No E please, we’re Inglish

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It’s a celebration of stupidity, complained one wise man.

He was referring to Forrest Gump.

The story was about a slow-witted man making his way in the world. But the theme of the film was profoundly metaphysical: do we live in a world guided by chance or does God’s manoeuvres influence or control certain events? Do we live in an uncaring, mechanical universe, or is there something more complicated than that? The theme is introduced at the beginning of the film as a feather floats through the air (obeying chance and the laws of physics) and finally lands (by chance?) near the hero.

The masses refused to take the wise one by his words – the film did well for itself. And it’s true that great directors leave an indelible stamp on their pictures. But their input is only one of many factors that contribute to a great film. Most frequently overlooked is the most obvious factor: the script.

And that’s exactly what you will find in abundance this movie season. Two accomplished Bangaloreans are hitting the movie marquee: journalist-turned-filmmaker Prakash Belawadi with Stumble (slated for February 21 at Symphony, Lido and Cauvery) and playwright-turned-filmmaker Mahesh Dattani with Mango Soufflé (February 28 at Lido again). Then there is Meera Syal’s Anita & Me (premiering at Plaza on February 21), a bittersweet comedy based on her novel. And before you say, Anita who? Let us tell you that Syal was the pen and paper behind Gurinder Chadha’s Bhaji on the Beach and was also co-writer of the award-winning BBC series Goodness Gracious Me.

Forget about illogical plots (eg: The Mummy Returns), unconvincing characters or relationships (Michael Keaton as Batman), visual poetry (The Letter) or understatement (John Wayne’s look of resolve at his moment of decision in The Searchers). If it meets that one criteria –entertainment through and through – the deed is done.

And these films promise all of that and more.

But first things first, here are the vital stats.

MANGO SOUFFLE
The head: A not so straight movie
The body: A drama of love, loss and a renewed sense of gain told through a tangled web of relationships and self-deceit
The tale: Victory over prejudice, honesty over social pretence, the individual over the artificial constructs of masculinity and femininity
The duration: 86 minutes
The setting: The changing needs of people in the Indian metros, still dealing with Victorian sexual mores
The texture: Sad and funny
The cast: Atul Kulkarni plays Rinkie Khanna’s fiancé who tolerates her brother’s sexuality with a smile and shrug of his shoulders. Ankur Vikal as her brother provides a protective shoulder to his sister while dealing with the pain of unrequited love. Heeba Shah can only sigh that the nice men in her life are all gay. Sanjit Bedi loves to hang out with the boys but has a public image to masquerade. Denzil Smith finds being in India a heavy price to pay as a gay man, and living in the UK being a heavy price to pay as an Indian. Mahmood Farooqui wants his boss to be more discreet in his dalliances with other men just as he is discreet with the maid
The milestones: Screened at the Austin Gay & Lesbian international film festival; Bangkok film festival; San Francisco international Asian American film festival; Arts Concil Led fillum festival, east of England; 10th annual Sydney Mardi Gras film festival

STUMBLE
The head: Tripping over money
The body: A finely observed human portrait of the software boom and bust of Bangalore
The tale: About victims of dotcom dreams driven to gamble away life’s savings in alluringly failsafe mutual funds
The duration: 124 minutes
The setting: A serious story about the urban middle class with a narrative of comic drama
The texture: Moving (gives you a feel of the underbelly of the new economy; big words, but very understandable when you watch the film)
The cast: Anant Nag is a former bank official who takes voluntary retirement at the prime of his career and invests all his life’s savings in fraudulent mutual funds scheme. His wife is Suhasini Maniratnam (also a bank employee), who turns dysfunctional when all is lost. Mukhyamantri Chandru is a rambunctious politician who thrives as a fixer of shady business deals. Ashok Mandanna is the fly-by-night new-age entrepreneur, who bumbles along from one get-rich-quick scheme to another, making a hash of whatever he lays his hands on. Priya Ganapathy plays a vacuous wife who leverages her software engineer husband’s high status to further her image as a bleeding heart socialite. Pallavi Duttu, who plays the daughter of Anant Nag and Suhasini, is a software professional in Mandanna’s company. She is unjustly laid off and is a victim of her father’s constant taunts
The milestones: Premiered at the Mumbai international film festival in November 2002 to a receptive audience

ANITA & ME
The head: A bittersweet comedy
The body: Meena’s idyllic adolescence surrounded by eccentric relatives and friends is disrupted by the arrival of Meena and her dysfunctional family
The tale: At 14, blonde, aloof, beautiful, outrageous and sassy, Anita is everything Meena thinks she wants to be. But the arrival of a baby brother, teenage hormones, impending entrance exams for the posh grammar school and a motorcycling rebel without potential, threaten to turn her salad days sour
The duration: 93 minutes
The setting: A colourful portrait of village life in the era of flares, glam rock and Jackie magazines; a unique vision of British childhood in the early seventies, caught between two cultures, each on the brink of enormous change
The texture: Comic, poignant, compassionate
The cast: Meera Syal plays a typical bossy auntie who thinks she is quite sophisticated and doesn’t understand why her friends have chosen to live in the countryside. Chandeep Uppal and Anna Brewster play Meena and Anita, the protagonists in the film. Meena is both funny and scared while Anita is fiery and sullen, and appears much more grown up than Meena. Ayesha Dharker and Sanjeev Bhaskar are Meena’s parents wedded to interminable Punjabi festivities. Lynne Redgrace is the village shopkeeper, who sees herself as the conscience of the village; who feels high heels is the work of the devil and disapproves of Mark Williams, who plays the hippy vicar trying to spread love and peace. Max Beesley is the good-natured aspiring rock star of the village. Kathy Burke plays Anita’s sluttish mother, who doesn’t enjoy being a mother and has a real problem with her eldest daughter whose youth and beauty reminds her that she is getting older. And, like everyone else, she is looking for love, but goes about it in the wrong way. Zohra Segal plays the inimitable grandma of Meena
The milestones: Anita and Me, Meera Syal’s first novel (also a co-producer and scriptwriter of this film) won the Betty Trask Fiction Award, was nominated for the Guardian Fiction Award, and has sold a million copies of the book till date

(First published in City Reporter, 2003)