Monday, 19 March 2012

Naseeruddin Shah’s ‘Michael’: Beautiful Tedium

 
The London Asian Film Festival – which opened 16th March at BFI Southbank – might be struggling to find its Raison d’etre, 14 years after its inception but the same cannot be said about its’ opening night film, ‘Michael’.
A film dealing with one man’s struggle to cope with tragedy could not have been more topical in a week when the news was dominated by the likes of PC David Rathband, US Army Sergeant Robert Bales, not to mention Bashar Al Assad and the ways in which they’ve dealt with personal misfortune, tragedy and a slackening grip on power.
‘Michael’ stars Nasseeruddin Shah as Michael Rodriguez, a single father and police officer in Kolkata who is called to do the bidding of a corrupt politician by opening fire at a peaceful rally against Communist rule in the city.
A 12-year-old boy is killed in the shooting and Michael is made the scapegoat.
His wilful concealment of the fact that his eyesight is failing is further cause for Michael to be dismissed from the force dishonoured and – worst of all – without a pension.
It’s a body blow for Michael and the film follows his travails to not only cope with the tragedy but his struggles with money and difficult relationship with his young son Roy.
The film is the directorial debut of Ribhu Dasgupta who also wrote the script.  Dasgupta says the story was variously inspired by Roland Joffe’s ‘City of Joy’, the Cat Stevens song  Father & Son as well as the director’s own relationship with his father. 
And all of those inspirations are strikingly palpable.
The relationship between Michael and his son Roy is – as with most father son relationships – at times aberrant but deeply emotional.  And, Kolkata – as it recently did in Kahani – plays one of the film’s most important characters; indolent and chaotic all at once, pushing some to despair and lifting others out of the doldrums.
The heart of ‘Michael’ though is the title character’s battle with the dreadful disintegration of his life and it is doubtful whether any actor on the face of the planet could have captured Michael’s anguish as well as Nasseeruddin Shah.  Michael’s swagger is directly proportional to the vulnerability he feels outside his police uniform and Shah captures that fragile bluster pitch perfectly.   The exquisite Mahi Gill, as a friend who helps babysit Roy, and the perennially funny Sridhar Vatsar help provide a slightly more cheerful counterpoint to the sullen Rodriguez.
But no matter how good an actor you are, your skills can only extend to what the writer dictates and after the first hour or so, the film begins to seem slightly plodding and sparks that age old debate about a film as a piece of entertainment or an exercise in creating something artistic whose level of engagement might be highly subjective. 
After an hour of empathising with Michael’s predicament however you’re left wanting for something to happen.
‘Michael’ was championed by Anurag Kashyap – and of course Nasseeruddin Shah – and is outstanding as an exploration of one man’s journey through despair.  And visually, it is stunning; in fact the whole movie segues from one beautifully textured image to another.
But you can only stare at a nice picture for so long before it becomes tedious.
-    Vijitha Alles

Naseeruddin Shah’s ‘Michael’: Beautiful Tedium

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