This film made me grin from ear to ear while my fingers were busy wiping away stubborn teardrops from the corners of my eyes. Ankhon Dekhi is a film with a big heart and a generous spirit without being a feel good film.At its centre is a man who resolves one fine day to experience life at a fundamentally new level. He rises above his lower middle class existence. Rather than tell us to experience more (e.g. La Tomatina, skydiving, scuba diving et al.), it asks us to cherish and savour our life as a gestalt of existing memories and relationships.If we cannot find happiness right here then we cannot find it over the endless yonder either.
Rajat Kapoor uses the dusty by-lanes of Chandni Chowk to give us a film that rises above the Delhi stereotypes.There are no drunk uncles and nor are there spunky Punjabi kudi’s who can make Salman Khan feel like a wimp faster than he can remove his shirt. Raje Bauji is a mild-mannered simple old man who has lived a life of quiet contentment, making ends meet along with his younger brother Rishi (Rajat Kapoor).It is a relatively peaceful joint family living in a dilapidated house until Bauji has an epiphany. He decides that for him the only truth is what he can see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears, everything else is inconsequential.The first casualty of this stand is his job since he cannot spout white lies anymore as a travel agent and vouch for the weather in Amsterdam till he has seen it with his own two eyes.
There is no dearth of idle men around him who become eager converts to his philosophy and it is the dynamics of this group, the intrepid apostles of the neighbourhood messiah who supply most of the quiet humour of this film.To me the figure of Bauji is also quite like a modern-day Gandhi as he turns his life into a continuous series of experiments and changes his stance as his thought process evolves.It also appealed to the agnostic in me, Bauji after praying religiously all his life decides to shrug his shoulders in the face of the priest who is not the least bit amused. I believe that if God exists he must be laughing his head off in some remote corner of the universe and bestowing Godspeed on Bauji. One of the joys of any film set in the North India is the language which is constantly milked for laughs since Mumbai street Hindi seems to have lost its mojo.It is in its dialogues that this film too finds its charm but these are by far the most earthy and authentic that I have heard.Its a wordy film but its words only heighten its cinematic effectiveness.
Refreshingly the colour palette of the film is not a riot of colours but a carefully unsaturated earthy brown for the smog infused Delhi winter, which creates a village ambiance right inside a megalopolis.The music is used carefully and some montages are set to a soulful number by Kailash Kher who has one of the most authentic voices in Indian playback singing today.But above all this film is a triumph of casting.Consider Seema Pahwa the veteran of Hum Log, India’s first soap opera from the 80’s ,who is cast as Bauji’s patient and loving wife.Ms Pahwa does not get many parts like this and its heart warming to see her take on this major role and nail it completely. Sanjay Mishra as Raje Bauji gives a performance that is one of the finest I have seen from Bollywood in a long time.No sorry this is not Bollywood, Indian Hindi cinema would be a better description and therefore it earns its place in the World Cinema Section of Mostlycinema.com.Almost every actor is perfectly cast except Rajat Kapoor himself, who despite his solid turn does not fit in physically with the rest of the family.I wonder if this would have been an even better film with Mr Kapoor focussed only behind the camera.
Rajat Kapoor’s screenplay is a an act of faith.It does not stand up to any rational scrutiny and is filled with poetic sequences like its giddy ending. The film is profound because just like Bauji it finds its truth within its contradictions. To paraphrase Milan Kundera its a beautiful poem written on a burning paper to a fading sensibility where simple everyday characters and their small problems had the power to overwhelm us.In a way this film is closer to the Basu Chatterjee school of filmmaking rather than Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani who are directors that Rajat Kapoor is inspired by and to whom this film is dedicated.It is refreshing to see that the student has learnt so much from those masters but has made a film entirely his own. Ankhon Dekhi is entertaining, engrossing and utterly charming, go watch it!
Categories: World Cinema