REVIEW

Movie Review: Black

February 22, 2007
Deepa Nair

With Black, Bollywood has traversed to new heights. This new genre of cinema sets out to redefine contemporary Bollywood, for this is a pure performance driven cinema, any Cinephile's delight.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has always been associated with opulence - be it of sound, color, sets and not to forget the costumes (remember Devdas?). Black then comes in as a very unBhansali like Film. Devoid of any apparent ostentatiousness - there are no song or dance sequences, hardly any melodramatic dialogues, the colors used are black, grays and deep blues, the costumes too are more realistic than cinematic. With Black, Bhansali indeed triumphs not only as a master story teller but also as a master craftsman.

Storyline

Debraj Sahai(Amitabh Bachchan) is an instructor to Deaf and Blind Students. An idealist, who arrogantly confronts authorities head on, a Visionary, who believes in the human potential to create "magic", and a loner, who revels in his drunken world. Soon the inevitable happens and Debraj, due to his drunken ways loses his job. On the suggestion of a friend Ms. Nair (Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal), Debraj takes up the challenge to school an 8 year old, blind and deaf, Anglo Indian girl, Michelle McNally (Rani Mukherjee).

The first few meetings with the little wild Michelle is a total disaster and soon Debraj is asked to leave. But instead of leaving, Debraj is back, resolved to tutor and help Michelle. So when Mr. McNally (Dhritiman Chaterji) leaves on a tour, Debraj convinces Mrs. McNally (Shernaz Patel) to let him tutor Michelle.
From here begins Debraj's painstaking struggle to open up a world of knowledge and light to Michelle, who was till now groping in a dark world.

Debraj's ways are unorthodox, for he has to tackle an equally unorthodox student. Slowly, Michelle begins to comprehend the world around her and she utters her first word "mama". Thus begins her journey into a world of words, meanings and light. Michelle, tutored by Debraj grows into a fine young lady to everybody's delight. He becomes her guiding spirit, an inseparable mentor figure, her "teacher" as she calls him.

Soon Michelle heads to the college, where after repeated failures she finally succeeds. While Michelle enters the world of enlightenment, Debraj ironically recedes into a world of darkness as he starts losing himself to Alzheimer's disease.

The film ends as it began, but with the roles reversed. It is Michelle who takes on the charge to bring back her teacher to normal life and he starts responding to her as she did to him.

Review

The beauty of Black lies not only in its story line and the well etched out characters but also in it's cinematography. Not many movies are made in Bollywood where each and every frame is amazingly flawless. The movie makes use of a lot of bleak colors-grays, deep blues and of course the color Black. Interestingly, what one sees on the screen is not a dark, gloomy 'Black' world thanks to the excellent lighting done, each shot stands out as a vision of hope and power.

In some curious way, Bhansali ends up redefining the very meaning of the color black. Though the title and also the visuals give the film a feel of a film noir, Black isn't a tale of despair nor is it any thing that one would conventionally associate with the color. Black then is tale of hope and empowerment as epitomized by Michelle's life. For darkness (black) and light (white) are merely what the eyes perceive and as Michelle points out we see with our 'minds' not our 'eyes'. Even with eyes one can fail to 'see' - Mr. McNally takes Michelle to be mentally challenged.

The film abounds in these visual metaphors of blindness and sight, brought out beautifully by colors. In an initial scene, Debraj sits in a dark room playing with a flickering bulb. This darkness is a prelude to the world of the blind Michelle. Towards the end, he lies in a dazzlingly 'White' hospital room with no memory. The Blinding whiteness here is the state of his mind-blank memoryless. Curiously both the colors mean almost the same states - a state of utter blankness, emptiness. That's when the roles stand reversed - Michelle becomes the teacher. Michelle must now help him reconstruct his lost world.

There's another scene that works very well symbolically. When Debraj first meets Michelle, the first thing he does is to take off the bell that's tied on her -thus he humanizes her. Similarly, when he is chained down in the hospital, a frenzied Michelle rattles the chain and finally breaks it. A emotionally charged scene where Michelle takes on Debraj's role.

The shots inside the McNally house are also brilliant. The colossal house and the library with grotesque busts and sculptures reinforce the figure of the authoritarian Mr. McNally. Ironically it is this space (library) that Debraj decides to convert into Michelle Study. Only after all of Mr. McNally's artifacts are removed, leaving the room utterly bare, does Michelle start to learn. It is here that she learns to comprehend and communicate and grow into a human being.

The cinematography in Black reveals the director's knowledge of classical World Cinema. Scenes and shots are such that will remain deeply entrenched in the viewers' minds for years to come.

Star Fare

Awe inspiring performance by Rani. This is what good cinema does - it can turn a Bollywood glamour doll into a real actress. This is pure performance, without any makeup, or melodramatic dialogues. Rani's gestures and facial expressions speak volumes to keep the viewers spellbound. Rani's Michelle is undoubtedly the best that she has done in Bollywood so far.

Little Ayesha Kapur as the young wild Michelle was a treat to watch.
Amitabh Bachchan as Debraj is impressive but at times a little too loud and theatrical. Nandana Sen as the understandingly jealous sister did a fine job .

Setbacks

The film is set in 1940s Shimla, but the sets are too European, almost surreal to some extent. (Perhaps a clever ploy to get the Western audience interested!)
The Film flags in the second half, making some scenes between Rani and Amitabh rather monotonous.

Finally, the director seems to have borrowed a little too liberally from the Hollywood flick The Miracle Worker (1962). Films no doubt can be inspired by an earlier creation but the debt must be duly acknowledged. But then despite these serious lapses, Black is truly a work of Art.

Rating: 3/5

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#1
temporal
URL
February 22, 2007
11:01 AM

deepa:

...the director seems to have borrowed a little too liberally from the Hollywood flick The Miracle Worker (1962).

you can say that again

the dining room tantrums are frame by frame copy for instance

the alzheimer twist perhaps saved him from the verdict of plagiarising

#2
Anamika
URL
February 22, 2007
01:38 PM

:-) Agreed.

Funny that when some Bollywood directors try to win over Western audiences, they actually stop doing what they do best and try making their films "western." And not surprisingly, it fails.

The recent Eklavya is another similar story!

Btw, Black was a stunner for the performances - Rani's and Michelle's. But I didn't think it was great cinema, or indeed "birth of new Bollywood." :-)

#3
Anupallavi
URL
February 22, 2007
11:01 PM

Echo #1 & #2(not the performances part). For some reason, despite a couple of viewings, I do not find the performances to be as great as it is made out to be. It is definitely above average ; not out of the world. Sans the songs and the banana-peel comedy that is so staple, it is definitely more watchable.

Big B and Rani go overboard many a times. The focus seems to make it powerful in every frame and it jarrs at times, could have used some subtlety.


#4
Sanjay
February 22, 2007
11:12 PM

The movie was a bad rip-off.

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