Friday, July 28, 2006


Summer being what it is, specially after college and more specially in a fucked-up city like Chennai where cable requires a set-top box and an analingus performed on the cable-guy, life's revolved around the DVD player. Just finished watching the Dollars Trilogy, and some old classics. Here's something to think about from "Chariots of Fire"

For those who don't know, CoF is an Academy Award winning picture from 1981. It's most well-known to us, as the source of a theme pirated to depict Moon-Moon or Suchitra Sen cavorting with Kabir Bedi in "Khoon Bhari Mang". The film deals with the English athletes at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Specifically, it depicts the emotions, attitudes and rivalries of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell (both real life gold-medallists). The former, a Jew, is a defensive and pugnacious athlete. He's ruthless and willing to go beyond the whole nine yards to win, yet is insecure deep within about his abilities and his place in society. He runs to prove his worth. The latter, a missionary Christian by the side, runs for the glory of God (sounds woolly-headed but there you are), lectures people after his races, and holds his prowess as a means to drawing more people to God. The film focusses on their background, their preparations and their responses to adversity, bringing in a twist two-thirds into the plot.

More than the theme, more than the plot and its twists, hell more than the acting, what really strikes you is the simplicity of the thing. Its just about two guys. Two rivals at a race. Thats it. There's no romantic angle, there's no cancer or AIDS (which unfortunately, Ian Charleson who portrayed Liddell later died of), and the protagonists are far from the under-dogs with impossible odds against them. Yet, you see a plot that comes out coherently, you hear dialogues that aren't cheesy, and most importantly, you see acting that's genuine. Ben Cross as Abrahams simultaneously oozes grit and fear. You see him in the movie, crushed by defeat. But his portrayal of Abrahams crushed near the end by victory is even more fantastic. His coach tells him "You've won. This is your moment. Enjoy it, and get it out of your system. Then go home and marry that girl of yours" [He's got a girlfriend whose role is small. They meet, they're together, she's worried about his insecurity and in the end they're married. No insults from rivals, no competing with the sport for his time, no telling him she'll love him no matter what and NO NO NO romantic meetings and songs] and you understand, instinctively, what he means. Ian Charleson is even more spectacular as Eric Liddell. His conflict between his duties to the Mission and his committment to the sport (With his reasoning as to where God comes in between) is truly fantastic. More so is his response to the situation at the particular plot twist.

Ok, so it was a good movie; a great movie. So what? Well, here's what. I mentioned Ben Cross. Does that ring a bell? It probably wouldn't, seeing as his next big movie role was in a 1994 flop named "First Knight" and his latest, in the Exorcist sequel of 2004. Neither memorable. Neither noted. Before and since his big screen roles, he's been on mini-series and TV movies and the kind of junk you'd associate with Hack-tha Kapoor and Shitty Irani, but he's still able to deliver when it comes to the sort of thing you'd expect to win the Oscars. Liddell too, was not a big screen man, mostly being a theatre actor. Yet these guys could put any number of B's and Khan's, no matter how big or King-y, to shame.

I mean, what would "Agni ka Rath" be like, if some dude decided to take it on? For starters they'd not see the logic of a Jew protagonist, and the Dalit panthers and what-nots would see red if a movie character were from such a background. So just keep him a poor guy. Nevertheless, he' d arrive in T-shirts, jeans and shades, and would woo the college belle on day one. And the other? Well, priests are passe, sports-priests more so, so hey let's just make the other guy another student, but rich. Ok, cool. Now what about the stakes? Well, it'll have to be the girl (I mean inner turmoil isn't something you can really show) till about half-way through, then one'll have to beat the other up over her, she'll ditch the winner, the loser will sing a couple of "pyaar, jaane bahaar, jeevan-saathi mere" [[This is a tribute to lexicomaniac]] songs, the winner will have him beaten up horribly, and against impossible odds, he'll beat the winner at the race. Seeing as the rich guy's more likely to do this, rich guy is the bad racer, poor guy is the good racer, and while we're at it, throw in some name like "Rajput college" for bad guy and "Model college" for good guy. Plot sound familiar now?

When, oh when, will Bollywood grow up ??