I caught the most anticipated movie of 2005, first day first show. For days, the poster of Black on my desktop was a testament to my excitement. There were several reasons to be have high expectations. I like Bhansali's work, despite the fact that most critics pan his movies. I was very happy that Amitabh was finally working with a class director after working with any and every director last year. This was a different genre that Bhansali was tackling, and it seemed exciting to me that a mainstream director worked with a mainstream superstar to make a movie that was anything but mainstream.
So what is Black all about? Black tells the story of Michelle McNally (Rani Mukherji), who is born to an Anglo-Indian family, deaf-blind after an illness at the age of eighteen months, is a bright, intelligent girl who lives in a world of black silence with no way of reaching out. Enter Debraj Sahai. An eccentric man, an alcoholic, a person consumed by his profession of being a teacher to the deaf-blind. The story revolves around how Debraj suceeds in helping Michelle connect to the outside world, to search for light through the darkness around her. He teaches her words and their meanings, and helps her make sense of the darkness that engulfs her. The movie is about her incredible struggle to earn respect among the 'normal' world. She and her teacher work through several hardships to get her close to the goal of graduating from a university with normal students. But as they work towards it, Debraj starts to suffer from Alzheimer's disease. He slowly forgets everything including all words and their meanings. The roles are now reversed! Can she achieve the miracle that he once performed for her? Will she achieve her goal and wear the black graduation robes?
A movie inspired by Hellen Keller, Black is vastly different from anything seen on this scale in Indian cinema. I hesitate to call it a Hindi film, because large portions of it have English dialogues. Is it an attempt at crossover cinema? I don't know, and I can't answer that question confidently after watching the movie. What is consistent are Bhansali's sense of melodrama, the extraction of great performances, touches of brilliance in his direction and an assertion that he is amongst the finest film-makers this country has at the moment. Is Black truly a great film? I don't think so. It falls a few degrees short of being one. Is it brilliant? At times, hell yes. Does it set a new standard in Indian cinema. Definitely. Should you watch it? Please do, and please do so in a theatre. Here are the pros and cons of Black
1. The performances. Ayesha Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee and Amitabh give excellent performance. There are moments of brilliance from the actors. For eg. the scene when Amitabh first shows signs of Alzhiemer gave me the chills. We take the brilliance of the man for granted. The kid Ayesha as the young Michelle is superb, and Rani gives a mind-blowing performance.
2. The cinematography is outstanding. Ravi K. Chandran has created an aura of blackness to perfection.
3. Background score by Monty adds to the effect of the movie
4. Bhansali. The director's special touches are evident all throughout.
1. The screenplay is a letdown. The selection of moments of struggle in the protagonist's journey could have been picked better. Somehow, the pace of the movie in the second half is uneven
2. Half the movie is in English, which excludes a lot of Indian audiences
3. The protagonist's triumph does not make you feel exulted as you expect to
4. The 'sex' aspect is ok to tackle, but could have been tackled better
5. This is a 'heavy' movie. It has little relief for the running length of two hours, which again, most impatient audiences find difficult to sustain.
I would be interested in seeing people who are dissatisfied with the regular Bollywood fare (hint hint, Avinash) to please see this and give me their unprejudiced opinion. It is an intelligent movie with good performances from a talented director. Black worked its magic for me, hope it does so for you too.