BLACK : New Indian Cinema at it's best

I have to admit, I used to be a really a big fan of Bollywood movies. I learned a lot about Hindi movies through my parents. My parents adored 'Hindustan' movies. Indian cinema was a part of their cinematic life during their time. I could still remember my mom asked me to tape Sangam or Qurbani or Yadon Ki Barat or Hathi Meri Sathi everytime those movies were shown on RTM. While watching those movies, she would explained to me a little background info about the movie, the actors and actresses and the impact that the movie made when it was first released. My mom and dad sometimes would sing along to the songs and being a boy, I was really excited and thrilled. But after quite some time, Indian cinema seems to be oblivious. We would still watch Hindustan movies every Friday evening on TV2 but it doesn't have any particular effect on us. It seems like after we watch one Hindi movie, we had watched them all. The storyline is redundant. Everything is recycled.

But I still remember when I was doing my matriculation, this 'little' movie called Kuch Kuch Hota Hai exploded into Malaysia and resurrected the Indian cinema globally. Karan Johar, the genius that he is, has taken the same love storyline of a typical Hindi movie and twist it around to make it more refreshing, hip and very entertaining. We were captivated by the melodrama, the song and dance sequences, the dashing actors and the beautiful actresses and just like that, everybody was into Hindi films again. KKHH was so big during it's time that everybody in my matriculation college knows the lyrics of the theme song by heart (..and still do). After KKHH worldwide success, Indian filmmakers tried to apply the same formula used by Karan Johar in their movies. Although some of them succeeded (most notably Karan Johar himself with Kal Ho Na Ho and Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham to name a few) many of them failed miserably. After being fed with the same material, the same batch of actors, the same melodramatic ending, the same corny dance moves, we were experiencing Deja vu. The spark of Indian cinema fizzled. We were bored.

But the resurrection of Indian cinema certainly has some good points. The most notable point is the emergence of the new wave directors who has taken the unconventional path of moviemaking. These directors try to break new ground with their movies. They stayed away from the typical sappy stroryline and create a new look of Indian cinema. Mira Nair, Nagesh Kukunoor, Madhur Bhandarkar, Gurinder Chadha, Mani Ratnam, Shekhar Kapoor and Ashutosh Gowariker are few of those directors who has picked up where Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy and V. Shantaram has left off. They resurrected the new 'New Indian Cinema'.

One director that is leading these batch of talented directors is my personal favourite, Mr Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Khamoshi The Musical, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas). Although considering the fact that his films are being classified as an 'art film' in India, it has been well-received with mainstream audiences. After some tiredless scouring, I managed to find his latest masterpiece, Black in an old VCD store in Alor Setar. My expectation was quite high because I have read so many wonderful reviews about this movie and many reviewers have described it to be his most accomplished work to date. The fact that my all-time favourite Indian actress is starring in the lead role also makes me very eager to watch it. And the result was very satisfying.

Black is an enchanting movie despite the dark theme surrounding it. Rarely I could see a film of such sensitivity, precision and elegance that has came out from the cinematic world of India. Exploring the world of the deaf is not new territory for Bhansali (recall his first movie, Khamoshi-The Musical), but this time he engages himself and his audience in the life of a deaf and blind woman: her goals, her failures, her triumphs, her emotions, and her teacher. The teacher who lived for her and the teacher for whom she lived. Indeed. In essence, Black is dark but it is purely vibrant cinema.

Black spans almost fifty years of the life of Michelle McNally (portrayed as a child by Ayesha Kapoor and as a woman by Rani Mukerji) who is born deaf and blind. Like other children she wants to play and be mischievous but cannot express herself or understand what is being communicated to her, thus releasing her frustrations in violent tantrums. In her life enters a teacher for the blind and deaf, Debraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan). He is an alcoholic who has never been able to attain the success he wants in training blind and deaf children. His initial triumphs in teaching the uncouth Michelle inspire him to take the girl by the hand and make her a productive and proactive person and contributor to society-he wants her to go college, a college for the general public, and get her a Bachelor's in Arts degree. But life plays a peculiar game with Michelle and Debraj, with Debraj losing his entire memory to Alzheimer's disease and Michelle taking it upon herself to teach him all that he ever taught her.

