Saturday, July 30, 2005

Revisiting Taal

Producer: Raju Farooqui and Subhash Ghai
Director: Subhash Ghai
Music: A.R. Rahman
Cinematography: Kabir Lal
Art Direction: Sharmishta Roy
Choreography: Shiamak Davar, Ahmed Khan, Saroj Khan
Playback Singers: Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Srinivas Patro, A.R. Rahman, Anuradha Sriram, Sujatha, Alka Yagnik
Starring: Anil Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Aishwarya Rai, Alok Nath, Amrish Puri,

An Indian friend of mine from New York loves the movie Taal. We are both fans of many of Bollywood's leading actri.

Often when we correspond, she would throw in a good word for the movie Taal.

I had gotten the video of Taal and watched it once, maybe twice. I just couldn't see the attraction. But, Taal kept being mentioned in various Bollywood articles and reviews as a great movie. So, I decided to watch it one more time, to see if I could figure out its appeal.

I am glad I did. I think it's always wise to watch a film more than once because so much is missed in one viewing. Since I had already watched Taal more than once, I did not expect my view to change.

My original conception of the story was -- Rich boy meets poor girl. They fall in love. Their families clash over the relationship. The couple separates. Fame sidetracks the young girl. A crass music producer/director lures her into the entertainment business and for the sake of her family she complies. In the meantime, the young man takes steps to convince his family he is truly in love with the girl and believes they will come to accept her. He haunts the girl's workplace to remind her of his undying love. But, because of unresolved insults to her family, she does not relent and eventually accepts a marriage proposal from the music producer.

At first, it was hard for me to buy into the drama of the clash between the two lovers, Mansi and Manav, (Aishwarya Rai and Akshaye Khanna) and their families. Because one family was from a village, the other from the city, one poor, the other rich, a clash was inevitable.

Also, when I first viewed Taal, I had a image in my mind of Anil Kapoor's acting abilities. For some reason, I did not like his character in Taal, a profit-obsessed, shallow businessman.

While Aishwarya Rai played her character beautifully and the movie showcased her beauty and talent superbly, I did not feel the same about the other characters.

I think my first impressions colored the rest of the film for me and I missed some of the subtle changes. In addition, remember, while body language is universal, I only have the captions to give me an idea of the conversations.

But, when I watched it again, I found the underlying themes in the story more interesting. In addition, the movie was also a cautionary tale highlighting the unglamorous side of the entertainment world.

Amid a complex relationship between their neighboring families, London-educated, Manav Mehta, son of a rich man, meets Mansi, daughter of a poor folk singer, in a variety of ways -- first as a image captured from a picture, then in glimpses of her in her village, after he falls down a mountainside, at a visit to her home, at a party at his home, at a friend's wedding, at her secluded spot in the mountains where she practices yoga, at a public ceremony, and so on, until the two fall in love.

Manav predicts the future clash of their families but he also promises Mansi a true and undying love. One underlying theme presented here is that people find god in many ways, in books, in idols, in the flame of a lamp, or in myths and beliefs. For Manav, god resides in his heart. He speaks and acts through the god in his heart. He says he is honest, true, loyal, and gentle and Mansi's love for him is a belief and trust in him.

The film revolves around music both as tribute to magical and beautiful music and as an illustration of the unsavory side of the music business. Mansi's father is a poor folk singer. Mansi and Manav's families have already clashed by the time they visit Vikrant Kapoor (Anil Kapoor), the music producer/director. They learn how Kapoor steals folk music, including Mansi's father's songs, and reworks them into popular songs. Kapoor offers Mansi a job -- as a singer. She accepts.

In the meantime, Manav works to convince his family to accept Mansi. He also learns of the humiliation Mansi and her father suffered in a visit to his home. Using reason and commitment to his promise to Mansi, he challenges the basic belief that a family can be ruined by a poor choice of in-laws. The family sees it as a clash between sophistication and simplicity, implying that the rich are morally superior to the poor, but their actions and behavior demonstrate otherwise.

As an Indian woman, Mansi walks a fine line. She does not publicly voice strong opinions but must be quietly fierce in defense of her honor and the honor of her family. As Mansi's career develops, she slowly adopts some of the business's characteristics. She cuts herself off from her feelings. We are asked to see that success does not always bring happiness.

Aishwarya Rai is showcased beautifully in multiple song and dance routines -- music video style. The film's music also illustrates many of the film's themes.

The beauty of women has been used since humankind rose from the mud in many ways. In images and words, beauty is defined by a woman's body; but women's bodies have also been used to embody evil or as resources to be conquered and subjugated. Humankind uses woman's body as an expression of its aspirations and its ills.

Indian filmmaking uses images of beautiful women as the embodiment of purity and spirituality as well as images of women as the embodiment of vice and base emotions. In Taal, you see Mansi peek out from her head scarf in public gatherings. You see her dance and sing in her village and then on stage in scenes of pastoral beauty and lavish glamour. Whereas, Manav's aunts, dressed in suits, wear grim faces as they watch Manav and Mansi's relationship develop and as they attempt to derail it.

Culmination of the story illuminates much of Kapoor's character. Underlying the tough facade is a sensitive man. In one scene, he defends the honor of all women by refusing to let any of his "stars" appear in lingerie or nude pictures. In the final scene, Kapoor recognizes that Mansi is still in love with Manav and releases her from her promise to marry him as he steps back into his role of music director. He directs her to run to Manav. Anil Kapoor did an excellent job portraying the complex character of the music producer.

Critics of Bollywood say Bollywood films are simplistic, or unrealistic, or unpolished, or too long, or.... I say Bollywood films are multi-layered. On the surface, they can appear as caricatures of human interactions, but if you catch some of the underlying themes, the stories take on a deeper universal meaning. Also, it is Bollywood's style to make it clear who is good and who is evil. As for length, often Bollywood scenes are generous, they allow time for various aspects of the characters and story to develop. Taal exhibits some of these qualities.


Sony said...

Ahh. Taal. An Interesting subject.

First of all can I say that I like reading your blog when I get time. Your blog gives a really good alternative view on bollywood.

Anyway I was like you when I first saw Taal. I couldn't understand why people raved about it so much. On first viewing of Taal I liked Anil Kappors charater and though that it helped to make the film a cut above other films. I liked Aishwarya in it but I thought that Akshaye Khanna was abit too load in some scenes. Obviously the music was some of the best music of the decade (In my opinion). Other that that it was just a run of the mill story that we have seen a 1000 times in bollywood.

On subsequent viewings I think I have noticed what the director and writer are trying to say.

Here is what I think (It maybe completely wrong but here goes)
I think Mansi symbolises Indian youth who are being bombarded with Western values (MTV etc) by the entertainment industry (Anil Kapoor). They are being driven away from their traditional culture (Mansi's Father). The the traditional culture is being exploited by people in pursuit of profit.

I think that the films message is that people should embrace the best bits of the Western Culture but not forget their roots. (Mansi deciding to sing a Remixed version of her original song at the competition). This way Indian will not lose their inner self and the world will also embrace them (Mansi winning competition).

I would like to know what you think about this theory and if you can 'see' any of it in the film

Bollywood Talk said...

Hello Sony:

Thanks for your kind comments. I am glad you like my blog.

I agree with the points you made. Particularly, "This
way indians will not lose their inner self and the
world will also embrace them."

Also, you are right, the music is wonderful.

Your description of the movie's main theme was good. Its theme is about the bombardment of MTV-like entertainment and its effects on youth.

Namaste --