smokes to prove it) also breaks into little sobs that build up into a wail as the shehnai, indicative ofa cruel marital joke, plays in the background.

The sequence in the hands of a lesser director would have fallen flat on its sobbing face. Luv Ranjan has the punch-filled boys-will-be-boys saga Pyaar Ka Punchnaama behind him to prove his solid grip over the grammar of the hearts of the young and the confused. This is Kartik Aryan’s mosthonest performance to date. Luv Ranjan’s screenplay takes the lovers from the corny escapades and frigid philosophizing of the college campus to the precipice of heartbreak.

Unlike other contemporary celluloid raconteurs, Ranjan is not fearful of silences. He doesn’t fill up every conceivable nook and corner of the storytelling with words and music.On many occasions Ranjan allows the lead pair to share silences--a rarity in today’s cinema. Though the filmbelongs to the female protagonist, Kartik manages to hold his own with an endearing performance far removed from what he attempted in the director’s Pyaar Ka Punchnaama.

3. Pavan Malhotra in ‘Children of War’: In one of the many mind-numbing images in this exceptionally vivid work on the wages of war, the back of a truck is jolted open and out falls a tumble of women one on top of another at a Pakistani prisoner camp for Bangladeshi women run by a despicable tyrant who could be the Nazi mass murder Ralph Fiennes in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. But no! It’s Pavan Malhotra who is brilliantly evil and slimy as the man who believes that if Pakistani soldiers rape and impregnate enough Bangladeshi women, the separatists and freedom fighters would stop dreaming of their own home-land. Very often as I watched debutant director Mrityunjay Devvrat’s stunning film I was reminded of the great anti-Nazi films, like Alan Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice, Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far, and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. I was also reminded of Nandita Das’s Firaaq about Gujarat’s 2002 genocide where a truckload of corpses had tumbled out. The difference is, the women who fall from the truck like trash from a garbage van in Children Of War are alive.

Rape as a tool of oppression has never served a more brutal purpose in any other film except Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen. The unannounced midnight knock and the graphic rape that follows, the brutal slayings of refugees on the run as they are intercepted and shot pointblank on a river bridge as they try to escape, the leery Nazi-like army man peeing into war prisoner’s face...War never seemed more like a personal and political violation.

Pavan Malhotra’s portrayal of evil rivals Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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