Jun 22, 2008

Why 'Aamir' Can't

Rajkumar Gupta's Aamir came in for much praise in some reviews (like this one), which was great to hear. However, the flaws in the story and narrative blunted my own reception of the movie. Since this post will touch upon the ending, consider the post as spoiler-enabled, so you should not read ahead if you are still to watch it (which you probably should, since it is technically well made and well performed).

(Instead of the usual blank spaces to reduce the inadvertent-spoiler-sighting, here's some mindless trivia that resulted from the movie. The post resumes after this.)

Towards the end of the movie, I noticed an actor who looked familiar. Being interested in the lesser known world of Bollywood background fillers, I carefully read his name from the credits: Uday Chandra. I had seen a little bit of Basu Chatterjee's Baaton Baaton Mein the previous day, and I knew who this was - "Henry", who suffers in his unspoken love for Tina Munim's character. When I mentioned "Henry" to George, he said: "Oh, Mazhar Khan?". Turns out the actor formerly famous as "Abdul" was "Henry", and not my bloke! So where had I seen Uday Chandra? Another little bulb pops somewhere. I had also revisited Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro the previous week (both movies having been kindly provided by Yasho). This was Duryodhana! (behind the moustache and ab drama mujhe hii sambhaalnaa hogaa).

It turns out that Uday Chandra has appeared in several films by Vidhu Vinod Chopra (a co-JBDY associate), and some may even recall him in Mission Kashmir. It also turns out that he dropped out of IIT, took up music and acting, went to FTII, acted as Saigal in a play, learns music from a guru in Pune. Even the most )seemingly innocent) inhabitant of screen space can have an interesting tale to tell.

Back to Aamir. Many reviews (example) have pointed out several aspects of the story that end up distracting from the positives. In addition, mid-way, the pace of the film becomes sluggish, which is sad for a film that is just 90 minutes long. More than the puzzling choice of reluctant bomber, the ending was less than satisfying. Aamir wants to prove that he can impose his own will even in such constricting circumstances (viewers will recall the opening lines of the film), but why should that choice be clutching the case as it blew to smitheerens? Leading upto that moment, the (astute) viewer will already have begun to consider possible endings. Such as:

One, Aamir succumbs and lets the bus be blown up.
Two, he becomes the "hero" (the moral 'hero', mind you) and saves others, while blowing himself up.
Third (most unlikely, given what we had already seen), he becomes the 'filmy hero' and turns the tables on the anonymous menace.
Or even Four (sort of a MacGuffin), where there is indeed no bomb, and this is one big scare by Gajraj Rao's character to sensitise the secularised professional to the pressing needs of the community, to whose plight he has been awakened to.

IMO, Options 1 and 4 need a lot of guts to write in and present. Option 2 is the easy way out, and though it sustains drama, it does not achieve anything beyond perhaps some sympathy for the now wasted life of Aamir. 4 would have been very interesting. Though it may seem sort of like a "it was all a dream" cop-out, but it would have had the advantages of tying in a positive slant and importantly, also avoiding a slightly dangerous side-effect. The way the narrative pans out, so many people are involved in the bombing conspiracy. A PCO operator, several hoteliers and waiters, hoodlums, not so innocent gawkers (and there's a lot of gawking in this movie) - it's as if the entire "qaum" was in on it. Is that the impression the makers wanted to leave us with?

Personally, I would have liked to see Option 1: Aamir puts his family above lots of people he's never met before, underlining the helplessness that permeates the movie. That would have presented a much more compelling dilemma than what we ended up with, which left us focusing on exactly why anyone so ruthless as the dark mastermind would run a risky operation as strategic as any of Adenoid Hynkel's.

Several years ago, I watched a televised short story where Shekhar Kapur played the role of an avaricious executive who is visited by a "Yaksha". This figure makes him an offer, which Kapur's character feels unable to refuse. The offer was: I'll pay you an immense amount of money. If you accept, as a consequence, somewhere someone will die. You won't even know who that was. Do you accept? Kapur accepts and this leads to a lot of soul-searching. Unlike this story, Aamir never hits the highs in dealing with such possible moral complications. Which is why we are left discussing what Aamir could have been.


Dreamer said...

I interpreted the ending to be a little more profound than you have made it out to be. Saving all those people comes at the risk of ending the lives of his family. Knowing he has done that, he prefers to die rather than live a life full of guilt.

