Friday, March 26, 2010

Well Done Abba

The patriarch of parallel cinema returns with a film that suitably showcases why the Indian new wave of the 1970's was such a sterling movement that pioneered a whole new trend of high art and wholesome meaning in desi cinema. Yes, today, when the industry is throwing up another whole new wave of experimental cinema, Shyam Benegal's Well Done Abba emerges as some kind of a benchmark for our current brat pack who want to say so much, so very differently. The film unfolds like a gentle symphony -- never over the top, never hysterical -- even as it ends up as a hard-hitting satire on the entire misnomer of `India Shining', India growing, India evolving, et al.

Benegal's script takes on the entire government machinery -- politicians, engineers, bureaucrats, cops -- for the malaise that seems to be eating away the system. One which precludes the percolation effects of progress and development into the Indian heartland. Driver Arman Ali (Boman Irani) returns to his village, ostensibly to find a groom for his spunky daughter, Muskaan (Minissha Lamba). But to his dismay, the village is in a state of disarray and destitution. The villagers still have to walk miles to get their water and are forced to even refuse a glass of water to the thirsty and weary. What's more, Arman's twin brother, Rehman (Boman, again) and his begum (Ila Arun) are forced to become fugitives, having stolen water from a protected well. In such a parched landscape, Arman comes across a hoarding which tom-toms a government scheme inviting people to dig wells with official loans. This is the beginning of Arman Ali's tryst with all that's absurd, weird, dishonest and ironic in officialdom, whereby schemes like sundry BPL (below poverty line) benefits and NREGA may exist, but in a state of rigor mortis. The welfare bit of welfare pronouncements rarely reach the real people. After having paid off all the percentages and cuts to the long line of officials, Arman is left with a pittance from the loan. Naturally then, the well exists only on false documents and fake photographs and is even reported as stolen in a bizarre sequence of events... Until, a beleaguered Arman decides to take things in his own hands.

The film is a sheer delight, with the events unfolding in a breezy, comic vein which keeps the ribs relentlessly tickling. But what's more alluring are the colourful characters and the multi-layered approach to the problems of a village which becomes a microcosm of the entire nation. Boman Irani's Arman Ali and Rehman Ali are absolutely awesome, Minissha Lamba's Muskaan is a funky firebrand while Ila Arun's slithery, wily, unscrupulous Salma is a veritable scene stealer. The rest of the ensemble cast pitches in like icing on the cake, with Ravi Kissen and Sonali Kulkarni deserving a special mention as the randy newly weds who are wondering whether a silicone job would add more spark to their nocturnal tumbles. Shantanu Moitra's music creates some unforgettable folksy melodies you walk out humming. But eventually, what remains, is the signature of the maestro, Shyam Benegal, over a canvas delivered with finesse and concern.

Savour and sensitize yourself with substance and soul. Watch some Well Done cinema.

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