Friday, May 31, 2013

UMBARTHA (Marathi) (1982)

‘Umbartha’ in Marathi means ‘threshold’. The film is based on Marathi novel ‘Beghar’ penned by Shanta Nisal and simultaneously made in Hindi as Subah with the same cast. The film won Best Marathi film award at National Awards and it is considered as “a sincere cinematic statement on the theme of a woman seeking to establish her identity by pursuing a career, even at the risk of alienation from her family”
(Source: Wikipedia)  

The film tells the story and journey of the lady who wanted to step outside of her conventional house wife duty of joint family and wanted to do something with her earned Gold Medalist degree in sociology. She got an appointment to serve as Superintendent  in Women’s Reformatory Home in a village, far from her home. Even though she convinced her hesitant husband and beloved daughter, she has to pass through conventional family ordeal of permission from her rigid mother-in-law. The moment she enters the job, she starts facing challenges one after another from all corners. The place is uncontrollable and absolutely undisciplined. The girls keeps quarreling and abusing one another, the things of place are pilfered and sold outside beyond anybody’s knowledge. Everything is under sorry state of affair. It’s shocking for her to know that previous superintendent supplied some of the girls at night to the local corporator/MLA. When she brought the things to the notice of the chairman lady of the trust, she found that she is too unconcerned elite who pretends as social worker but inside she's so selfish and careless and always turned negligible and unaccountable for the state of affairs at reformation home. Infact she has her own tantrums of power to throw at her. She started taking things in her hold without asking anybody’s permission. It’s really shameful affair that in order to shape the society and bring the social change one has to face fight between self and society without any moral or physical support from anybody. The meetings with committee members turn out as  ridiculous drama where nobody’s concerned about the changes and relocation of destitute women and what’s worst is they start critiquing and questioning the newly appointed superintendent and her approach.

One can see brilliant feminist text here questioning patriarchal society’s stand and if watching closely one can find it in many of scenes and dialogues. For example, in the committee members meeting scene, the members start ridiculing the woman who wanted to have her pronounce with her father’s name rather than her husband who throw her away. They mock the very idea of it. The lesbian scandal and the reaction to it from other ladies and media adds other dimension to it. The film sincerely tried to brought most of destitute women with their personal stories that reflects how selfish and patriarchal society treated them and still they have t survive in the same society. Even when the film ends it throws a question mark where the husband confessed to her that during her long absence from home, just to fulfill his physical need, he had a short affair with another lady, hope she won’t mind this casual contact. The personal compromise or adjustment has no place for her now after facing and confronting life from such close angles. What we see in final frames is the graceful and independent free spirit of woman contemplating and expecting new hope sitting besides window seat of the moving train reflecting next phase of her life.

I wonder how many Indian films of our time portray a woman in such a powerful lead role with socially relevant and concerning theme like this. And who else then Smita Patil could do justice to the character of Sulabha Mahajan. Like most of her screen characters and performances this is one of her shining best, another learning lesson of acting on all front for any of Hindi cinema actress barring the star heroines. Watch her routine struggle of to handle both home and duty, her fight against rotten system amid the condition that brought her utter frustration and helplessness condition. There are number of moments enough to break her down but it shows the rock solid commitment and concern. This is my second Jabbar Patel film and I must say the man has tremendous capacity to get the best from his lead protagonists. With actress like Smita, the film brought new height to the character. I would like to call her hero of the film, even though there’s presence of Girish Karnad in another refined performance but that would be considered categorical and sexist statement. Watching a film like this, the though just automatically appear in the mind that there is just one Smita in Indian cinema and why on earth she died so young!!!