Where does one begin when discussing Black? To what previous Bollywood ventures can one make a parallel? In terms of story, I don't think one really can compare this movie to any other. Sure there have been a host of movies that deal with the disabled, but they have been about mental disabilities. Indian cinema and the Indian status quo have a stereotype as to what a disability 'should' be. Some mannerisms of Mukerji and many of Kapoor mimic characters who suffer from mental disabilities, but Bhansali explicates the differences. Just because people with mental disadvantages and people with impaired senses might act the same, doesn't mean they are to be treated the same.

Being set in an Anglo-Indian environment in what seems to be the post-independence era, Black has a fair dosage of English (which will repel those with limited comfort with the language). Moreover, the movie is real to a fault. Without indulging too much into details, Black denotes every aspect of Michelle's character, and one scene in particular might not please the audience. The taming of the young Michelle is immensely intriguing, but saddening and disturbing as well. I'm not sure whether some audiences are ready for something so real but bleak. But it is the realism that keeps you glued to the screen as you relish each dialogue, each sign-spoken word, each facial expression-everything about Black is enthralling! The sets and colours may seem a bit emphasised, but the costumes and casting are all ingeniously authentic.

As a director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has perfected his best work, Khamoshi. He even tells the story as a flashback, showing childhood and adulthood of his main character. But the resemblances end here. He lends himself to the demands of the story and does not get caught in a wave of nostalgia by recreating a similar movie. Each scene is given the utmost sincerity and each character is etched with the finest characterisation. The one thing I noticed throughout the movie was the use of paintings as a backdrop to crucial scenes. I cannot explain it in details but you have to see it to understand. The screenplay is a factor that I can see being subject to debate. Personally, I found it appropriately paced (but some might find it slow and dragging) and nothing seemed to be out of place-except for one thing: the character of Sara, Michelle's younger sister, played by Nandana Sen. Her presence seems forced into the screenplay and caters to the cliche of jealousy of the disadvantaged sibling. Sara's wedding leads up to the best scene of the movie, but I feel that could have been achieved through other means-but perhaps it might not have had the same affect. Sara's character could stand for the social obstacles faced by those in Michelle's situation, and is thus an important part of the film.

The great thing about Black is that it's difficult to determine a definite 'lead' role of the film. Yes, the movie is told from the point of view of Michelle and is about her fulfilling her goals, but what about the achievements of Debraj and that Michelle getting her degree is his dream, too? Therefore, as essentially equal contributors to the film, Rani Mukerji and Amitabh Bachchan give their career-best performances. I have fell in love with Rani Mukerji since I first saw her with Aamir Khan in Ghulam. She is not only super beautiful but very talented as well. Those sweet smile, sparkling eyes and that unique voice of her is a joy to watch/hear. She is the epitome of a Bollywood Queen. In Black, whatever Mukherji says is the subconscious of Michelle. She doesn't actually mouth any lines in Black, but has never been more expressive. Her body language, particularly her walk, is spectacular. She could have easily gone over the top but manages to restrain herself. She strays from the lost look most actors give such characters. She didn't wore any make-up in this movie but she has never looked so beautiful. A pure beauty. This is not the Rani Mukerji of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Hum Tum, or Veer-Zaara. This is a side to Rani Mukerji that I was unaware of. I was thinking throughout the movie, what other actresses could have portrayed Michelle McNally with the same grace? I couldn't seem to find the answer to that question.

Amitabh Bachchan is just brilliant. Damn brilliant. Everyone knows that Amitabh Bachan is a superb actor and one of the greatest actor of all-time, but this movie certainly justifies that statement. Honestly, before Black, I have never seen Amitabh Bachan act his heart out. His character demanded eccentricity and he delivers! As Michelle's pillar of support, Bachchan's depiction of Debraj Sahai compliment's Rani Mukerji perfectly. The gradual dominance of Alzheimer's disease is most natural and the scenes in which Debraj is taken over by the disease show the real talent within the Big B. Honestly, you're at a loss for superlatives to compliment his work. And watch out for the scene where Amitabh Bachan teaches us how to do sign language for the word 'bullshit'. Brilliant.

