The Man on ‘Black’

Sanjay Leela Bhansali fan and Time film critic Richard Corliss just named Black to his top ten movies of 2005. Here’s the catch: like that famous Aishwarya Rai cover, the list is only for Time Asia. The same spot on the U.S. list is occupied by Caché.

Rani Mukherjee in Black

This is an unofficial remake of the 1962 U.S. film The Miracle Worker, about the deaf-blind child Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan… This is an unusual film for India: no songs, a running time under 2 hrs. and most of the dialogue in English… Amitabh… harnesses gravity and humor to his magisterial machismo in what may be his greatest role… In so many Indian films the deepest searches are for romantic ecstasy and for reconciliation with the father figure. By addressing both these needs, Black is more than a noble weepie; it is the ultimate Bollywood love story. [Link]

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p>Heh, ‘unofficial remake’ Corliss may still be smarting over the collective global yawn over Devdas:

I wished Devdas had been in the competition for the Palme d’Or; it bested the Festival winner, Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, in verve, visual acuity and the hero’s sanctified suffering… it could also be the most visually intoxicating film ever[Devdas] could also be the most visually intoxicating film ever

My devotion to Devdas was a minority opinion at Cannes. The pack of international critics is usually a tolerant one; I might say they share some of the Devdas hero’s self-flagellating tendencies, since each May they sit obediently through dozens of mopey minimalist movies. (This year’s prime example: The Brown Bunny, the notoriously painful American indie that only a handful of scribes walked out on.) Yet in 2002… exactly one critic — and by now you’ve figured out who — was there at the end… for TIME’s International editions, I went further, really too far, and named it the film of the year…

But you never heard of Devdas. That’s because no review appeared in the major New York or L.A. newspapers, or in most others, when the film opened last July. [Link]

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p>The Brown Bunny: cinema verité meets cinema fellatio, a blowjob beats Bollywood. The NYT has since made up for its oversight by self-consciously reviewing every crap Hindi flick that shows up at the Loews in Times Square. As for Black, I found it novel and a leap forward for Bollywood, and Rani Mukherjee subsumed herself so completely she was unrecognizable. But the movie was also irritatingly hammy and overacted — blame Aby baby.

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p>Corliss riffs on why Hong Kong cinema sells better in the U.S. than does Bollywood:

In American cult culture, could brown be the new yellow? Specifically, could Bollywood films win over the trend-setters in video stores and on the Internet who for years had championed Hong Kong films? The two national cinemas have so much in common. They developed in regions long administered by the British but with their unique national twists. They are extreme forms of popular movies; they stretch, to the limit and beyond, narrative strategies developed in Hollywood. Like Hollywood films, they rely on a star system. Again as in Hollywood, these are commercial products, financed not by the state but by investors who expect a return on investment. Often, in both cinemas, those capitalists are gangsters. And often, the movies they finance are terrific.

Now here’s why Bollywood will not be the new Hong Kong. Because the average Indian film is nearly twice as long as the average Hong Kong film. [Link]

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p>After Syriana, King Kong and Narnia, three-hour running times are hardly a unique complaint.

Because Bollywood films imitate an unfashionable genre (the romantic melodrama) while Hong Kong movies imitate and apotheosize the American action film. Because Bollywood films are usually about reconciling family tensions — their deepest connections are domestically vertical rather than horizontal — whereas Hong Kong and contemporary Hollywood movies are about friends, enemies and lovers; the heroes in these might as well be orphans. Because Bollywood is essentially a feminine genre, while Hong Kong is macho; and guys rule! And because, in Bollywood movies, people sing and dance like they mean it; and nothing can turn off a young male like a sentiment put to music. To young American trend-setters, Bollywood brown is the new white … bread.

But… that’s a cramped, myopic view of a faaaaaaaabulous cinema — one that deserves an intelligent viewer’s loyalty, fealty. Fever. [Link]

Watch the trailer.

Related posts: ‘Yuva’: Mani Ratnam’s reply to ‘Dil Chahta Hai’, The hierarchy of cool: ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’ and the modern Medicis, ‘Devdas,’ wow…, ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’

18 thoughts on “The Man on ‘Black’

  1. Black is a dreadful movie. Absolutely cringe-worthy. I can’t even understand how it featured on any list of top ten movies anywhere in the world. Of course, the director and actors are all patting themselves on the back for making a ‘different’ movie…like that’s any guarantee of excellence in film-making.

  2. i have to agree with SK…black was crap…

    it was horrible…the ‘miracle worker’ was better…

    and having rani mukherjee attempt at playing a blind gal… pretty pathetic…

    blah… top 10? how about top 10 worst?

