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Black - Movie Review

This is a classic tale portraying the growth of human soul by exploring the relationship between a teacher and a student, where the teacher discovers himself in his student and the student discovers herself in her teacher. Although this is a beaten track and many movies have been made with a similar motif, I can't think of any in the Indian context.

The movie is set in the early 20th century, somewhere in North India. The student Michele McNally, is blind and deaf, thereby rendering her effectively mute. The teacher is Debraj Sahai, a hyperactive old man, who has a method in his madness. The first half deals with the initial estrangement between them and then a reluctant acceptance. The second half deals with the varying degrees of dependence of Michele on Sahai and the gradual slippery of Sahai into alzheimers disease.

The movie suffers from what I call an 'essential-elements-screenplay' syndrome. The script has all the elements to make it a great movie. But only those elements are presented to the viewer. There is no smooth connection between these elements. It was like watching the highlights of a cricket match. The experience of watching a match cannot be equalled by the highlights!! I guess the original intended screenplay would have run somewhere between 3 and 3.5 hours, and the producer and/or director decided to excise some parts to fit our standard two and a half hour format. If they had shot what was excised, we must have had a simple, powerful and a complete story.

Take this for example: within fifteen minutes after the titles, the movie jumps into the interaction between Sahai and Michele. We are not provided with enough background information about either of them to prepare ourselves for the sort of relationship between them. During their initial interactions, every single scene has a message. Every scene told me something new about the characters: the eating habits of Michele, how emotionally suppressed she is, how agile and active Sahai is, his techniques to control Michele, how Sahai is still a child inside, Michele's mother's patience and mature outlook, Michele's father's temperament, etc. Good. But not great. What we need is a story in between messages. As audience, I strongly felt the need to see their lives unfolding. I wanted to know everyone's perspective on life, especially Michele's*. What I got was a message in every scene.

Consider a scene, where Sahai kisses Michele. Obviously, the scene is not about sexual gratification. Sahai continues to be a teacher and kisses Michele upon her request. It is more like a lesson to her. This scene, if it had followed appropriate character development, should have added great depth and complexity to their relationship. But it falls flat. There is another magnificent scene: Michele waits for Sahai to return after buying icecream in a town market street. Alzheimers catching up with him, he forgets her totally and goes home. Again, a brilliant situation to explore the depths of relationship between them. But what follows is emotionally void.

Amitabh Bachchan plays Sahai, and what a performance this is. He exuberates great energy in bringing the role to life that some of our young, top, highly paid Tamil heroes should learn from him. Young Michele is played by Ayesha Kapoor, and she plays it to perfection. Kudos to the director for that. Rani Mukherjee plays the adult Michele. She has her mouth half-open and walks like a drunken Charlie Chaplin. Inspite of some gems of acting from her, mostly it is a over the top performance and I wouldn't be surprised if she gets her national award next year.

Ravi K.Chandran is the photographer. Almost every single frame has a predominant white and black texture. Considering that two thirds of the movie is shot indoor, it becomes easy for him to manipulate the colour. And even the outdoor scenes are shot either in the early morning or in the night, which again makes it black and white. Some of the scenes containing red of blue colour seems to be desaturated and never get to see brilliant natural colours. This sort of adds a dreamy value to the movie. When a movie deals with suppressed emotions and tenderness, it is very important to have a sense of reality for the audience to identify. The photography is glamorous and simply distracts the audience from the storyline.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has directed very well with the available script. He has taken extreme care in composing every single frame and has extracted top quality work from his collaborators. Bhansali, Prakash Kapadia and Bhavani Iyer have written the screenplay. They should be punished for mutilating a good story. Monty Sharma's music is soothing and never announces itself.

* Michele's thoughts on life is provided by a voice-over by Rani Mukherjee. Since I don't understand Hindi, I can't comment about it. Almost 50% of the running length had silent pauses and conversations in English, and that was easy on me.

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