Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What would one know? It turns out that the great Ram Gopal Verma is a fan of Ayn Rand. His heroine, Reva, in Naach is a female version of that supreme egotist - Howard Roark. Reva spends most of Naach being insufferable sure of herself, gazing stony-faced at her
lover Abhi or dancing through her steps with a kind of pouty defiance that is supposed to stand for artistic satisfaction but is clearly Antara Mali's failed stab at icy eroticism.

Naach may not be a loony call to individualism as Rand's FountainHead is. It is however Ram Gopal Verma's confessional: where he tells us what drives his work and the constant compromises that he's forced to make working with the Bombay film industry. His critique of Bollywood films is on the dot (and I agree with him on almost everything here): that Bollywood plots are frozen in the boy-meets-girl mode, that we have embraced mediocrity in the way we refuse to experiment even within our framework, and that we lack a small-scale independent movement that can offer a reasonable alternative to the commercial mainstream. The three main characters, offer, at different points, Verma's thoughts. Abhi is Verma's pragmatic side, willing to make compromises to get things done. Reva is what he'd like to be (but thankfully, is not) - uncompromising, unbending, and rigid.

Of course, Verma himself has succeeded in the same industry while retaining his own rough edges although I grant that his status is nothing like whats accorded to upstarts like Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra or old hands like Subhash Ghai (at whom Verma makes a pointedly cheap dig. Whats cooking, Ramu?) or Yash Chopra. Yet Verma has made commercially successful yet highly ndividual films himself. He has made musicals like Rangeela, Daud and Mast, gritty
crime-tales Satya (his masterpiece and one of the best films ever) and Company, and low budget experiments with horror (Bhoot, Raat, Kaun). Granted that there were elements in all these films where he compromised. For instance Satya was conceived as a realist
songless film. Yet when Verma did decide, out of commerical pressure, no doubt, to add songs to he narrative - he arrived at a way to make the songs merge seamlessly with the narrative which akes Satya even more of an artistic triumph. The two songs in Company are hip and stylish - in sync with the movies tone. This, I argue, has always been Verma's greatest contribution. He has orked within the Bollywood genre even as he has successfully tinkered with it. For instance, with his distinctive use of music, he has worked with composers from A. R. Rehman to SAndeep howta - none of whose work is in any way traditional.

Given how personal Naach is, its suprising that it is Verma's weakest film to date. The narrative is flaccid; it proceeds languidly almost like a tableux, but never really becomes interesting. Quickly sketched conversations fade into each other and the characters have no life beyond the artistic. Its a sign of how much I expect from Verma that I took Naach's different "look" for granted. Verma uses hues of blue and black; its a welcome sight to watch a film from Bombay that doesn't bombard us with reds, maroons, yellows and pinks. But Verma's fixation on Antara Mali's body does get a bit too much at times. The camera roams her body in boringly fetishistic detail; boring because Mali and her director concentrate too much on being sensous rather than imply being. In a deeper way, the problem is Mali herself. She's a competent actress but she has always relied on physicality to convey her characters. Reva, on the other hand, is the quiet artist who is supposed to be seething inside (creatively, of course). Mali's acting choices are correct; she underplays but she just cannot convey the artistic turmoil that is raging inside Reva's head. (I'd have preferred Sushmita Sen myself). We are supposed to go into raptures when Reva dances but beyond capturing certain zen-like demeanor and a performer's reflexes, she never comes close to reaching that kind of transcendent grace that at least her director thinks she does. Ultimately this is Naach's weakest link: the dances that Reva creates are as bad (or as ordinary) as the ones she hates. What could be more damning for a movie that celebrates dance?

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