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Sunday, November 12, 2000

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A marriage of the possible and the impossible

By M. Shamim

KURUKSHETRA (Regal and other Delhi theatres): On second thoughts, why can't Bollywood dream merchants like Mahesh Manjrekar spin their political fairy-tales? Your first reaction does have a lot of merit. After all, politics is the art of the possible. And fantasising is the art of the impossible. And the twain shall never meet. Look at what our Big B did during his forays into politics -- both in his reel life and real life. Leaving a leaf for someone like Mahesh Manjrekar to pick up, he as a Chief Minister took out a gun from his briefcase and shot down his entire Cabinet. That was in reel life. In real life, Big B wallowed in the "cesspool" -- his word -- for a couple of years before quitting it for good.

But now there seems to be a global effort to close the gap between the art of the possible and the impossible. Between Mr. George Bush and Mr. Al Gore, they have produced such a scenario of the US Presidential election that a Hollywood writer would do anything to get a copyright for it in his name. The present incumbent of the White House himself has not done badly. He inspired one TV commentator to observe that an ideal Presidential candidate would be one who could kick his opponents on their behinds during a TV debate and then go on to make love to their wives in the evening. You may recall the remark made in the Monica Lewinsky scandal year by the master of ceremonies at the Oscar night in Hollywood: ``Last year the White House complained there was too much sex in Hollywood.''

Our Mahesh Manjrekar is not in the Presidential league yet. He operates at a more mundane level like simple law and order. In "Kurukshetra" here now he gives us a fairy-tale character -- an honest police officer. Did I hear you sniggering? But wait. If you will juxtapose it with the proceedings of something like a `BMW' hit-and-run trial case in which half a dozen guys were allegedly knocked down by a drunken driver, ``Kurukshetra'' will sound like some pedestrian realistic yarn woven by an unimaginative writer. Unless, of course, you have missed that part of the legal case in which some surviving victims claimed after several months that they were hit by a truck and not a BMW. If you want to see how a BMW car can grow into a truck, watch Manjrekar's "Kurukshetra". It is exactly the opposite of his own highly acclaimed recent film "Astitva". He intellectualised in "Astitva" a simple story of a woman seduced by unfortunate circumstances to break her marital vows. In "Kurukshetra", he de- intellectualises a complex political situation to simplify it for his front row audience. There are no shades of grey in the film, simple black and white characters interacting in an ambience that hardly rises above the level of the underworld. Even the Chief Minister tends to display mannerisms and idioms of a glorified "don".

And the diabolical moves and counter-moves between political rivals, their chicanery, their horse-trading and the final act of betrayal by the leader of the opposition have a ring of familiarity. The circumstances created by the involvement of a Chief Minister's son in a rape case are also not entirely imaginary. Remember what happened to a French young woman in Punjab? Manjrekar's presentation verges on melodrama though, and the pitch sustains its high key.

But the most disappointing part of the film is that it makes no attempt to release us from the inner gloom that it generates by denouncing politicians and thereby the political system per se. Some self-centered individuals are milking the system for their personal gains. There is no other alternative except their total destruction. The symbolism is a mixed metaphor from Ramayana and Mahabharata. A.C.P. Prithviraj Singh, the only hope in a khaki uniform, is a modern-day Arjun, God's own instrument to destroy evil which in this case happens to be Ravana, the hydra of political system.

The film admits that it will probably make no dent into the great wall of corruption, now endemic to our system. But it does invite us to initiate the uphill task of cleansing the system in the fond belief that truth shall prevail ultimately. It sees hope in the police force which can make a good beginning by purging itself of corrupt practices. The film argues that unless the living conditions of the policemen are improved there is little hope of their giving up their evil habits. For the first time in many years, the police force has been given a flattering image, not entirely undeserved. The strong point of the film is an effortless performance by Sanjay Dutt. In "Mission Kashmir", also running in town now, he proved his immunity against the lethal charms of the nation's new heart-throb, Hrithik Roshan. In both films he plays a policeman sitting inside a pressure cooker.

Mahima Chowdhry, unlike her last two films, has no competition here. Suman Ranganathan is the proverbial cheesecake, making a brief appearance in a sexy dance number.

All said and done, it's Manjrekar's made-to-order box office extravaganza with belly buttons shining against alpine snow.

THE PERFECT STORM (Chanakya): Mrinal Sen once wanted to take a shot of a man running on the road against the backdrop of pitch darkness. He had to take the shot inside a studio. "Without technology there would be no perfect darkness," he admitted. To which one might add now: "And no `Perfect Storm' as well."

This fatal engagement between Man and the elemental fury of Nature presented in "Perfect Storm" could not have been presented on the screen without invaluable support offered by computer- generated images. George Cloony plays Billy Tyne, Captain of the ill-fated fishing trawler "Andrea Gail" buffeted by the fury of a storm in high seas.

It is one of those disaster movies which Hollywood keeps making from time to time, and the best place to watch it is Chanakya in South Delhi: sharp focus, big screen and an effective sound system.

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