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Dec 24, 2007

Dor or Perumazhakkalam

What I watched yesterday was Dor(a thread, a connection in Hindi), from the NRI turned RI director Nagesh Kukunoor. If Hyderabad Blues - his path breaking first film was a true original in Indian 'movie-wood', Dor cannot be called so. The story is based on a real life event and first time it hit the screens was in 2004, away from the Bollywood spotlight, when Malayalam director Kamal, made a movie out of it by the name Perumazhakkalam. Perumazhakkalam went on to win the National Award for the Best Film on Social Issues in 2004 and numerous awards for its two leading protagonists played by Kavya Madhavan and Meera Jasmine. Kukkonoor supposedly bought the story from the Malayalam film makers. There is still a lot of controversy surrounding it.(Read Here.) I'd say better he than anyone else, Priyadarshan might have cast Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty as the two leading female protagonists who happen to be behroopiyas(person who takes on different roles/costumes to make a living aka an actor) and gotten away with it under the cover of a few kaleidoscopic dance numbers.

What Dor has going for it is the finesse, Kukonoor has certainly evolved as a director since the amateurish Hyderabad Blues(despite being a big hit of the times.) Technically Dor is a cut above the usual Bollywood films. Then again I am wrong in two counts. First, Kukunoor is not a usual Bombay masala movie-maker, he is from the contemporary alternate cinema in India, he just happens to be successful(which is a quality that sometimes evades parallel cinema makers.)Second, Bollywood is not what it used to be. Most of the Bollywood movies now have a certain level of perfection which places them far above the majority of mediocre regional flicks. Money could be an element here, but whatever it is the grade of the Bollywood end-product is commendable these days.

Gul Panag and Ayesha Takia have the leading roles in Dor. Gul has the more stronger character and she is the right actress for it. Ayesha Takia is ok, but something is amiss, I cannot point my fingers on to it, but it is there. Shreyas Talpade is funny, a very likeable guy, although he falls a little short of the Rajasthani behroopiya. He'd have been great if he was a Maharashtrian or a Hyderabadi. It looks like he had immigrated to Rajasthan in his teens and could never quite cut-off his central Indian roots. Oh..and the cameo by Kukonoor, is a total misfit. I couldn't take the clean-shaven, too well-mannered to be corrupt Nagesh as the scheming lecherous Chopra Saheb. I mean Nagesh Kukonoor could be a lot of things but he cannot yet copy the flitting evil glint of Gulshan Grover.

Perumazhakkalam on the other hand had an excellent choice of actors. I saw it a couple of years back and my memory is getting rusty befitting my age. So I'll start off with what is easiest to recollect, the title. To captivate the Kerala audience who feast on tears, the title of the movie aptly means the Season of Incessant Rain. The rain is one of the important characters in the film, so much so that it is over-used and you can really make out that most of the rain is coming straight off a fire hose. Kavya Madhavan won the State Award for the Best Actress of the year(2004) for her restrained and teary-eyed performance. Same award cannot be given to Ayesha Takia who plays her role in the Hindi version.

There are no beharoopiyas or Chopra Sahebs in the Malayalam version which is truer to real life. Cannot blame Kukonoor for making Dor a li'l vibrant because the film should be packaged to suit the tastes of the audience. Where Keralites pride in their work horse tear glands and prefer the exact portrayal of the grittiness of real life on screen, Northern Indians fancy fantasy and colorful scenes. Dor is set in two of the most touristy destinations in India - the green snow capped mountains of Himachal Pradesh and the stark, sandy and colorful Rajasthan. Had Kukunoor gotten this 'original story idea' from T.A.Razak(the story and script writer of Perumazhakkalam) before Kamal got hold of it, he might have won the Best Picture award for National Integration, bringing together the Muslims of northern-most Northern India and the Hindus of the cow-belt - Gujarat, Rajasthan, UP region. Alas, original happens only once!

The story of Perumazhakkalam is about a death(or a murder?) which happens in Saudi Arabia and involves two young-men(one is murdered and the other one ends up accused) from India who had gone there to work. Saudi court rules death penalty for the accused and the only way the sentence can be reduced is if the wife of the victim forgives the accused. With the males in the story killed or imprisoned, the film takes on a feministic edge, because the females has to do all the work, like in real life. Gul Panag(Dor) / Meera Jasmine(Perumazhakkalam) is the wife of the imprisoned man. Ayesha Takia(Dor) / Kavya Madhavan(Perumazhakkalam) is the Hindu widow. The untimely demise of her husband has the widow in charge of a super power - the power to give or take the life of a human being(one particular human being, her husband's supposed killer.) After that it is the power play between two women of two contrasting cultures - Hindu and Muslim, translated by two different film makers(Kamal in Malayalam and Kukonoor in Hindi) for two widely differing sets of audience.

Perumazhakkalam is a mature take on the subject for a grown-up gallery who doesn't know or care much about Shah Rukh Khan. Dor is for a congregation of devotees who had just finished watching a King Khan movie, on bended knees and have worked up enough courage to watch a 'really serious' Hindi movie. Both movies, I believe, hit the right spot with their target audience.