On the rocks
The title of Danny Boyle’s new film refers to the harrowing hours in the life of Aaron Ralston (James Franco), a cheerful and cocky extreme adventurist. He faces imminent death after a fall in the Blue John Canyons in Utah, when he commits a macabre, life-saving act. So the film has a horrific premise, replete with possibilities of morbid imagery and writing. But Boyle, a master orchestrator of visual flights, turns this film, perhaps quite unintentionally, into a beautiful biopic—and I mean beautiful, not pretty.
The crafted trippiness of Boyle’s visual language—breathless and bold, evident most unabashedly in his classic Trainspotting and disarmingly so in the Oscar-sweeping Slumdog Millionaire—complements the solemnity of Ralston’s story, based on the real-life story recounted in the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
Trapped: James Franco plays Aaron Ralston
In 2003, Ralston takes off one weekend to trek in the Blue John Canyon in Utah, equipped with some cool travel gear: ropes, pulleys, a digital wristwatch-cum-altimeter, a Petzl lamp fixed to his cap and a digicam that allows him to ventilate the horror with amazing calmness and sense of humour when he is wedged between two walls after falling off a cliff. A huge boulder traps his right forearm and he has no escape. He tries chipping the boulder off with a tiny knife—we know it is a wasted effort, but since Boyle keeps us with Aaron without respite, zeroing in on every move of his trapped body, we can’t but hope with Aaron. Having spent 127 hours like that, all the while recording his thoughts, sipping on the only bottle of water he has, enacting a hilarious make-believe chat show where he is the applauded guest and finally, surviving on his own blood and urine, Aaron decides it is time to do the impossible. His digicam recordings of what could be the last hours of his life change in tone over the course of the film.
Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, the writers of the film, seem to be most concerned with an almost spiritual message here: Don’t be arrogant, ask for a little help. The grand sweep of the brown, undulating canvas of the grand canyons are a constant reminder of the puniness of human life. But the film transcends the message. Aaron’s entrapment and his will to survive has a matter-of-fact drill to it, made exciting by Boyle’s imagination. The camerawork by Anthony Dod Mantle (who also shot Slumdog Millionaire) and Enrique Chediak does justice to Boyle’s imagery: hallucinating about his family; dreaming about his girlfriend leaving him during a baseball match; a raven in flight over the canyons, the only vestige of life in Aaron’s line of vision while he is trapped; a sexy, dream-like sequence of a car full of naked, young people, high and loud, stranded in nowhereland during a snowstorm; and the psychedelic mobility of fluids inside Aaron’s body. Few directors can match Boyle’s visual intrepidity.
A.R. Rahman’s background score, a variety of sounds and styles, propels the film’s narrative and drives it to a brilliant climax under a blazing sun.
The film has received six nominations for the Oscars, including a best actor nomination for James Franco. Franco, a multi-faceted talent, is truly inspired in this role. Aaron’s transition—an agile, cheerful and arrogant young American, who progressively becomes a man humbled as well as tormented—is not only convincing, it is heartbreaking. As an actor he has little to work with except his lines and a suffocatingly narrow cul-de-sac surrounded by hard rock. But he drives Boyle’s vision with plenty of conviction.
Don’t miss 127 Hours. It is an experience worth your time.
127 Hours released in theatres on Friday.
Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji
Three men and a disaster
Director Madhur Bhandarkar sets all his movies in a particular milieu, and they have sweepingly generic titles: Fashion, Traffic Signal, Page 3, Jail. His new film,?Dil?toh?Bachcha Hai Ji, breaks that monotony. The film itself, though, is a travesty of a battle-of-the-sexes comedy.
It suffers sorely from thoughtless and facile writing. Dialogues, meant to be funny, are at odds with the milieu he is trying to project—three single men, played by Ajay Devgn (an insurance professional), Emraan Hashmi (a gym instructor) and Omi Vaidya (a poet), the women they’re in love with, and an assortment of women from what Bhandarkar perceives to be Mumbai’s industrialist, socialite class. As with all his films, stereotypes abound in this script.
Lovelorn: (from left) Hashmi, Devgn and Vaidya in Bhandarkar’s film.
Devgn’s character, Naren, is in love with June (Shazhan Padamsee), a young intern in his office. She is a bimbo who is completely unaware that her divorced boss (who she shockingly calls, in one instance, “bossie”) is in love with her. “Sir, when did you lose your V?” she asks Naren.
The other characters are Milind (Vaidya), an earnest romantic, and Abhay (Hashmi), a philanderer and gold-digger who falls in love and breaks his heart.
The story follows the three different men in their pursuit of love. It is an interesting premise. But none of the characters in the film have a convincing graph. The jokes are bereft of wit or intelligence, meant perhaps to “play to the gallery”. It’s obvious that Bhandarkar’s world, as portrayed in most of his films, has broadly two classes of people: the rich and evil, and the middle class which is confused and enmeshed in an eternal struggle.
But the problem with the film is more fundamental—it’s meant to take you through the journeys of three disparate characters in Mumbai. But all it does is make you laugh out loud unintentionally because the situations and writing are so shockingly banal.
Dil toh Bachcha Hai Ji released in theatres on Friday.