Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mani Ratnam's "Bombay" Review

I've been told (repeatedly) mostly by Tamil people (on this blog and not only) that I just can't get Mani Ratnam's movies because I don't have the background to get them. And that I haven't seen any of his good ones yet, which accounts for (and somewhat excuses, I think) my not worshipping him. Somehow watching Bombay I am thinking this must also be one of the bad ones. Because not only did I get it, but it's the first Mani Ratnam movie that I love wholeheartedly. Followed closely by Roja, with all the other ones fairly far behind.

The story starts with Hindu man Shekhar and Muslim girl Shaila Banu falling in love and eloping to get married and live in Bombay, without their parents' blessings. One of the best scenes in the beginning of the movie shows Shekhar's father nauseated at the mere thought of his son finding himself a North Indian girl, because nothing seems more appalling to him than a Punjabi or a Gujarati. Until he learns that his son is in love with a Muslim... I loved the irony of that scene. Cleverly written. And that set the tone for the rest of the movie for me.

Namak: I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little fed up with these love at first sight plots. It's bad enough when one of them falls in love and spends the rest of the movie convincing the other, but when they're both so in love after 5 glances and 2 words, it just gets ridiculous.
Dolce: Heh... I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan either. Sometimes I even think I want to see a movie where they marry after being in love for 2 hours and then it all falls apart glamorously because they realize they don't even like each other.
Namak nods her head in admiration: Well well... I didn't know you had that in you! My little girl is all grown up now!

Though as the movie goes on...

Dolce: I've decided I'm ok with the love at first sight business in this movie...
Namak: What?? Noo! I thought you had finally come around! What happened?
Dolce: Well, think about it, if you spend an hour with the couple getting to know each other and falling in love and then eloping and getting married, how will you have time in only one hour and a half to show what happens with their families, with their neighbours, with their children and so on? This movie isn't about the happy couple, it's about everyone else around them and how their relationship changes their little world. There's no time to waste on wooing and cooing and elaborate dialogues. Love at first sight is nice and expedited, who cares how they met after all. He fell for her because look how pretty she is, and she... well... maybe she likes older mustachioed men...

Dolce and Namak decide to accept it as a plot device. But just this once. Because they agree that beyond the love story, the strength of "Bombay" lies in the little moments when people set aside their religious differences and are united in a more powerful, more selfless feeling: their love for each other. Even if this movie had only been about Shekhar and Banu's parents, I would have still been perfectly happy. In fact, I wish there were more scenes with them. The parents' stubbornness as well as their gradual acceptance were brilliantly captured in a few fantastic scenes. So I must be content with what I got, and truly, I am.

Muslim prayer beads around their necks and the marks of Shaivite Hinduism* on their forehead

*Gladly accepting corrections on this point. I had to look it up online, so this caption is about as reliable as wikipedia.

As a side note, I have been listening to Humma Humma (called "Ek Ho Gaye Hum Aur Tum" on the Hindi soundtrack) for over a year and it never hit me that it was a "first night song". Not that the title didn't give it away ("You and I have become one" - D'oh!!), but I never put two and two together. Now that I know, that giant water fountain exploding in the background as well as the wall on fire have a whole different meaning!

And speaking of symbolism, it's nice to find some more of Ratnam's favourite imagery, such as the half doors or transparent courtains of water separating but also keeping people close together in a fight;

the wind playing with a woman's head scarf and playfully revealing her face;

the mud of the world getting purified in a water puddle;

the single ray of light...

I may not always get Mani Ratnam's messages (though God knows he pounds them enough in each movie) but I sure appreciate his artistic virtuosity. Even without Santosh Sivan by his side.

Now what with it being a Mani Ratnam movie I knew better than to think everything would evolve peacefully. So for the first half of the movie I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And then... 1 hour and 28 minutes into the movie:
Dolce and Namak: Prakash RAAAAAAJ!!!!!

Just kidding. Well, not really, there was true joy and cheer when he appeared halfway through the movie, in a police uniform to boot (sadly not for long), but that's not how the other shoe dropped. The other shoe was all about the religious riots in Bombay in the early 90s and how having a religious identity suddenly becomes important for the two 6 year old children of Shankar and Banu. The second half of the film shows the family going through those years, what they gain, what they lose, how they cope. There are some intense moments that I won't spoil, but one of the most touching scenes for me involved a little girl sneaking bread out of the house for one of the twins during the riots:

If I were the crying type, right about then is when I would have cried. And somehow through all this Ratnam manages to keep the filminess away from cheesiness, which is a balance I always appreciate.

