Monday, August 25, 2008


Cast: Paresh Rawal, Kay Kay Menon, Irfaan Khan, Soha Ali Khan, R. Madhavan
Director: Nishikant Kamat
Runtime: 142 min. (citation needed)
Rating: ****1/2
Genre: Drama

        The lives in Mumbai Meri Jaan merely exist. They do not change the world around them, nor do they experience any radical shift in the cinematic sense. We leave them just about at the same state where we met them first. Maybe that isn’t true. At the halfway mark my friend wondered if the film was going anywhere. I replied, was it necessary. The characters here are at various stages of their individual lives, some already having scripted it and some in the middle of it and some ready to begin. To some of them, the film manages to impress upon an outlook that might change them, and to some it merely manages to bring in a sense of realization. And to us outside, it brings us stories of people, simple stories, so immensely touching we feel enriched as we walk out. There’s such a myriad range of emotions, most of them true at heart, it seems we’ve been privy to a few lives. At the end, I just wanted to stay in my seat and didn’t want to talk or discuss. Or to think. The film leaves us with a certain calmness, and I just wanted it to sink in. There’s that Rafi oldie from which the film bears its name, and I wish it didn’t play either. Silence during the credits would have been golden. A silence given to contemplation.
        Mumbai Meri Jaan is a grandly ambitious, often flawed, and a deeply effective film. As I drove back, I tried to pin down the film to a certain formula, to a certain mathematical logic so that it could enable me to describe the film. I couldn’t, I failed, and it maybe because I have my limitations. Or maybe, the film isn’t for description in the standard sense, and any attempt that would involve wrapping it under a single theme would fall flat on its face. An Indian filmmaker whose name has escaped my memory once said – “The problem with our cinema is that it is inspired from cinema rather than life.” I hold that observation quite dear to my heart, and at the same time say that it might be an incomplete vision of cinema. Maybe the inspiration ought to look both ways – to cinema and to life – and that is when we get the best and the greatest of the medium. And the best I could come up with as far as describing this film is that it is an example of my belief. The people inside feel real, the dramatic realizations they experience at the end of their arc are cinematic and we’re left with a sense of satisfaction that isn’t manipulated but earned.
        It all rallies around the Mumbai train blasts of 2006, but the said event is just a reference point. To few, maybe, a tipping point. There’s Tukaram Patil (Paresh Rawal), a constable respected by one and all. And not just because of his age, but because his unruffled exterior spreads a soothing effect around. Tukaram is on the verge of retirement after having lived a whole lifetime in the police. One of his juniors, Sunil Kadam (Vijay Maurya), is relatively new to the department, and it shows. There’s just the thinnest layer of idealistic zeal in him, a thin layer mind you, but a layer nonetheless. Patil has been hammered down into a yielding trunk that bends where the wind blows, a trunk with a bent gait. But not Kadam, and he has quite a lot of resistance to offer to the ways of the world. Mind you, I’m just pulling a thin veil of introduction off the characters for you, for one a single review would hardly do justice to a thread, and two I declare yet again that I’m not an idiot to spoil the joy of the film, which if isn’t clear yet is one you should watch with haste.
        There’s Suresh, a hardware expert who deals in selling PCs, and in a weird way true to the name of his profession, he is a hardliner. He is a person given to prejudices, he forms opinions quick and which might not be entirely true. He is low on money, and following the blasts his doubts fall upon a Muslim boy who’s around his age and who frequents the same tea shop Suresh whiles away his time in. There’s a young journalist, ambitious, and when are they not. Rupali (Soha Ali Khan) is a part of the media that sensationalizes events, and maybe exploits. There’s Nikhil Agarwal (R. Madhavan), doing brilliant in life career wise with a handsome job down at a MNC, and a pregnant loving wife. And then, there’s the most fascinating, moving tale of Thomas, a tea vendor who hails from Tamil Nadu and who is played by one of our greatest actors, Irfaan Khan. It is a character that feels pulled straight out of that small town of Malgudi and thrown into the turmoil of a big city. It is thread that is infinitely subtle, infinitely layered, and exhibits the most emotions. At times emotionally churning, at times hilariously funny and all the time true and honest.
