Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

March 7, 2008

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Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:09 pm

March 07, 2008

Cast: Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah, Anurag Sinha

Director: Subhash Ghai

Subhash Ghai’s Black & White is an amateurish effort from a filmmaker clearly out of his depth as far as his subject matter is concerned. The film follows the story of a suicide bomber who seeks refuge in the home of an unsuspecting professor, while all along involved in a plot to blow-up the Red Fort.

Loosely inspired by the Harrison Ford-Brad Pitt starrer The Devil’s Own, Ghai’s film explores the relationship between a terrorist and the couple who open their home and their hearts to him.

Well-intended the film may be, but at plot level itself there’s a fundamental flaw with Black & White, and that flaw is the writer-director’s sheer inability to set the tone of the film. Opening on a note that’s so pretentious you want to puke, Ghai uses redundant symbolism — like a child with a candle — to make a point that’s been made so many times before. To top that, his every character is a caricature that spouts clichés instead of dialogues.

Take Anil Kapoor playing the Urdu professor, for instance. How you cringe at those long sermons he delivers, and then his shameless hamming, especially in that scene where the professor returns home one night to discover a horrible brutality committed on his wife. Not that Shefali Shah, playing the professor’s activist wife is much better. Hysterical for the most part, she’s so over-the-top even in comic and supposedly emotional scenes, you want to remind her, this is film not street theatre where melodrama can be used to great effect.

Newcomer Anurag Sinha, who plays the mysterious stranger with dishonourable intentions, has an arresting screen presence, undeniably, but straitjacketed in a loosely developed role he has little scope to really perform — unless you count his brooding and that ‘angry young man’ impression as a performance.

Black & White falls like a pack of cards because it’s meant to be a serious, even realistic film, a departure from Ghai’s trademark masala musicals. But problem is the director is so unfamiliar and uncomfortable with minimalism that he cannot resist the urge to throw in some of his typical formulas, as a result delivering a film that is both confused and sloppy.

Look at that presumably symbolic scene in which a deaf-mute child plays out a patriotic tune on her piano to a man just hours away from committing a ghastly act of terror. Or that supposedly comic scene in which an elderly poet makes repeated telephone calls to the professor’s home late one night. Or even that indulgent dream song between the terrorist and the young student who’s clearly falling for him.

The sad thing is, for a film that was meant to address an issue, Black & White doesn’t say anything that you don’t already know. The film makes only token nods to patriotism, and if you ask me, I’d say the very themes of terrorism, patriotism and nationalism are just incidental to Ghai’s story which is in fact, about the power of goodness and love which can convert even the serious non-believers. And that, my friends, let’s not forget, is one of mainstream Bollywood’s oldest and favourite themes. So you see Ghai never ventured too far from his comfort zone anyway.

I’m going with a very generous one out of five for Subhash Ghai’s Black & White, it’s a miscalculation in every sense of the word, a film that makes Kisna and Yaadein seem watchable. When it comes to Subhash Ghai, I’d much rather watch his masala musicals any day.

(This review was first aired on CNN-IBN)

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