In the week since my re-entry from another flavorful, flirtation with the foreign I have seen five films, two operas and one play. And yes, I do have a life, a rather charmed one at that!
The above two films are diametrically opposed in content and theme. Their core revolves around India; whether cuisine, celluloid, conventions or traditions its illusive web keeps me entertained, entwined and enthralled.
“Today’s Special” stars screenwriter Aasif Mandvi (based on his prize-winning play Sakina’s Restaurant) as Samir, the frustrated sous-chef at an upscale Manhattan restaurant whose life careens out of control when his father suffers a heart attack; he manages his vicissitudes with aplomb, leagues of savoir-faire, and savory wit. Every character hums, simmers, sizzles with vitality, vivaciousness , humanness: Samir’s immigrant parents devastatingly portrayed by Harish Patel and Madhur Jaffrey are hilarious as the frustrated victims of Samir’s refusal to recognize the codes of his Indian heritage: arranged marriage, career choice and his apathetic religious ambivalence. Superb casting includes Naseeruddin Shah, as Akbar the shaman, responsible for concocting the perfect formula, the recipe, catalyst for success; like his namesake he is the emperor in all of his wondrous, imaginative tales, a force that detonates every barrier, blocking success; a vibrant, loveable, salient performance.
Sprinkled throughout this delicious warm-hearted film are the herbs and spices unique to the pungent dishes of India: cardamom, cumin, curry, chilies, turmeric starring in Masala Dosa, Chicken Tikka, Chicken Tandooris, Biryanies, Kadhai Paneer, and the iconic staple of all Indian households, the ubiquitous, flakey, tasty Samosa!
With taste buds and cell phones on high alert; the audience with alacrity booked reservations at Tandoori Palace , insisting on “Today’s Special”.
In the rarefied category of my “all time favorite flicks”, resting close to the pinnacle is Alejandro Amenabar’s 2004 “The Sea Inside” based upon the real life story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro’s thirty year campaign to end his life with dignity. Javiar Barden, depicting Ramon, gives a performance so powerful and magnetically electric that hearts tear and tears cascade with each viewing.
Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali (“Devas”, “Black”, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”) makes a valiant thrust in recreating this heart- wrenching scenario. Two Titians of the Bollywood cinema conquer without fault these mega challenging characters. Hrithik Roshan is Ethan Mascarenhas a known magician, suffering from irreservisible Paraplegia; after fourteen years of imprisonment, in his debilitated frame he wants release from the chains and perils of his tortured existence. Hrithik sheds the strapping’s of the handsome hunk, the sculpted abs, clean –shaven poster boy for masculine magnificence; the ultimate male icon is bearded, subdued, subtle and immensely sensitive, proficiently believable in this career altering role. It is only in flashbacks that we witness the sinuous, sensual, Nureyev movements; a dancer of idyllic proportions. The courage of this actor has championed and earned massive admiration and awe.
Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan plays Sofia, the long suffering, stoic nurse whose skill, love and selfless dedication is the rainbow that keeps Ethan alive, and sane. Ms. Rai is a woman of such ethereal beauty; beauty birthed once in a millennium; beauty of such profound harmony that at times it is detrimental, distracting; overwhelming her characterization. Her gift as a actor bursts forth in this role; she is competent, stringently strict in her ministrations ,always in control of her body and mind: her heart is the source of her runaway commitment and love for this man she desperately wants to live; his presence defines her essence. What a treasure to view a magnificent affair, a love so divine, pure, but writhingly unrequited. Bollywood has cornered the market in this genre.
Watching this excellent film (with a strong bias) in a theatre with a capacity of 300 people, sharing the experience with one other solitary soul; two people trying to support a prime Bollywood film; worthy of all audiences, both east and west. A huge portion of the movie was in English. I applaud the courage of the distributors but was depressed and shamed by the lack of attendance, in particular the Indian American community, which is a substantial presence in this metropolis. On a recent visit to Mumbai (the hub of the India cinematic world) I met with a number of prominent directors and writers. Subash Ghai (“Taal;”, “Yaadein”) a director of monumental vision and wisdom told me that Indian Americans preferred watching films (Bollywood/Hollywood) in the privacy and luxury of their homes. My disagreement in retrospect was naive and coated in an unabashed passion for Bollywood and its Herculean fascination for eastern audiences. Optimism, like David, will pulverize and squelch the pessimism that looms, like Goliath over Bollywood viewership in the west. With the power of “one” or “two” apathy will be vanquished, the glories of the Bollywood screen will be tasted and embraced by an audience unaware of the piquant delicacies yet to lay siege and convert their conventional viewing palate.
As an appetizer “Guzaarish” garnishes……
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!