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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Parineeta: the good melodrama

While watching Parineeta earlier this evening, I was struck by how vastly superior it was to Devdas, despite being so similar on the surface. Both are based on novels by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, around Bengali families who live next door to each other, and feature much lovelorniness (if I may coin a neologism) and melodrama. Indian cinema has always had plenty of the last: emotion is the hot button that really matters in Hindi movies.

Devdas epitomised this cultural melodrama taken to an extreme, with excessive opulence and stylisation matched by outrageously bad hamming – we could benevolently call it 'projection' – by Shah Rukh Khan. Parineeta shows us how it should be done.

The first time I'd noticed the name of its director, Pradeep Sarkar, was in the late 1990s, when, working in MTV, I had to suffer through tapes and tapes of awful music videos. But there was one particular director who stood out conspicuously from the rest. Sarkar made music videos for Shubha Mudgal and Euphoria, and they always felt like compressed feature films to me. Within seconds, you got a sense of the characters and felt yourself drawn into a story, and a milieu. Moreover, his characters felt real. Not the overdone caricatures of most Hindi cinema of those days, or the plastic stereotypes elsewhere on television. What a fine feature film this guy could make one day, I thought. Well, he has.

Although Vidhu Vinod Chopra produced and co-wrote Parineeta, it has that Sarkar touch all over it. Minor characters who come on to the screen for the briefest of time-spans are imbued with life. The narrative flows beautifully, setting the story up and moving swiftly, but allowing us to linger when we need to. The music, by Shantanu Moitra, who composed some of Mudgal's songs as well, is superb, and is part of the foundation on which the film stands, and not merely a decorative part.

The acting is outstanding and true to life. Vidya Balan, especially, acts beautifully, so much better than that other actress who was reported to have been interested in this role, Aishwarya Rai, has ever done. I'd have a hard time telling the difference between Rai and her waxwork at Madame Tussauds, but Balan's acting rings true in every frame that she's part of.

Saif Ali Khan is also surpisingly good. There is a scene late in the film when he rises at night, imagining Parineeta, the woman he loves, making love to Girish, his rival. Sweating, breathing heavily, he rises, goes to the piano, and bursts into an orgasmic sequence of chords that ends with a glass falling down and breaking. If you watch the film, imagine Shah Rukh doing that scene. One man would have made it maudlin and laughable; but Saif plays it pitch-perfect.

Phew. It is a relief to be able to speak of melodrama and not mean it as a pejorative. Go watch Parineeta.
amit varma, 11:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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