Yeh Saali Zindagi: could have been better

Whether it was Indian or world cinema, independent film-making continued to make its presence felt last week amongst audiences in Bengaluru’s cinemas. A review of Yeh Saali Zindagi and Biutiful.

Yeh Saali Zindagi (Hindi)

Any film that gets director Sudhir Mishra to the lens again, with the immensely talented Irrfan Khan and Chitrangda Singh as part of the cast that brings the film to life, automatically finds its way on to your ‘must watch’ list. But Yeh Saali Zindagi fails to live up to our high expectations. Even when unpredictable, the film still leaves you dissatisfied.

While it’s a departure from Mishra’s previous work like Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Khoya Khoya Chand, there are commonalities with the treatment and thematic focus of his earlier films like Chameli and Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin.

With a premise that rests on many twists and turns, the story follows Arun’s (Irrfan Khan) attempt to rescue the woman he loves (Chitrangda Singh), as she unwittingly becomes a pawn to be sacrificed in a larger harebrained criminal strategy.

Yet while this should have have made for riveting watching in the hands of an able director of the calibre of Sudhir Mishra, this is not the case. Instead the lines between the many parallel threads in the film do not merge easily. These problems in the development of the script are further heightened by loose editing that cause several pivotal moments in the film to drag unnecessarily.

So the film is clever, but misses the eases of story telling that we have to associate with the best of Hindi cinema in recent time. Instead the film’s parallel story threads move forward in a jerky abrupt fashion. So while an intelligent audience might still appreciate the films many layers, it misses the mainstream audience completely.

But if Yeh Saali Zindagi is redeemed in any way, it is by its performances. The high point of the film remains Irrfan Khan’s outstanding portrayal of Arun, supported ably by Chitrangda Singh.

Special mention should also be made of the music from Nishat Khan, which blends in with the theme to lend atmosphere to the film.

Yet inspite of beginning with a unique concept Yeh Saali Zindagi does not live up to its initial promise. It’s failure lies in Mishra’s inability to bring the films many complex threads and subtexts together. So I would go with a rating of 2.5 and a recommendation of a “one time watch” for Yeh Saali Zindagi.

Biutiful (Spanish)

Four years after Alejandro González Iñárritu made his directorial debut with Babel, he returns to the silver screen with Biutiful. Like his previous directorial venture Amores perros, this film is told in Spanish.

So while it’s a Mexican film, Biutiful reflects all these qualities we like in gritty, realistic European cinema. Set against the background of contemporary urban conflicts and its accompanying dilemmas, the film is the story of Uxbal’s (Javier Bardem) journey as he comes to terms with his own mortality. Scattered against this narrative are the themes of urban decay, the rise of crime, identity, nationhood, spirituality and the breakdown of family structure. The greys of the landscape find their way into the story telling, enveloping it into an iron casted hopeless.

This mood is heightened by a brilliant performance from Javier Bardem, as he plays the role of a man who stares into the face of death. The absence of hope now seems complete.

These different threads make for a multi-layered but chaotic narrative pattern. At moments, the audience experiences confusion and not complexity. Yet all of this is bound together by a compelling performance from Bardem who towers over the narrative.

It is not without reason that Biutiful has won Bardem a nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars and another for Best Foreign Language Film.

It’s a rating of 3 on 5 for Biutiful. Don’t miss it, especially if you are an avid follower of world cinema.

The ratings and what they mean

The ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5 and try to strike that difficult balance between cinematic critique and giving the regular film buff a peek into what’s playing in town and worth a watch.

1: Watch this film only if the director pays you

2: You could safely give this film a miss

2.5: A one time watch

3: Good cinema. Money well spent

4: Great cinema. A standing ovation

5: Simply speechless. A masterpiece



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