Friday, April 2, 2010

Watching "Black"--a new twist on an old story

I had had this DVD from Netflix for quite some time (you really don't want to know exactly how long), I had heard and read many things about this movie. It was very wrenching, depressing, dark (what with a name like Black, you expect it to be full of sunshine?). I finally decided to watch it one night when my son was off with friends--he tolerates my Bollywood obsession, but doesn't seem to enjoy them too much. I settled in with my dinner, glass of wine and in my jammies, anticipating a very depressing film.
Well, it sort of startled me how it began, since I had read it was a take on 'The Miracle Worker'--I expected it to begin with a wild little child. When Rani began the narration and the black/grey palette spread out before me, I was intrigued. I had only seen Bhansali's films--Devdas and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam--on the small screen, and he does 'big' screen films. His other 2 films I had seen were full of color, movement, song and life. This movie is very different--it is contemplative, quiet and full of great emotion-it is not to say his other films lack emotion, Black has emotions that are much more raw.
The story line is, for the most part, similar to 'The Miracle Worker', with Amitabh Bachchan playing the Annie Sullivan role, Debraji--with the twist of he is an old, alcoholic teacher of the deaf/mute. We see many more of the flaws of the teacher in this film compared to the Keller versions--Bachchan is very flawed; he is egotistical and very much attached to his liquor. Once Rani's character, Michelle is able to understand, color begins to creep into the film--small bits that represent an opening to the world for a young girl forever in a world of black.
The ending of the movie is also a beginning-as the film progresses, you realize that Debraji is slowly losing his battle with dementia. He never tells his student-for whom he is a door to the world-that he may leave(in more ways than one), and when he finally just departs, she is heartbroken.
The small bit of color that had crept into Michelle's life is blotted from her world; until the rainy dreary day when her sister spots the beloved teacher. But the teacher, so deep into his illness has too lost his words and ability to understand--much like Michelle had been when Debraji came into her life. Michelle uses her ability to communicate via sign and a Braille writer- to attempt to connect with her beloved instructor---the film is her telling him about how much he means to her.

Watching the interviews after the film, I was impressed by the amount of study and preparation that both Bachchan and Rani did prior to filming--though it did irk me that while lots of Bachchan's dialog in the film is in English, all the interview he does in Hindi, and my 'filmy' Hindi is pretty slow and poor--so I had problems following his comments. I do wish that either more Hindi film extras were either subtitled for us Anglos, or at least in English!

I do feel that this movie will become another favorite of mine, and much like and The Raincoat and Chak de India, will bring a new batch of Hindi films without song and dance to mainstream viewers-we shall see, and hope.