Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Farhan Akhtar: the quiet Indian
By Hilath Rasheed
After watching the intensely engaging drama of three friends in his debut film “Dil Chahta Hai”, which I have to say is now my all-time favorite number one Hindi film of all time for the right reasons, I was naturally looking forward to Farhan Akhtar’s next film.
Though I was not fortunate to catch it on the big screen because I was in Male at the time of its release, surprisingly I got hold of an original DVD of “Lakshya” quite soon after its big screen release. But later when I came to think of it, it was no surprise at all that the DVD came out so soon because I found out that “Lakshya” was quite unpopular among even hardcore Bollywood fans (like a few of my friends who saw it on the silver screen in India) and the audiences in India itself. Needless to say, the producers must have released the DVD because they might have wanted to minimize losses before the buzz about “Lakshya” died.
The only positive review I read about “Lakshya” was in British Film Institute’s “Sight and Sound” magazine, a monthly journal which includes film analysis and film reviews written by professors and academics who actually write film theory and various university books about film! In “Sight and Sound” the film reviewer had stated that “Lakshya” was among his top three Hindi war movies; the others were “Border” and “Haqeeqat.”
It was only after seeing the film did I come to realize why only a few liked “Lakshya.” It was not Akhtar’s fault of course. Audiences and his fans had been wanting another “Dil Chahta Hai” and “Lakshya” simply was something altogether different.
After watching Indian-born but America-based director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film “The Village” (which I am going to talk about in a later issue), I almost fell sympathy for Shyamalan because like Akhtar’s fans (and his critics), almost everyone was wanting another Shymalan “signature”, a film with a supernatural twist at its climax, and when Shyamalan did “something out of character,” both his fans and critics trashed what could be Shyamalan’s best film to date.
It is natural that a director gets a hardcore almost cult-like fan base because he has developed a certain style of filmmaking which his or her fans and critics expect from him. For instance, fans and critics are drawn to David Lynch because of his particular type of mind-boggling films like “Mulholland Drive” and “Twin Peaks.”
While this holds true for many audiences, personally I prefer films which are different in its own but for the right reasons and which can engage me. Perhaps, it was due to this discerning and discriminating nature of mine that I came to appreciate the masterpiece that is “Lakshya.”
It is difficult and not even fair to compare “Dil Chahta Hai” and “Lakshya” because both films are too different to be compared, in subject matter as well. However, on a technical and film-making level, “Lakshya” surpasses any Hindi film I have so far watched.
Hrithik Roshan’s excellent performance as an idling youth transformed into responsibility-bearing maturity is commendable while Preity Zinta’s understated performance matches and complements his performance. (Preity Zinta’s underrated performance in “Dil Chahta Hai” and Madhuri Dixit’s quiet performance in “Dil To Pagal Hai” remains my favorite female performances in a Hindi film to date).
But while much has been harped on Roshan’s transformation, which seems to be of a much more concern for audiences and critics who are concerned only with story or narrative-driven films, for me this seems dwarfed in comparison to the almost religious experience one is treated to in Christopher Ropp’s excellently cinematographed sparse, harsh landscapes that is Kargil, the battleground between Indian and Pakistan troops.
And herein lies my problem in how to review the film; I originally intended to write a review of the film but for once, I do not have the adequate vocabulary to describe what I felt after watching “Lakshya.”
“But perhaps readers might be more interested in checking out ‘Lakshya’ because you cannot quantify or describe in words how engaging the film was to you,” one of my friends told me in encouragement, which is why I have settled down to commenting about Akhtar and “Lakshya” rather than reviewing the film.
Like Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down,” watching “Lakshya” is almost a spiritual experience, not to mention that “Lakshya” has war scenes that could almost rival “Black Hawk Down” and that are almost as engaging as Scott’s Somalia drama.
There is a sense of desolate and haunting mood and atmosphere evoked in my mind much like the way when I was watching “The English Patient.” Which is why I suggested, to my friends who wanted to watch the film, to make it a personal and private viewing. Indeed, like “The English Patient,” “Lakshya” seems to evoke the right mood only when you watch alone, without any company to distract you. And the poignancy you feel also seems to be something that you would like to enjoy privately rather than sharing with anyone else. Which is quite a paradox when you come to think of it; I still cannot grasp why a cinematic film like “Lakshya”, which is obviously intended for the big screen with its sprawling landscapes, evokes so much thought when I watch it alone, in a darkened room.
Much has been debated about the relevance of songs in Hindi films but in “Lakshya,” the songs are catchy and could have a life of their own. In fact, Roshan’s “Main Esa Kyun” and his duet with Zinta, “Agar Main Kahoon,” are quite a visual-fest; the former demonstrating Roshan’s slippery-as-a-snake (not in the negative sense) dance steps with an “I-Robot” like troupe, and the latter, fun-driven and playful.
Though it is hard to find similarities between “Dil Chahta Hai”, which was a poignant yet bubbly film about friendships and love, and “Lakshya” which is grandeur and epic in scale, some of Akhtar’s trademark signatures are still obvious in “Lakshya.” In addition to great visuals and imagery, Akthar’s films are sparse in dialogue, yet the lines delivered are punchy and funny at the same time. It is quite a welcome to watch a film where characters talk quietly rather than the loud rattling we hear in most Bollywood films.
And like “Dil Chahta Hai,” in “Lakshya” what is left unsaid seems to give more dimension to characters, their relationships and the overall narrative of the film. It also serves to increase the poignancy of the story and instills in the viewer a sense of sadness, loneliness and longing as seen in the quiet tension when Zinta, who after college has become a news anchor, are at a loss for words when she finally meets Roshan who has become a soldier stationed at Kargil. The musical and poetic quality of the film is at its most pronounced here, especially in the scene where a song quietly plays in the background unobtrusively while Zinta and Roshan sits quietly looking at each other without any spoken words and halfway through, the barracks are bombed and they are seen together hand-in-hand running for safety, with the song still playing in the background along with the sounds of the loud explosions.
(This article was published in The Evening Weekly on 31 January 2005)