Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rang Rasiya II - 2014

Rang Rasiya was a visual feast. Raja Ravi Varma is played by the handsome Randeep Hooda, his muse Sugandha is played by the beautiful Nandana Sen. The canvases of Ravi Varma are presented in their beautiful glory. But how much of it is factual?

I knew nothing about the life of the Painter, and wikipedia is not always the best means to gain knowledge, not if you want to a lot about the subject, that is.  Hence, I read a book by Deepanjana Pal called The Painter.  I have written about the book separately here, and will not be going into it again.
What I want to do here, is to verify the story used in Rang Rasiya. 

The story of the movie goes thus.  (The plot is laid out in entirety and hence full of spoilers). Ravi Varma faces a trial in court for painting obscene images.  He faces an accusation that he used the title Raja wrongly.  He is also charged with mooching off his wife's money.  This is the cue for Ravi Varma to go into a flashback.  He was married to the Princess of Mavelikara.  He spent his time painting which was looked down upon.  His wife's taunts disheartened him.  Hence he started painting portraits of a servant woman.  The servant lady also seduced him.  Enraged, his wife threw him out.

He went to the court of Travancore where he was bestowed the title of Raja. The brother and heir of the king was jealous of this attention. When the King died, his successor threw Ravi Varma out.  The old Dewan of Travancore arranges a meeting between Sayaji Rao of Baroda and Ravi Varma.  This is where Ravi Varma discovers Sugandha praying in a temple.  When Sayaji Rao commissions a set of paintings, Ravi Varma decides to go on a tour of India.  On a night in Benaras, Ravi Varma sees Sugandha as a goddess and comes back to paint her.

He has a torrid affair with Sugandha.  At the time he also meets a Parsi girl Frenny (Feryna Weizhir).  His relations with Frenny are platonic, though he does go around with her.  After a while he decides to establish a printing press to reproduce oleographs of his art.  He faces setbacks in his business, his press is burned down, he has to face a court case and loses Sugandha.

Frenny helps him out of his despondency and urges him to take up painting once again.  He feels Sugandha is still close to him and picks up his brush.

These are the points, as far as I could detect, where the story of Ravi Varma differed.

Ravi Varma's use of the title Raja was never contested in his lifetime, but it was a bit of cheating on his part to use it.  He did claim that he was prefixing the name of his uncle - Raja Raja Varma - as a mark of respect.

Raja Ravi Varma never faced the court in his lifetime.  He did attend a trial of a case of obscenity against another printing press.  He was anxious about the outcome, as the result of the case could affect him as well.  Some of the prints he produced were provocative.  He was relieved when the case was dismissed.

Ravi Varma's wife was seen as a shrew in the movie, A lady who forbids him to paint and acts all vampish around him.  It is indicated that Ravi Varma left home because of that and never had anything more to do with her.  In reality, Ravi Varma visited her often, and they had five children together.  They did stand by each other.  Ravi Varma was a fond father who took care of the art training of his sons.  He arranged for his granddaughter to be adopted by the royal family of Travancore.

His close relationship with his brother is well depicted in the movie, but the rest of his family is cut out.  In fact, he was a devoted family man who followed the customs and diktats of society as much as possible.

The movie cuts out some events of his life, which is understandable.  A movie has to fast forward and cannot linger too much on each event of a person's life.  Hence, the flashback on the Painter's life starts with his wedding to the Princess of Mavelikara. From there it jumps to his stint in the Travancore court.  The Raja of Travancore did not bestow the title of Raja to him.  He fell out of favor when the Raja died and his brother took over the rule.

The movie jumps again to the second Baroda Commission before which Ravi Varma undertook an extended tour around India.  Sayaji Rao had given a generous commission to Ravi Varma for creating 14 paintings of India, scenes from the scriptures and ancient tales.  He wanted the paintings to be generic to India, not belonging to any specific region.  In order to decide the generic look, Ravi Varma toured India.  His model-mistress did not appear till much later in his life.  But in the film this is where Sugandha comes into his life.

Sugandha can be seen as personification of all the models who inspired him to paint the way he did.  Most of his models were women of the streets, hence Sugandha is also a prostitute.

In the movie, the man who keeps Sugandha as a mistress is indirectly blamed for burning of the Press owned by Ravi Varma.  In fact, the press did suffer a fire, but only in 1975 which was way after the life of Ravi Varma ended.

