My wife, during a recent trip to Kolkata, got back with a bunch of movies, which she had picked up at the recommendation of her friends there. Three days ago, we watched one of them, Antaheen, while having lunch. And yesterday, to my great astonishment, I read in the papers (I don't watch news on TV) that it had won the national award for being the best film!
There is nothing wrong with the movie as such, but I didn't find many things right either. To begin with, from the look of the screen, it felt as if you were watching a serial. The 'look' of the screen, what in cinema parlance would perhaps be called frame, matters a lot to me. It is the 'look' which tells you, the moment you glance at the screen, whether the film was made in 1978 or 2008. It is the 'look' that also tells you whether are you watching a film or a serial. Maybe the 'look' is determined by the sets, the lighting, the cinematography, the background music and so on -- a technical person should be able to explain better.
So to begin with, Antaheen looked like an extended serial. Two, the dialogues were saccharine-sweet: all the characters spoke so sweetly, in the typically Bengali way. Where was the intensity? Three -- the movie should have been titled Laptop -- all the characters were foreover sitting in front of laptops. True, the laptop, or rather the internet connection, was crucial to the story of the movie, but you can't let the laptops distract from the emotions on the faces of the characters. Boy, almost all the characters were on their laptops almost all the time, bearing artificial expressions that clearly showed they were not actually laptop-dependent in real life. Who would know that better than me? And who would know better than me the expressions and the anguish of a man who is addicted to chatting online with a woman whose mind he has seen but not the face?
Two things, however, are very powerful about the movie. One, the storyline itself, whose presentation, I think, could have risen above the saccharine-sweet dialogues and been more intense. Two, the role of Mita Vashisht. But were they sufficient to get Antaheen the national award for being the best film? A good film stays with you long after you have finished watching it, and Antaheen was certainly not one of them.
But then, this is my view. My wife doesn't agree with me at all (she has threatened to post a comment if I ever blogged about the film). It is true that while I was watching the 'laptop' film, I also had my mini-laptop resting on my stomach, but I did have my ears and eyes wide open.
A day after we watched this film, wife dragged me to the club, where they screen movies on the terrace on certain Saturdays. That Saturday they were to show London Dreams, starring Ajay Devgun and Salman Khan, which did not interest me one bit. But I reluctantly tagged along, thinking that while she watched the movie, I would sit in the adjoining open-air bar and drink. One can drink on the terrace too while watching the movie, but you can't really smoke unless you choose to be outright impolite to the fellow audience.
So I sat with wife for a while and watched the movie, waiting to get away as soon as a boring scene or a song came on. But I found it impossible to tear myself away. I had always liked Ajay Devgun. Not that I've watched too many of his films but I find him intense. Salman Khan, on the other hand, is someone I can do without. But in London Dreams, I found it impossible to keep my eyes off Salman. Two particular scenes I can never forget: one, in which he moulds the same lines into different genres of music, and two, when he proposes to Asin. What an awesome actor! -- no wonder he is still very much up there. Maybe he just needs better scripts and needs to appear more 'cerebral' at least to the media. But believe me, his performance in London Dreams was top class. Perhaps his best performance till date.
A mainstream commercial film or a commercial actor is, however, never in the contention for the national awards. I wonder why. Though under the BJP regime, Raveena Tandon did get a national award for a commercial film, but she also subsequently went on to head the Children's Films Society. Clearly, the government loved her (though I must say I liked Raveena, even though I am not a heroine person. Also in my like-list are Sonu Walia, Sangeeta Bijlani, Tabu, Konkona Sen and Sandhya Mridul. There is something different about each of these women, though only a few of them can be counted as good actors as well).
The trend set off by the BJP government seems to be still in fashion. Even though I am against the practice of the national awards going only -- and always -- to actors in serious regional films, I still find it difficult to believe that Priyanka Chopra's performance in Fashion was any better than many others that year. I still can't believe why Rani Mukherjee has not got a national award yet. Something, obviously, is wrong somewhere.
What else can you expect from the government? Today they announced the Padma awards. They gave Aamir Khan a Padma Bhushan, which is fine. They gave Saif Ali Khan a Padma Shri, which is also fine. Aamir, after all, is senior to Saif and is extremely careful and choosy about the kind of movies he does and that's what set him apart. But Rekha being chosen for a Padma Shri as well? Excuse me?
How dare the government put her on par with Saif, who is a novice compared to Rekha, and below Aamir, who was still wearing half-pants when Rekha was already an established actress? Imagine Rekha, the Rekha, getting a Padma Shri in 2010 -- an award she should have got in 1990? It's a national shame, an assault on the sense of judgment of millions of Indians.
It is hardly surprising that people have no faith in the government's acknowledgment of people's worth, because the judgment is either politically motivated, callous or driven by sheer indifference. Last year, Ameen Sayani got the Padma Shri. The man who had been the voice of India for 50 years -- a household name in the literal sense of the word -- and still being found good enough for only a Padma Shri. I am not sure if Ameen Sayani accepted the award -- too tired to Google up -- but had I been him, I would have said, "Thanks, but no thanks." That's too politely put though.