Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pankh: One ticket To Dreamland, please!

When I finished watching
Pankh last night, my very first thought was, “I wish I could send a copy of this DVD to John Waters” because never in all my time watching Bollywood have I seen a film that captures the same manic early Dreamland aesthetic of something like Female Trouble. Pankh is deliberately difficult, purposefully gaudy, and a rare combination of pretentious and naive. In short, it’s a Filmi Girl kind of film and I would only recommend this to you if you have both seen and enjoyed Pink Flamingos and Dogville.

Here are what some other critics have said:

There are some moments of startling beauty in Pankh – Sudipto obviously has visual flair - but mostly the film feels like a bad acid trip in which you are trapped with a slew of unsavory characters. - Anupama Chopra

There seems to be an overt attempt on the part of director Sudipto Chattopadhyay to hurl everything revolting at the audiences. There’s sodomy, homosexuality, sleaze, sexual violence, et al. - Aparajita Ghosh

Frankly, Pankh made no sense to me and at the end of the screening, I only felt sorry for myself since I wasted two precious hours of my life on something that wasn't worth it. - - Taran Adarsh

(And take Taran’s words as your final warning that
Pankh is not an art house film like Striker or Manorama Six Feet Under or even No Smoking, it’s an art film.)

Before I begin my review, I want to go ahead and give huge props to Bipasha Basu for taking a chance on an admittedly bizarre film. Her
filmi sparkle gives the movie wings (pun!) and she didn’t have to do a film like this.

Pankh takes place as a day in the life of Jerry Dacunha (swishy newcomer Maradona Rebello) as he auditions to be a hero in a film. The twist is that Jerry is a former child actor - a former National Award winning child actor who used to play girl roles as Baby Kusum - and throughout the film we flash back to Baby Kusum and watch her perform. Jerry has lots of issues and they all come to the surface over the course of the film. He has an overbearing stage mother (Lillete Dubey in a tour-de-force performance); a drug habit (heroin); and a confused sexuality. The second and third problems combine into fantastical visions of Nandini (Bipasha Basu), a sultry actress who appears to Jerry in increasingly fantastical and bizarre outfits to taunts him and occasionally breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience.

There are so many layers of hide-and-seek going on in
Pankh that I think it would take more than one viewing to catch them all. Jerry and his mother Mary are Christians but Mary dubs Jerry “Jai” in order to give him mainstream appeal. We also have Jerry’s fantasy world, where he has poured all of his true longings into the imaginary persona of Nandini and then there are the film-within-the-film shots of movie magic at work, showing us that what we see onscreen isn’t real. Nothing is as it seems and yet everything is exactly as it is.

Director Sudipto Chattopadhyaya gives us a rich visual field - from the burnt out stage setting of the audition to the vivid filters and visual effects whenever Nandini is onscreen. But his most interesting choice - and one of the reasons I call the film deliberately difficult - is the tilted camera angles that drift back and forth like waves whenever we are supposed to be experiencing Jerry’s drugged-out point of view. The entire first half hour is shot like this, which makes it even more jarring for us to be dropped from Jerry’s world into the conventional angles and the
Page 3-style backstage drama with a real Kusum and her stage mother. And there are other neat tricks, too - like Jerry watching a slow motion, Hero hair toss from good looking Salim (Amit Purohit).

At the heart of the film, however, are the characters of Mary and Jerry. Lillete Dubey kills this part and eats it for dinner. She wails, screams, schemes, and gets blindingly drunk and yet we still feel so sorry for Mary. Mary with her layabout no-good (and now dead) husband channeled all of her thwarted acting ambitions into her lazy son and she still remains unfulfilled. There is one really telling moment where she is talking to an old friend while she waits for Jerry at the studio and she says something like, “The studio just isn’t as compelling as it used to be,” and her friend is like, “it’s the same as it’s always been.” And you want her to take that role in the
Sass-Bahu TV serial she’s offered but you know she never will. She still wants to be a star.

Jerry is also as sympathetic and unlikable as Mary. Maradona Rebello does a great job at showing Jerry’s wholehearted delusions because it’s pretty clear to everybody - in the audience, anyways - that Jerry is gay but Jerry can’t even allow himself to
think it; he can’t allow himself to give into the romantic love he has for Salim. Instead, he puts all of his sexual longings onto his imaginary Nandini - with some really terrible consequences for him and his mother at the end.

There are no happy endings in
Pankh and no happy endings for people who build a life on fantasy. I can’t say that it’s a “good” film the way most people thought 3 Idiots was a “good” film but I can say that Pankh is worth watching if you are up for a challenge. It’s an honest film; a difficult film; and a film that subverts all your expectations.


Tady Rox! said...

This film has been on my must-watch list for some time now...i'm glad to finally read a review on it...i can't wait!

Christine Menefee said...

A fine piece of criticism - tells me what I need to know, tells it with insight and style, and (in this case) alerts me that I'd like to see this movie for myself. I love your versatility and range - 2050, and this!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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