Black (2005)

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 04/25/05 12:55:56

"'...lovely, dark and deep'"
5 stars (Awesome)

As the credits began to roll at the end of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s therapeutic parable ‘Black’, I remained seated for a few seconds- stunned, mesmerized and completely enamoured. I had witnessed magic- that rare phenomenon in cinema which makes you speechless with awe! ‘Black’ is unarguably the best film in years to have come out of our industry.

Based loosely on the life of Helen Keller- that deafblind woman who defied the whole world and probably God himself- ‘Black’ is about Michelle McNally(Rani Mukherjee), who cannot see, hear or speak. The movie begins with her quest to find Debraj Sahai(Amitabh Bachchan), that person who had led her into the light when all that her destiny promised was an emptiness without sights, sounds or speech. She finds Debraj, old and worn out- suffering from Alzheimer. Debraj has forgotten everything. Through Michelle’s determination to remind Debraj of his achievement with her, we are taken inside the story of how Debraj helped Michelle. Debraj had entered young Michelle’s(Ayesha Kapur) life as the last straw of hope for her mother, Catherine Mcnally(Shernaz Patel).

There is a thin line between mental retardation and the frustrated rage of a child that has been denied three out of the five senses. What Michelle’s father(Dhritiman Chaterji) perceives as nuisance, Debraj sees as a desperate attempt of Michelle to fight- fight her destiny. Watch as young Michelle punches her fist in the air, trying to break out of the void and reach out to something. Debraj uses Michelle’s anger and channels it to free her out of darkness’s bondage. He teaches her to finger-spell, but she only seems to imitate without really understanding what the words mean. Then, in a brilliantly shot scene, Debraj drags Michelle(yes, he drags her) to a water-fountain and, like with Helen Keller, throws her in it for her impudence. As Michelle feels the touch of water, she is filled with a desire to know what it is. Her first tacit word is water, and she goes on a frenzied zest to learn new words as she feels everything. Debraj guides Michelle through her life from a girl to a woman who aspires to be a graduate. But concomitant to her progress is the deterioration of Debraj. A man that has always thumbed his nose to life itself, is harshly being swallowed by life. A man that helped Michelle reach out of the darkness is slowly walking into it himself.

“Even sight is rendered useless in darkness”, says Debraj during a conversation with Catherine. Cinematographer Ravi Chandran achieves this sentiment splendidly throughout the movie in a work that would’ve done the late great Conrad L. Hall proud! Note also how Omung Kumar uses the contrast of black and white when Michelle meets Debraj in the asylum. It is amazing how the movie resembles a magnificent canvas, with primarily the use of only two colours- black and white! Bhansali’s direction is top-notch. Watch closely as he drops a hint on the period of the film. I’ll give you a clue- it’s got to do with Charlie Chaplin! Moreover, never before has Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ been put to better use. As we are introduced to a weary and tired Debraj, watch how Frost’s most quoted lines reflect on all the walls around him. In fact, every frame of the movie is symbolic. Mr. Bhansali, take a bow! Special mention needs to be made of Bhavani Iyer’s imaginative English dialogues in her debut feature.

Rani Mukherjee performs exceedingly well in a role that is both challenging and has the utmost potential to overact. But she restrains herself from going over the top. However, it is the little Ayesha Kapur as young Michelle that completely steals the thunder from Rani. Hers is a performance that resembles very much to Shamili’s in Mani Ratnam’s ‘Anjali’, but yet different. As I stated earlier, there is a thin line between retardation and frustrated anger. Ayesha manages to stay on the saner side of that line. Finally though, this movie is unimaginable without Amitabh Bachchan. In what is his career’s best work, Bachchan gives a powerhouse performance that reminds you of Al Pacino. Whether it is his humming an unfamiliar tune or his mouthing Frost, his eccentric wit or his calm concentration, and his sudden anger or his contented smile- Mr. Bachchan goes through the whole range of emotions with effortlessness. His eyes speak a thousand words, and you can see the pain, the sorrow, the defeat and the victory in them even before he speaks- especially as he begins to lose grip over his memory.

‘Black’ is a well-made, well-intentioned film. When I had entered the cinema-hall, the lights had already gone and I had to ask the usher to help me in the darkness. But two hours later, Bhansali had guided me into the light! - Abhishek Bandekar Reviewed on the 4th February, 2005.

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