Amitabh & Tabu soar in Cheeni Kum
By Ashanti OMkar
The UK is buzzing with Indian cinema right now. Cannes film festival was very much focussed on India’s 60th year of independence, with the festival itself being in its 60th year as a showcase for world cinema. Cannes sported an A-List of Indian actors, but of course, as usual, the other facets of Indian cinema were not highlighted in their entirety, with only a tiny handful of regional movies, for example, SandaKozhi in Tamil, which was shown. Southern director, Mani Ratnam, the director of Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, Yuva and Guru was also a noted appearance. The appearance of honeymooning couple, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan was very much noted, while Big B (Mr Bachchan Senior), Preity Zinta, John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Manisha Koirala, British Asian actress Archie Panjabi of ‘East is East’ fame and ‘Namastey London’ actress Swiss Asian Shaania Dia graced the red carpets. UK’s Anil Sinan and Suman Buchar were present to enjoy Cannes at its best, including the beach parties and schmoozing with the stars on the yacht. Tennis star and film mogul, Ashok Amritraj from the US threw the coveted yacht party which kept the revellers enjoying the flow of the festival.
As the summer of Indian cinema continues, The Bollywood Awards in New York take place over the weekend as a prelude to the biggest and most publicised ceremony, the IIFAs (Indian Oscars) which are taking place in Yorkshire, UK, this year. With Shankar’s ‘Sivaji – The Boss’ – one of India’s most expensive films (the salary of its hero is rumoured to be more than any other Indian hero – Rajini Kanth, whose fan base traverses Japan to Canada), also releasing during this busy period, it is set to be a glorious summer indeed.
There was one big Indian premiere at Cannes that deserves a special mention. Cheeni Kum – an EROS International film hits the screens after a very hearty reaction from the media in Cannes. EROS themselves are celebrating their 30th year in Indian cinema and their chairman, the recent Eastern Eye Business Awards winner, Kishore Lulla is indeed a proud man. The London special preview of the film saw not only a full house of select journalists and fans of the hero, the indomitable Amitabh Bachchan had his fans vying for a peek of their hero.
A formidable film, it was indeed a comedy with no relation to another film that came out in recent months, ‘Nishabd’. Take two South Indian directors, the cult Telugu director Ram Gopal Verma and ad-film guru turned debutant director, R ‘Balki’ Balakrishnan who both went for scenarios where an older man falls in love with a much younger woman – that’s where the similarity ends. In Nishabd, the age gap is much wider and it explores serious themes, whereas Cheeni Kum is a comedy of consenting adults who have a meeting of minds. Says a confident R Balki, who was present at the intimate press conference: “We started this film two and a half years ago and the age is incidental in Cheeni Kum. Mr Bachchan inspired me to do this film. In black and white, stripped to the basics, it is a simple love story.” The excellent cast which also consisted of Tabu, whose acting prowess has presented itself in so many movies and Paresh Rawal who needs no introduction to fans for the sheer variety of roles he has portrayed to utmost quality and many more key characters like 95 year old veteran actress, Zohra Sehgal, a child actress who is India’s answer to Dakota Fanning – Swini Khara and a plethora of supporting cast members who obviously perform to comic perfection while portraying serious aspects with equal ease. It was indeed a team effort in this film, what with Southern ace cinematographer PC Sreeram and the much sought after editor Chandan Arora on the case.
With such a creative team behind the venture and a very ‘hands on’ producer Sunil Manchanda on board it was no surprise that the Cannes and London audiences gave the film thumbs up – in fact receiving standing ovations in both France and England. The plush cinematography, the music, the storyline, Cheeni Kum was happily reminiscent of yesteryear Southern movies – Balki is re-introducing the ‘good’ storyline genre with a modern twist. It felt like watching a Mani Ratnam film, as indeed PC Sreeram is one of his favourite camera-men and before his split with Ilayaraja, his classics like Dalapathy and Mouna Ragam. The characterisation of Amitabh’s scathingly witty, lovingly called ‘Ghaaspoos’ – the vegetarian chef and Tabu’s ‘Tangdi Kebab’ – it is an adult love story. The kitchen staff watch and aid, as he falls for this gorgeous younger lass – Tabu not only emotes this role to the fullest, but is looking better than she has ever looked. The father who happens to be younger than his future son-in-law, Mr Rawal plays a Ghandian retiree whose principles and ageism comes into play, while the locales of London and Delhi are utilised to maximum. The script flows with a dichotomy if laughable lines, like: “Have you got any more eighteen rated films for children”, the umbrella that leads to romance and a very casual marriage proposal with tasteful sexual undertones.
Of course, to make his dream team complete, Balki went for his own personal favourite music director, Ilayaraja, the 64 year old ruler, of eighties South Indian music. He makes no secret that he is a die hard fan of Ilayaraja’s tunes and elaborates: “I am a great fan of Ilayaraja and was weaned on his music. I first went to Ilarayaja, a man who has composed for nearly 900 films which makes his song count around 4000. He liked the script and he wanted to do an original score for the film, but I felt that many of his songs had not been heard by the worldwide cinema going audience so I asked if he would share a handful through my film. He is the king of lavish background music and that too is a plus point, I feel. Though he was originally reluctant to re-hash tunes, he agreed and my personal favourite is Jaane Do Na.” In terms of the music, while watching, the whole screenplay moved seamlessly with poignant melodies like the title track which is the adaptation of Mani Ratnam’s ‘Mandram vandha thendral’ from Mouna Ragam. ‘Baaten hawa with’ is a revamped song from the hit film, Melle thirandhadhu kadhavu – Kuzhaloothum Kannakku and the director’s favourite is the reworked Kannada hit, Jotheyali jothe jotheyali from the film ‘Geetha’. Shreya Goshal’s pure voice and Vijay Prakash’s mature vocals lace the soundtrack which is a must buy for any discerning music fan. Listen out for the glorious instrumentation, the strings, and the sax – trademarks of the genius that is Ilayaraja (remember his excellent Ek duje ke liye & Kala pani). Here is a movie and music that will stay in people’s memories for a long while.