As to the impression of the entire "quam" involved in the conspiracy, I have to disagree again. It could just be a case of doing their part without knowing the big picture, Couldn't it?

Having sounded like someone who 'loved-the-movie-enough-to-defend-it-to-death', let me clarify that I thought it was a good movie, not a great one. What I really loved about it was how it dropped a real big clue about the great 'swap', that I totally missed. I winced at the biggest Indian movie cliche, the "good" prostitute, but in the end it wasn't one after all.

Unknown said...

Dreamer: thanks for your comment. The ending was profound, no doubt, but perhaps my problem is that I seem to prefer 'novelty' over appropriateness. The ending reaction was a little too predictable, too easy, too familiar. The swap didn't quite stun me, because, as I said, unless it was one big MacGuffin, the bag had to have something eventually. Perhaps, I'm just being too harsh.

As for your point about the "qaum", well, it'd be so hard to involve so many people in setting this up without them twigging, wouldn't it? And at any rate, practically speaking, after the bomb, even this level of involvement would be termed being part of the conspiracy, I'd think. Strategically, the more the people involved (in any way), the more the weak links. However, you might say, the bombay bomb blasts happened nevertheless.

But I shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it was indeed a good movie, many things considered.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the way the film ends. Even keeping the ending aside, I thought the film doesn't "move" after a point, literally playing on the already well established tropes of a nightmarish thriller. I don't object to how Aamir's nightmarishly absurd condition is contrived per se, but I thought there was no greater payoff to that. And, hence our (my) dissatisfaction; not essentially because the film has a positivist denouement.
Yes, we shouldn't lose sight of how well made the film is, but still...

Abinav Kumar said...

First things first - the movie is brilliant.

Option 1 would have been apt. And, I thought that the whole movie could have been shown as a series of flashbacks - amidst Aamir con templating suicide (out of guilt about letting the bomb in the bus). But it was the director's movie after all - for an all debut movie - it was brilliant. Easily the best movie of the year so far.

What baffled me about the ending however is, why the hell did Aamir have to stand there? He could have simply placed/ thrown the bag in the corner and tried to run off or something. Why should the protagonist always be a hero, and that too ridiculously sacrificing? Anyway.

Unknown said...

Abinav: thanks for the comment. Obviously, mostly, I agree.

Riz said...

Dear Ramanand,

I came across your blog while doing some research on veteran actor Uday Chandra. Very nice blog indeed. I was surprised to find him wrongly credited as "Mazhar Khan" for "Baton Baton Mein" on the internet. Uday recently played a short role as "Farooq" on television series "Rishta.com". He also played a role in "Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro" as you mentioned. I can prove that you were right about him being "Henry" and your friend was wrong. I've taken some screenshots of some movies:

Uday in Baton Baton Mein as "Henry":

Uday in the credits of Baton Baton Mein:
(Mazhar Khan is nowhere in the credits)

Uday as "Saddam Hussein" in Loins of Punjab Presents:

Actor Mazhar Khan:

I have already reported the error to IMDB. Hope they will correct it soon :)

Unknown said...

Riz: thanks! that's cleared up then. Glad to know I can trust my eyes again :-) Will inform my friend George who will be pleased to know this too!

BTW, care to share what kind of research you are doing on him?

Riz said...

@Ramanand: I was glad to share the information with you. I love the kind of characters Uday Chandra plays so I was doing some general research on him. From the time we had our last talk about him, I've even noticed him playing Shravan's old father in Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan :)

Well I actually came to drop in the good news:

Check out Henry in the Cast, it's not Mazhar Khan anymore. They heard me at last! :D

I know obsessing over Uday Chandra seems stupid but I just couldn't stand seeing a very good actor not being credited for his work.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the update, Riz - good to hear of the correction. You don't have to apologise about obsessive geekery on obscure topics - we know what that's like.

Riz said...

So I've got the right company here, nice to hear that. I will make sure to visit your blog every once in a while. Keep up the 'geekery'!

Anonymous said...

Hello Ramanand and Riz! I absolutely like Uday Chandra as well. In fact he's no small fry in the world of theatre, having done memorable roles as Swami Vivekananda, Saigal Sahab and his record-breaking play Black with Equal ran for three years. His film Khel Khilari Ka with Shabana azmi is playing on Indigital Classic now. Marvellous actor and such a talented singer even at 55.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the information, Bella - I didn't know about this film and these plays. We don't get to hear much about theatre in the mainstream media, a pity.