Ravi Varma is seen as a colorful character who slept with women and was a sensual man.  He did have that sort of a reputation.  His love of social life was well documented.  He did have female friends, though there is no firm evidence of his philandering,  Given his circumstances, he could have been a philanderer.

As depicted in the movie, he was friends with Dada Saheb Phalke who later went on to be a pioneer in making films in India.

The chronology of events in Ravi Varma's life are fiddled with.  In the movie he has been shown as a young man for a long time.  Most events happened in his life when he was well into his forties.

All this apart, the movie does present the man and his art in a very attractive manner and has served to draw attention to him.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Rang Rasiya - 2014

I must admit, I went to see the movie for Randeep Hooda.

I saw him first in Monsoon Wedding.  He had a side role there. A good role, but not the leading role.  He made other movies, but I did not see any of those.  Not even the acclaimed D Company.  I happened to see Highway much after it released early this year.  The movie made me sit up.  Not only was it an amazingly well made movie, it also starred Randeep Hooda in the grey role of a criminal who falls for the girl he kidnaps.  He was fabulous as Mahabir Bhatti in Highway, and I wanted more.

Hence, when Rang Rasiya released, I wasted no time in booking my ticket.

I must also admit, I knew Raja Ravi Varma was a famous painter, and I had seen his prints here and there. I knew he was at times derided as a kitschy Calender Artist.  Then there was a sudden revival of interest in the artist and he was spoken of highly once again.  All this I knew, but knew hardly anything about him.

I did go to see Randeep Hooda, and he delivers magnificently as the artist. But I came away intrigued by this Painter. His life and times, as depicted in the movie, are very interesting.  Right away, I downloaded the book that the movie has been based on, Ranjit Desai's 'Raja Ravi Varma'.  I have also read a few pages of Deepanjana Pal's book, 'The Painter'.  Believe me, it carries a wealth of information about the times Raja Ravi Varma grew up in.

Ketan Mehta creates stunning visuals in the movie. The actors, all of them, act wonderfully.  Randeep Hooda is of course an accomplished actor.  The movie has Darshan Jariwala, Paresh Rawal, Ashish Vidyarthi, Tom Alter, Vikram Gokhle in several roles.  The beautiful Nandana Sen plays Sugandha, the muse/soulmate (as per the movie) of the Painter.  Nandana's Bengali diction gets in the way at times, but she is perfect as the woman who inspired the painter with her lissome body, her thick, curly tresses and grey eyes.

There is a bit of nudity and a few sex scenes in the film.  But it is done very tastefully.  There is one stunning sequence where the Painter and his muse color each others as a sort of an elaborate foreplay before making love.  It was handled so aesthetically that it was not titillating, just very sensous..

The movie can be classified as an art movie. Alas, such movies rarely draw crowds.  Years ago I saw the brilliant "Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi" which had just a few people in the hall.  This movie also had hardly any viewers.  It is sad that the same people who throng the halls for movies like 'Kick' and 'Happy New Year' will not step out for a lovely film like this.

This movie has beautiful songs as well.  The music is composed by Sandesh Shandilya and they lyrics are by Manoj Muntashir.  Here is one of songs which has been ringing in my ears.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Silsila 1981

I saw Yash Chopra's Silsila again last night. I saw the movie when it came to theatres in the early 80s years ago. It was interesting to see the movie again without the Rekha-Amitabh-Jaya hype that had dogged the movie then. At the time it was touted as a movie based loosely on the lives of these three actors.
Despite the hype, the movie did not do well. Rightly, I thought, as I watched the movie again last night. The movie was a bit dull and slow in pace. The theme was interesting very unlike most Hindi movies. While most movies (certainly during the 80s), stuck to tried and tested formulas, this movie a good look at adult relationships.
The movie starts with a lovely song 'Sar se sarke sar ki chunariya'. To me, it looks like the Punjabi festival of Teej is being celebrated in this song. During Teej, girls and young brides dress up to the nines, gets mehendi done and sing and dance amidst Jhoola's. We see Shekhar (Shashi Kapoor) and Shobha (Jaya Bhaduri) romancing together. They are a young couple in love. Shekhar is an Air Force Officer, and Shobha is a school teacher.
Shekhar's brother, Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) also lands up and the three have a great time together partying.
Later, Amit attends a Sikh friend's wedding and runs into the beautiful and feisty Chandni (Rekha) at Sangeet. Sparks fly between them and they sing a lovely number together "Pehli pehli baar dekha aisa jalwa". Amit woos Chandni and there is love and happiness all around. The brothers are set marry lovely women and lead a happy life together.
Right then, tragedy strikes and Shekhar dies. Shobha is distraught. She is pregnant with Shekhar's child and does not know what to do. Amit marries Jaya in a bid to protect the child of his brother. Chandni, ditched royally by Amit, marries Anand (Sanjeev Kumar).

