Sunday, August 19, 2007

Watching Cyrus

Bollywood (a portmanteau of Bombay and Hollywood, typically used to describe the Indian/Hindi movie industry) is known for being the most prolific movie industry in the world. However, it also has the dubious distinction of churning out some of the fugliest (fugliest: greatest comparative form of the adjective “fugly”, itself a portmanteau of the adjectives “fucking” and “ugly”) on-screen wardrobes, the weirdest dances and unimaginably unoriginal and/or brain-dead (I’m told “fucktarded” would be politically incorrect) plots known to human-kind. Most boil down to some inane rehash of “Romeo and Juliet” with insipidity that would inspire Shakespeare to overdose on sleeping pills and hang himself while committing hara-kiri, just to escape the guilt and insult. Fortunately for him and us, he is simply relegated to turning in his grave. Maybe there is a God.

Ever so sporadically in Bollywood, a film maker or two will take courage, muster the funding and rally a cast and production around a script that is truly different. These incidents were often less frequent than sun-spots and more sporadic than solar flares. Things, however, seem to be changing. Maybe it is the innumerable, passionate, loud, and alcohol-infused debates around the world between admirers and decriers of “Andaz Apna Apna” that is making the movie industry realize that there truly is a market for Indian movies that aren’t formulaic, slapstick or otherwise brain-dead. It could be the unconscious guilt of espousing a movie industry that churns out sub-par fare, or a desire to prove to the world (and to itself) that Bollywood can make fare to match and compete with the world’s offerings. Perhaps it is simply the empowering of a new generation of artists and financiers with the conviction to tell a new story, the gall to experiment, the nerve to break tradition and the savvy to tap a bohemian market. Whatever the reasons, I am glad it is happening. It’s about damn time.

“Being Cyrus” is the latest offering from Bollywood to chart the unknown. Like “Hyderabad Blues” and “Monsoon Wedding” , it is shot mainly in Inglish (portmanteau of Indian and English ), with the characters flitting between Inglish and Parsi/Gujrati in a very Bombaiya (lingua-franca of Bombay) manner. I am thankful to the local cinema-plex for closing down at 10:45 p.m. on a Friday night, preventing us from watching “Rush Hour 3”. I am, however, more indebted to my friend for recommending “Being Cyrus” as the alternative.

Starring Saif Ali Khan, Naseerudding Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Boman Irani and Simone Singh as the main characters, this effort by Homi Adajania (based on a story by Homi Adjania and Kersi Khambatta) is a thrilling narrative of Cyrus Mistry’s (Saif’s character) interactions with the dysfunctional Sethna family. The movie features a very Guy Ritchie-isqe feel: it starts at the end and progress forward in flash-back mode, with Cyrus providing copious voiceovers. The slow narrative, interspersed with Cyrus’s musings that paint the broad strokes of the plot, develops the characters and their interplay sufficiently and remains engaging enough to keep the viewers guessing. The genius of the movie stems from bringing into sharp relief the pedestrian-ness of the personnalités principales; the murkiness of their characters and their physical imperfections are highlighted. The make-up, costumes, locations and situations depicted make for very earthy and réaliste characters.

The plot is set within the Parsi community in Bombay and plays on the associated clichés: the old-money parsimony of the Parsis (Parsi + money = parsimony?), their ownership of old large houses/ buildings in Bombay that are now worth millions, driving old cars even though they can afford the hippest, their de facto nobility and aloofness from the rest of society since the days of the British Raj etc. Confluent with the plot, the movie is vaguely reminiscent of Y Tu Mama Tambien in that it attempts to show, albeit very obliquely, the underlying socio-economic conditions: child abuse, maltreatment of senior citizens, uneven wealth distribution, corrupt and heavy-handed law-enforcement and the crumbling family structure.

The movie is truly notable for how far it deviates from the banal boy-meets-girl-from-inimical-family cliché, for the absence of any feel-good, goody-two-shoes characters and the total (and heaven-sent) lack of unrealistic, unwarranted 5-minute songs featuring sirens in fugly couture. A talented director/ story-teller at the helm, a very gifted cast and an engaging musical score enable Saif to carry this intriguing thriller on his shoulders.

Are any performances in here Oscar worthy? Probably not. Will this be a hit with the common Indian populace? Probably not. Is it enjoyable and entertaining? Most definitely so. Would I pay money to watch in a theater? Yes, definitely. Would I recommend renting it? Most definitely. Will you enjoy it? That’s up to you.


kage said...

Sooo... it turns out that the reason the film has a Guy Ritchie feel to it is perhaps because the editor for the film is Jon Harris, the same guy who worked with Guy Ritchie on Snatch and Layer Cake!!

Anonymous said...

completely agreee .. i rented this dvd maybe a year ago on a wintry friday evening when i didnt muster the guts to go out anywhere..
truly worth the evening at home ;-)

hope all else is well.