Jabbar Patel while reminiscing about the film and the sorry state of affair during its release, told in his interview to Jerry Pinto –

“My fourth film was Umbartha (1982), also made in Hindi as Subah (1982). I produced it and it was a maddening experience to try and get a commercial release for it across the country. It was in early 1980s. a terrible period for Hindi cinema. Art house cinema was dead; the middle-of-the-road was road kill. The studios were almost dead; the only ones still operational were V. Shantaram’s and Raj Kapoor’s. It was all about creating proposals and stars. You had to have formula and an agreement from a star. But even then I remember that there were some people in Bollwood who would help me. Prakash Mehra took the Delhi rights to Subah because he knew I was worried.” 
(Source: Beyond the Boundaries of Bollywood: The Many Forms of Hindi Cinema. Edited by Rachel Dwyer and Jerry Pinto)

The film has fine editing except the initial half an hour which I found quite stretching emotionally showing emotional connection of the family and few songs added to the later part of the film. It could save at least twenty minutes of the films total duration that runs for more than two and half hours. But songs are not just additional burden to the film as other mainstream cinema. Some of the songs are so relevant to the story, especially that melodious and divine prayer rendered by Lata Mangeshkar and composed by her brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar. There’s fine and controlled direction by Jabbar Patel and his collaboration with another Marathi creative genius Vijay Tendulkar who wrote the dialogue and screenplay. But over all this is a film of that one brilliant actress that left an indeliable impression and mark of her own, stamped with Smita.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I ended up watching one of those topnotch heist thrillers that manages to stand in the league of ‘Rififi’, ‘Topkapi’ and ‘Le Cercle Rouge’. And those who have seen it felt the tense filled two hours full of great twists, surprises and an awesome heist sequence on screen, not to be missed.   

One fine day a retired old school teacher of Rio goes to New York, Paris, London and Rome to hire the professional experts for the million dollars heist deal of diamonds. The team comprises of a safe cracker, a mechanical expert, a master thief cum acrobat professional and a playboy; quite an oddball to fit the list. They all soon turn to Rio & has four days to practice and work according to the plan set and shared by the old man. However things are not as easy for all of them, especially the one for the playboy who was hired to play a crucial role to seduce the lady who has the key. But what’s the most difficult and complex hurdle to crack is Grand Slam 70, a system of very sensitive microphones that registers slightest noise. Any noise above 40 decibel enables alarm to ring automatically. This unmentioned hurdle in the plan shared to all professional becomes one of the most complicated gadgets to silence.

Like those unparalleled classic heist masterpieces of Dassin & Melville, the film manages to project all four aces of perfect heist thriller. The plan, hunt of experts, practice and final execution. And director Giuliano Montaldo managed to pull the all four parts so damn well with special mention of its extraordinary heist sequence. The breath taking and absolutely tense filled execution lasts exactly for thirty four minutes with hurdles and individual professional roles to play by all four players. And as it’s perfectly pitches to success, we see the crackling climax with a mind-blowing twist and yet that’s not perfect ending. There’s one more surprise show stopper to give you another jolt. Just awesome!

It shares the company of two screen titans; one too old, another too young. Edward G Robinson and Klaus Kinski’s close association with crime and anger befits so perfectly to its plot. And all other men played their parts so damn well with company of Janet Leigh. Ennio Morricone’s title score is added attraction.

If you love crime caper, this is an absolute essential one for you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


‘Death is a strange thing. When people die of illness, it’s cruel and unfair, but it’s really death. When it’s crime or a killing, death becomes abstract, as if the solution to the mystery had priority.’

A man went for hunting and we see him shot pointblank on head. Naturally the prime suspect for the police is another hunter who also went there and left his fingerprints while closing the door of victim’s car before leaving the scene of crime. Turning back to his estate office, the man soon received by investigation of police. Surprisingly a mysterious phone call of a lady keeps threatening the man that she knew it’s he who murdered the man as his wife is having an affair with the murdered man. And as man trying to clear his suspect entry with aid of his lawyer, we witness the second murder. This time it’s his wife and now he’s in serious trouble. He has one fellow to rely; his young secretary. Claiming escaped from the town, the suspect keeps hiding and the secretary starts investigation on her own. What follows is complex web, not too easy to solve.  