vLet me drop a minor spoiler of sorts here, simply because I want to shatter your expectations so that you may enjoy the film’s richness. This isn’t one of those films where everyone’s connected via a unique thread courtesy the script. Nobody encroaches the other’s territory, okay it happens twice, but these folks much like us are connected only in theme. I wouldn’t disclose, but what Patil feels about his pointless existence and what Thomas feels, stem from the same emotion. They’re gutted, maybe just this once, and each reacts to it in a different way. Yes, they might be leading pointless lives trying to wade across the drudgery everyday, but there’s still a sense of ambition, a sense of fantasy, a sense of dream inside. And the degree of its sensitivity, its intensity, is all that drives them.
        The film shows us what great actors can achieve and how the average ones can impede its flow. Irfaan Khan’s Thomas doesn’t say much, and his eyes which always seem to be that same way betray a sea of emotions. The cop comes at the night and for fault of his pulls the tap of his milk can and let it flow. There’s isn’t much devoted to it, yet we’re moved. Soha Ali Khan’s thread experiences the most cinematic of developments, and that provides opportunity for the most theatricality. Every part of the film is in place, she is the only variable who needs to fulfill her part of the equation and she fails. She is woefully ineffective, and her thread unfortunately left me cold. But I believe it is entirely her fault. Great actors need less, and if you desire proof look no beyond than Paresh Rawal and Kay Kay Menon here. I could go on and on and state the rhetoric, and I don’t want to apart from stating that this is one of the best performances you would come across all year. Savor it, savor every moment of it.
        I haven’t seen any of Nishikant Kamat’s films, and I hear he is quite a name in Marathi films (Dombivali Express). I stand up, I applaud him, I applaud his screenwriters, I applaud his cinematographer and I applaud his film. I have said the film is flawed, and yes it is, but who cares. I don’t for sure, if the film falters a little on a road so ambitious. There’s a sense of personal touch to it all, and it shows, for the film doesn’t follow a plot but follows its lives right down to their cinematic destinations. It has some of the best shots I have seen in recent years, and almost everything they attempt, they pull off. Thomas reveling in his glory, captured by slow-mo with an upbeat background score is a joy only pure cinema, not driven by art or method but by heart, can offer. That moment felt wild, as if I was in a Paul Thomas Anderson picture and this film is no less. Look at how the shot is composed when Thomas is resting against the mall railing. There’s brilliant photography on display everywhere. The editing does falter a bit towards the end where in its zeal to connect via the theme it departs into a frenzy of cuts. Some of them I could have done away with. I could have done away with the complex that drove them to include New York City and draw comparisons. But those become minor gripes, because this is richly developed script and actors who inhabit it are some of the greatest we have.
        I have got to admit here, I entered the film with great doubts having read on the poster – “Celebrating the spirit of Mumbai.” I think the concept of a city’s spirit is a whole lot of horse-dung stinking so bad my ancestors might turn in their graves. It is a concept that is sold to the same part of the brain that buys superstitions. It is something that has been cooked for magazines and newspapers, and maybe books, but doesn’t cut anything in reality. I felt a great vindication when Tukaram mocks the spirit of the city, and I started believing in the film, if I wasn’t already until then. There’s something to be taken from the fact that two of its deepest most colorful and most similar characters hail from outside the city. Maybe NYC was included to allude to the universality of the said ‘spirit’. Or maybe, I’m just too damn rigid for the concept to get through me. Either way, the film works wonders, and it celebrates the lives of its people. Lives that could exist anywhere, but which happen to in Mumbai this time around. And there, to that place, for the time being, they belong. And that is where we leave them.


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Amar K said...

Nishikant Kamat's Marathi film is 'Dombivli Fast' and not 'Dombivli Express'. I want you to watch this movie for the one scene where movie's protagonist rejects to pay Rs 2 extra, demanded by vendor as the 'Cooling Charges'. According to me, it's one of the most felt heart-wrenching scenes on the silver screen..