Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sankat City: What it could have been, what it is.

Originally published on here.

Let’s begin with Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. One of the few ‘Bollywood’ movies that dealt with a loser’s story. The movie made us sink into his shoes and helped revisit our vulnerabilities. It also commented intelligently on youth’s lack of choices, and only few clearly defined options of future that they gulped. Rather, forcefully. A loser who bent all the rules in the book, but still remained what he was – a loser. Although the last scene got trapped by the contagious disease called ‘Happy Ending’ or ‘binding all the threads together’ that had been prevalent in Bollywood movies since forever, even then the movie was one of the finest of the decade. Pankaj Advani wrote the screenplay for that movie. It always helps to know where the director is coming from.

But, Sankat City’s fault not lies entirely with director’s surprisingly stunted cinematic vision, but rather failing to realise even its most basic requirement. Living up to a promising script. A script that contains some of the most weird, zany characters, but when translated on screen, the consequence is not inebriated laughter, but listlessness . The jokes are inconspicious by their absence, and it hurts the movie’s prospects because social commentary is not the director’s aim here. At least not the primary one. Although Advani’s attempt is undeniably laudable and honest, but, don’t we all understand and appreciate the cliched ‘Don’t talk about the labor pains. Show us the baby’?

The most potent weapon in the movie of these kinds is dialogues. But, that is not a mean feet to achieve. Specially because one attempts to tackle madness with a subtle method. Less effective dialogues only causes the method to appear more wobbly at a tangible level. The method is then no longer hidden, but is rather exposed, bringing all the flaws on surface. Sankat City ails from this major problem. Ek Chaalis ki Last Local and 99 were prime examples of smart dialogue writing in the movies of same genre. Yes, I am not even attempting to raise the bar by mentioning Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. Even in the Bollywood playground, the dialogues of Sankat City are uninteresting and pedestrian.

However, Sankat City doesn’t suffer from hangover of any film. Pankaj Advani’s voice is essentially his own, and that is heartening to note, however detached it may be from tickling the funny bone is a different thing all together. Characters don’t become weird and interesting just by default. They have to prove their madness. The fact that Fauzdaar substitutes ‘j’ by ‘z’ every time he speaks doesn’t make him a very appealing character. There is nothing else he does to hold your attention. The character had a lot of potential to seamlessly switch between aggression and comedy. That’s what these kinds of characters can do. They coax you into their mannerisms, and when they unleash their venom with blinding alacrity, you almost feel guilty by laughing at the wrong time.

Fauzdaar does nothing of the sort. Briefly, when he chides Pachisia for not slapping the captive followed by a hesitant, wobbly camera closing up is one of the few times the character looked interesting. The movie had a motley of potentially interesting characters on paper. Consider this: A gangster who has a thing for sexy sirens, a homosexual baba, a con woman who is not out and out black, a goon who struggles with English as much as with his life and his overtly emotional co-worker, a stupid goon, and his lover, a sex worker. Pretty interesting characters these. However, the director’s inability to go full throttle with them robs the movie of many potentially rib tickling moments. When Fauzdaar meets the Dynamite, it could have been an insanely, complex, comical epic scene. However, Advani trivialized the whole thing by showing us a silly 20 second dance number. Amongst the pack, KK stands out. The consistency in his character is remarkable. Papa will geeo you breakfast, still makes me chuckle. It is not the kind of role we are accustomed to see him play. But, even then his execution looks effortless .

Over the top characters are a dangerous territory, not because they stand the fear of being rejected outright by people hopelessly running after realism. They are a dangerous proposition because they are difficult to carry. Some characters are intentionally over the top to quench people’s quota of laughter(Most of them are formulaic and poorly written too). But, one there is even a remote intention of taking a dig, the character’s loudness seems shallow. Because then, one is sure the mannerisms are supposed to justify the self depreciating humor dedicated to a much higher cause. Sadly, they don’t in this case. So, Chunky Pandey’s ‘Ye role different hai’, and the usual inanites that he mouths merely transports the message the director wants to convey. It doesn’t touch us in any way, and thus doesn’t a warrant a laugh. Same holds true for Lingam, and Dr.Zhivago. They are irritatingly loud and hence, mere caricatures who do not justify their presence. Here the character’s justification is not related to whether they mean something in the context of the story, which is obvious they do, but into the larger context of adding that quirkiness which movies like these are known for.

It is not as if Advani doesn’t have anything to say. He says, and says it rather well in plenty of situations. Most notably in the movie’s climax when KK and Rimi are trying to find the money in the heap of garbage. Isn’t it analogous to trying to make a fortune in a city which is full of scum(people)? Or, that scene when KK plays with his fishes. One of the few things in the movie(or, even in the dynamics of the frenzied city as a whole) that is not corrupted by the shadow of monetary gain. The fact that KK and Rimi Sen’s story don’t have a romantic angle to it. The swapping of bags and the meteor twist is really smart too. The movie has its moments, but few and far in between.

The movie could have been an intelligent homage to all the Bollywood absurdities we have grown up watching, and it gets some of the things right too, but on a macro level the movie leaves a lot to be desired for. It became a slave to a genre and couldn’t justify its place there.

I wish the highly discussed New wave Indian film making doesn’t resort to mere mutual back slapping, but rather cultivate and encourage serious criticism. Where every rebuttal is not encountered with ‘It is his first film’, ‘atleast he made a film’ , ‘the movie was made in trying circumstances’ , ‘go make a film yourself’ ( Lest I be misunderstood, this is a general statement and is not directed at any one particular!). Or, with excessive cynicism such as ‘Look! he is trying to sabotage our baby’. Our collective goal is much more higher and shouldn’t be impeded with such trivialities.

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