When you finished watching and admiring Master Hitchcock’s almost everything, what offers a refreshing surprise is how the man influenced generation of other directors through his cinematic style ranging from early cinema of Brian De Palma, David Fincher, M. Night Shyamalan and many more. In their heydays of French New Wave, Hitchcock was one of those directors, the men of Cahiers took so seriously.  And along with cinema of Chabrol, the admiration and obsession of Francois Truffaut towards Hitchocock is beyond boundary. In this fine homage offered to Master, starring Trintignant and Fanny Ardent, shot in B&W noirish frames; the film is an absolutely intriguing and thrilling mystery that didn’t miss a beat. One can see loads of brilliant mise en scene, distanced and closed, enigmatic and voyeuristic shots influenced from Master’s craft. Considerably the film is one of well made but under noticed Truffaut. And it certainly has enough twists with gripping narration and fine pace with added attraction of superb B&W camera work, reminding many of Hitchcock classics and Hollywood noirs.One of worth watching Truffaut indeed!

Monday, May 6, 2013

CELLULOID MAN (Documentary (2013)

On the year and the day India celebrate century of its cinema, here is a film about an unspoken man of Trivendram who deserves standing ovation for his mission, for his spirit and for his commitment that makes him truly a guardian of Indian cinema. Those who haven’t studied at FTII, Pune or do not know much about National Film Archive of India, didn’t aware about a beloved and adorable figure who from early morning to late night kept himself busy and occupied with cans and cans of film reels. Watching them sitting alone in a hall, making meticulous notes on his notebook with pencil torch in one hand and pen in another, preserving and maintaining archive of whatever films came under his nootice and above all sharing & passing all his valuable knowledge and reflections to all fellow students of FTII who in a short run going to become some of the finest Indian actors and directors making their own indeliabl marks on indian cinema. Mr. P K Nair is not just pioneer of film archives, he is an institution to learn on various parameters and I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Director Shivendra Singh Dungarpur for bringing such a refined work on this remarkable man of Indian Cinema. It is due to only his efforts today we have been able to preserve the archives of several landmark films by  Dadasaheb Phalke, Bombay Talkies and some of the rare classics like Sant Tukaram, Achut Kanya, Chandralekha, Kalpana.

The film explores the octogenarian man slowly walking inside and outside the old Prabhat Studio; FTII and reminiscing about his years and work. The documentary maintains direct approach in his own voice over where he shares various anecdotes, pleasure of cinema and contemplates about the lost and lack of appreciation of archives.  We see the footage of some of those rare films including number of silents. And along with that film also shares perosnal and public anecdotes of various actors and directors of Indian Parelel cinema movement interviewed ranging from Naseer, Shabana, Jaya Bachchan, Benegal, Ketan Mehta, Mrinal Sen,  Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Girish Kasaravalli, Saeed Mirza, Kumar Shahni, Balu Mahendra, Jahnu Baruah, Vidhu Vinod Chopra & Rajkumar Hirani. And almost all of them are so interesting. It reflects their adoration for man and the significant role he played directly or indirectly in their learning.

In personal notes, it also reflects the void of the man at personal front. The family that keep awaiting  for the man at home and their sacrifice for the man who was perhaps born to follow his passion neglecting rest. Towards the end of the film and feeling frustrated after all his herculean effort to save and nutrute the pride archives, the man shares his melancholy about current state of Indian cinema where the art and effect of old B&W pure image lost in digital copy.  The film is more than two and half hours long and for documentary it seem too stretched effort but honestly I never felt that bore for a single moment. Credit must goes to editing too for which it won an award along with Best Biographical Film in last National Awards.

There are many intereesting trivia and anecdotes that film brought to my notice. It’s pulling exercise to put all those here, but I would like to share one about one of my favorite actor. Nair said that once Sanjeev Kumar called him at FTII and said that he wanted to see some of Satyajit Ray films, since he was casted in one of his film (Shatranj Ke Khiladi). He confessed that unfortunately he had not seen any of Ray films and he didn’t want to make wrong impression. When Nair told him that he has all the Ray films preserved, within a week Sanjeev landed up at FTII along with his mother, rented a flat in Pune and stayed there for a whole month leaving all his signed films to wait for his part to shoot. And he completed all of Ray films before he started shooting for the Master. “Such was commitment of an actor, where are actors like him now?,” said Nair.

This is truly a film about the man who is more than just Celluloid Man. Go watch this film at your nearest PVR cinema, if they’re running it in Director’s Rare series in your vicinity, a nice and truly appreciable initiative. Hope they continue this effort. Highly Recommended for any Indian cinephile.