A chance meeting with Chandni reignites Amit's feelings for her. He pursues Chandni and explains the reasons for his sudden marriage. Chandni softens towards him they are pulled together by their impulses and seek every opportunity to get close.
It is at this time that the story gets a bit slow, lingering on their clandestine meetings. It does give rise to an amazingly beautiful song "Yeh kahan aa gayeham", which is interspersed with some lovely poetry recited by Amitabh. A little more passion and emotion at this stage onwards would have helped.
The movie is acted out very well. Jaya was simply superb as a wife who has to stand on the sidelines and watch her husband flirt with another woman. Sanjeev Kumar was topnotch as the husband who has to watch his wife slipping away from him. Rekha puts in a powerhouse performance as a woman torn between her husband and her lover. She brings oodles of glamour to her role. She is beautiful, and she knows how to seduce the camera to bring out the maximum effect of her personality. It is hard to fault Amitabh in acting. I did think he looked a wee puffy here. 

I do think the women steal the show in this movie. Both Jaya and Rekha essay their complex roles with ease. Sanjeev is a scene grabber, but his role was quite slim. If only the movie did not have such an episodic feel to it. If only there was more cohesion and drama to it.
What comes up is a spoiler. The movie is an old one and there is hardly an aficionado of the movies of this kind who has not seen the film yet. But in case you do not want a spoiler, do not read on.

I liked the fact that the aspects of adultery were well depicted here. The adulterous couple, Amit and Chandni have to wrestle with the internal and external problems. They are forever afraid of bumping into someone they know. Also, they have to wrestle with their sense of right and wrong. However, once their impulses get the better of them, they decide to take off.
Amit tells Shobha about his love for Chandni and tells Shobha he is leaving her. Chandni does not confront Anand directly, but he implies that he knows her heart is engaged elsewhere. As he leaves for a conference in Bombay, he says he hopes he will find her home when he returns.
Amit's friends are generally un-supportive of his move and tell him so in no uncertain terms. Chandni and Amit go to the anniversary celebrations of his Sikh friend. At the paath, they find they have to sit apart because they are not married. While doing the aarti, Amit is reminded of the holy vows he took with his wife. This ignites a different emotion in him.

Just then, Shobha calls to say that Anand has been in an accident. When Amit tells Chandni about the accident, she is reminded of her ties with her husband and is eager to get back to him.
Thus their little post-marital obsession with each other ends. The sudden melodrama of the burning planes and helicopter rides at the fag end rankles. It does not fit in with the slow pace of emotional journey that the characters are going through till now.
Spoiler ends
The adultery was more in the mind. Although in the song "Yeh kahan aa gaye ham" Amit does fantasise about a complete relationship with his beloved, they just seem to be going around spending time with each other. Nothing wrong with it. If a person is emotionally pulled towards another person, it is adultery as well, one does not need physical relations to break one's vows. Amit and Chandani feel they are in love with each other and not with their spouses. That is a good reason enough to break their marriages.
I find myself curiously engaged by this movie. It is too slow paced, I feel. Yet I am charmed by the theme of love and how it transcends other ties at times.
The music is very classy. The songs are beautifully written by Javed Akhtar and the lovely score composed by Shiv Hari. They are very well filmed as well. Amitabh's version of Neela Aasmaan was not particularly appealing. The tulips of Amsterdam are well utilised in "Dekha ek khawab to". Ever since yesterday's viewing, I am really taken by "Yeh kahan aagaye ham". It is such a lovely song. "Jo tum todo piya" is very beautiful too, and Jaya emotes it very well. There is no need to say anything more about "Rang Barse", which has turned into a Holi staple now.This song was written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan.   "Pehli pehli baar" is a another song that will never die away. "Sar se sarke" is a song steeped in Punjabiyat that Chopra was so fond of flaunting in his movies. So are the paath's that are put in thanks to the Sikh wedding and anniversary celebrations.

Last word, though it does not quite make the cut as a must watch romantic drama, it is an above average more than a decent watch.