Joined: 19 December 2004
By Taran Adarsh
A Sanjay Leela Bhansali film is special! Irrespective of how his films work at the box-office, there's no denying that the master storyteller is also a master craftsman. His works, over the years, have cast a spell over viewers of all generations.
Without a shred of doubt, Bhansali is amongst the finest talents India has produced. That makes Bhansali's latest outing BLACK very, very special.
Like his directorial debut KHAMOSHI - THE MUSICAL, Bhansali ventures into a lane not many film-makers would dare to step into. He's had the guts, the conviction, the faith to tackle a subject that defies the stereotype.
Expectedly, Bhansali's BLACK leaves you spellbound. The execution of the subject, the performances, the visuals cannot be described in mere words.
But there's a flip side too!
Fine art - an abstract one at least - might be appreciated by those who understand it. But for the common man, who does not comprehend or decipher it, it's an exercise in futility.
That's the problem with BLACK.
Although handled with utmost sensitivity, you cannot close your eyes to the fact that Bhansali has chosen a subject that many would term as dark, depressing and dry, with tense moments dominating the film. Yes, it does boast of a plot that's rarely attempted on the Indian screen, but it's the type that would appeal to a tiny segment of viewers.
It's definitely NOT the type that would find patronage with the vast majority of Indian audiences.
Also, the screenplay of the film lacks the meat to keep the viewer glued to the screen for the next two hours. From the writing point of view, there's a lot happening in the first half of the film, but not much in the post-interval portions. More than anything else, the triumph of the protagonist does not come across as strongly as one expected it to. It doesn't make you jump with joy.
In short, BLACK is an experience that will find very few takers!
Michelle McNally [Ayesha Kapur/Rani Mukerji], born to an Anglo-Indian family, is deaf and blind. A bright and intelligent girl, Michelle lives in a world of black silence with no way of reaching out.
This frustrates the young girl because she yearns to communicate. And the frustration leads to mood swings. As a result, she becomes destructive and violent on several occasions.
Debraj Sahai [Amitabh Bachchan] is an eccentric. An alcoholic, he is dedicated to his profession of being a teacher to the deaf-blind.
The principal of the school, an old friend, believes in his ability and sends him to the McNally house to teach Michelle. Debraj's arrival at the McNally home is far from auspicious, as he arrives drunk, angry and rude. On encountering Michelle, Debraj realizes that the only way to tackle her is to shock her, be aggressive at times and at the same time, be tender.
Despites obstacles, Debraj succeeds and Michelle miraculously learns her first word - Ma. But this is just the beginning. There are several battles to be won.
Debraj dreams of Michelle going to a college with students without any disability. But, at this stage, Debraj starts to suffer from Alzheimer. He slowly forgets everything including all words and their meanings. The roles are now reversed!
BLACK is a present-day, Sanjay Leela Bhansali interpretation of Helen Keller's exceptional life and the role Annie Sullivan played in her life. The real-life story was presented on the big screen in the Hollywood flick THE MIRACLE WORKER , which starred Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft [both won Oscars for their performances].
There's no doubt that the subject of BLACK would've been ruined in ineffectual hands. But with Bhansali in the director's seat, be rest assured of sensitive storytelling, great performances and of course, some outstanding sequences that stay in your mind much after the show has concluded.
A film like BLACK relies heavily on performances and Bhansali has extracted award-worthy work from practically the entire cast. When you talk of BLACK, it's not just Bachchan or Rani's work you'd want to praise, but Shernaz Patel, Nandana Sen, Dhritiman Chaterji and Ayesha Kapur's contribution as well.
As a storyteller, Bhansali displays his abilities in several sequences. But three outstanding sequences are worth noting: One, at the start of the film, when the young girl [Ayesha Kapur] refuses to obey table manners, two, she learns her very first word and three, Sara's [Nandana Sen] engagement sequence.
But Bhansali is letdown, and terribly at that, by the screenplay department. The screenplay does not offer much in the post-interval portions. In fact, the story takes its own time to unfold in this half. Also, the interaction between Amitabh and Rani gets cyclic and monotonous after a point.
The lethargic pace, the grim moments as well as the dry goings-on only complicate matters further. And the absence of relief in an enterprise like this is sure to pinch the hardcore masses. What's more, the generous usage of English language [the film is partly in English] will only restrict its reach.
Cinematography [Ravi K. Chandran] has an international feel. Every frame is worthy of an accolade. Sets [Omung Kumar] are authentic to the core. The Mall of Shimla has been recreated to perfection in Mumbai. Background music [Monty] is appropriate.
BLACK belongs to Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji primarily. For those who feel that Bachchan had exhausted himself after enacting just about every role in his illustrious career, this one is an eye-opener. Bachchan comes up with a performance that he'll always be remembered for!
Bhansali has always made his heroines look special. And BLACK is no different. There's no denying that Rani delivers her best performance to date. With no dialogues in her lap, the actress conveys through expressions solely and what a terrific impact she makes! Here's a performance that should act as a reference guide for all aspiring actors. And yes, she's bound to walk away with all major awards next year as well!
Shernaz Patel is exceptional. Her sequences with Bachchan are awesome. Dhritiman Chaterji is excellent. Nandana Sen impresses in a small but significant role. Ayesha Kapur is first-rate.
On the whole, BLACK is an honest and sincere attempt that might appeal to a tiny segment of viewers. But for the majority of Indian audiences, the masses specifically, BLACK has precious little to offer. At the box-office, BLACK will score during the first weekend at multiplexes, but Monday onwards, it will face an uphill task.
From the business point of view, BLACK should work best at metros, especially Mumbai, but in several circuits - the mass-oriented belt especially - it stands little chance. However, its business in Overseas, in U.S.A. and U.K. mainly, will be fabulous.
Rating:- * *.
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