The suppporting cast also boast some of the greatest talents in India right now. Ayesha Kapoor is simply put, out of this world. I was unable to determine whether she is an actress or actually deaf and blind! Although some of her scenes looked a bit forced at first, but after awhile it seems to make a lot of sense. There are actors in Bollywood who have been around for many years, many of them so-called 'stars' that could not execute a performance half as good as that of Kapoor. As Michelle's parents, Shernaz Patel is perfect as the mother, and Dhritiman Chatterjee as the stubborn father is great. Nadana Sen definitely makes her presence felt in her debut, but we need to see more of her know what she's got.

My favourite scene in the movie is when during a very dramatic scene, Amitabh Bachan's character says, "... you know, I feel like singing and dancing right now, but as you and I know, I'm hopeless". That dialogue, although very tongue-in-cheek, explains it all. Most Hindi movies, during that particular scene, will definitely break into this humongous dance and musical sequences complete with backup dancers and multiple costume changes. But this is not another Hindi movie. It is not stereotypical. It's magical. If you hated 'mainstream' Hindi movies and if there's only one Indian movie you would see this year, make sure it's Black.

UPDATE : The Filmfare Awards 2006 wild be held this Saturday, 25th February 2006 in Mumbai, India. The awards for Best Actor (Bachchan), Actress (Mukerji), Supporting Actress (Kapoor), Direction (Bhansali) and Best Film ought to be in the bag for Black. Check out the Filmfare Awards official website for the full list of nominees.


  1. Nadia said...

    hattan kata jiwa melayu sebenarnya jiwa la kot, kan?..heh, anyway, this movie got nothing to do with 'black metal' kan? hahaha...saje buat lawak bodoh di tengahari ni sementara tunggu yatt amik gi pc slank jap lagi..yahuuu!!jgn jeles. tapi aku jeles ngan yatt sbb dia dpt jumpe slank 2 kali hari ni. cesh!...

  2. Edd Vedder said...

    weh.. mana aci korang leh jumpa slank!!

    Weh..! jeles siot..

  3. JIMI said...

    Bhansali memang salah seorang bollywood director yang aku respect. Memang aku setuju Rani Mukherjee is brilliant in that movie. In fact, aku rasa ratu heroin di sana sekarang ni ialah Rani bukan Aishwarya. Tengok Sathiya lakonan dia di tv baru-baru, and i am impressed.

  4. Edd Vedder said...

    Rani mmg dh lama jd ratu bollywood bagi aku. Satu-satunya Indian actress yg aku minat..Sathiya, Yuva, Veer-Zaara, Black.. Filem2 lakonan dia mmg hebat.

  5. Nadia said...

    jgn risau, slank is going to end their world tour in malaysia, sometimes in june this year! so, sabaq na..

    p/s: semlm was a blast! nanti aku cite dlm blog. ;-)

  6. Nazim Masnawi said...

    My God, aku sampai sekarang dah tgk Dil Chahta Hai dekat 8000 kali. Yep, 8000 kali, beb.

  7. Edd Vedder said...

    Dil Chahta Hai! salah satu filem India kegemaran aku. Filem India pertama yg nampak betul2 nampak very hip, almost like a Hollywood production by Cameron Crowe.

    tapi Farhan Akhtar mmg seorang director yg bijak. Storyline dia pun menarik. Aku suka lakonan Akshaye Khanna dlm DCH. Tapi aku tahu.. ko mesti suka Preity Zinta kan.. :)

  8. Nazim Masnawi said...

    Aku suka Preity Zinta? Shite, am I THAT predictable? Wohooo, I fapped at Preity ever since Dil Se...

    Apapun, syabas sbb buat review filem Hindustan. Totally... totally tak sangka!

  9. Edd Vedder said...

    hehe thanks, man.
    Aku pun x sangka.

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