Bombay may not be Ratnam's most praised film, but as far as I'm concerned, it's a favourite, and in fact a film I would unconditionally recommend to anyone looking to give their first Indian film a try. Sad that it's so hard to find that it has taken me a couple of years to get my hands on an original copy.

It's always hard for me to give cheese ratings to favourite films, and with this one it's especially difficult because I genuinely think it's the kind of film that would please almost all tastes. So maybe Bombay is like Greek feta cheese: impossible not to like and it never fails to give you solid value for your money.


Nicki said...

OMG, you make me want to see this movie again! I saw it so long ago and loved it. Manisha was one of my fave 90s actress.

Dolce and Namak said...

Do it, Nicki! It's a good one to rewatch! I can't wait to see it again after a while and see what I think of it and how I interpret it the second time around. I think I liked it so much that I went a little overboard on the screencaps (well, overboard for me, for you I'm sure this is embarrassingly restrained :)).

I can't say I like or dislike Manisha, but this movie is the best I've seen from her (which mind you, is a total of maybe 4 movies). :-/

Anonymous said...

First, did u watch the movie in Hindi or Tamil???
FYI, the Tamil version of Humma Humma is sung by ARR.
And i hated the love at first sight too.. I believe Mani should have used the technique he used in Aayitha Eluthu/Yuva bet Surya & Esha Doel, where the origins of love aren't told.. And also the ending was kinda more of fantasy.. Bombay is prob my least fav Mani movie even if u tak Ravaanan into consideration..

Dolce and Namak said...

Mukundh, you didn't even need to tell me you're not a fan of Bombay, I could have put money on that already :D But it surprises me that you rank it even lower than Raavan/Raavanan, because that's pretty darn low... Sigh... :-/

I don't remember Yuva that well but I saw the Hindi version, so that would have been the couple involving Ajay Devgan (Michael)? Regardless, I fully agree that love at first sight is not credible, and therefore not a fan of it at all, but I think directors love it for its potential to create filminess, you know, it's great for songs and coy glances and such. Whatevs... Personally I prefer a film that doesn't rely on this, especially when the rest of the film is built on the couple's love for each other, but oh well...

Oh, and I have the Tamil version (with Telugu dubbing also available in the DVD options, but no Hindi). I didn't realize Rahman sings Humma himself, maybe I'll get the Tamil version of it too now. I'll just have to refrain from singing along :P

Anonymous said...

Well that depends on my ranking of Ravaanan(TAMIL version). I rate it pretty high cause of the acting & cinematography.. The reason i don't like bombay is cause a very very solid middle is combined with a weak beginning & ending..
Reg love at first sight, Mani in an interview told that he didn't believe in love@ first sight :)
And please go watch tamil Yuva - Aayitha Eluthu. The performances are on a totally different level. Esp if u had known madhavan only for soft, breezy, romantic role.. And yes it is the Ajay Devagan - Esha Doel pair..
Humma Humma (Tamil) was the first song to be sung by ARR.. After that there was no turning back... And i think u should watch Mouna Ragam - a pre nayagan Mani film.. U will be blown off.. Though i don't rem much of it as i watched it in bits & pieces a long time ago, i guarantee u will love it..
And i haven't had the time to watch Meenaxi yet.. Will get time after the wkend only..

Anonymous said...

And why this moderation of comments???? :O

Dolce and Namak said...

Argh, damnn this Mouna Ragam - I have it, but with no subs. I am dying to watch it, but I think it will be a waste to watch it without understanding the dialogue, na? So my search for a subtitled copy continues :(

Haha, yes, I can see how Surya would be a whole different ball game over Ajay (at least he'd look the right age :P) and even if I'm not big on Madhavan, I'll take him over Vivek any day (or is he in Abhishek's role? Either way, can't be bad).

