Saturday, February 12, 2011

Yeh Saali Zindagi: Rock n Roll Raagini with Rajma Risotto

Look at Priti. Look at her hard. She could be Jessica Lall. Singing in a band, in a tentative “brother-like” relationship with a dubious Punjabi restaurant owner, insecurely struggling with club life as the daughter of a father who “spent his life reading the papers.”
Look at Arun. Chartered accountant and gangster extraordinaire, in a gangland of affections and bullets, blackmails and deals, being held leech-like by a boss steeped in murky business even as he wants to run away.
“Yeh Saali Zindagi,” Sudhir Mishra’s latest, takes us through characters that seem grey yet colourful, laced with humour and spunk in a world of ironies, where destiny shapes them in a carpet in which each character runs into each other to create intricate wefts and warps.
The roles in delightful inter-mix: a money-laundering frontman industrialist who speaks Haryanvi, kidnap racketeers charmed by urban chic, a home minister in sophisticated veneer seeking an elusive social respect, a tycoon on the verge of bankruptcy with a wayward Casanova son, a possessive lover in jail locked in a peculiar relationship with a policeman brother.
More: a UP gangster with a cross-dressing half-brother in Georgia, an old Delhi girl who seeks dignity in a world of shady fortunes.
As it tackles possessive and protective love in their various shades of material conflicts, YSZ shows you shades of directors who are leaving their mark on a cinema that I classify as post-modern realism.
Mishra’s oeuvre has elements of his own previous films, notably “Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin” – an overnight tale of romance, lust and underworld rhythms; and “Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi” – an Emergency era saga of idealism and mystical, mysterious love.
In bringing these together, the director borrows stylistically from his peers in the emerging school of “chic realism” – so we see a Tarantino-like precision of nature quirks, 30-second commercial style aestheticism of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (particularly in Old Delhi scenes), gangland processes that remind you of Ram Gopal Varma and stark, rustic imagery and dialogues that remind you of Vishal Bhardwaj. It must be added, however, that Mishra, even in earlier films like Dharavi, has always had a leaning towards earthy realism.
Mishra celebrates Delhi in all its current shades: Gurgaon offices, rustic hideouts in rural Haryana, the magical Purana Qila, the Lutyens homes of ministers, and half-baked characters who pander to the rich and the powerful.
For those weaned on the call centre and mobile phone driven mall culture of Karan Johar movies, YSZ could be an antidote, revealing the underbelly of the scam surrounding the 2G spectrum that made those calls possible.
But this is no hero-villian tale. Nearly all characters,irrespective of their stature or orientation, are victims of their circumstances or nature, like in a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. All of them, nearly, faced with choices, grapple with love, respect and an elusive emotional security.
Mishra’s success lies in the way he has probably managed to connect with a multiplex audience through a quick-footed plotline while keeping a soul that could well belong in an old classic. In Arun (Irrfan Khan in a blemishless performance), you can see the Pyaasa of Guru Dutt blended like a bartender’s special with Deewar’s Vijay.
In the last scene, where he leans into the lap of Priti (an effective Chitrangada Singh in a muse’s delight role), you almost see the Amitabh Bachchan of Deewar.
But no. Seconds later he sounds like Pyaasa and all of a sudden, you realise that the sad man and the angry young man have blended into a humourous character who celebrates the random ironies of life.
If there was a movie to tell you about John Lennon’s famous line, “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans” – this could be it.
Arun the protagonist looks for “Rajma Chawal”-like motherly love in a rock-n-roll saga of guitars, gore and glory, interspersed with the rustic raagini-belt of Haryana. The tapestry works because plots, characters and the sheer style prop up each other in a diary-style thriller narrative.