  3. Manish – I’ve seen so many critics in the English press cheer on Bollywood-kitsch phillums which frankly have no business being in international venues like Cannes. Perhaps, in their eyes, these phillums meet some ideal of what a Bollywood production should be. Rachel Dwyer, Yash Chopra’s biographer at SOAS, completely panned Black… then again, I’m stil trying to figure out how such an accomplished scholar could like Yash Chopra phillums… :P

    sk, chickpea I disagree. I thought and Bhansali finally made a film that was worthy of his talents. Also I thought AB and RM gave flawless performances.

  4. I have to agree, Richard Corliss is way too generous with his praise. SLB is not known for his subtlety or tone or depth. His style is full frontal sensory overload — like listening to music for 3 hours with the volume cranked up to 11. Corliss ignores the migraine-inducing aspect of SLB’s style.

    And what does he mean by Bollywood being essentially a “feminine genre” — huh? So now Bollywood, with its myriad styles and stories, is its own “genre”? As for feminine, how does that explain all the dishoom-dishoom male bonding and gangsta/bhai movies, not to mention the current crop of screwball skirt-chasing comedies?

    We need a SM Top 10 Bollywood movies list for Corliss’ edification — someone set this guy straight.

  5. wow, i wouldn’t even know where or when to start for a bollywood top 10 list! sholay, lagaan, silsila, company, too many…

    in terms of black, yes some of the awkward signing and neck-twitching (on rani’s part) put me off, but at least SLB tried something new! he didn’t jump on the NRI-targeted, lollipop movies (a la Neal-n-Nikki) or Bombay underworld (a la RGV, whose movies really aren’t all that bad, albeit way too stylistic and contrived at times) bandwagon. if nothing else, his movies are trailblazing in bollywood for their use of light, color, and visual textures and for that, i would watch his movies.

    (except devdas. i loved your review, manish…but i couldn’t bear to sit thru devdas. i only have so much patience for srk and his melodrama.)

  6. I loved Black. What’s Bollywood without a bit of melodrama? I’ll leave the subtlety to Swedish art movies.

  7. Yes, I’ve been keeping tabs on Mr Corliss for a little while now. At first I thought he was a rather discerning critic with an eye for some genuinely good Indian movies (he waxes lyrical about the Apu Trilogy, Roja, Guru Dutt and Satyajit Ray). Then I read what he thought of Devdas. Good Lord, how did he get a job at TIME Magazine?! He’s a joker.

    As for Black’s quality, we’ve already discussed that so I shan’t go over old ground.

  8. So I looked up the US list.
    I nodded on the tribute to Werner Herzog’s craft

    A charismatic man is seized by some magnificent idea or ideal, and his pursuit often drives himself toward madness and those around him near despair. That is the grand theme that Herzog has examined, and embodied, for more than three decades,

    cringed at the glowing review of the painful and four-times boring 2046

    That gives the director four times as many chances to let furtive glances and plaintive words collide—which they do, to subtly spectacular effect.

    and went, “what the..” on his comments on Ku Fu hustle

    For years, Stephen Chow was famous across Asia as the bad boy of Hong Kong comedy, and a bugger star, year by year,

    To accept and to assume coherence with your own tastes would be folly, o wheatish ones.

  9. Moody, great soundtrack, but terribly slow.

    i’m sorry – the cheap indian i am – i stayed put … hoping against hope there’d be a gratuitous booby shot for paisa-vasool – at least a penny to the dollar – but no such luck – but i may have missed it if i dozed off. i feel so cheap and used.

  10. i cannot and will not convince anyone about the merits of ‘Black’. You like it or you don’t like it. There can be no universal judgment. it has to be a personal choice. i was captivated watching this flick. whether or not it is an adaptation of a movie of an earlier era the performances cannot be forgotten. rani’s abilities were revealed and AB did not spoil the chance. the music added to the poignancy of the story. at the end of the day when you can allow yourself to be drawn into the story and try to empathise with the main characters you could have a lump in your throat. Rani’s performance was such that i did not see the actress in a role but the character and her angst.

  11. how about top 10 worst?

    That would be the bottom ten.

    I never understood people who demand Indian movies get rid of the melodrama. It is as absurd as the demand to remove exaggerated gestures from opera.

  12. The best part of Black was the little girl who played Rani as a child. Why is it that there are no child stars in Bollywood, anyway?

  13. “Why is it that there are no child stars in Bollywood”

    They have been tons of them – starting from junior mahmood to baby tuntun to tanuja to sachin to neetu singh to kunal khemu to jugal hansraj (of masoom fame).

    This is just the tip of the iceberg.

  14. please explain to me indian cinema’s annoying habit of putting master before any boy and baby before any girl who acts in a child’s role