Oh, and the moderation, I don't think you were around but there were some insulting comments (addressed to me) posted around here which I see no reason for my guests to read. It's also to filter comments that are completely irrelevant to the post and to the blog in general. But believe me, I try as much as I can to keep on top of it and publish the pertinent comments within a day. I know it's annoying, it annoys me too, but what to do?... :)

Nice seing you around again, by the way!

Anonymous said...

Well, i did find a few subtitles in opensubs & mysubtitles & few more upon google search..
Madhavan <-> Ab jr. Ab jr strongest performance is nothing compared to Madhavan's..
Well the insults were waiting to happen i guess. What else did u expect when u review soo many telugu movies :P

Dolce and Namak said...

ROFL! That last one really made me laugh! :D

And that's a good tip, I hadn't thought of trying opensubs for a DVD, but if I rip it then there's no reason for it not to work. Thanks! I'll have to try that. I'll let you know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Y rip it?? Just play the dvd via VLC & drag drop the subtitle.. but i guess the movie will be in 2 or 3 parts in the dvd. so it m8 not be poss. This is why i never go for originals. lots of complications. Thats y i always go for duplicates.. :P

PkG said...

Hey there D&N! :-)
I totally second your love for Bombay! Although for me it's a slow and incomplete love story. I somehow got interrupted when I watched it at a very crucial moment when I just knew things were starting to go bad. And so the taste left for me was that of an old fashioned love at first sight story with the lovers stuggling between enemy camps. (Remind me to write a blog one day on all the things that don't work in real life but make good filmi moments! LOL!) And I was already in love with that. But I knew it was going to get very different. And somehow I never found the courage to watch the bad things unfold,... strange, isn't it? But I would still rate the Soundtrack as one of my all time favourites. :-)

Dolce and Namak said...

PkG!! Heya! I never knew you were such a coward! ;) Though I know exactly what you mean, I was also ready for the worst. But as one of my fellow bloggers pointed out in his comment, Bombay has a rather... fantasy type ending (and rather un-MR-ish), so I think you might be in for a surprise. As you told me once about a certain movie that I was refusing to see to spare myself the pain of a certain sight, "It's not as bad as you think" ;)

And can't wait to see that blog post about filmi moments! Sounds like an awesome idea! I wonder if we'd think of the same ones. :D Guess I'll have to wait and see...

tolly said...

As we are talking about MR movies, I would suggest his only direct telugu movie "Geetanjali" which is a classic along with its everlasting hit sons from Ilayaraja.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey tolly! You always come bearing gifts :) I never knew Geetanjali was originally in Telugu, though I did have it on my loose list of MR films to keep an eye out for (if ever a copy with subs surfaces - my perenial problem with his non-Hindi films). The soundtrack is beautiful! I just looked at all the songs on youtube... Sigh...

tolly said...

For its time, in Geetanjali the story and charectarizations runs in a counter intuitive way (even the comedy track).

It has a 3 minute lip kissing song which is kind of unexpected even in these days.

MR,Ileyaraja and P.C.Sriram(photography) and the place Ooty turns this movie into a classic.

Before this movie Nagarjuna was limping along in his career path. This movie turned him into a romantic hero and a star (later consolidated by 'Shiva' , which was relased in the same year. Shiva, along with RGV, is a another story to talk about for another day).

Dolce and Namak said...

Interesting... This has me intrigued, Tolly. It's probably a good thing then that I already saw Nags Jr. in Ye Maaya Chesave because the Sr. can only be an improvement :P And I can't say that watching a kissing scene with Nags Sr. is my cup of tea, but who knows, the movie may convince me otherwise, stranger things have happened :D

I may end up buying the unsubtitled version and then figure something out with opensubs like I plan to do with Mouna Ragam. Sheesh... watching a Mani Ratnam movie is hard work in this country! :)

I always look forward to your stories, Tolly, you're like Scheherezade around here: always one more story for another day ;) So be it! I shall wait patiently for the right time. :D

tolly said...

Hehe .. I am not saying you will become fan of Nag. I am just talking history.

In old MR movies dialouges play very important role even though they are very less. I would not recommond un-subbed movie .

Dolce and Namak said...

Tolly, I think I'm safe on the first account :P

Yes, I know exactly what you're saying about the dialogue, that's why I'm sitting on the unsubtitled ones I have... The idea was to get subs from other sources and then make them play with the movie. We'll see how that goes...

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