Monday, January 29, 2007
Coming of age - In 1982, the noted actor Shashi Kapoor sought the services of Govind Nihlani to launch his son Kunal Kapoor with the film Vijetha. There were a few army movies (not war genre, but ones set against the defense forces background) before and few army movies after. But pitting the coming of age theme of the protagonist against the martinets in the military forces is always a volatile concoction and the process of raw ore being forged into a sharp tool always provides for some good dramatic moments. Commercial aspects that usually crop up in such themes where loudness is usually mistaken for strictness, slapstick is sought for comic relief and planes and patriotism play for glamour and adrenaline boosts, tend to paint the overall structure in broad and loud strokes, conveniently ignoring the process (pain) that the protagonist undergoes to change his erstwhile path while taking the path so painfully traveled by so many before. Nihlani's artistic mind (and background) pulled the commercial aspects out of the mix and Vijetha remained as the finest coming of age movies set against a military background that showed the transition of confused person into a focused individual in some real, non-reflectors' light.
Full Metal Jacket - Hollywood director Stanley Kubrick's ode to the Vietnam War, the structure of which Lakshya seems to heavily borrow from, is essentially split into two distinct halves - the shaping of the sharpest tool and the gory ramifications of such process in a war. It considers the dehumanization of a soldier from an objective standpoint in order that he serves and protects the lives of other humans, the irony of the situation notwithstanding. Lakshya takes out this psychological and paradoxical angle from Full Metal Jacket and instead concentrates on the rise and the personal growth of a single youth, a treatment that is much more palatable to the Indian audience. Though Javed Akhtar's script deals with the establishing of the protagonist's apathy towards life in general in a heavy-handed way, taking the most easy way possible by providing convenient motivations for him to enroll himself in the Indian Military Academy, the handling of the scenes afterwards during the tearing down and rebuilding process of an ordinary man into an able bodied individual, reminds of the honesty and the sincerity of such similar mechanisms depicted in Nihalani's Vijetha and Nana Patekar's Prahaar.
Canvas - Never before in the history of Indian warfare, has a war been covered so widely and an operation been so passionate as the successful eviction of the Pakistani miscreants from the strategic peaks in the Kargil sector in 1999. The martyrs who have so willingly laid down their lives embracing death so gallantly, the war cries of those fallen brave men (the famous 'Yeh Dil Maange More' - Posthumous Capt. Vikram Batra, 23) that showed anything but fear, the process of ensuring victory and a permanent place in the annals of history, is quite an emotional canvas to base a script on and to set a movie against. Be it for the lack of the proper technical expertise or be it because of the lack of proper understanding of the common man of the military way of life, or be it simply because of the inability of the makers of choosing sensitivity over jingoism, many Indian war movies translate so poorly onto the screen, that the respect for the bravery and the passion and pride that the audience has to hold for the characters (either fictitious or real), which forms a very important emotional core of movies of such kind, seem to be keenly lacking and sorely missing. Case in point - LOC. Here is where Farhan Akhtar's understanding of the material and sensibilities regarding the treatment seem to step in, when he deliberately downplays the seemingly high points of the script - the first capture of the enemy bunker, the personal victories of the protagonist and finally the capture of the (fictitious) Peak 5179, to name a few, trusting the audience's intelligence to fill in the blanks by alluding to the fact that the battle is won but the war isn't over yet at each important high point of the script right until the climax of the movie.
War - Christopher Popp's camera accounts for all the important shots (of the guns), moves closely one step behind all the important moves in the trek upwards towards the bunkers and the peaks, and captures the havoc, the confusion and the gut level fear that was never before seen on the Indian screen. The hidden face of the unknown enemy, the rapid fire of the machine guns from the bunkers towards the oncoming soldiers from the enemy's perspective, the whizzing past of bullets, the unrelenting sound of enemy guns, are remindful of (paying true homage to) the invasion of Normandy beach sequence of Speilberg's Saving Private Ryan. The excellent sound design (by Nakul Kamate), in the process above, that included the loud, menacing and over-bearing sounds of war, together with the shells, mortars, grenades, bullets and the bayonets, in such distinct and graphic detail, lends a lot of credibility to the gravity of the situation. By concentrating on a single character (the protagonist) and then moving the rest of the pieces around him, allows the maker to zone in on the action surrounding him, restricting his field of vision and thus be able to provide more clarity regarding the proceedings of the action, than running all around trying to capture ALL the events spread throughout the battlefield, in the process alienating the audience. Again kudos to the sensibility of the maker of choosing one bird in the hand than clamoring for two in the battleground. Sensitivity - The camera spies on the protagonist beat, down and dejected, unable to decide about his future, having lost everything at that point - the love of his life, the consideration of his parents and respect for himself. There are no long introspective speeches nor does a song start immediately in the background with a dheeraj dharO himmat bharO message. The maker allows his character to have a private moment with himself and come to the realization all by himself of his true goals and thereby his inner calling. Trusting the character is what this scene demonstrates - it did not need to be hammered into him the error of his ways; it did not need to be told loud and clear as to what his next course of action should be; it did not need to be told to the audience what he is going through. Javed Akhtar (and to a great degree Farhan Akhtar) laid down the ground rules of the lead character's growing up process - no sermons, no lectures, no patronage, no condescension. Let the character struggle with himself with no external support and let his character emerge because of his own choices and his decisions and on his own volition. Scripting and directing around this strict tenet, the writer and the director do not make it any easy for him and when the transition finally occurs, he would have already won the respect of the audience that he so richly deserves and any action henceforth - the leadership, the bravery, the valor and the courage, has a strong root in his newly cultivated character.
Though Lakshya has its fair share of flaws, the major one being, it wasn't able to decide completely whether it was a personal battle set against the backdrop of a bigger battle or it is about the bigger battle which tries to have a human face by picking up the life of a soldier waging his own inner battle, the sincerity of the efforts and the conviction of the makers in trying to bring together a true Indian war movie certainly brushes off the flaws under the carpet. All in all it is definitely one small step for Farhan Akhtar but one great giant leap for the Indian movie-kind of this genre.