By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Film; "Black"; Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee, Ayesha Kapoor, Shernaz Patel, Dhritiman Chatterjee; Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
With "Black" Hindi cinema has turned a corner. And it will never be the same again.
Veering passionately away from the norm - creating an entirely new definition of entertainment and giving us a work of art that transcends every given qualification of the motion picture experience - Sanjay Leela Bhansali has created a work that freezes all superlatives.
From the opening when the blind-and-deaf Michelle (Rani Mukherjee) runs into her old blind and dying teacher Debraj (Amitabh Bachchan), "Black" clamps its emotional tentacles around our heart and refuses to release us until its last dying breath exhales on screen, permeating the film's fragrant and irradiant aura with fumes that we have never smelt before.
"Black" unleashes a fury of never-felt emotions. Master-creator that he is, Bhansali peels away layers and layers of passionate pain. The characters stand stark naked on camera, their souls exposed for us to see. We can't turn away. Bhansali doesn't give us that choice.
It takes a while to come to terms with the awesome and overpowering emotions of Bhansali's world. Getting a fix on Michelle's world isn't easy.
What is this twilight zone of resplendent suffering where every hurt is felt like a whiplash? Indeed the quality of cinematography by Ravi Chandran and the background music by Monty is so steeped in the ethos of anxious yearnings, we feel the characters' hearts are forever on the verge of bursting open.
We first enter little Michelle's pitch-black world with Debraj. The relationship that grows between the impossibly difficult little girl (debutante Ayesha Kapoor, playing Rani as a child) and the equally difficult teacher is underscored by an immense and acute irony.
As Debraj makes Michelle 'see' into the light through her blindness, he goes blind and finally loses his mind. In the best most heart-wrenching moments of the film, Michelle rattles the chains that are put on her guru to prevent him from causing himself bodily harm.
That frenzied chain rattling becomes symbolic of everything that Bhansali's incredibly grand cinema attempts to do. The darkest most inexpressible thoughts acquire shape in Bhansali's tortured and yet incredibly beautiful realm of self-expression.
Credit for giving shape to his vision goes in no small measure to Bhansali's technicians who miraculously find just the right voice for the director's anguished feelings.
A special word for Bela Sehgal's editing. Incredible as it may sound, she gives to this tale of dark visions and deafening silences the same tempo of time-on-the-run as Bhansali's "Devdas". As the narrative follows Michelle's progression from darkness to light, we move along in a choked and suffocated numbness, as though life in all its darkest shades had suddenly opened up in front of our eyes.
The film actually belongs to Amitabh Bachchan. It's impossible to imagine any actor playing Debraj, the tutor of manic proportions raging into the darkness like a Shakespearean tragic-hero.
To say this is Bachchan's finest ever isn't enough. For, what he has done with his character in "Black" is to endow Indian cinema with a flavour of flamboyant excellence, unparalleled by anything we've seen any actor from any part of the world do or say...I say 'say' because the way Bachchan has used that well-known baritone has to be heard to be believed. Dropping his voice to a whisper he raises it again to challenge destiny, and toast immortality.
Rani Mukherjee as the blind and deaf protagonist looks and acts as though she was born specially to do what she has to in "Black". Bhansali is no stranger to performing magical tricks with his performers. But what he has done with Rani is immortalise her, entomb her in a shimmering shrine of glorious revelations. Michelle's unseeing eyes become the window to the actress' untapped potential. Under Bhansali's direction, Mukherjee opens the petals of her histrionics to give one of the most nuanced performances by a female actor.
Every actor big or small creates an impression of imperishable excellence. Shernaz Patel as Michelle's agonised mother and Nandana Sen as the jealous but kind sister, are just flawless. But the little girl playing the young Michelle steals many a critical scene from the players. Besides its many other unheard-of virtues, "Black" gives us an extraordinary little actress in Ayesha Kapoor.
There are innumerable moments of the purest, most classical cinema in "Black". Moments such as the ones where Michelle expresses sexual yearning or when the old and dying Debraj breaks into a jig with Michelle, tear a hole in our guts.
"Black" isn't a film that we can categorise or classify. It creates a new genre, which can tentatively be called Pain-Sublime. Rays of light pierce the black darkness of the protagonist's life and permeate into our lives to bathe us in a feeling of rapturous contentment rarely experienced in cinema before.