Short takes: 15 Park Avenue and Iqbal
15 Park Avenue: Worth viewing, but be prepared to be disappointed.
Watching 15 Park Avenue, Aparna Sen’s latest venture that has made some waves, I was stuck by the unevenness of the performances by various actors. While Konkona Sen, Shefali Shetty and Dhritiman’s acting ranged from good to brilliant, Shabana Azmi, Waheeda Rehman and Rahul Bose, three more than competent actors, seemed unsure of their role in the film. This problem existed in Sen’s earlier film Mr and Mrs Iyer as well, where the support cast really disappointed. Is it that Sen works better with a limited cast of characters? The overall performances in her films like 36 Chowrongee Lane, Yuganta or Parama would suggest so.
My second beef with the film – why the stunted English dialogues (with Bengali and Hindi thrown in occasionally)? Why not have a natural blend of the three languages as is colloquially practiced by most Indians ? Even conceding the English dialogues, who actually speaks like that in full sentences and using ‘heavy’ words in real life? The dialogues would be more appropriate in written material but is totally out of place and quite jarring while spoken.
Thirdly, what was the purpose of the story? Schizophrenia is a grave mental disease that affects not only the person suffering, but also the near and dear ones who interact with the sufferer on a daily basis. I assume this is what Sen’s intention was, a noble one at that. However, it falls flat due to technical flaws with the film-making itself, which is a shame. In final analysis, the film simply meanders too much for my taste. Using a non-linear chronology will work for some people and some movies – here it just feels confusing. There are flashes of brilliance but is overall a muddled effort.
Those who would like to watch ‘serious’ Indian cinema (aside from Satyajit Ray or Mrinal Sen), would be better off looking up Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalkrishnan, as well as Sen’s earlier efforts in the 70-80s (IMO the golden age for Indian art cinema). And in my mind, 36 Chowrongee Lane still remains Sen’s best work (I have not seen Picnic or Sati).
Iqbal: Feel good film that does its job of entertaining.
It is suprising that in spite of India’s compelling passion for both cinema and cricket, it has taken such a long time for a decent sports-themed film to be made. That too by a relative ‘outsider’ to the industry, Nagesh Kukunoor.
(Okay I will concede ‘Lagaan‘ and also I am speaking from my knowledge of Hindi and Bengali cinema only. I am not sure of films made in other Indian languages. I shall pretend that I did not hear mentions of abominations like Allrounder or Awwal Number.).
Iqbal is clichéd, a typical ‘underdog making it good in the end’ story. But Nagesh Kukunoor stays within his limitations while executing a simple storyline and lets our inherent sympathy for the underdog pulls us into the film.
The plot involves a young boy from rural Andhra, Iqbal, whose all-consuming passion is cricket. While that description would encompass a few thousand Indians, what distinguishes him is that he likes and is actually quite good at bowling (he has pace) and dreams of donning the Indian cap one day. However, he has two disadvantages – he is deaf and dumb and (a bigger handicap) he is from a poor, rural family with little pedigree or money. His father, an honest farmer who doesn’t believe in handouts, whether from the goverment or rich relatives, is strictly against Iqbal’s involvement in the game, which he considers a hindrance to national productivity. In a way one could say that he is practical and it isn’t cricket per se that he is against, rather what he considers Iqbal’s improbable dreams. But, helped by a supportive mother and his vibrant sister, who is a constant companion, interpreter and cheerleader, Iqbal fights all kinds of odds to make it, firstly to the Andhra Ranji team, helping them to win its first national championship, and then to the Indian team. Here the fantasy is possibly stretched a bit – but by this point you will find yourself really rooting for the young Iqbal, so it won’t matter.
As I said, the story is simple and it is helped by some good acting. Girish Karnard and Naseeruddiin Shah are seasoned veterans but it is the young Shweta Prasad who really steals the show with a wonderful performance as Iqbal’s sister.